St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops

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Have you Made your Funeral Preparations?

September 22, 2019 - Sermon Text: Luke 16:1-13

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil….. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:1-4). His story begins with a proclamation of his great earthly wealth, while the story of Abraham’s grandson Jacob is a story of shrewdness and scheming in order to amass his earthly wealth. It begins when he cheats his brother Esau out of his birthright as the first-born son & later with his mother’s help steals his brother’s blessing from his blind father Isaac.

When Jacob finally returns home, he is worried for his life and the life of those with him. “When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, ‘we went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him’” (Genesis 32:6). He knew that his shrewdness towards his brother would be avenged. He knew of his brother’s temper and that had cheated his brother. He prepared himself for his funeral as he prayed “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (Genesis 32:11).

Jacob was wealthy because of his shrewdness. He had acquired his wealth by careful manipulating of his uncle Laban’s herds. Andrew Carnegie, J. D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt were considered the American titans of the steel, oil, finance, and rail industries throughout the nineteenth century. Each of them also left behind a legacy of philanthropy with foundations, institutions, libraries, & schools which have been named after them, although some question their business practices as unethical, illegal, even immoral.

Depending on the bias of the historian, these men were either great statesmen bringing order to the chaos of the industrial revolution or crooked barons getting ahead in this world any way they can while creating a legacy for themselves using their ill-gotten gains. Depending on the way you decide to write their biographies most people would agree that they were all shrewd businessmen who knew the ways of this world and how to use them for their advantage.

“Jesus told his disciples: ‘There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions’” (Luke 16:1). The dishonest manager in Jesus' parable also knew the ways of the world. He was a very shrewd businessman who knew how to make his way through life – no matter what the obstacles might be. “Give an account of your management” begins the master, “because you cannot be manager any longer” (Luke 16:2). Faced with loosing his comfortable position as a manager he gets a flash of insight in a way for him to secure his earthly future.

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg - I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses” (Luke 16:3-4). While he is still in control of his employer's books, he has each of the debtors comes in and he tells them to write off a portion of their existing debt and replace it with a new much smaller amount of debt. It may not sound very ethical to us, but it worked. Each of the debtors is happy to reduce what they owe, and nobody complains. When the manager leaves his place of employment, any of those debtors would be happy, and maybe they might even feel an obligation of gratitude to help the unemployed manager. Even his own master commends the manager for his shrewdness. “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind” (Luke 16:8).

The manager knows that he is too weak to do manual labour and he is too proud to beg. He needs a plan of action. He wants to secure for himself a comfortable future by making for himself friends in high and influential places. Jesus’ lesson is filled with worldly wisdom and somewhat dishonest ways. But, isn’t this the way of the world? We live in a “dog eat dog” world and those who want to succeed sometimes have to bend the rules – just a little bit. Without a doubt, when we read this parable out of context we can easily deduce that Jesus is telling us to do whatever it takes in order to get ahead in the world. But, the proper application of this parable is found in the closing words “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).

According to Jesus, the dishonest manager did everything he could with the worldly wealth that he could control in order to assure for himself a good life and ease his earthly suffering on this side of eternity. For the dishonest manager, physical wealth was simply a tool in order to achieve his goals. He was planning for his life on earth and not for his funeral or his departure from this world. He was focused on his retirement plan and not on his funeral plans.

"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). Is Jesus telling us to buy our friends? Like the Prodigal Son of Luke chapter 15, we could use our material wealth to buy friends. But, as we discover in that parable, when the money is all gone, so are all of the so-called temporary fair-weather friends. They simply abandoned their once-prodigal friend to the pigs.

When the boy comes to his sense, he realizes that he would better off back home – even if he was only a servant. All his material wealth is gone. He was alone, desolate and hungry as “he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16). When he had hit rock bottom – that’s when he set his eyes on home.

When we set our eyes on home, or eternity in our case as Christians and disciples of Jesus, we have a totally different perspective and viewpoint on what it means to use earthly wealth to gain friends. No doubt, the world wants friends to help them get ahead, and become financially comfortable in this world. We can use the tools of this world; wealth, power, prestige, status, education in order to further our desire to get ahead. Unlike the dishonest manager of the parable, the quest for the disciple of Jesus is to gain friends with our eyes focused on eternity.

What must I do to gain these friends into eternity? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is using my earthly wealth in positive and spiritually constructive ways. I can use my earthly wealth to support missions. Missionaries are sent out all across the world to proclaim the Gospel as the Holy Spirit moves to change hearts and point those who are lost to Jesus. Those missionaries and our new brothers and sisters in the faith, which we have helped to finance through our worldly wealth, will also be our friends into eternity. If we want our worldly wealth to be effective for the gospel closer to home, we could provide earthly wealth to sponsor a struggling church, to plant a new church, or to help support a para-church organization. Again, all of those Christian brothers and sisters would become our friends into eternity.

While we are still alive and kicking, we have the opportunity to use all of the resources at our disposal to ensure for ourselves friends into eternity and a comfortable future in heaven – maybe a beautiful mansion on the hilltop, overlooking the streets of gold and “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb” (Revelation 22:1). Our life as stewards of Creation is short and one day we will hear the Master speak “give an account of your management, because you can no longer be manager anymore” (Luke 15:2).

It’s no longer about using our earthly wealth and resources to secure for ourselves a comfortable earthly future, but a comfortable retirement house in eternity is completely out of our hands. With the uncertainty of mortal life, we Christians really ought to have our eyes focused on eternity and planning for our funerals. Then, to make matters worse, the master of the universe says to us that we have been wasting his resources and it’s now time for us to leave this mortal world, we are seriously talking about planning for our funeral – our departure from everything that we have spent our entire life accumulating in this life. Let’s put this parable in a slightly different context. The Lord God Almighty is the owner and we are his managers. Everything we have belongs to the Lord God who “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) which includes your money, your wealth, your possessions, your work, your talents – everything. We are only managers in this world and not the Owner.

Some people will argue and bicker about how much they should put into the offering plate and still be a faithful manager over God’s things. Jesus makes a shocking and revolutionary statement in Luke chapter 20 saying “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). It’s not about giving back to God 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 or 15 percent that will make us a faithful manager of everything God has given us. God doesn’t even want you to put 100 percent in the offering plate! In fact, if you tithe because it’s a requirement of Old Testament Law, or if you give because you believe that it’s what you are supposed to do, or if you are simply trying to use your wealth to have friends in high places you have missed the point. It doesn’t matter what you give – because we all fall short and are unfaithful managers of God’s things because what is truly important is that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

So let’s put this worldly material wealth of ours into its proper perspective. You can spend all your money or you can save all your money. God has given us this to use however we please while we are living in the world He created for us. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, while the parable is challenging us by asking us if we have eternity in our sights? How will planning for eternity, for your funeral, change your attitude, your motives and your goals? We can all agree that we will spend our wealth on clothing, food and many of the necessities of life. We might also want to use some of our wealth on luxuries and conveniences as well as fun and recreation. We will save for our retirement and some of us might even consider using some of our accumulated saved and invested wealth to pay for the earthly expenses of a funeral.

Now, consider what changes inside of us when we manage the earthly things that we have been given with our eyes set on eternity. We don’t see all of these things as ends in of themselves. Our field of view widens as we don’t work with the narrow vision to only have food on our table. We don’t use the resources that have been freely handed to us only to have our own private fun on the weekend. It’s no longer about saving for retirement only because we want to be able to live it up in our golden years. When we set our eyes on eternity, we live and see our life in this material world as also being a service to Jesus and opportunities to share His love. We begin to see how we can use the things of this world as tools for friends into eternity.

We might be surprised, as we begin to focus more on eternity, the number of friends in whom we will see our Saviour’s face reflected. "Whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40) proclaims Jesus. The more we interact with the world when our eyes are set on eternity the more we will begin to see those other people as sinners for whom Jesus also died for. "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). As we journey through this world, we can use earthly wealth as a tool to help others, not plan for their retirement – but for their funeral. Ultimately, our final journey is heavenward and it’s only possible because of one single friend. Remember "the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). It’s with our eyes fixed on eternity that we are to manage the earthly wealth and possessions, which the master has given us charge over, so that we might draw friends to ourselves so that they might also come to know the master and share eternity with us.

Sadly, the truth behind the dishonest manager is more than we might want to acknowledge in ourselves, because we all fall short in managing and caring for what has been entrusted to us by the master. We have a hard time keeping focussed on Christ and eternity when we are using the resources at our disposal for our own benefit. We have hard time thinking about planning our funerals when we want to live as long as we possibly can to enjoy our accumulated wealth. It’s hard to always have the cross and eternity in our eyes when we are focused on our own selves.

For you see the way we handle the earthly wealth, which actually belongs to God, shows who our true master is. Either we are serving God or we are serving Money. Either we are trusting God or we are trusting money to take care of us. Either we are loving God or we love what money and wealth is capable of getting for us. We simply 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).

This is why we need a friend into eternity. We need Jesus! Our unfaithfulness condemns us while Jesus justifies us. In his cross you have forgiveness and with His forgiveness comes the freedom to serve, trust and love God alone. Jesus has redeemed you and made you children of the light. This is the good news that empowers us to faithfully manage the earthly things which God has entrusted to us. And, it’s only because we have a friend in eternity that we can live as His faithful stewards, with your eyes fixed on eternity and our funeral into everlasting life. “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).

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Rev. Marc Lapointe