Monday, September 23, 2013

Sermon on Luke 16:1-15, for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, "Loss or Gain?"

Sermon Outline:
·         One of Jesus’ most puzzling parables. Dishonest manager fired, makes some last minute shady deals, then is commended? Use unrighteous wealth to make friends?
·         Uncover the meaning: what was the dishonest manager’s ploy, and why did it work? What was it that the master commended? What does Jesus want us to learn from this parable?
·         Characters: rich man & his dishonest manager, community where he hopes to get a job after being fired, and the people who owed the master.
·         Fired for dishonesty and causing loss to the master’s possessions. Told to hand in the financial records. His dilemma: how do I get a job after being fired for dishonesty? Can’t dig, won’t beg. His clever plan: still had the books, people don’t know he’s fired yet; generously reduce all their debts; do it in their handwriting. Pad his “landing” after being thrown out of the master’s house.
·         Now this was a gamble—master had every right to reverse these bogus cancellations. The gamble banked everything on the character of the master. Backfired if the master were Ebenezer Scrooge. Never let him get away with it. If he had reversed all the debt reductions, what would the community and his debtors have thought of the master? A stingy and tightfisted man; whether he deserved it or not. And who would hire the manager then? What made it work? The implied good reputation, mercy, and generosity of the master. Only such a man would allow these cancellations to stand. Why?
·         All along, the master is losing money—which is why he fires the manager. But now, he loses even more, as the debts are all slashed. But what changed? Now for the benefit of the community AND the master’s reputation. Clever: a double gain: community and debtors experience great relief, and joy over their cancellation, while at the same time the master’s good reputation soars, as a generous man. Lets it stand. Sneaky play off his good reputation. Earns the master’s praise—amounts to: “you clever rascal”—but still fires him.
·         Note: big difference between being praised for his dishonesty, and for cleverness. Clever for how well he knew his master, and calculating how this parting loss to the master caused a gain for the community and for the master’s reputation.
·         Like the movie Ocean’s 13, where thieves borrow millions from a casino owner (a bad guy) and promise to repay it, but return the money by donating it to a charity in his name. Privately he’s been tricked out of his money, but publicly he’s been made a hero, and to get his stolen money back from the innocent would ruin the good PR to his reputation. In the parable, the master is good and innocent of any of the schemes of the dishonest manager, but in the end he would still enjoy the high opinion of the forgiven debtors.
·         How does it apply to God and to us? Spiritual lesson? First to realize that this is a parable of contrast—so pay attention to what’s similar and different from God.
·         The dishonest manager is the antithesis of Jesus, the good and faithful steward Son over all God’s house (Heb. 3:6). Both the master and the heavenly Father have a good reputation, and are known as merciful. The dishonest manager takes advantage of that reputation in his final gamble, a gamble that paid off by making friends and helping him get a job later.
·         Jesus Christ, by contrast, was not making any gamble or taking advantage of His Father, but rather acting in full harmony with His Father’s will. Exercised His mercy for the great gain and joy of the community by canceling the debt of sin, and by doing so creates thankfulness and enhances the Father’s good reputation, but through honesty and faithfulness to the merciful Father. Again in contrast to the parable of the dishonest manager, both the Father and the Son shared in assuming great loss to help mankind. God graciously (undeservedly) assumes the cost of all our sin and evil—all our debts—and Jesus died a suffering death for it. This is what His cross was all about. He accepted the punishment and cost of sin as the price of that incredible transaction—His own death for us—that became the ransom delivering us from our debt of sin.
·         We are the community that has been forgiven great debt—and not just a reduction, but total cancellation of our sins! Colossians 2 tells us that God made us alive through Jesus by forgiving our sins and cancelling the record of debt that stood against us, with its legal demands, by nailing it to the cross. For us, dealing with God, it’s no gamble on whether God will forgive our debts—no clenching your teeth and wondering if God will be good enough to forgive you. No, to the humble and repentant, it’s a sure thing! We know His reputation, His promises, and His track record. We have Jesus’ promise of forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit’s guarantee—a down-payment in our hearts. God has the world’s best and only true “debt-forgiveness plan”—the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ! If we think of it in terms of a transaction, God took great loss upon Himself that we be relieved of our great debt to Him. In His infinite riches, His loss became our great gain.
·         So finally, what’s the lesson for us, and how we use riches? Jesus says, in truly puzzling words: “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.” This puzzling little passage is explained well in the quote you find in your bulletin. On earth we all will have different amounts of money, wealth, material possessions. And it will all eventually fail—run out, be lost, taken, etc—and finally, when you die, you can’t take it with you. Question is: how to use it in this life? All for yourself? Or for others and the kingdom of God?
·         First off, be very clear that we cannot buy our way into heaven—no hint of that here, and dozens of other passages can be lined up to show that we can’t buy or earn our way into heaven. But help others with your money & material goods here on earth, and they will be thankful to you in heaven. “The wise way to lay up treasure in heaven is to use one’s money for God here on earth. That will give a cash account there of joyful welcome, not of purchased entrance.”
·         We can help and serve others in the mercy and out of the riches of God our generous master. God has shown us the way to do so in Christ Jesus. God invites us to use the possessions with which He blesses us to the benefit and gain of those in need, and in service of His name. Through honesty and faithfulness with what God has given, and through generosity and open-handedness, we can be faithful stewards of whatever God has given us.
·         God truly has One Servant who has been perfectly faithful over all of God’s house as a Son (Hebrews 3:6). Jesus, was entrusted with much, with the management and care of our souls. He carried out His task faithfully. We can be confident that Jesus faithfully delivers our souls to His eternal kingdom. Jesus was the perfect manager of all God’s house because He poured out God’s generosity and forgiveness and the riches of God to all in need. And to put our trust in Him is no gamble, but it’s a sure thing to count on His mercy and love.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. How does the Bible warn against learning the ways of the world and adopting them? Jeremiah 10:2; Romans 12:2. Was the dishonest manager actually commended for his dishonesty, or something else?
2.      What was so clever about the dishonest manager’s ploy? What did its success depend on? What was the result for him? What good result occurred for the debtors from this clever ploy? For the master? On the other hand, how does the parable show that while his cleverness was praised, his dishonest actions were condemned? See esp. verses 8, 10-13.
3.      What could the master have done (within his rights) after the dishonest manager made those unlawful reductions after he was fired? What about the master’s character made him resist those actions? How is this a picture of our heavenly Father? Mt. 18:21ff. How is Jesus the antithesis of the dishonest manager? Hebrews 3:1-6. What great cost did He and the Father jointly assume? Why did He do it? Who benefitted?
4.      What are the greater things or the “true riches” we might be entrusted with? Luke 12:21; Matt. 6:19-24; 1 Peter 1:3-8. What is so difficult about accepting that what we “have” is not truly ours? Why doesn’t it work to be devoted to both God and money? Why must we be devoted only to God? Luke 16:13.
5.      What will inevitably happen to money and material things? Luke 16:9; James 5:2-3. So in the meantime, what trait of God’s are we to imitate as we use our worldly wealth? Luke 12:31-34

6.      Who is the perfectly faithful Son in whom we put our trust? Heb. 3:6. How well did He manage what was given to Him? John 17, esp. v. 12. In what can we trust for our accumulated debts to God? Col. 2:14

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