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Justification Before God and Men. Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 2018.

unjust steward.PNGNinth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-9

July 29, 2018

Justification before God and before Men

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Today’s Gospel reading is known as the “parable of the unjust steward.”  Our translation of the Bible calls him a “manager.”  The Greek word, oikonomos, comes from the word for a house or a household.  Literally it means a person who runs a house or an estate.

 

In our Lord’s parable, the man who runs his master’s house is looking ahead to a time in the immediate future when he will not be running any house.  He will soon be without a house, homeless.  The house-manager is trying to arrange to be taken in as a guest in other people’s houses.

 

The connection between the unjust steward in Jesus’ parable and you is not difficult to draw.  You also have been entrusted with things to manage.  Your money, property, and investments, of course.  But things much more basic.  Your body and your life.  Your health.  Your time.  Your abilities.  The people under your authority, if you have any—your wife, your children, your employees.  You are a manager of all these gifts for someone else, for God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  He made these things and entrusted them to you to manage.  And one day in the not too distant future He will remove you from being steward and manager over your body and life, your time, property, and those under your authority.  Those things that remain when the stewardship is taken away from you will be given to someone else to manage.  But you will have to turn in the record of your stewardship, your management—to God.

 

Our Lord’s parable is the fourth and last in a series of parables He told in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel.  The first 3 parables were about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  He told those parables to the Pharisees and scribes who were judging Him because He received sinners, shared a table with them, and had fellowship with them.  But this parable He tells “to the disciples.”  He told the Pharisees who judged Him for His gracious way toward the tax collectors and sinners how God seeks sinners to bring them to repentance and to the forgiveness of sins.  But He tells this parable to sinners God has found.  Disciples of Jesus, like us.

 

What is our Lord teaching these prodigal sons who have returned to their Father and been made sons by Him?  He makes it clear in the last verse of the reading: I tell you, make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (Luke 16: 9)

 

Right now we live in this tent, our mortal bodies.  It is not an eternal dwelling.  Soon enough the cords of it will be untied, the stakes pulled up, and all we have around us, all we are now entrusted with will be taken away.  And then we will either be received into eternal dwellings—the “many mansions” Jesus says are in His Father’s house (John 14)—or we will begin an eternal homelessness.  When this tent is taken down, we will no longer be lords over a household that God has given us to manage.  We will be looking to received into the eternal dwellings as a guest.

 

We want to be received into God’s eternal dwelling places just like the 12 disciples of Jesus did, just like the tax collectors and sinners did.  And none of them had any illusions that would happen on the basis of how they had managed their lives, their property, and other things God had entrusted to them.  They hoped to be received into the eternal dwellings with God only by His grace, like the prodigal son who had wasted his father’s possessions in reckless living (Luke 15:13).  How did the Father deal with him?  When he came home, starving, half-naked, confessing that he had sinned against heaven and before his dad, asking to be let into the house not as a son but as a hired man, the father ran to him, kissed him, called him his son, put a ring on his finger, and killed the fattened calf.

 

This is the only way anyone gets into the eternal dwellings at the right hand of God the Father.  We come in as those who have shamefully mismanaged and misused the gifts God has given us, but who receive His grace,  We enter the eternal mansions as if we were faithful sons of God who faithfully did the will of God the Father Almighty with the things he entrusted to us to manage.

 

How can this happen?  Because God’s only begotten Son invites us to sit down at His table like He did the tax collectors and the sinners.  He graciously invites us, sets the table and gives us His meat and pours us His wine.  He set our place by dying for our mismanagement and unfaithfulness, and He makes us participants in His holy body in which He was faithful to His Father and His blood that He poured out to cleanse the unfaithful.  And His Father receives us as sons for the sake of His only-begotten Son.

 

That is the way our justification takes place before God.  God counts us faithful, righteous, just managers of all that He has given us for the sake of His Son, who paid our debts, squared our record of stewardship—on the cross with His suffering and death.  It has nothing to do with what others see in us or say about us.  It has nothing to do with what we see in ourselves.  It depends on one thing only—Jesus, who died for us.

 

But this is the thing: no one can see into your heart, whether you believe in Jesus.  Can they?  I can’t see into any one of your hearts.  Can you look into mine and see whether I have Jesus by faith?  You can’t, can you?

 

What can we see?  We can see other people’s works.  We can see what they do.  We can only see what they believe by what they do.  That is harsh news, hard to hear for many of us, because we know there are many ways our lives fail to reflect that we believe in Jesus who died for us.  But it’s a fact anyway, even if it’s hard.  You’ve all heard people judge pastors because their lives did not seem to match what they preached—and many times they were right.  Their criticism was valid.  But even by going to church and receiving the Lord’s body and blood you invite the same kind of scrutiny of your life, don’t you?  Those who know that you’re here every week examine you to see if your life reflects faith in Jesus, in Whom you trust to enter the eternal dwelling places with God.

 

Before God our salvation rests on one thing—Jesus, and His payment for our sins on the cross, received as a gift by faith alone.  But now Jesus our righteousness tells us to be wise or shrewd like the unjust steward to “make friends.”

 

What does He mean?  He means to use the wealth entrusted to you the way He used all that belonged to Him.  Jesus didn’t have a lot of money.  His wealth was His righteousness and His standing as God incarnate.  All this He gave to make you a friend of God.

 

So Jesus calls and encourages us, His disciples, to use our wealth—however little or much we think we have.  Not that you need to give it all away and starve.  Not that by giving it away you save yourself.  But use it to make friends.  Manage it so that after you have provided what you need to maintain yourself and your family, you can give and support the preaching of God’s Word in your congregation and farther away, where Christ’s name is coming to those who have not heard it or have heard it very little.  Give so that you can demonstrate the grace and mercy of God that you believe in and confess before the world as your hope to enter the heavenly dwellings when you come and eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood.  Money isn’t the only way we are called to do this.  We should use our time and our talents this way too.  But it is one way.

 

I have been very disappointed in my time at St. Peter that I have not been able to hear recordings or read the manuscripts of the pastor who shepherded you for so many years, Erdmann Frenk.  I have only read one that I found tucked away somewhere—a sermon on Psalm 23, where he wrote about his experience walking through the valley of the shadow of death, after he had had a heart attack and recovered.  In it, he talked about how as he was preparing to die he felt great sorrow and regret over the time he had wasted where he could have been serving Christ.  I know when I look back on my life and see the gifts God has given me that I mismanaged, I feel guilt and grief too.  Sometimes in temptation you see these things and say, “How could I have been a believer in Christ and yet have been such an unfaithful manager?”

 

But then Christians have something like this happen.  A young man came and saw me years after he was confirmed.  He hadn’t been to church probably since the day of his confirmation.  But as we talked he said, “When I was a teenager in juvenile detention, you were the only one who came and visited me.”

 

When I think of all the people I could have visited and failed to in my years as a pastor, I have no illusions that one kid I visited makes up for it all, makes me a just steward instead of an unjust one.  Only Jesus’ death for me does that; only His baptism, where all my unfaithfulness has been drowned and washed away, according to His promise.

 

But with all the hours of time and energy I wasted in unfaithfulness, with that one hour I made a friend on earth and perhaps for eternity.  I made one friend who could say, “That one time Pastor Hess visited me in jail testified that everything wasn’t just talk, that he believed in the Jesus he preached to others.”

 

Jesus says, do this with unrighteous wealth.  Make friends, many friends, who can testify that you grasped the grace of God in Jesus because it flowed out of you to them.

 

The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

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