Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Shrewd Trust

Sermon for Pentecost18, Proper 20C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, September 18, 2016.

Trust is very important to us. It’s part of who we are as human beings. All of us we’re born trusting. We trusted in our parents to feed us, to clothe us, to change us, to keep us safe and alive. As we grew, we continued to trust, but the older we got, the more difficult trusting in others became. Now trust is something people have to earn, we don’t just give it out to anyone. As our trust in others has decreased, trust in ourselves has increased. It’s very easy to trust in ourselves: in our abilities and in our possessions; but God calls us not to trust in these things, in “unrighteous” wealth. Instead, we need to trust in Him, in our Master’s mercy.

In Jesus’ parable, the manager trusted in “unrighteous” wealth, in his position and in the money he was in charge of. He felt secure in these things and he took them for granted, he abused his position. He wasn’t a faithful manager. He mishandled his master’s money, and when this wastefulness was brought to his boss’s attention, he lost his job.

At this point, the manager’s “unrighteous” wealth failed him. He no longer had the security of his job and title. He no longer had the financial means to survive. The master took everything back, and there was nothing the manager could do. He was alone and out in the cold.

Like this dishonest manager, our first trust is often in “unrighteous” wealth, in the things of this world. We trust in our health. The world today is filled with all sorts of fitness crazes and different diets that promise to produce long, healthy, vigorous lives. So, we eat right and exercise because we all know that it’s good for us. However, it doesn’t matter how many hours a week we spend trying to achieve the healthiest body, our health still fails. All of us have been sick, some more than others. Cancers and heart disease attack marathon runners and iron men. No one is immune to the common cold. And nothing, absolutely nothing can keep death away for ever. Our health fails us.

So we trust in our possessions and money. We work and work and work to acquire all that we can, to get the stuff that will make our lives enjoyable and carefree. We think to ourselves, “If I just had that new iphone 7 everything would be great,” “If we just lived in that new house life would be so much nicer,” “If my bank account had that much money in it then life would be easy.” But of course, all this fails. We never have enough and we’re never happy with what we have. New technologies come out every year. All our homes need repaired, and no matter how much money we have, there’s always another bill around the corner that needs to be paid. Our possessions and money fail us.

So we trust in our relationships, in our family and friends. We rely on loved ones to be there for us, to build us up, to take care of us when we’re in need. We expect them to be faithful, trustworthy, and true. But even those closest to us fail us. Family members let us down, friends crack jokes about us behind our backs, those we trust betray us. Our relationships fail.

And so we’re left trusting in ourselves, in our abilities. We do all that we can. We try hard to live godly lives according to God’s will. We want to be worthy of our heavenly Father’s gifts and graces. But we fail in this endeavor, because we’re sinners. We’re born sinners and sin is what we do. We can’t trust in ourselves and in our abilities because there’s absolutely nothing we can do to make us worthy before God, there’s nothing we can do that guarantees us life.

The worldly things that we put our trust in: our health, our money, our relationships, our own abilities; all these fail us. None of them provide us with the life we need. When our “unrighteous” wealth fails us, and it will fail us, all we can do is turn to Christ. All we can do is look to our Lord and Master, trusting in His mercy.

The dishonest manager realized this. When his position and wealth failed him, he had to trust in his master’s mercy. As he stood before his master, he didn’t try to justify himself. He knew he was caught, there was nothing he could say or do to get out of it. He was at the mercy of his master. The boss he’d been cheating would decide his fate.

It should be pointed out here that the master didn’t throw this dishonest manager into jail, even though that was well within his rights. Instead, the master had mercy on him, letting him go free, and in this, we see the true character of the master. He was merciful.

When the dishonest manager contemplated what he would do; he recognized his master’s mercy. He knew his master was a gracious, and he used this to his advantage. Before it was made known that the manager had lost his job, he called in the master’s debtors and reduced their bills knowing that because of who his master was, he would honor this reduction. The manager exploited the master’s mercifulness in order to secure himself a place among the debtors. It’s because of this shrewd and wise trust that the dishonest manager is commended. The master didn’t commend him for his deceitful business practices, but because this manager realized who the master was, trusting in his merciful character.

It’s at this point that Jesus explains this confusing parable. He said, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Lk 16:8b). What Jesus is saying is that unbelievers know how to play the game. They can use the system, the ways of this world, and they trust them to work. The dishonest manager trusted that the master would honor the reduction of the bills. However, believers, Christians, you and me, we don’t always trust in our Master and in His merciful character. We trust in everything else but Him, we trust in “unrighteous” wealth. It’s not until we’re at the end of our ropes, when everything else has failed that we come to Him. It’s only in the hospital rooms that we seek Him. It’s only when the bank balance reaches single digits that we call on Him. It’s only when we feel all alone that we reach for Him.

And thanks be to God, at these times, our Master is merciful, hearing us and coming to us. Our Master is merciful and gracious. Instead of punishing us for our sin like we deserve, He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross so that we might be forgiven, so that we might have the promise of everlasting life. Christ our Lord and Master is there when all else fails...He’s there before everything fails. He’s there in mercy, calling us to repent, calling us to shrewdly and wisely trust in Him, because He’s the one thing that we can trust in, He’s the one thing that can’t fail.

Even though we constantly, and sinfully, put our trust in “unrighteous” wealth, our Master is merciful. He forgives us for Christ’s sake. His mercy and forgiveness never fail, and this is what we trust in. We trust in Christ’s saving death and resurrection for our life, for that is the only place in which everlasting life is found. So we daily pray for the Holy Spirit to keep us in this faith, to keep us trusting in God’s mercy, to keep us trusting in our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name...Amen.

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