It’s Not That Simple

Jody Winston 19-September-2004

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Sermon
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”1 Christ.
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I don’t know if you remember the question made popular about seven years ago: “What Would Jesus Do?”. This phrase seemed to take the nation by storm and one could find the letters “WWJD” on just about everything from tee shirts to bracelets. Even today, one can still find WWJD merchandise both on the web and in catalogues. The underlying idea behind the question raised by WWJD is that a person’s every thought and action would be judged against every thought and action of Jesus. In other words, you should only do what Jesus would do and not do what Jesus would not do. The basic concept behind WWJD is a sound one since we know that God approved the life led by Jesus, because God raised Jesus from the dead. Thus, God vindicated Jesus’ life.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3 2 Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3
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Unfortunately, many people, including Jesus’ own disciples, take the call to imitate Jesus as a way towards simplifying all of life’s issues. Some of us may want simple answers to why bad things happen to good people.3 Others of us may want to categorize some things as being always good or always evil.4 Perhaps it was this attitude that prompted Jesus to address today’s Gospel reading to the disciples and to us. In today’s story, Jesus introduces us to an unbelievably rich master who realizes that his manager is embezzling his funds.5 He asks for the books, but unfortunately he forgets to fire the manager on the spot.6 With a limited amount of time remaining with the books, the dishonest manager, who was accused of abusing his master’s money, now once again uses money to get out of the situation that he finds himself in. He shrewdly calls in two debtors hoping that they would remember him in the future (I think we would call this mordida, the bite.).7 He reduces the first debt of about 1,000 gallons of olive oil in half and the second debt from about 1,100 bushels of the wheat to 880 bushels.8, 9 After telling the story, Jesus then commends the dishonest manager for his cleverness and Jesus chides His followers for not using their intelligence.10 Now, why is Jesus upset with His followers? I think the reason is that they, the pharisees, and us are trying to codify everything about our faith. We want to know who is our neighbor.11 We want to know who is lost and thus we will know who is found.12 We want to know how to react in every situation.
Luke 13:1-5. Luke 16:1-7. 5 Luke 16:1. 6 Luke 16:2. 7 Luke 16:3. 8 Arland J. Hultgren, Chap. Parables of Wisdom In “The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary”, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), p. 150-151. 9 Luke 16:5-6. 10 Luke 16:8. 11 Luke 10:25-37. 12 Luke 15:1-32.
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Jesus refuses to limit the neighbor to the man next door. He refuses to give up on the lost. And He will not tell us how to act. Instead, He gives us the freedom to respond when he tells us to use our brain. This parable shows us the futility of trying to reduce our call to follow Jesus into one simplistic formula because Jesus Himself is asking us two difficult questions, which may have complicated answers: • What will we do we when our master calls? • What are we doing with our resources? This parable is not about how the master’s money is misued, wasted, and embezzled but instead how the manager used his intelligence when he responded to the situation. Jesus is telling us that our future depends on the actions that we take right now.13 When We imitate the work of Jesus, this is not by our own doing, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us so that we can labor in God’s field doing what Jesus wants us to do. As Lutherans, we believe and teach that these works do not save us.14 Salvation is God’s work and not ours. But, we do think these actions both help our neighbor and train us to reject sin.15 Time and time again, I have been told the stories of how this congregation, in this specific setting, has responded intelligently to the call of our L ORD. I think that I have been told that this is the fourth building project that you have taken on in response to the L ORD’s call. You have heard the cries of the children (and their parents) and have given them a Mother’s Day Out Program and a Preschool Program. In addition to responding to the physical needs of the Church, you have been training people to be disciples. You have started to study the Bible. You
Luke 16:3-4. Martin Luther; Timothy F. Lull, ed., Chap. The Freedom of a Christian In “Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings”, (Fortress Press, 1976), p. 611. 15 Ibid.
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have seen the need to train pastors for the Church and have started an internship program. You have faithfully responded to God’s call. The second question of the use of our resources is tied in with the first question of reacting to God’s call. First of all, Jesus wants us to properly use what God has first given us. This means that we should do everything to God’s glory.16 Once again, we are all called to take these resources and use them appropriately when the need arises. Finally, no one can give you a simple, one size fits all, answer on how you are to use the resources that have been entrusted to your care. Some people find that their call is to give their time and talents to the different expansion projects. This might be by running a shop vac, building a platform, or making lunch. Others like Dr. Jon Fielder, a member of my home congregation, have dedicated their lives to serve those with HIV/AIDs in Kenya. And others like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor and theologian gave their lives to overthrow Hitler. When we do not use our resources, no matter what they are, to God’s glory, we are attempting to turn our things into gods.17 Everyone has done this at least once in their lives. These false gods, the ones that we try to create, are deaf and dumb. They cannot hear us in our time of need, they cannot save us from our sin, and they will not remember us at our death and give us everlasting life. But the True God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not a god that we created. This God, the Father of our L ORD and Savior Jesus the Christ, is not deaf and dumb. God hears our cries and has sent His Son Jesus to save us from our sin. He knows each and everyone of us. Even though He knows all of our shortcomings, the times when we did not list to His voice and the times when we did not use our resources to His glory, He accepts us as we are and forgives us our sin. Today at the L ORD’s Table, a foretaste of the feast to come in Heaven when we are joined with all believers of every time and every place, He offers Himself
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1 Corinthians 10:31. Luke 16:13.

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to us. He will not forget us when we die and He will take us to be with Him in Heaven. What would Jesus do? He would have us use our time and our talents to serve our neighbor, not matter who they are, and to give God the praise and glory that He deserves. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

References
Hultgren, Arland J.. Chap. Parables of Wisdom In “The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary”. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 129– 179. ISBN 0-8028-4475-8. Luther, Martin; Lull, Timothy F., ed.. Chap. The Freedom of a Christian In “Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings”. Fortress Press, 1976, pp. 585– 629. ISBN 0-8006-2327-4.

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