Pentecost 18c

Preached: September 26, 2010

Manage the Earthly with Your Eyes on Eternity
Luke 16:1-13

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit moves us to live for Jesus is Luke 16.

He kept speaking to his disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager. That one was accused of wasting the rich man's possessions. He summoned him and said, 'What's this I hear about you! Hand over your books, for you can no longer be manager.' The manager said to himself, 'What will I do, since my lord is taking the job of management away from me? I'm not strong enough to dig; I'm ashamed to beg. I know! This is what I'll do, in order that when I'm removed from my management position they will welcome me into their homes.'

“He called each one of his lord's debtors and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my lord?' He said, 'A thousand gallons of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill. Sit down and quickly write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'How much do you owe?' He said, 'A thousand bushels of grain.' He said to him, “Take your bill and write eighty.'

“The lord praised the unrighteous manager because he acted shrewdly. For the sons of this age are shrewder than the sons of the light among their own generation.

“I say to you: Make friends for yourself using unrighteous mammon, in order that when you pass away, they will welcome you into eternal tents. He who is faithful in little is faithful in much as well, and he who is unrighteous in little is unrighteous in much as well. So if you are not faithful in unrighteous mammon, who will entrust you with what is genuine? And if you are not faithful in what belongs to others, who will give you your own? No servant can serve two lords. For either he will hate the one and love he other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (Luke 16:1-13)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

1. How should we view worldly wealth?

Andrew Carnegie, J. D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt. These were the titans of steel, oil, finance, and rail in the 19th century. They also left a legacy of philanthropy with foundations, institutions, libraries, and schools named after them. Yet we might question some of their business practices as unethical, illegal, even immoral. So were these titans industrial statesmen bringing order to the chaos of the industrial revolution and turning America into a 20th century powerhouse? Or were they robber barons, getting ahead in this world any way they could and then buying a legacy with their ill-gotten gains?

Whichever way you want to spin their biographies, I think all would agree that they were shrewd business men. They knew the ways of this world and how to use them for their advantage.

So also the dishonest manager in Jesus' parable. He knew the ways of the world. He knew how to focus his resources to make his way through this life, no matter what the obstacles. When faced with losing his position as manager, he gets a flash of insight. He's too weak to do manual labor and too proud to beg, but here's what he could do. While he's still in control of his employer's books, he has each of the debtors comes in and tells them to write out a new IOU for a smaller amount. It may not sound ethical to us, but it worked within their business system. After he's fired, these debtors feel an obligation of gratitude to help him out. In fact, his boss even commends him for his shrewdness. Yes, the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with this present time.

So what's Jesus teaching us here? He can't be saying, “Cook the books to get ahead in this world.” That would go against everything the Bible says about stealing. Listen to how Jesus himself applies the lesson. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).

The dishonest manage did all he could with the worldly wealth he controled in order to ease his earthly lot. He viewed the worldly wealth as a mere tool. How much more so shouldn't we who are children of the light view worldly wealth simply as a tool? Even more so since instead of an earthly goal, we have an eternal one. For we no longer live in the darkness but have been brought into the light of Jesus Christ, radiating with his forgiving love. Manager the earthly with your eyes on eternity.

2. How do we gain friends for eternity?

But how are we to use earthly wealth when we view it as merely a tool and keep our eyes on eternity? “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV). Is Jesus telling us to buy friends? Not in the normal way those words are used. He does not mean to buy friends like the prodigal son did in Luke 15, the previous chapter. In that story the son used his inheritance to party hard, and when the money was gone, his fellow partiers left him to feeding pigs. He had his eyes set on how much fun he could get out of this life and bought temporary friends. That's not what Jesus means here.

But with our eyes set on eternity we have a totally different mindset of what it means to use earthly wealth to gain friends. For we're not looking for friends to spend a little bit of time with on earth; rather, we're looking for friends for eternity. Manager the earthly with your eyes on eternity.

Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is using our earthly wealth to support mission work. As missionaries are sent out, as the Gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit changes hearts. Those newly baptized Christians become our brothers and sisters in Christ. As long as we continue in the faith, they will be our friends for eternity, even if we do not personally meet them in this life.

But there's more here as well. You see, all that we have belongs to the Lord -- our money, our stuff, our time, our work, our play, our talents -- all. We are only managers, stewards, not owners. It's not only the 2 or 5 or 10 or 15 percent we put in the offering plate that he wants us to be faithful managers over, but over all of that he's entrusted to us. But that does not mean putting 100 percent into the offering plate.

Rather as you spend your money or save it, do you have eternity in your sights? How that changes our attitude, motives, and goals! We still spend our money for the necessities of life, food and clothing, and we still spend some of it for a few of the many luxuries and conveniences available and also for some fun and recreation. We save for retirement as well. But look at the change inside of us as we manage the earthly with our eyes set on eternity.

We don't see these things as ends in themselves. We don't work only to have food on the table or only to have fun on the weekend. We don't save for retirement only because we want to live it up in our golden years or because we're fearful of being a burden to family. When our eyes our on eternity, we see our life as service to our Savior and as opportunity to share his love. Money and stuff are simply tools.

As we provide for our families or help a fellow Christian in need, we see our Savior's face in them. “Whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV). As we interact with the world or have fun with our friends, we see them as fellow souls for whom Jesus died. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NIV). As we make our pilgrimage through this earthly life using our worldly wealth, do we keep our eyes open for those around us to invite on our journey heavenward? Often as we use our money we come into contact with the people of this age who are lost in darkness, let them see the light of Christ. Remember that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). With our eyes on eternity we manage our earthly wealth in ways so that others may share eternity with us. That's not buying friends; that's winning friends for Christ, friends for eternity. Manage the earthly with your eyes on the eternal.

3. How have we failed as faithful managers?

How I fall short here! Ask yourself. Have you been a faithful manager in all things? Whenever you use your resources is it always with Christ firmly in your heart? Do you always have eternity in your eyes? How often we get caught up in trying to find our joy in the things of this life. How often we step over others to make it through the day and sometimes maybe we're even happy that so-and-so won't be with us for eternity.

And don't try to excuse yourself thinking, “If I have the wrong attitude with my money, what's the big deal. It's only money. It's all passing away. I'll be more careful with more important things.” But Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can 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? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own” (Luke 16:10-12 NIV)?

For you see the way we handle the earthly wealth, which really belongs to God, shows who our true master is. Either we are serving God with it or we are serving Money and the things money can buy. Either we are trusting God or we are trusting what money can do. Either we are loving God or we love what money can get us. We can't have it both ways: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13 NIV).

4. What difference does Jesus make for us?

How much we need Jesus! Our unfaithfulness condemns; but Jesus justifies. He has broken the tyranny that had enslaved us. In his blood you have forgiveness and with forgiveness, freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of money. Freedom to serve your God. For Jesus has redeemed you.

You are children of the light, for you know the love of God that gave his only-begotten Son. You know God's love that shines from the cross of Christ. Live as children of the light. Manage the earthly with your eyes on eternity.

The eternal God gave his Son into death for you. The eternal God died for you. Such love and sacrifice for us while you and I were still serving Money as our master! How could his love fail you now as a baptized child of the light? He has secured eternal treasure for you, conquering death and rising from the dead. Having won such great treasures, heavenly treasures, for you, will he not provide you the lesser things that pertain to this earth as you need them?

How this good news enables us to faithfully manage the earthly things our Lord has entrusted to us! Rather than being mastered by money, we use it for him. With our confidence in his care for time and for eternity, we can use our earthly things to serve his glory, to bring others to honor his name, to be our friends for eternity. Your name may never be engraved on libraries or universities, but you have an eternal legacy that will last long after this world is in ashes. Serve your true Lord, Jesus Christ, for you are his blood-bought people. So manage the earthly with your eyes on eternity. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313