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“Taking Heed…” – Ninth Sunday after Trinity (2018)

St. Luke 16.1-9; 1 Corinthians 10.6-13
29 July 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor           

+ In the Name of Jesus +

The most popular country music sing-along of the early 1990’s, my college years, when one was enjoying a few drinks, was Garth Brooks’ masterpiece, “Friends in Low Places”:

‘Cause I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away
And I’ll be okay
I’m not big on social graces
Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I’ve got friends in low places

Good ol’ Garth had quite the sing-along song for his concerts. The song sort of revels in the fact that the singer is not a high brow, uppity, black tie wearing kind of person. The singer finds himself in the places where the common man dwells, right? Low places, where people chase their blues away with whiskey and beer, and there are no social graces. Well that’s your rough and tumble local bar.

But it’s a false humility, isn’t it? Garth Brooks wants to you to think he can really be the friend of the working class man, but we all know he’s made his millions, and circles around in the elite star class of this world, as nice a man as he may be personally. I doubt he eats at McDonalds or Chick-Fil-A all that often, and I doubt he has to chase his blues away at the local whiskey and beer bar. When I googled the lyrics to his song, a large number of pictures popped up of Mr. Brooks dressed, ironically, in a tuxedo on the red carpet, ready to accept awards and accolades for his songs and albums.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10:12; ESV)

Our real problem is not really that we desire to be seen as humble, comfortable in our boots and with whiskey in hand to chase the blues away, is it? Rather, isn’t the real problem with our sinful flesh is that we do want to be seen on the red carpet, living the high life, swirling among the elite of the community, flaunting our wealth? You really want to sing, “I’ve got friends in high places – where the power and wealth of this world talks, and I can handle every problem that arises on my own, for better or for worse.”

Jesus today tells a parable about a household steward who cared for the Lord of the house’s investments and possessions. The steward thought he was standing tall in the world. He worked for a wealthy man, he had a nice job, he did not have to farm the land to scratch out his living, nor did he have to “dig ditches” or “beg.” His was a solid, middle class, comfortable life – as we might view it. He had a friend – the Lord of the house – in the highest place. And all of this does the steward in, for with great prestige, greater wealth, comes greater responsibility, and often, greater scrutiny.

Not everyone handles these things so well. Few do. The steward, in other dealings, was accused of squandering the Lord’s possessions. The accusations must have had some ring of truth to them for the Lord of the house. He calls in the steward and deals with him harshly: “What is this I am hearing about you? Return the log of your stewardship, for you are not able anymore to act as a steward.” (St. Luke 16.2, my translation)

The steward was given no second chance. It seems a logical conclusion to say the steward was not trusted by the master. He was apparently somewhat shady or his reputation was. Whether or not the accusations against him were true, he certainly was of the world, not just in it.

The good times were over. Time was up on the steward! Without giving any opportunity for explanation, the Lord of the house has instantly ended the steward’s comfortable, upper middle class lifestyle. Seems harsh, but, after all, it is the Lord of the house’s right – and are not most of our employers today “at-will” employers as well? I know some of you have learned this lesson all too well. It does not take much to lose one’s employment, one’s reputation, one’s tranquility in life.

Notice that the steward asks the question we would all ask in such a situation, “What shall I do?” He will not dig ditches, cannot beg – no friends in those low places for him! His answer, however, is not one most of us, I hope, would choose: to commit fraud – to be generous with that which is owed to his soon-to-be former master without the master’s knowledge or permission. His idea is to reduce the debts of the tenants of the master’s lands, the share of the year’s crops owed toward the Lord for leasing his land. He was banking on the Lord’s generosity and mercy, the master must have been known for it, because the tenants just take the steward’s word for it.

The Lord of the house does not further condemn the steward, but surprisingly commends the unrighteous steward – he had acted wisely to make friends of the tenants, and to make the master look exceedingly good and benevolent to them and to the community as well. He made friends in low places and in high places, did he not! If your banker called and told you that your bank was relieving you of half of your yearly mortgage payment, for free, would you not tell everyone in the world that you know, and extol the bank to the highest heavens? Of course you would. This is what happened to these tenants. The steward, through his shrewd and decisive action born out of desperation, even though it was truly a fraud and deception, made everyone look really good, everyone came out a winner. He took heed of the situation, and stood tall.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Cor. 10:12-13; ESV)

Many hear this passage from 1 Corinthians chapter 10 as a promise that God will not allow any evil to befall them. The passage, however, only promises that Christ will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can endure—and He will provide a way of escape. As we deal with the temptations of possessions and wealth—and frequently fall for them—the way of escape does not occur in our efforts at extricating ourselves, including trying to compound our problems with more sin – like fraud for the steward of the house, nor in self-medicating as in the Brooks song – where the whiskey and beer chase our blues away. We are all too shrewd and cunning as sinners to seek after our own efforts to solve our own problems.

You all are managers. God has given you wonderful gifts: life, families, employment, time, leisure, a faithful congregation of fellow believers, a beautiful church, His perfect Law, and also His perfect Son crucified and resurrected. All for you! God has given you everything you need to support this body and life and yet if your life and actions were to be fully examined, the accusations upon you would prove true, you would be found to have wasted and misused the things given to you.

Time is up, at any moment now, our Lord returns to bring about this judgment. We confess with our mouths and should believe with our hearts that this very examination and judgement will occur. Jesus warns about it several times in His preaching, and we just confessed it in the Nicaean Creed. “We believe…that He (Jesus) will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.” We know this world will come to a close and all men will be required to give an account of their actions. All who have lived here on Earth, managers of the gifts and possessions of God will have to turn in their books which have in them written not simple monetary loans and debts, but the debts of sin and guilt which you were born with and which you have only added to in your time here.

No man knows the time or the hour just as the unrighteous steward did not know the time or the hour when he would be called to account for his mismanagement. It is time to do the same thing as the manager in our parable. Not to commit fraud and make earthly friends. But to take heed, know you’re not standing on your own, and so be shrewd and wise with the time that you have – to have and to hold to the heavenly friends, friends in really high places, to depend upon God and His mercy and grace in Jesus Christ to solve your problems, and the problems of those friends near to you, with as much zeal and shrewdness and urgency, if not more, than the steward showed in solving his quandary.

It is now time to take heed, to really access what’s going on. Repent of sin, and wanting to stand tall in the glories of this life, this temporal place that is not your true and lasting home, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal, where it all will melt away under the fire of God’s righteous judgment at the last day. Repent and fear God, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. You do not know the time nor the hour, but you know what is expected of you. You know that you have failed to live up to these expectations in your heart and in your actions towards God and your neighbor.

So, as you deal with the temptations of possessions and wealth, and lust and coveting, gossip and slander, failure to trust God above all things, and frequently fall for these temptations, the way of escape does not occur in your efforts to extricate yourselves, but in the Absolution of sins in Jesus Christ. In that forgiveness, Christ extricates you from sin and gives you His perfect obedience, His righteousness, all bought and paid for through His innocent suffering and death, and all shown to be true and trustworthy, account declared paid in full in His glorious resurrection.

This Jesus Christ, who took heed of the times and stood up for you who had fallen, had great mercy upon you in your needs, He gave of Himself to make you a friend of the Most High God, joined to Him in Holy Baptism, blessed by the Holy Spirit, you have escape from eternal death and a place at the high table of God’s eternal feast. Jesus Christ is the way out, and the truest friend, as He delivers His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life in Word and Sacraments.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (St. Luke 16.9; ESV)

Make friends in high places, the eternal places. Really take heed of the times and seasons as God tells you they are. The sinful flesh takes heed of the times and desires to use goods and possessions for personal improvement. Despite the fact that we clearly cannot take any of it with us, we often fall prey to these sinful desires.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, Christ crucifies those sinful desires, and fashions you a new man. The new man desires to use possessions for the good of his neighbor. He realizes that it’s of much greater worth to use earthly possessions to create eternal friends who will welcome him into heaven than it is to live in earthly luxury.

Your earthly wealth will fail you—if not during your life, certainly at its close. And when your Lord calls you home, it will not be your wealth that welcomes you. Your retirement will be left for your children to squabble over. Your home and all other possessions will slowly decay. But eternal friends, those who through your use of earthly possessions were able to receive the Gospel, will welcome you into eternal dwellings with Christ. God grant us the strength to so follow His Word and love Him and our neighbor in lives of repentance and joy, looking forward to the day when He welcomes us into His eternal dwellings.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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