20 July 2008

Homily - Trinity 9

Using His Money to Show His Mercy
Trinity 9

Luke 16:1-13

God tells us exactly what we need to hear, when we need to hear it. As individuals, as families, and as a congregation, we struggle with how best to use our money. At home we love to buy all sorts of new clothes, new cars, and various toys for young and old, but in our current economy with high gas and food prices, we must rethink our priorities. And in the church we struggle with little money and pinch pennies to proclaim the true riches of Jesus’ life and forgiveness. So God knows we need to hear this story of the Unjust Manager, because in this story, Jesus teaches us to use His money to show His mercy.

Before we get the bottom line on Jesus’ “money sermon,” let’s rejoice in His “mercy sermon.” In Luke 15 Jesus gives us three stories on God’s mercy. First: a man has 100 sheep. One goes astray. He leaves the 99 to go find the one. When he finds it, he rejoices greatly. Second story: a woman has ten silver coins, but loses one. She carefully cleans her house until she finds it. When she finds the coin, she rejoices greatly. Third story: a man has two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance, then goes off and squanders it. When he returns home poor and humbled, his father receives him and rejoices greatly. These stories show and tell God’s great mercy for us lost sinners. All of heaven rejoices greatly and celebrates wondrously when one lost sinner is rescued, found, and made alive by Jesus and His cross-won forgiveness. Keep Jesus’ “mercy sermon” fresh in your mind so you can truly get the point of Jesus’ “money sermon.”

Now Jesus addresses His disciples who trust His mercy. Like the father in the previous story, we meet another rich man. Just as the prodigal son squandered his father’s estate, a manager squanders his master’s money. Just as the father had mercy on his squandering son, the rich master has mercy on his misbehaving manager. He does not execute him, though he legally could have. He does not put him in jail, though he rightly should have. No, the master simply fires the manager who mishandled his business. And the manager would remember such mercy!

The manager knows he is headed straight for the unemployment line. He knows he cannot go into manual labor. He’s too proud to beg or rely on handouts. What does he do? He acts very wisely. He calls in his master’s business clients and has them pay smaller bills. The clients then think, “This manager is a great guy to cut back on what we owe.” Yes, the unjust manager was unjust, but he was also banking on his master’s mercy as he planned ahead.

So the merciful master shows mercy yet again. Even though he was cheated, even though he lost some of his profits, he praised the unjust manager: “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” No, the master did not commend him for cheating. Rather, he praised him for his wisdom. The manager showed that he could plan ahead. He showed that he was concerned about what would happen to him in the future.

Now we come to the punch line of the story, the real “bottom line”: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” The unbelievers of the world are very good at pursuing their worldly goals. They know how to use money, how to work clients, how to achieve their purposes for their man-made security. And they do it very well. But what about us Christians? Do we know how best to use God’s gift of money for eternal goals, for proclaiming Christ and Him crucified? Or do we try to look and act just like unbelievers when we use Jesus’ money, make our friends, and enjoy our possessions?

In 1532 Martin Luther preached on this same story. He said: “We ought to learn from this that just as a greedy person goes after money and a worldling after his livelihood, so we ought zealously apply ourselves to things eternal” (House Postils 2:354). A worldly unbeliever will get up early in the morning and travel 100s of miles to make a few bucks. Where is the Christian who will eagerly and gladly get up early on a Sunday morning and travel across town to hear the message of Jesus and His forgiveness and mercy? A tightwad tycoon will rearrange his hectic schedule for a lunch meeting and risk cold hard cash for a new, promising investment opportunity. Where is the Christian who will rearrange his schedule to eat and drink at Jesus’ Table and receive the rich feast of Jesus’ forgiveness every chance he/she can? A crude factory worker will gladly work overtime for extra money to pay bills or buy a new boat or truck. Where is the Christian who will gladly and freely devote money, time and energy to make his/her church the best, classiest place on earth for proclaiming God’s goodness in Jesus Christ? Where is the Christian who will gladly give money so the pure Gospel of Jesus can freely spread through community and world?

By God’s mercy, we are the “sons of light,” the Christians. That means we get to live life differently than the worldly, unbelieving people around us. But how can they tell we are any different if we chase after the same fleeting happiness in the money and toys and good times that they pursue? How can they tell we already have our life in Jesus, our meaning in His mercy, our security in His forgiveness, when we use our money and goods merely to please ourselves?

In His mercy Jesus tells us today: “You don’t need to hoard and use your money and possessions to serve yourselves. You don’t need to find your identity in your prosperity. No, your identity comes from Me,” Jesus says. “I make you a child of light. I give you your meaning because you belong to Me. You are My treasured possession. Through My shed blood I forgive your greed. I was rich, but I made Myself poor for you. And by spending all I had on the cross, I make you rich beyond money. So when you possess Me, you have all that you need…now and forever.”

The master’s mercy freed the unjust manager to use money differently. Jesus’ mercy for us frees us to use money and possessions differently. Now we get to use our money and goods to glorify God and serve other people. We get to use His money and goods to show His mercy, to draw other people to Jesus and His forgiveness. But we need to look at our money and goods differently. Let me illustrate. Several years ago politicians in Washington D.C. were talking about a surplus of money. (Hard to believe now, isn’t it?) Some politicians saw that surplus of money as theirs to spend according to their hearts’ desire. Other politicians, however, saw the money surplus differently. They saw it as the people’s money, and so they returned it to the people by cutting taxes. It all depended on how they viewed the money—whether they saw it as theirs or someone else’s.

In the same way Christians view money differently than other people do. Does our money belong to us, to spend according to our heart’s every little desire? No, it actually belongs to Someone else, to Jesus. In Jesus’ story, the money belonged not to the manager, but to the master. The manager simply used and managed what belonged to the master. The money we have does not belong to us, but to Master Jesus. In His mercy He lets us use and manage His money to show His mercy. We learn to say with the Catechism that God “gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have.”

Master Jesus gives us these “little things” of money and goods, so that we can show ourselves faithful in the “bigger things” of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our Master Jesus Christ gives us “unrighteous mammon” of money and goods, but they won’t last into eternity. So, He gives us the “true riches” of hearing His words of life, living in our Baptism, and feasting at His Supper. Since we are members of Jesus’ kingdom through water, word and meal, we are rich toward God. And our Lord Jesus loves to see us use all of our riches to show His mercy. Amen.

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