Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Means at Your Disposal

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 19, 2010
Luke 16:1-15

Have you ever come across a passage in the Bible and you say, What’s up with that? You don’t know how to interpret it, what to make of it, or what to do with it.

That’s kind of like some things that happen in life, isn’t it? You’re going along and something comes up you don’t know what to make of. What does it mean? How do you handle it? How do you ascertain what God is doing with you or how He’s going to work this out for your good?

On one hand, without even determining what today’s Gospel reading means it teaches us a powerful lesson. One that if we go no further we will be far ahead of the curve in life. Especially in those times where we’re scratching our head as to what God is doing in our lives or at least allowing to happen in our lives.

It makes sense that not everything in the Bible is going to be easily understood. God knows everything. He is above us in everything, including intellect, wisdom, and understanding. He is God, after all. His ways are not ours and His thoughts are not ours. His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours. Not only that, we are dulled in our understanding by our sinful minds. Our thoughts are not centered on God but ourselves, so how can we even understand the spiritual things of God on our own?

Just take a look at many of the events of Jesus’ life on earth with His disciples and many others. Many times the disciples didn’t have a clue as to what Jesus meant in His teaching and even in His actions. The greatest example of all is the cross. They didn’t know why He must suffer and die. And yet Jesus was never deterred. He kept right on teaching and accomplishing His works and making His way to the cross. Whether people understood or not He was doing what He knew to be what needed to be done.

So if you go no further than that you will have understanding that is from God. Knowledge that blows away feeble human attempts at figuring out what’s going on in life. Wisdom that can only come from above. If you take from today’s Gospel reading this doctrine: that no matter what happens to you, God knows a whole lot more than you, can see a lot better of what you need than you, is more powerful than you, and can accomplish amazing things even through weakness and tragedy and those things we just don’t understand.

At the same time, there is the fact that there are passages in the Scripture that are tough to understand, but they’re there. What do we do with them? Ignore them? Pass them by so we can get to those parts that we can deal with easily? Those aren’t good options.

But what is a good option is to see an opportunity. When faced with difficulty you can take the easy way and despair. Or you can go toe to toe with the challenge. You can see the opportunity there that God can do amazing things even in, and even especially in, difficulty.

This is what the man did in the Gospel reading. He was staring at his life crashing down on him. He had had a good position. A manager of a wealthy man. He had it made, as many people would think it. But he either wasn’t very good at what he did or he just got careless. He was wasting his master’s possessions, which obviously wasn’t good for his master. So he was fired, which seems the sensible thing for the master to do. He needs to get someone in there who will manage the money in a way where it won’t be squandered away.

So this guy’s in trouble. He knows he has no chance. The master is in his right. So what is he going to do? He does what many people in this world will do. He takes advantage of his situation. He makes the most of it. He doesn’t despair or give up. He sees opportunity in the midst of his tragedy. He sees the tragedy *as* opportunity. He uses his position as manager one last time for his benefit so that he won’t be out on the streets when he’s sent packing.

The means at his disposal were the things of this world. He uses them in a way where he’ll make it in this world. This is what the “sons of this world,” as Jesus refers to them, do. They are much better at this than the “sons of light,” as Jesus refers to them. We usually refer to these two types of people as non-Christians and Christians, unbelievers and believers. It’s true, isn’t it, that Christians often aren’t very wise in the ways of the world. If we are to be moral and ethical and humble and selfless it’s pretty hard to get ahead in this world according to the world’s standard. Thus the difficulty with the sons of light in a world surrounding by sons of the world.

All of that is fairly easily understood. But why is the master commending the guy for this one last act of deception? We do much better when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To forgive others as He has forgiven us. What is He doing to us here when He seems to be saying that it’s commendable what that guy did? As if that’s not confusing enough, He goes on to say: “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” It’s as if Jesus was thinking, “I’ve gotta throw something in there every now and then to keep them on their toes.”

But it’s in the Bible and so we have to deal with it. It’s the Word of God and so we can’t ignore it. Our Lord Himself is teaching us and so we must learn. One thing that’s helpful in hearing the Word of God and studying it is to remember that God is the one who has given us His Word and therefore is the one who interprets it. That means the Bible is the thing that interprets the Bible. There are a few times Jesus tells a parable and then interprets it. Here Jesus tells this story and then gives some words of teaching. The things He says are somewhat hard to understand themselves. They almost seem to go against what He was just saying in His story He told about the manager.

But they also show us where He is coming from. He is coming from an eternal perspective. We so often see our lives from a temporal point of view. He knows what will happen, we’re often just trying to figure out how we’re going to get by. Rather than see the difficulties in our lives or the things we don’t understand as problems, we can see them as opportunities. No one can serve two masters. If we latch on to the things of this world we will serve ourselves, not God.

He does give us the things of this world, though. And they are ready and available for our use. This is another principle for us to remember in life. The means at our disposal are there for just that. We can be faithful to God—humble, sincere, moral, ethical—and still make use of the things of the world.

One way to think about this is by looking at your life and seeing what is most important. Think about the things that are most important to you. Now think about the things you spend time on. Are they the same? Are they different? If you find that the things that are most important to you are those things you don’t spend time on, and the things you spend time on are things that are not most important to you then have an opportunity. Use the things of this world to spend your time on those things you really should be spending time on, rather than just those things that you do.

Take your family as an example. They’re important to you. But how much time do you actually spend with them? How much effort do you actually put into loving them and caring for them and cherishing them? I know, you’re busy. You’ve got a lot on your plate. You have responsibilities. Plus, they’re busy. Sometimes you feel like you hardly live in the same house with them. Or maybe you’re with them a lot but you’re not really together. There’s no magical way to love them. But there are many practical ways to do it. One simple way is to just spend time with them. You may not feel like it. You may be thinking about all the stuff you have to do. But another important principle is that feelings follow behavior. If you constantly rely on feelings and think that your behavior will come from that you may never end up doing anything. It would be great if we could always turn our feelings around and our behavior would follow suit, but sometimes those feelings never come, or at least in a lasting way. Show your family signs that you love them and it will make a world of difference. Give them a compliment on something important to them. Ask them how their day was and actually listen. Give them a small gesture of how important they are to you, maybe a note. Or for those of you who don’t do that anymore, texting them would do just as well.

You see, you can make friends for yourself, as Jesus says, with the means at your disposal. That’s the stuff of this world. Just don’t let those things become ends to themselves. It’s easy to get caught up in the things of this world. But how awesome is it if we can use the things of this world for purposes that are pleasing to God? So use those things that God has given you. Use that brain of yours, your abilities, the things you own. Use them to love and serve others. Use them to glorify God. Use them to be a disciple of Christ. Spend time in God’s Word. Read it daily. Take a little time each week to study the Bible with your brother and sister Christians in Bible Class so that you’re challenged by the Word and grow in the Word in a way you can’t get when it’s just you and God.

The more you’re in the Word the more you’ll see that each passage in the Scriptures lies at an intersection. The intersection is that portion of Scripture and the cross. Every passage of Scripture meets with the cross. You can try to understand each portion or the thing as a whole apart from the cross but you will get nowhere but where the sons of this world do. As a son of Light, however, you will see that the darkness of Calvary enlightens you. The Suffering of Christ on the cross sheds light on the suffering and confusion you encounter in your life.

Use the means at your disposal each day of your life and throughout it. You have the Word of God. You are Baptized. You are fed by the Very Body and Blood of your Lord. You are commended in His sight because of His mercy. These are the means He uses to commend you, to shine His favor on you, to forgive you. Look around and see those who will welcome you along with your Lord into the eternal dwellings. Amen.



Anonymous said...

It's good to read one of your sermons again, Paul, it's been a while since I have - it's great.

rev.will said...

Thanks Vona!