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Zealous for Righteousness (St. Luke 16.1-9)

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

“Zealous for Righteousness”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

St. Luke 16.1-9

09 August 2020

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Christ does not commend to us the conniving steward from today’s Gospel reading on account of his unrighteousness, but on account of his wisdom and his shrewdness and his zeal, that he uses all his unrighteousness to so wisely help himself.

Luther said of this, “[It is] as though I would urge someone to watch, pray and study, and would say: Look here, murderers and thieves wake at night to rob and steal, why then do you not wake [up at night] to pray and study? By this I do not praise murderers and thieves for their crimes, but for their wisdom and foresight, that they so wisely obtain the goods of unrighteousness…” (Martin Luther, Sermon on this Parable, Church Postil)

The steward uses his cunning and wisdom to save himself with great zeal. What if we Christians were that zealous for the benefit of others, for the righteousness of others – and acted as shrewdly and courageously for God’s kingdom as this steward does for himself?

Let’s remember the widow Mrs. Caroline Wahler in the 1880’s here, who acted so decisively with her wealth to buy this property on Poplar Street and provided so generously for the chancel of this sanctuary, for this pulpit I now preach from, this altar from which is served to you God’s Word and the Blessed Sacrament of our Lord. According to our old church records, she went the extra mile and even provided funds for seminarians as part of her last will upon her death.

Why was she so zealous and generous? Why do Christians ever give and tithe of their first fruits for the sake of the Gospel being preached both here and abroad? Why do Christians bother to leave generous bequests from their estates to the congregation for these purposes when they die?

Jesus says this at the end of today’s parable:

“Make for yourselves friends out of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles…”

Baptized saints do these good deeds and more in their lifetimes, because as children of the true light, they act wisely, shrewdly, to make friends in the here and now with mammon they have been given, that they might meet many others in those eternal dwellings. They are zealous for Jesus’ righteousness to cover others as it first covered them. They are zealous that many might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, are zealous that treasures – not gold or silver or jewels – but people, saved sinners, might be built up in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves will never break in and steal.

Jesus is commending the zealousness of the unrighteous steward in today’s Gospel in order to urge you to be zealous to give as you are given to and act shrewdly, with all the cunning and planning you can muster, fighting your sinful flesh and your predilection to be lustful and greedy and to hoard for yourself, and to use the gifts God has given you to make friends of those who live today, to do service to the poor sinners of this world who live in your time and among you, your nearest neighbors who need your help, who need to hear the saving Gospel, to make them your friends in Christ with your mammon. (Luther)

Everything you have belongs to God. You are stewards, you are entrusted with gifts from God. The time. The goods, the house, the spouse, the children, every friend, the gifts of this wondrous creation. All is given you for your good, even without your praying for them. And yet, you and I are unjust stewards, the sinful flesh gets its way. You have all misused and abused what God has given you. We can’t skip over this.

Now the sons of this world are shrewder because, despite appearances, they truly have so little. They are working with things that are doomed and destined to pass away and to be eternally forgotten. On the eternal scales, the earthly riches, fame, privileges, and such counts for naught. That’s why it’s so devastating and sorrowful to see so many so zealous to riot and fight and act as they do for the things of this temporal life as we’ve seen in recent months.

Meanwhile, you Christians, sons of God in Christ Jesus, baptized into Christ, have all things, despite every earthly appearance to the contrary, because Christ has given you all things from heaven, and gives and gives some more after that, undeserved daily bread for sure, but even more, the forgiveness of your sins and the comfort of the eternal tabernacles to come.

Perhaps that is why we lose our shrewdness. Like the ancient children of Israel in the wilderness talked about by the Apostle Paul in today’s Epistle, we know we have all things, and our sinful flesh takes advantage of that. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. For example, it’s so very easy to be content with just a little of the eternal things each week, this one hour in Divine Service – while concerning yourself with temporal things 98% of the rest of your time, things which will all burn away at the last day when God ushers in that eternal tabernacle of the new heaven and the new earth.

Repent. Look to the mercy given in Jesus Christ, who is the completely righteous steward of all things, who rightly does the will of His Father in all things, who acted zealously and with heavenly shrewdness to cancel all of your eternal debt by laying down His life. He satisfied and wiped out your debt owed for your every sin, by shedding His every drop of blood from His most holy cross on Good Friday. He was that zealous to give you His righteousness. The Father accepted that great exchange of Jesus’ righteousness for you: for He raised His Son from the grave on Easter Day.

Jesus even now stands before His Father in your place as your advocate, with the blood that has paid your debt entirely and completely, the blood that covered you in your Baptism. On Christ’s account, Jesus’ righteousness is declared your righteousness. And you, His friends, secured with His most holy and precious Body and Blood, will be raised with Him to dwell with Him – when He will receive you as His friend in the eternal tabernacle He has gone to prepare for you.

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

 

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