Be Like the Scoundrel
A sermon based on Luke 16v1-13
Sunday, September 26, 2010 – Pentecost 18C
Hebrews 11 is the hall of faith, full of examples for us to follow: Abel, Enoch, and Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses and the rest. The apostle Paul said he was an exmple to follow, "become like me," he told the Galatians (Galatians 4:12), and "Follow my example," he told the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus, too gave us examples to follow. "Love each other as I have loved you," (John 15:12), "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," (Luke 6:36), and "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
Now we can easily understand how the heroes of faith—who trusted in God in some very difficult circumstances—are to be examples to us. We can understand how the apostle Paul—who served God diligently, sharing the gospel around the world—can say "imitate me." And we can certainly understand how Jesus—perfect and sinless in every way—can say "be like me and my heavenly Father."
But it seems a bit odd this morning when Jesus holds up a different sort of person as an example to us. He tells us to be like a dishonest cheat and crook. What could he possibly mean? Let's take a look at our gospel lesson for this morning and see what Jesus means when says (in so many words), "Be like the scoundrel." The gospel this morning is taken from Luke 16:1-13…
Jesus told his disciples: "There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.' 3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I'll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.' 5 "So he called in each one of his master's debtors. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 "'Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,' he replied. "The manager told him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.' 7 "Then he asked the second, 'And how much do you owe?' "'A thousand bushels of wheat,' he replied. "He told him, 'Take your bill and make it eight hundred.' 8 "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own? 13 "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
I. Concerned with the Day of Reckoning (v.1-9)
Look at what this man does! He is a cheat and a crook and a scoundrel! After being fired for mismanagement of his master's funds, what does he do? He robs him of even more, cooking the books to try to come out ahead in the end! What a loser!
How shocking then, when his master commends him and praises him! What a surprise to hear Jesus say in so many words, "Learn from his example and be like him." Are we to act dishonestly and cheat our employers to get ahead? Is that what he's saying? Of course not! Well, what then does he mean? The answer is found in verse 8. There Jesus says, "The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly."
The master in the story and Jesus himself don't commend the manager for being dishonest. No! He was fired for his dishonesty! But they do commend him "because he had acted shrewdly." That's an important point. The manager is commended because he was able to look at what he had at his disposal and make a quick and calculated decision that would benefit him in the future. He was concerned about that day of reckoning that was coming, and did all he could to prepare for it. He's commended not for being dishonest, but for being so resourceful.
That's Jesus point when he says we should be like him. "For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light." Just think of how resourceful the people of this world—that is, unbelievers—can be: how hard the professional athlete trains to win the championship, how hard the businessman works to get another client, how hard your co-workers compete to get a promotion.
Let's face it, the people of this world are shrewd. They're business savvy and know how to work the system and use what's at their disposal to get ahead. But for what? Even if they get everything they hope to get—the trophy, the job, the money—how long does it last? Not very long—80, 90 years at best?
But not us, friends. As people of the light, we strive for eternal things! So, if the people of the world use whatever they have to get their goal (which is so fleeting, even if they do obtain it), how much harder should we work and how much more resourceful should we be to attain our better, nobler, eternal goals?!
Martin Luther once asked the rhetorical question, "Where is the Christian who jealously walks a quarter mile to church in order to hear the Word of God, as a merchant travels far and wide to become wealthy?! …If [the world] can sprint like mad to hell, why must God drag me by the hair to my soul's salvation?"
You and I are managers, working with our Masters' possessions. After all, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1). We should be using all he's entrusted to us to bring glory to God; to store up not just treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven. (cf. Matthew 6:19-20) But how do we do?
If God were to demand an accounting of you, how would you do? If he said, "Hand over your checkbook for the last 20 years. I want to see how you've been spending my money. How have you been using the blessings I've entrusted to you?" Have you always made perfect use of the time, talents, treasures he's given? Or have you spent it frivolously on yourself? Have you used it to further the Gospel cause? Or to achieve your own selfish interests?
And that's just the physical blessings he's given, not to mention the spiritual. Have we always made good use of his greater gifts of his Word, the Sacraments, his gifts of prayer and the opportunities we have to worship?
If you're like me, maybe that's why it's sometimes uncomfortable to hear sermons about stewardship of time and treasure. We realize that we haven't been the most faithful managers and that if God were to conduct such a divine audit we would fail. After all, who wants to go into the board room when you know you deserve to be fired?
And we do deserve to be fired. We deserve to be stripped of all our possessions. We deserve to have the Word taken away. After all, "If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" We deserve to be fired forever in an eternity of hell.
And so, concerned with our day in the board room—our day of eternal reckoning—we need to repent of those sins of making money and stuff our master in place of God. We need to get rid of that love of money in our hearts. You see, if my hands are full of pebbles, I can't take the diamonds that are offered me. In the same way, if my heart is full of the love of money and the stuff it can buy, there's no room left for Jesus. Se we confess our sins to God, just as we did earlier in the service. We bring out our books and say "search them God." We admit the huge deficit we've run up. And cry out for his mercy.
And when we do, what an awesome thing happens! God prepares us for that day of reckoning…
II. Prepared for the Day of Reckoning (v.10-13)
While we deserve to be fired for our mismanagement of God's blessings, that's not what happens. In fact, because we don't succeed at managing God's portfolio for him, Jesus stepped in volunteering to be fired in our place. Paul puts it well in 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."
Because Jesus paid the debt that you owed, God looks at your account, pulls out his auditor's stamp, dips it in the blood of his son and stamps on your personal bill one word: Forgiven. You are a forgiven child of God! And now he says to you, "Instead of firing you, I'm rehiring you! Instead of taking away your wealth, you get to keep managing it for me."
Such grace, such mercy, such love from God to us, moves us again to be shrewd; to make every effort to use the blessings he's given us right now to his glory as best we can. And Jesus tells us how to manage it. He says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
Now wait a second! Here's another shocking quote from Jesus! Is he saying that if we use our money wisely we can get into heaven? No! Of course not! What then is he saying? How are we welcomed into eternal dwellings? We're welcomed not because we made friends for ourselves, but by those people who heard the gospel through our efforts ere on earth. And often those efforts take a certain amount of money, don't they? But excited about the forgiveness of the huge debt that we owed to God, we gladly use everything at our disposal to share the gospel with others. That's the kind of friends Jesus is talking about—that welcome us into heaven.
Just think how awesome it will be to have that crowd of rescued sinners gather around you in heaven when you get there to say to you, "Thank you for sharing the gospel with me! Thank you for inviting me to church! Thank you for supporting the missionary that shared the gospel with me! Your offering helped train my pastor who gave me the right words at the right time. Your gifts trained my teacher who taught me about Jesus. I'm here, in part, thanks to you. I wouldn't be here otherwise. Thank you!" What a welcome that will be!
And what opportunities we have right now. But those opportunities won't last forever. Every financial counselor you talk to will tell you that one of their best pieces of advice is to start saving now. Not next year. Not next month, but right now. Why? Because you can put that compound interest to work for you. If you start at age 18, you'll have twice as much at your retirement as the guy who starts at age 30 and puts in the same amount. So start early, even if it's only a few bucks a month. Use what you have now!
And friends, the same is true in God's economy. When is the best time to start acting shrewdly with our money? Right now! We may not get a tomorrow. So, let's invest it wisely. What does that look like?
First, stop buying what you don't need. Don't fall in love with your money and the stuff it can buy. You can't serve both God and money. Besides, money won't last. It's fool's gold.
Next, budget wisely, using your resources first to grow God's kingdom and have an eternal impact with your dollar. What better investment could there be? Prayerfully consider increasing your offerings to give a set percent of your income.
Or consider budgeting dollars not just to give to church, but to take a different friend or neighbor to dinner each month. Get to know them and their needs so you can meet those needs and share your faith. And the eternal dividends you'll earn by it will make for an awesome investment when you use the temporary worldly wealth at your disposal to make eternal friends for yourselves.
And finally, being trustworthy with these little things (like money), also be trustworthy with God's greater blessings. Stay in the Word every day. For there you'll find not only the wisdom to make good decisions with your money, but more importantly you'll find the promises of God: that our sins are forgiven, that he will provide for all our needs, that we are prepared for the Day of Reckoning in Jesus and our entry into the mansions of heaven is certain.
And as you do stay in the Word every day, you won't be able to help but respond with thanks, using your worldly wealth not just for yourself, but as a means to grow God's Kingdom. Just as the people of this world use other people to get more money, you'll gladly use your money to get more people.
Trusting in God's promises, friends, be like the scoundrel: act wisely and shrewdly, act decisively and immediately, but also act thankfully and gratefully for our God who made us rich through his Son, Jesus. In his name, dear saints. Amen.