Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
August 14, 2022
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells us a story of a no good, double tongued, self-serving cheat. And he tells us to be more like him. How can this be? Certainly, Jesus isn’t serious! He is serious, and you should pay attention to this lesson. No, Jesus is not telling us to be no good, double tongued, self-serving or to cheat anyone. But he is calling us to be shrewd, that is, wise and understanding, and to put our shrewdness to work.
The steward in our lesson was accused of wasting his master’s possessions. And against this charge he could give no defense. So, he quickly used the short time he had left at his job to secure himself accommodations for when his master threw him out. So, he called up his master’s debtors and had them rewrite the books with less debt. The steward, who still had charge over all the records, was able to sign off on this in his master’s name. That means that if the master were to later dispute the amount owed, he’d appear stingy and double tongued. And so, this steward secured for himself friends and housing as well as the praise from his master for his wise dealings.
But, how can you, a Christian, imitate this cheat? How are you like him in any way? You are like him in more ways than you think. First, the man is a steward. A steward is one who manages his master’s possessions, meaning, he doesn’t deal with his own property, but the property of another. That describes you and me. We are all simply stewards of what we have. Everything we have we have received from our heavenly Father, our Good Master. And every earthly possession we have will pass away. We won’t own it forever. Either our stuff will break or be spent, or we’ll die and leave it to someone else. So, we’re all stewards. We’re the temporary managers of all that we have, whether that is money, possessions, or time.
Secondly, this steward has been accused of wasting his master’s possessions. Well, if everything you have in life, both tangible and intangible, your money, your possessions, your talent, your intelligence, your time, are given to you on loan from God, would you say that you have managed them all well? Or could you be accused of wasting your Master’s possessions?
One of the greatest time-wasters in our present age is the smartphone. It’s supposed to be a timesaver, but it often has the opposite effect. There’s a way to check your phone to see how much time you spend on it, and how much time you spend on each of the apps. Many are embarrassed at how much time they waste watching videos, playing stupid games, and other mindless activities. Yet, what if there were a way for you to see how much time you spend on every activity in life, and how much money, and how much stress you spend. If you could see a pie chart, which broke down how many hours you spent at every activity, what you spent your money on, what you stressed over and talked about, would you be embarrassed? How much time have you spent in God’s Word and prayer? How much time have you spent helping others? And how much time have you spent serving your own pleasures? The same can be asked about your money, talents, and thoughts. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must confess that we have joined the unrighteous steward in wasting our master’s possessions.
So, how should we imitate this unrighteous steward? Well, he made friends with what he had while he had it. Now, this certainly does not mean that we should cheat our employers or steal. But we should be diligent with what we have. Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Unbelievers are more shrewd than us believers. Unbelievers are wiser in their dealings with each other. Unbelievers serve their false god more diligently than we serve the true God!
What Jesus is getting at is that you cannot serve two masters. You cannot worship both God and mammon. Now, our ESV translation of the Bible translates it money, but the word is actually mammon. Mammon means more than just money. It means earthly possessions. Luther explains it as anything beyond what you absolutely need. And most of us can admit that we have more than we actually need of a lot of things. Now, nowhere does Jesus say that you should not have mammon. Rather, he says you must not worship it. You can either worship mammon, or you can worship God. You can’t do both.
The unrighteous steward in our Gospel lesson worshipped mammon. And he worshipped mammon more diligently than most Christians worship Christ. That’s the lesson. It should not be so. Rather, you should worship Christ as diligently as the mammon worshiper worships mammon.
What you worship betrays who your God is. To worship means to serve. So, do you use your mammon to serve the kingdom of God, or do you serve your mammon? That’s where the pie chart would be helpful. You can find out what your false gods are by what you spend your time, talents, and money, and thoughts on. You can discover what your false gods are by what offends you. Are you offended when God’s Word is blasphemed, or when your feelings are hurt? Well, then there’s your false god. It is not wrong to have money, time, friends, family, intelligence, and talents. These are all given to you by God. It is wrong to worship them, to serve them at the expense of God’s kingdom and your own faith in Christ.
The unrighteous steward made temporary friends with his master’s wealth. Christ calls us to make eternal friends with our Master’s wealth. Here we remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever offers even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, because he is a disciple, will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) And so, we see our brothers and sisters in Christ in need, so we help them. A pastor falls ill with a debilitating disease, and Christians pitch in to provide for his wife and children. We see that people on the other side of the world are in need of the Gospel, so we should fund missionaries, so that they can focus on preaching the Gospel instead of raising funds. It’s more important that there are Lutheran Churches for your children and grandchildren to attend after you’re gone than it is that they get a nice inheritance. Unbelievers work hard to control the education of our children, so that many have apostatized, in part because of their unchristian education, so it is important for us to fund Christian education for the next generation.
And we’ve all benefited from such friends. Every one of us has worshipped in a church, we did not build and were taught by pastors we did not train, because Christians before us put their mammon to work for the sake of the kingdom. God has more time, money, and talents than anyone. He is the possessor of the entire earth. Yet, he has placed his earthly possessions into the hands of stewards, who he intends to work for his kingdom. Now, you can’t control what the rich and famous do with their deposit. But you can control what you do with yours.
Why wasn’t the unrighteous steward afraid to play so fast and loose with his master’s property, decreasing the debt of his debtors? Because he knew that he had a generous master, who would not go back on his word. Well, don’t you have a generous Master? Does it not please the Lord for you to be generous with what is his? It certainly does. This is why we forgive those who sin against us. We’re not going to run out of forgiveness. This is why we should not fear to help out others. We aren’t left poorer when we care for those in need. And this is why we should not fear to support the mission of the church on earth. Christ promises that if you seek first the Kingdom of God, all these things will be added unto you.
The unrighteous steward was concerned with his temporal dwelling. Likewise, you need money to put a roof over your head. But Jesus tells us not to worry about such things. Our heavenly Father will care for us. Rather, he tells us to be concerned with the eternal dwelling. Our Lord Jesus went to prepare such an eternal dwelling for us. And he acquired it for us not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and innocent sufferings and death. Jesus shed his blood to take your sins away. He purchased your eternal home in heaven, so that you can receive it freely as a gift through faith.
This means that your eternal home is secure. You can’t earn it. You can’t purchase it. But if you believe that Christ has won it for you, then you desire it more than the riches of this world. The only thing that can lose this eternal dwelling is unbelief, idolatry. So, when Jesus tells us to make friends with unrighteous mammon, he is not telling us to earn our way into our eternal dwellings. He is telling us to live as if we believe that Christ has won for us our eternal dwellings with his precious blood. He is telling us to live as if we believe that Jesus is our God, who joined our human race to rescue us from sin, death, and hell, and that he succeeded. He is telling us to live as if Jesus and the eternal dwelling he has secured for us are worth losing house and home, wife and children, land and job for, and to believe that God will gladly give and preserve all these things for us for Christ’s sake.
St. John writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 5:1) Those who will welcome us into the eternal dwellings are those who have been born of God. And so, we should love them. And we should do for them what love requires.
Mammon worshipers serve mammon diligently, because they are confident that money will keep them secure. So, mammon turns them into slaves until it ultimately fails them. Christians serve Christ diligently, because they are confident that Jesus will keep them secure. And Jesus does. He never fails us. The hymnist Paul Gerhardt writes, “What is all this life possesses? But a hand full of sand/That the heart distresses. Noble gifts that pall me never Christ, our Lord, Will accord/To his saints forever.” Such confidence we should have in Christ, who has promised us his heavenly kingdom for our eternal home. When we believe this, a cheerful, generous, and busy spirit arises in us, to work shrewdly for that kingdom. Amen.