+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 16:11-12
Theme: A Means To An End
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The pastor absolves the penitent and in so doing acts as a steward of the most precious gift that exists. “Christ gave to His church the authority to forgive the sins of those who repent, and to declare to those who do not repent that their sins are not forgiven.”1 This authority is publicly exercised by the pastor on behalf of the congregation. The treasure of forgiveness is the source and motivation for the proper stewardship of all the blessings the Christian congregation holds in common. This forgiveness is indispensable, not an end in itself, but the means to eternal life.
Today Jesus follows one of the greatest parables of grace and forgiveness in the Scriptures- that of the “Prodigal Son”- with a somewhat vexing story about a dishonest manager. The teachings of Jesus were often difficult and even offensive to the people of His generation. It was no small challenge for people to get their heads around the idea that God walked among them. Though He showed glimpses of His divinity through many healings and other miracles, Christ generally cloaked His divine power behind human weakness. His teachings about the blessings and temptations of material goods are undoubtedly some of the most challenging for those who live in societies of affluence.
In today’s gospel account He commends the unscrupulous manager for being shrewd.
The only hope for the manager, because he could not dig or beg, was to bank on the mercy of the estate owner. In quickly redrawing the debtor’s accounts he endears himself to them. Jesus says that people of the world are often more savvy in such matters than believers. There is a lesson for us here. Christ wanted His disciples to be wise yet honest. He had the great challenge of showing people this life is not an end in itself. He teaches us to be stewards of our earthly blessings while remembering it’s only heavenly treasures that matter in the end.
There is nothing you truly own, nothing you can truly claim, nothing you are entitled to possess by virtue of your own authority except for your sins. Your sins are yours and no one else’s. You must account for them and no one else. This is true spiritual poverty. What’s more the penalty is eternal separation from God. Dare you try to make excuse or offer explanation? Your guilt only then worsens.
Yet, here is the miracle of the great exchange. Christ sequesters that which was truly yours, your sin, and makes it His own. He becomes accountable for it. His is liable. He is answerable. You, conversely, are credited with His perfect holiness. To be justified by grace is to be hidden in the wounds of Christ; to be sheltered by His sacrifice, to be freed by His ransom. The greatest challenge is never to comprehend it or contribute to it, but to believe it. For this we have the Holy Spirit. For this reason we are baptized. We are not baptized to kick-start a life of moral reformation. We are baptized to participate in the life-giving sacrifice of the crucified, resurrected and reigning Saviour. This involves constantly taking leave of this temporal life and preparing for the life to come.
God is fully aware of what we require in the sojourn of this temporary life. He is no miser. But it is often necessary for Him to confiscate our blessings. All things material are just on loan. What does the Scripture say, “The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2
In your stewardship are you deliberately mindful of the physical and spiritual well-being of others? God isn’t asking you to save the world. But He is asking you to reflect Christian truth in your small corner of the world. Sometimes the commonplace challenges are the ones we have the most difficulty with. We’d rather have the excitement of being called to some extraordinary quest. We’d rather be heroes and receive recognition. We’d rather be remembered for our exceptional feats.
Yet life can be a daily grind, a struggle of attrition and some of the most important accomplishments are reached by unwavering commitment to duty. Our prayers should regularly seek God’s strength and inspiration to meet the tasks before us. Faithfulness is always more important than flare. Christian faith may be most severely tested by severe trauma but it is more commonly tested by the wearing down of our stamina and enthusiasm. When is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back?
It’s like the man who wasn’t feeling well so he went to the doctor. After examining him the doctor took his wife aside, and said, “Your husband has a very weak and sensitive heart. I am afraid he’s not going to make it, unless you treat him like a king, which means you are at his every beck and call, 24 hours a day so that he doesn’t have to do anything to stressful himself. On the way home the husband asked with a note of concern “What did he say?” “Well”, his wife responded pensively, “He said it looks like you probably won’t make it.”
Dear friends, God’s ability to appreciate our struggles isn’t based only on omniscience. Yes, He knows and sees all things; our greatest trials and our smallest fears. Yet His identification with us involves more than a Creator-creation dynamic. In the person of Christ God assumes the fullness of humanity. The incarnation of the Son of God means that God experiences firsthand, from a human perspective, the full gamut of anguish, pain, and joy.
The implications of Christ’s incarnation involve more than empathy and solidarity. The key realities are substitution and sacrifice. Jesus is not simply a sympathizer or empathizer- though these are important- He is the Redeemer. He didn’t just come to inspect our misery. He came to face the horror of sin head on. He’s not a consultant, He’s a scapegoat. He doesn’t theorize about the best course of action, He submits Himself- body and soul- to the conflict against hell’s power. His work of reconciliation cannot be overstated. Many want someone to lift their spirits. Christ does much more. He rescues our souls and resurrects our bodies.
The apostle reminds us, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men- the testimony given in its proper time.”3 We have the greatest gifts: Forgiveness of sins, salvation, life in Christ. In water and word, bread and wine these gifts are reaffirmed and renewed. Our stewardship of all other things serves our belief that there is no loss we can suffer that the resurrection will not overcome. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 LH p.7
2 Matthew 6:32-33
3 1 Timothy 2:5
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
22 September 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt