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Unrighteous Mammon, Shrewdness, and Your Best Life Later (sermon text)

23 Sep

 

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“…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

 

Some say this parable that we just read in the book of Luke is a great picture of God’s mercy –

They say it’s really about the dishonest steward banking on the fact that His Master was merciful & compassionate… and wants to be known as such!

Therefore, he could get away with what he did!…

I think this view is mistaken.

Even if those whose debts were slashed no doubt saw the Master that way…

On the other hand, in Luke 15, right before this parable—we read about the lost coin, sheep and son

Now those are definitely parables which are all about God’s mercy and compassion!

That trio of famous parables is all about the richest picture of God’s grace imaginable – about the most important way He blesses us.

And then, the parable in Luke 16—again, right after it—is about the most important way to use all the blessings that God has given you!

The key is this: don’t imitate the dishonesty but the shrewdness of the servant.

“use worldly wealth (or “mammon” – that is, that in which men put their trust…) to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings”.

The servant in the parable was worried about becoming poor and so shrewdly (and dishonestly!) made arrangements for the future – so he’d have friends who’d welcome Him.

You, on the other hand, should know that you are already rich and so should shrewdly (and honestly!) make arrangements for the future – so you can continue to know to the fullest the joy you’ve been given in Jesus Christ.

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So let’s explain this and sum it up a bit more – both Luke 15 and 16 together.

What I mean is this: as children of Adam and Eve, you, like the prodigal Son, wandered far from home.

You squandered your father’s wealth in every way possible. He was dead to you, because you yourselves were spiritually dead.

Born into sin by nature, you wanted nothing to do with the True God.

That said, you weren’t dead to Him.

He saw you over the horizon, and in spite of his status as a Wealthy Mideastern Nobleman, He took no concern for His dignity and ran out to meet you…

even if you were just coming back to survive.

He put His robe and ring on you and called out to His servants to kill the fattened calf, because His son that had been lost had now been found.

You couldn’t even finish that speech you’d prepared to convince Him to take you back!

Now, you are rich!

Now, you have your Father’s full acceptance!

Now, you share in all of His wealth!

And so He says… live in that joy![i]

As Paul puts it…. [I Thes. 5:16-18]

Even in great suffering, Christians know this is possible.

So be like your Father in Heaven, inviting persons from the hiways and biways to join you in joy – for meals at home… for spiritual meals at church!

And remember – the joy that we begin to know on earth in Christ will soon be transformed into heavenly joy as well…

So don’t just invite persons who can and will welcome you to their parties in return! That’s what the world, fixated just on this world, does (that is Jesus talking in Luke 14, by the way…)

Use your worldly wealth to invite the ones who can’t repay you here – and just keep in mind that in heaven they’ll certainly return the favor…

Because in heaven, none will be in want. And jealously won’t exist. And hospitality and generosity and glorious fellowship and joy from all and for all will flow like a river.

No one will feel like a wallflower.

No one will feel left out.

Like they don’t belong.

Folks, you aren’t the children of the world. You are Christians, and Christians are different.

And so we read:

“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight…”

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So, that’s the main thing about the parable. Well, about Luke 15 and Luke 16.

At the same time, let’s dig in… think about this in the context of our other readings.

In our parable for today, the servant was really worried about his status in this world… he was really concerned about becoming poor.

So his hands weren’t idle!

…even as he turned to dishonest work, to say the least! (something we note Jesus condemned)

And this too, is not uncommon, is it? “Blue-collar” and “white-collar” crime and the like…

To be sure, it is a problem, and we should not hesitate to be concerned about this issue of poverty in our current world.

And with it, the idea of “being on the outside”, being on the outs or margins…

“Marginalization” we call it.

Many have pointed out how in the Bible God really does care deeply about these things… and that many Christians sometimes have a hard time seeing this for some reason.

The Scriptures tell us that poverty does not only come through personal moral failure—which many will often assume—but also through unexpected calamity and also genuine moral oppression…

God though, is the Champion of the poor, the “sojourner”, the widow, the orphan…

Our other texts speak about those who are in great need, and are not able to defend themselves against the stronger ones who basically act in predatory fashion.

In the book of Amos, we read about the one who uses dishonest scales, and who “buy[s] the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals…”

We are told that the Lord will not forget this. We can be rest assured that He is going to make all things right.

In the Psalm, we also hear about how “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…” seating them with the princes of his people.

By the way, do you know what the Apostle Paul says about equity? Asking the Corinthians for money for the Jerusalem church, he said:

“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.’”

What should this mean for us today?

Well, more on that in a minute, but before this, let’s do another parable, a parable about the necessity of being shrewd for persons who are not necessarily materially rich, but spiritually rich.

I read it about a week ago…

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“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.

When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:

“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.

He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.

But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”

One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.

“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.

“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.

His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.

It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”

The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.

A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.

“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”

The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.

But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.

Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gemstone.

The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:

The king is Christ. The gemstone is his salvation.

The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.

And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.

So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”[ii]

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The point is this: the world looks at things that real Christians say and do, and still doesn’t feel very welcomed. They rarely say that directly though…

They are so very, very shrewd, o children of light….

“Speak the truth in love,” huh?

“Well, I don’t think the way you are saying that is very loving…”

Eventually, just what you are saying isn’t loving.

The world does this in all kinds of ways.

They look at the Bible’s focus on the poor and Paul’s statements about fairness and say “I can use that to my advantage.”

“I think Jesus said communist-like things, or at least a socialist-like things…”[iii]

Let me tell you another one I recently heard…

I heard about the topic of marginalization not long ago from a more liberal theologian who made reference to our I Timothy 2 passage this morning…

He got to addressing that passage by his own story….

He began by explaining how he had become a Christian in the army after high school

The other Christians he fellowshipped with were all about being free from the constraints of dogma and denominations.

And, he said he was a bit “fanatical”.

While overseas, he and other brothers, the “Soul Patrol,” would go into red light districts, brothels, in order to share the message.

They would even go on trains simply with the goal of passing out tracts…

Once, he went to a revival meeting that he found to be amazing, and he was telling his brothers all about the experience.

He spoke about the tongues, the miracles, and the preaching that he heard… but the men picked up on something that he’d said about the preacher: “she”.

“Did you say she? What does the Bible say? Women can’t preach.”

He replied: “I was there… she was preaching!”

The answer from his brothers came to him again:

“the Bible’s clear… women can’t preach….”

At this point he was shared the passage from 1 Timothy 2, the Epistle text for this morning…

“You believe the Bible’s God’s word, right?” his brothers challenged him…

He said he was 19 years old at the time, and that none of this seemed right in his spirit.

“Do you believe the Bible’s God’s word or not?”

His reaction was this:

“My whole life I have been fighting against this kind of thing. Against rules that said where I could and couldn’t go because I was black.”

He recalled how his father would tell him that he couldn’t go somewhere to eat but wouldn’t explain why this was the case.

He went on:

“We’ve been fighting this our whole life… this exclusion and oppression. And now I’m supposed to do to women what’s been done to me my whole life?”

“I want nothing to do with your God…”

So he became a liberal theologian.

He concludes today that life is all about “interpretation” – and our interpretations say more about us than they do about others.

They say what we believe and what we value – they are reflections of us.

As regards Christians, he said this means that our interpretations of the Bible say more about us than they say about God:

They reveal our beliefs and values more than they reveal God’s beliefs and values…

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This man went further: he made the case that the marginalized persons Christians hurt by their interpretation of the Bible are also the members of the LGBTQ+ communities as well…

“Look,” he said – “Paul may have called a lot of those things ‘sin,’ but today all of that has changed…”

What was this man, in effect, trying to do?

He was trying to gain friends for himself! Very shrewdly indeed…

And what is the harm? Perhaps God Himself is learning by experience?[iv]

No.

Not at all.

…but can you be sure?

Yes you can.

The fact of the matter is that, if we aren’t deeply familiar with the Scriptures here, and if we do not see them and love them as the Word of God, we are going to deeply confuse ourselves and others.

The fact is that there is an order to God’s creation – there are certain roles that exist—and that can’t be avoided.

And also, in the body of Christ, we are told that each and every part of the body is needed, valuable, not replaceable….

And we are to care deeply for one another.

This involves something we all call “tough love” – a phrase even the most “enlightened” worldly people understand

…even if they disagree about what behaviors are beneficial and detrimental to human flourishing…

Believe me, no one can live consistently thinking that “our interpretations say more about us than they do about others.”

Simply put, as creatures made in God’s image, we must and will make judgments.

And we’ll always insist that someone’s words are clear—someone that we “resonate” with—regardless of any person’s particular interpretation…[v]

Very shrewd they are.

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There is a constant theme running throughout the Bible that the world will persecute the church.

What this means is that while believers are often referred to as the poor in spirit, they are often identified with the poor as well.

The rulers and elites of this world will war against their God, and make things increasingly difficult for them…

The needy we are to attend to, therefore, are first of all other believers.

These are actually the persons that Jesus said the sheep focused on in Matthew 25, when He speaks about the separation of the sheep and the goats – He has hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned Christians in mind — as well as Christians we don’t know well.

Do we have some of these in this congregation? Or nearby?

Paul makes it very clear where our priorities should lie when he says “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

That word “especially” is especially important.

And regarding Paul, there are specific kinds of believers that he prioritizes for charitable work. Widows and orphans especially.

Do you have some of these in your congregation? Particularly those without family or extended family who can support them?

Does this mean that other kinds of persons who are in need are not important?[vi]

Not at all.

Nevertheless, we should also do hard thinking about what our priorities need to be…

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Again, I hope you found the discussion on the parable in Luke 16 interesting…[vii]

I want to clarify that this parable isn’t really about Jesus welcoming you into eternal dwellings… into salvation.

This is really talking about who among us is going to know the most joy in heaven.

You see, everyone in heaven will be happy to see you, but some people are going to draw quite a crowd – because of how they affected their neighbors with and through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In other words, in heaven, there are some who will be more well-known than others.

Some of you will have more persons clamoring for you to visit them and enjoy times of glorious fellowship and feasting in their dwellings…

The world is going to tell you:

“We’ll welcome you if you just do what we say!

… if you will just not care so much about your brothers and sisters.. and throw them under the bus.”

Ignore them.

Focus on living in the truth, sharing it in love, and addressing your neighbor’s needs – in order of priority – as they come up…

This, by the way, is exactly the way our Lord did it.

For the message of forgiveness, life and salvation through the cross of Christ was first for the Jew

…then, the Gentile.

You.

Amen.

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[i] Though fasting is good and beneficial for learning to control your sinful flesh, we are to primarily enjoy spiritually feasting on God’s riches – and great fellowship with fellow believers!

[ii] https://thefederalist.com/2019/09/09/drew-brees-shouldnt-ditched-christian-brothers-lies-twitter-mob/

[iii] Never mind that the Bible never talks about achieving this kind of goal (fairness, equity) by force, for example, but instead specifically upholds the rights of personal property:

“And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?…”

“No matter,” the world says…

[iv] Maybe that is what happened with the Canaanite woman when Jesus says “it’s not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs”?

Jesus Christ learns the hard way, through personal experience, that He just hadn’t been treating her right?

[v] Eventually, one will make judgements about the words and behaviors of others, whether those judgments are in line with God’s or not.

Our liberal theologian friend could presumably come to more clarity about the things he wanted clarity on—where people “get it” more and more—and are able to communicate what they “get” to one another in human language….

God, on the other hand, has presumably not given us, or has been unable to give us, any kind of such clarity in His word….

Right.

[vi] Does this mean that we should not help other categories of persons that are perhaps more common in our day and age? Even certain folks we are told are “marginalized”. No.

[vii] I think Jesus knew that the twist about dishonesty in the parable just makes us pay closer attention to His words so that they sink into our hearts. He knows the kind of messed-up attention span we sinners have.

 

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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