+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 16:1-11
Theme: Christ and Adversity
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Jesus’ words today are arguably some of the most puzzling in the Bible. He speaks of a manager who was heavily indebted to his employer. Unable to repay he doctors the accounts of some of the rich man’s debtors. Though the action resulted in a loss of income for the owner, he still commends his manager for being shrewd. Jesus does not condone dishonesty. He does, however, counsel people to be wise about how the unbelieving world handles its affairs and wants us to understand the full implications. Jesus said to His apostles, “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”1
The way we handle our daily affairs is an indicator of our integrity. The same holds for our spiritual life. Integrity is not measured by the amount of assets or degree of responsibility we have, but by faithfulness to our charge, great or small. Jesus says today, “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. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”2
The age and circumstances in which we live in no way nullify the application of Jesus’ words. Satan is happy to work with the opportunities of the times. Prosperity and adversity both have their unique ways of testing our faith. In the midst of prosperity people are tempted to doubt the need for God’s grace. In the midst of adversity we are tempted to question its existence. That God sometimes allows us to prosper is easily assumed to be something due us. That God, at other times, allows us to suffer strikes us as uncharitable and harsh. The danger of prosperity is self-reliance and self-righteousness. The danger of adversity is suspicion and doubt. Either way, God is marginalized as unnecessary, inept, or unreliable. Everything that marginalizes the need for Christ, whether overt or subtle should be recognized as a call to repentance.
It is clear by the way Christ interacted with people that He never trivialized their adversity, nor did He seek to simply transcend it. Our Lord was not unfamiliar with the challenges of this mortal existence. His solidarity with humanity was not artificial. Temptation, testing, grief, anguish, affliction, and misery marked His earthly journey. The fact of His divinity in no way limited or dulled His experience of mortality. Our salvation was accomplished not by lightning bolts cast down from heaven, but by the fleshly body of the man Jesus Christ. In His sinless-ness, He never remained aloof from poor miserable sinners.
This great truth of the incarnation has on-going and far-reaching significance. The presence of Jesus Christ in our lives isn’t limited to memories of a Bethlehem manger, a Calvary cross, and an empty tomb. Christ is in the details of our lives; in adversity and prosperity. Baptism brings us into union with Him. The Holy Spirit guides and consoles us with His promises. Holy Communion gives us a taste of His forgiveness. Christ concerns Himself with our smallest fears and our largest traumas. He constantly intercedes for our well-being. And in so doing He constantly nudges us closer to Him. He desires that we become more dependent that we might cling all the more tightly to His blessings.
Dear friends, this is where our human view usually diverges from His divine perspective. We always want prosperity- physical, emotional, spiritual- but God often sends adversity. To rejoice in the suffering that God allows strikes at the heart of living Christianly, of bearing the cross. To have our lives conformed to God’s truth when there is no opposition is not yet the essence of the imitation of Christ. Our sinful nature-its desires, pursuits and falsehoods- struggles against the Holy Spirit’s work. Truth always meets with opposition. We’d like to have that tension resolved, but God uses it to hone our faith.
In an effort to resolve just this problem the church is tempted to tailor the Biblical message in such a way that unpleasant experiences are explained without reference to God’s will in Christ. Christianity can become primarily an ethical pursuit or a motivation for social activism. Again, God is marginalized as the One who is either uninterested or uncharitable and so things are taken into human hands.
But the church should never defined by the influences which seek to corrupt it or the circumstances which attend it. If, when boiled down, stripped of all of its accessories, undressed of all its cosmetic elements, Christianity means anything, it must mean this: God reconciles the ungodly to Himself through Christ. It must mean that the entry into eternal security, divine presence and everlasting bliss is not accessed by human striving, great or small; not by purity of heart, clarity of mind, or earnestness of deed. The unapproachable Godhead is not approached by the feeble human being. Mortals have merited no avenue to Him who alone is immortal and incorruptible. Christ freely gives what can never be forcefully seized.
If the gospel means anything important it means God acts. He sacrifices His own son and reckons believers righteous on His account. It means God forgives. He clears the slate casting sins away as far as the east is from the west. It means God restores. He mends broken hearts and re-assembles shattered lives. It means God gives. He graciously bestows every blessing of body and soul. It means adversity has a purpose; a godly purpose, a holy purpose.
The Scriptures are filled with examples of people drowning in adversity. They don’t strike us at first as being premier examples of prosperous and trouble-free saints. But they are real people, people with issues, struggles, and failures, people like you and me. They are people thrown into the fray, but with whom God perseveres and promises deliverance. Christianity is not a hobby. Jeremiah is our case-in-point today.
Do our prayers lack the integrity and tenacity of a Jeremiah who poured out His heart to the Lord in fervent plea? “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her king no longer there?”3 In our prayers do we seek apathetically to patronize a God we actually believe is remote and uninterested? Or do we seek to rouse to action the deliverer of Zion, the rock of salvation, the One who turns back evil and raises the dead! Is our worship a ritual shell of a deceased or dying body of faith? Or do we trust in the Living God- the immortal one who clothed Himself with our mortality; the giver of life who subjected Himself to death; the invisible Deity robed with human flesh?
Adversity is not a sign of God’s apathy, but the means by which He pulls us nearer. May He grant you the eyes of faith to see the blessings that come in such disguises. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
19 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 10:16
2 Luke 16:10-11
3 Jeremiah 8:19