Jesus calls money unrighteous wealth. This is not simply because people use money to buy and do terrible things and people do wicked things to obtain money. Jesus calls money unrighteous wealth, because everything you buy with it will perish.
Money can only buy things that break, rot, rust, or otherwise turn to nothing. And if your wealth does last, you lose it all when you take your last breath. Jesus calls it mammon, that is earthly wealth. He says, "No servant can have two masters, for 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 God and mammon."
And indeed, mammon is the greatest false religion in the world. The masses rush after it. They devote their time and talents; sacrifice marriages and faith; in short, they worship mammon: money, and all it can buy.
This is a cruel false religion that never satisfies and conks out on even its most devoted followers when they die. And it is a dangerous threat to Christians, as Jesus warns in his parable about the sower and the seeds, "As for those sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word, and it proves unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22)
So, it is somewhat astonishing that the master in Jesus' parable commends the unrighteous manager. Isn't the unrighteous manager a cheat? Yes, but the master doesn't commend the manager for being a cheat. Jesus says, "The master commended the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light."
He commended the unrighteous manager for being wise and diligent. He was in a pickle and he thought quickly to get out of it. He lost his job. He had a little time to gather his books. So, he quickly calls his master's debtors and uses his master's money to make friends. The master isn't commending him for being a cheat, but for being smart and industrious.
And it is true that the worshippers of mammon are much wiser in dealing with mammon than Christians. Well, they're more devoted to it. In fact, sadly, it seems the disciples of earthly wealth are more devout to their god than the followers of Jesus are to Christ. When I was a fourth-year seminarian I would often fill in services at vacancy congregations. To get to one congregation I had to drive on the Queen Elizabeth Way, which goes to Toronto. The highway is normally packed Monday through Friday, but on Sunday morning it was smooth sailing. People are willing to drive an hour to work, but few would do that to find a faithful church.
But God does want you to use this unrighteous wealth wisely. After all, he gave it to you. Just like the manager in our text, you aren't working with your own money. You're working with God's money and God's possessions. Everything belongs to God. God says in Psalm 50, "For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine." Everything in your bank account, every possession in your house, yes, even your beating heart was given to you by God and they all rightly belong to God. And God has some opinions (mark sarcasm) on how you should use his property. And just like the master in our Gospel lesson, God wants you to be generous with his possessions.
Did you catch that in our lesson? The master commends his unrighteous manager, because of his shrewdness, that is, he commended him for wisely using wealth to secure future wealth. But the manager did it at the master's expense. Although the manager cheated his master, it seems that the master wanted the manager to be generous with his property. And this is certainly true with God.
Our Lord says, "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwelling." When what fails? The unrighteous mammon that God has given you. And it will fail. Nothing you buy will not fail, waste away or be lost. Yet God, nevertheless, wants you to use this transitory wealth to make friends, who will greet you when you enter your eternal dwelling. Well, who will greet you in your eternal dwelling? Not your car or your house or your best bottle of bourbon. The person sitting next to you! They believe in Christ Jesus! They will welcome you in heaven! Do they have need with which you can help with the mammon God has given you? And of course, Jesus died for all human beings, and whoever believes in Christ will be saved, so potentially every person you encounter could welcome you into heaven. Perhaps this will give you perspective on why you should help those in need!
God also wants you to be generous to his Church. Yes, there are many con artists and televangelists pretending to be pastors, who will gladly take your money to make themselves rich. But that does not give you an excuse to not support the true proclamation of God's Word. When you support your local congregation and good Lutheran missions, you are using your unrighteous wealth, which God has given you, in a righteous way. By supporting the proclamation of God's Word, you help many friends, who will greet you in heaven.
Jesus says, "If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches." People are unfaithful with unrighteous wealth, because they don't consider it a loan from God. Instead they worship their unrighteous wealth. And since they worship their unrighteous wealth, they do not worship the true God. Jesus says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21) If you worship unrighteous wealth, you will not recognize true riches.
What are true riches? Well, like unrighteous wealth, true riches are given to you by God. But unlike unrighteous wealth, true riches do not waste away or get lost. Not even when you die! True riches last forever. And like unrighteous wealth, God wants you to use your true riches wisely.
True riches are the Gospel and the eternal life given by the Gospel. This includes Baptism, Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Lord's Supper. These riches that you receive here on earth are eternal, because they give you Jesus and eternal life with him. Baptism joins you to Christ's death and resurrection and gives you new birth. Absolution isn't debt forgiveness from a credit card. It is worth much more than that. Absolution removes the guilt that would surely send you to hell, by placing it on Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, who washes your sin and guilt away in his own blood. Preaching cannot be compared to watching a show or hearing a lecture, because Christ has chosen to come to you through the preaching of his word and he has promised to create and strengthen saving faith through it. The Lord's Supper is not a ritualistic snack that you can forego for long periods of time without any negative repercussions. This is the true body and blood of Christ that not only forgives your sins, but gives you the strength to continue in your faith.
These are true riches, because they all give you Jesus. God is generous, no doubt. He feeds you and clothes you. He gives you a good job, good husband or wife, children, house, etc. Yet these don't even touch on God's generosity. God's generosity is seen in its extreme in his giving of his Son, Jesus Christ to die on your behalf, covered in your sin, to give you eternal life as an innocent child of God.
And so, God wants you to handle these true treasures that give you Jesus and eternal life wisely. He does not want you to neglect them, but use them. Remember your Baptism, Hear God's Word. Take advantage of the free forgiveness of sins! Eat Christ's body and blood, do not stay away for no good reason.
And as with the unrighteous wealth God gives you, he wants you to be generous with true riches. God has forgiven you, so you must also forgive others. The power to forgive even your enemy does not lie in you, but it flows from the blood of Jesus that has washed away your sins.
It is a wise use of unrighteous wealth to not spend your entire paycheck, but save a little and invest. And it is wise to use your money to take care of your children, buy them food and clothing, invest in their education and health, and such. But the greatest investments and wisest planning with unrighteous wealth can never compare to the use of true riches. Everything you do for your children with unrighteous wealth, while good and wise and right to do, will eventually waste away. But your child's baptism does not waste away. When you bring your child to be baptized, you give your child a heavenly treasure worth much more than a mutual fund or a warm meal and a clean bed to sleep on.
Likewise, education is a fantastic investment that will benefit your children for the rest of their lives. But it is learning to trust in the Lord that comes from being taught Jesus' words that will last beyond this life. There is nothing more precious that you can give your children or loved ones or an enemy or a stranger than to share the Gospel, even to just invite them to church or say a prayer for them. Because the greatest riches you have are not in stocks or bonds or real estate. Your greatest riches are your faith and the things your faith receives: Jesus' love and forgiveness given through his word and sacraments.
You are all very wealthy; rich beyond your wildest dreams. You probably won't think so if you count your wealth in dollars and property. But all that will waste away soon enough. You are wealthy with possessions that will never waste away, because God is unbelievably generous. He has made you rich with the blood of Jesus Christ, our God and brother. God loves being generous to you. He loves giving his wealth to you. He gives his wealth to you today! And it is God's desire that you recognize the true wealth he gives you. Amen.