17th Sunday after Pentecost

“Make Friends for Yourself”

Luke 16:1-15

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly, and while we now dwell among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rejoice with me, saints of God. You have been brought to repentance and there is mercy for you. Rejoice with me, saints of God. Jesus receives you and eats with you, sinners though you are. Listen: can you hear the joy in heaven this morning? It is over you that they rejoice. You are the sons of light, and to you the Kingdom has come. You are the prodigals whom the Father receives into His house with joy. Rejoice with me, saints of God. You have been entrusted with the good gifts of the Lord. What remains for you to consider, as children of the Light, is how you should use those good gifts in and for this world. Jesus says, “[M]ake friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth” (Luke 16:9, ESV). Now everything you have is the unrighteous wealth of which Jesus speaks. Every temporary thing that belongs to you is good only for this world. It is unrighteous because the world is unrighteous. In other words, Jesus is saying make friends for yourselves by means of the things of this world. The wealth is not yours. God has entrusted it to you for the sake of those around you. You will be called to account one day. There will come a time when you will be relieved of your stewardship duties. On the Day of the Lord, all worldly wealth will fail. It is not yours. God has entrusted it to you for the sake of those around you. So if you can’t take it with you when you go, what is it for?

Make friends for yourselves by means of everything that is yours, while it can still be called yours. People around you have needs. Your family has needs. People in your school have needs. People in your office have needs. People in your town, in your city, in your county, in your state, in your country, in your world-everywhere are people who have needs that can be satisfied by what God has given you. Faced with these needs, you are either like the unfaithful manager or the Pharisees. If you are like the unfaithful manager, you know that you will one day be relieved of duty; the question is, what should you do in the meantime? If you are like the Pharisees, you haven’t yet realized what your earthly belongings are for. Unfaithful managers, how will you use your remaining days? Pharisees, will you continue to justify yourselves before those who judge based on what you own, what you wear, what you drive, where you live? Or will you realize that those things are nothing before God? Before God, they are so worthless as to be an abomination. You must be justified in the sight of God. If you remain a Pharisee, attempting to justify yourself and your existence in the sight of humans, this sermon is not for you, except to say: repent; you must be justified in the sight of God. The things of this world, including your good works, are passing away. They will not sustain you in the life to come, nor will they provide any defense of your existence when God calls you to account for your stewardship. Do not think that you will escape His judgment, even if people judge you favorably. The only defense is to plead guilty and fall on the mercy of Jesus. “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (John 12:36, ESV).

Christ has come to you. He came from the eternal dwellings and made His dwelling here on earth. He is the Light of this dark world. “[A]t one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10, ESV). Children of light, take notes from the unfaithful manager after he is called to account for wasting his master’s wealth. What does he do? He calls his clients in one by one. One owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. One owes a thousand bushels of grain. These clients had borrowed from the master and their accounts would be coming due. What does the manager do? He is not stealing from the master. He is cutting out his portion of the bill.  The way he made his living was that he received a commission based on the amount owed; in this case, fifty percent of the first bill and twenty percent of the second. (Not a bad job!) This means that the master still receives everything due to him. But in order that these debtors might receive him when he’s out of a job, he sacrifices the immediate gain of his commission for the long-term profit of a place to live after he is fired: certain profit for an uncertain future. The Pharisees, on the other hand, sacrificed their justification before God for justification before men. They held closely to the things of this world, and neglected the unfading wealth of the next. They trusted uncertain profit in the certainty of now.

But you know better. The wealth of the moment can disappear in an instant. Your money, your car, your house, your skills, your abilities, your job, your family; all as fickle as a fire and as dependable as a dream. It’s like the “carnival game with the bottle neck and rubber ring, where even if you win, even then, you don’t win” (mewithoutYou, “Leaf”). So it is a good thing that your treasure is not here. Your treasure is with God in Jesus Christ, and He has given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. With Him is true treasure; with Him is true wealth. It is certain, eternal profit in a world where the future is anything but certain. What, then, of worldly, unrighteous wealth? What of the uncertain profit of the here and now? What of that which God has given you in this world? Make friends for yourself! Do not use it unwisely, as if you didn’t know what you do know about it. Use it wisely, because you know that it and you are not long for this world. Be faithful with it because the stuff of this world is so very little compared to the stuff of the next.

I cannot tell you what faithfulness should look like in your life. You tell me. Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Do you have a disabled family member who needs your sacrifice of time so that you can take care of her? Do you have children who need you to quit working sixty-hour weeks so you are no longer a stranger to them? Do you have children who, because of your lifestyle choice, spend eight hours a day in the care of someone who is not their parent? Is there a man next door to you who can’t pay his light bill or his heat bill in the winter? Where has God placed you for the sake of other people? Has He relieved you of work and family responsibilities so that you have time to devote to volunteer work? Has He given you a skill that you can use to help someone whose house has been destroyed by the flooding in southern Minnesota? Does your community need your help so that it can help others? Is the crisis pregnancy center short of blankets and formula? Is the food bank out of sugar and flour? What has God given you for the sake of other people? Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. And make friends for yourselves by means of this world’s wealth, because you have eternal dwellings waiting for you.

The unfaithful manager was indeed commendably clever. He sacrificed immediate gain for the security of his future. What’s more, he made sure that his actions would not harm the relationship between his clients and his master. It’s a win-win situation all the way around. The master gets what is due him, the debtors pay reduced bills, and the manager takes care that when judgment comes to him, he has a friend who will welcome him into his home. So should it be among us. Judgment is coming and we will find the Lord’s judgment to be favorable toward us. Our works and our wealth have nothing to do with it. Jesus has taken care of our future on the cross and in our baptism, and faith trusts this Jesus. What must not be assumed is that since our eternal dwellings are taken care of, we need not take care in this temporary dwelling. On the contrary, it is those who wait most eagerly for the new heavens and the new earth that do the most on this earth and under these heavens. It is those who know that their future is secure, and yours is, who can work most freely now. Make friends for yourselves, and take care not to harm the relationship between those friends and God. As far as it is within your power, do not put any obstacles between people and your God.

Children of light, God is working in you so that He can work through you. “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10). Love your brother. Love your sister. Abide in the Light of Jesus Christ. And when your love and your wealth fail at the Day of the Lord, when the accounts have all been rendered and your account has been fulfilled by Christ’s merciful love alone, your brothers, your sisters, and your friends, along with all the saints and angels, will welcome you into the eternal dwellings of your God that have been prepared for you from the beginning of creation.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/19/07

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