Monday, September 19, 2016

Managers of a Merciful Master

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 16:1-15
September 18, 2016
Proper 20C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

You’re fired! Have those words ever been directed at you? Have you ever been terminated? Let go? Dismissed? Have you ever accepted an invitation into your boss’s office or into HR, only to learn that you’re being canned? Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Just clean out your desk, turn in your keys, and vacate the premises. If it’s happened to you, you remember it, I’m sure. Particularly for people who are my age—people with a monthly mortgage and kids in college—few things in life are more terrifying or traumatic than to hear the words, “You’re fired.”

That was the precise predicament of the man in the parable we heard earlier from Luke 16. As the parable picks up, this man was about to join the ranks of the unemployed. He had been working as a manager of his master’s money. But apparently, when he should have been keeping an eye on the NASDAQ and on the S&P 500, he was otherwise occupied playing Pokemon Go (or something along those lines). In other words, he was wasting his master’s possessions. He wasn’t doing his job. He wasn’t managing the money that had been entrusted to him, and now, because of his mismanagement and malfeasance, he was being sacked—terminated with cause.

But then things take a surprising turn. For precisely when he should have been cleaning out his desk and consulting the “help wanted” ads, he makes a rather bold decision. Before word gets out about his being fired, he calls in his master’s debtors and starts giving them generous discounts. He knocks off 50 percent here and 20 percent there, collecting what he can at a deep discount. It’s an incredibly shrewd move. The man’s boss is cornered. If he chooses to overrule his rogue manager, and rejects the deals he made, then he’ll look like a scrooge to all his business associates. But if he takes the deals hammered out by his shrewd manager, then the shrewd manager looks good and wins a lot of new friends. In the end, the master commended his dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

That’s what makes this parable so strange. Doesn’t it seem just a bit odd when a dishonest, wasteful crook ends up saving the day and coming out on top? It’s not the ending you would expect. And that’s where we come in. For we too are managers, stewards of all the wealth that our heavenly Father has placed into our hands. The money and possessions we so casually call our own, aren’t really ours at all. It’s only on loan to us for the brief span of time we spend in this world. And this parable would seem to indicate that we should use the money entrusted to us shrewdly and wisely. To be sure, what you do with your money cannot get you into heaven; but how you regard your money certainly does have the potential to keep you out of heaven.

Or course, what gets us into those eternal dwellings is faith—faith in Jesus. But it’s also true that you can tell a lot about your faith by how you handle the wealth God has entrusted to you. Jesus famously said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If you want to see where your heart is, then follow the money. Look at your checkbook register. Read carefully through your credit card statement. What are your financial priorities? How do you like to splurge and indulge? What are your idols? What are your gods? On what have you set your heart, your hope for years to come?

When we conduct an honest audit of our finances it starts to make more sense why Jesus would tell a parable about a dishonest, wasteful steward. For we’re all guilty of trying to serve both God and money. Like the Israelites of Amos’s day, we do put in our “God time.” We do go through the routine of placing something in the offering plate. But from there it’s back to business as usual—where shekels and sales and income and dividends and profits become the center of life—where money makes the rules—where money orders our days and our deeds—where money promises everything but delivers nothing—just like every other idol.

Jesus nailed the Pharisees that day for their love of money: “You justify yourselves before men,” He told them, “but God knows your hearts.” God knows our hearts too. He knows. He knows what we fear, love and trust. He knows that our management has been miserable, and our stewardship a shambles. If God were to carefully audit our performance in matters of money and stewardship, then what we would most deserve to hear would be simply, “You’re fired.”

So thank God for the dishonest manager. Thank God for the shrewd steward of today’s parable. For if even this shady, shifty, lazy manager—who seemed to be operating from purely selfish motives—if even he could double down and ultimately earn the praise of his master—then how much more should we be the best money managers ever? How much more should we who have been purchased—not with gold or silver, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus—absolutely excel at managing the wealth we have been given? How much more should we who are blood-bought, died-for, and redeemed from sin and death be ever motivated and moved to manage the good things God has entrusted to us with wisdom, with care, with precision and devotion? How much more should we who have nothing to lose as children of the heavenly Father be empowered to make bold moves with our money—to be generous for Jesus’ sake? For we know that in Him there is no condemnation—that by faith we have been promoted to the highest rank as brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank God for the dishonest manager—the shrewd steward who shows the way for all stewards. Think about it: When was this fellow—with all of his flaws—when was he most productive and effective at what he was doing? It was right after he was fired. For it was right at that moment that he realized he had nothing to lose. Then he lets loose with his “Hail Mary” pass to the end zone. That day was probably the most productive day of his entire career. If he’d worked that hard earlier, he might never have been fired. But it’s only when he is fired—it’s only when his name is “mud,” it’s only when his guilt and sin are exposed before all, it’s only when he doesn’t have a single good work with which to justify himself—that he becomes the manager he was meant to be.

Beloved in the Lord, when it comes to money and possessions, you have nothing to lose. You have nothing to lose because Jesus Christ has given you everything—His love, His forgiveness, His righteousness, His resurrection life. Now money is not your master, Jesus is. And Jesus is a merciful Master. In Him you can live free, with nothing to lose. The kingdom of heaven belongs to you. The new you in Christ is not a slave to money, but a master of money. You can order it around. You can tell it what to do. You can tell Misters Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Franklin to get to work helping the poor and unemployed, supporting the mission of the church to seek and save the lost.

Everything hinges on the fact that you have a merciful Master in Jesus Christ. He seeks out the wasteful and the dishonest, the shrewd and the savvy. He receives sinners. He rescues them from sin and death by His dying and rising. He baptizes sinners. Through water and the Word (as we saw this morning with little William) He mercifully receives sinners and makes them children of God. He works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation. Money can’t do any of that! Money can’t bring lasting peace or happiness. Money can’t wash away sin or give you a clean conscience. But Jesus does all of that and more—does it for you out of pure, 24 karat, 200 proof grace. That’s why you have nothing to lose. For you have a merciful Master. Amen.

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