Trinity 9, 2012
Delivered By
Pr. Lovett
Delivered On
August 5, 2012
Central Passage
Luke 16:1-9


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.


What does enduring temptation to idolatry have to do with shrewd managers?
We know our Lord’s parable well. There was a man who was going to be fired. Upon learning of his impending firing, the man used his employer’s wealth to create for himself a comfortable living after he is fired. He used company assets for his own good. He set up personal success with the use of another man’s money. Some names come to mind: Enron, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, the United States Government, Wal-Mart. We all know of people who have used another man’s property and possessions to make himself wealthy. Some call them opportunists, others call them thieves. But they are common enough.
And frankly, we know the big names, but we’re no different.
We go on a business trip and turn in receipts and expenses that we know are questionable at best, like a $40 meal at a steak house and an unneeded upgrade on a rental car. Or we swoop in when someone is down on their luck and buy up their stuff for pennies on the dollar from a garage sale or yard sale or a foreclosure. We could just give them the money they need and help them to protect and improve their possessions and income, but that would cost us too much. And besides, we’re always looking for the deal that is too good to pass up. It’s not our fault they foreclosed or can’t pay their light bill.
But it’s not just the rich or those better off than we are who are shrewd. Poor people are shrewd too. We make our lives sound just a little worse than they are so that others will have more pity on us, which means more generosity for us. But when we run into a little unexpected money we don’t put it toward rent or light bills, we go to Wal-Mart or Burger King, and have some unneeded personal pampering. All the more if it’s only $20, not enough to make a dent in our bills anyway.
We quickly justify all our shrewd maneuvering; talking about a man’s right to eat or how much landlords overcharge us or how the government owes us something or how it’s so unfair that we’re honest people – except when we need to be dishonest and shrewd to make ends meet or simply make life a litter easier now.
But we’re shrewd even when we don’t need to be. The teller at the bank gives us an extra $20, and we’re already home and the bank is closed until tomorrow, and though we intend to pay it back our hubby wants pizza or the kids want DQ or our gas tank is so low. What’s a $20 to the banks? They’re insured. So we keep it and even have the audacity to think, “Lookie there, God does provide.” And the only real regret we feel is that we can’t share our little act of piracy with anyone lest we be called a thief and our reputation be smeared. So we wait a few years before we tell of our shrewd exploits over Thanksgiving dinner, making light of our thievery; hoping there’s a statute of limitations on the temptations we’ve succumbed to.
And the temptation is always a temptation to idolatry.
That’s what sin is, seeking another god. And we mot often seek that other god in ourselves. So we are tempted to do something for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Even at the expense of our wife or husband and our children. It’s far more tempting to think that God likes us no matter what we do, than to take the time and effort and discomfort to teach them the ways of God.  The only temptation you ever face is to serve another god, yourself.
We are always seeking ways to serve ourselves. We angle and position so we come out on top; or at least as close to the top as we can get. But our shrewdness is not most often wrapped up in material things. Oh, we take advantage when we can. But Most of us are far more shrewd when it comes to our reputation. That’s what really matters, and we know it. If Enron could have come out with a good reputation, most of us would never think twice about our investments. And if others think well of us, they will more likely treat us well.
Our reputation is our life. The most common way to buy something is not with cash, but with credit, with your reputation. So we are shrewd and we defend our reputation at all costs, even at the expense of the reputation of others. We lie about ourselves and about others to keep a good reputation. Sometimes we lie about what wasn’t done and sometimes about what was done; whatever it takes to keep a good reputation. We stretch truths about ourselves and we highlight the faults and evil of others. We steal other’s reputations by smearing them so that we look and sound better than we really are. And if someone attaches a good reason to why we’ve done something, even if the real reason was selfish and not so good, we don’t correct them. Far more often than stolen money and goods are thieved reputation and stolen “adda-boys”.
And we are good at being shrewd. And that’s what makes our Lord’s parable about the shrewd manager so unsettling. He says we’re supposed to be shrewd. We’re supposed to maneuver and position ourselves for our good. Only, we’re not supposed to be shrewd to store up treasures in this life, but in the life to come. That’s the point of our Lord’s parable. The point He Himself makes: “So 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.”
So how do we do this? The same way as you do in this life: you take what is not yours and use it for your benefit.
Forgiveness is not yours to give, only God forgives. You would rather have revenge and watch your enemies suffer. Yet for the life to come you take the forgiveness that belongs to God and give it to your enemies. You are not pure and so purity is not yours to bestow, yet for the sake of eternal life you think of everyone as being pure and hold nothing against them. Mercy is not in your nature, you would rather kill to protect your reputation, like Cain did, yet for the sake of the life to come you show mercy to those who would hate and malign you. For your heart is where your treasure is, and your heart, Christian, is with Jesus in the eternal dwellings. So you store up for yourself treasures in heaven so that when you stand before the Judge no one will have anything against you.
So if your brother has something against you, go and settle your account before the Judge comes and throws you in prison. For I tell you that you will not get out until you have restored what you owe.
Now if you’re thinking that this leads to works righteousness, that we gain eternal life by our works of mercy and reconciliation, then you are mistaken. It does not lead to works righteousness, but it does lead to righteous works.
It also leads to persecution. Blessed are you when they persecute you and say all manner of lies against you for righteousness sake. For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. So what that your enemies malign you and destroy your reputation before men. That is not the reputation that counts. So what if others betray you and speak evil of you and cause others to turn against you. They are not the friends you need.
You need only one friend. Jesus. And as you do unto the least of these, so you do unto Him. He is not ignorant of your true reputation. He knows that you lie, cheat, and steal all for a little mammon and comfort here and now. And yet He holds nothing against you. He cancels your debt and calls you friend.
He gave up His reputation for you, dying as a common thief so that you would live like a king in the kingdom of heaven. He who was rich before God became poor so that you who had nothing to offer God would gain the riches of eternal life. He did good by all and never maligned or took advantage of anyone. Why? So that when He stood before His Father there would be nothing against Him as it is written, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). You go and do likewise.
Not because by it you gain eternal life and earn a place in heaven, but because you are sons of light. You are doing what your Lord did.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is the way of escape from all temptation: obedience (1 Cor. 10:6-13). Not yours, but Christ’s. When temptation strikes and you are tempted to serve yourself, which is to make yourself god, remember the obedience of Christ and pray that His obedience be yours, and that for which you ask you shall receive, and you will escape temptation to idolatry.
In Nomine Iesu
+ Amen +