Upsetting the Fruit Basket

Text: Amos 8:4-7
Date: Pentecost XVIII + Proper 20 + 9/18/16

“Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).

There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with money. At the same time we ought to say that there is also nothing right about money, money itself, for it will eventually fail. The question is not about money but about how and for what you use it (or it uses you) and the true riches of the gracious God of our life and salvation.

Those were prosperous times when the prophets Isaiah, Hosea and Amos were sent by God to preach His Word. I suppose it was in many ways like these days of our prosperity. Prosperity, like money, is neither good nor bad in itself. When prosperity encourages invention, progress and growth, then it is good. Laissez les bons temps roulez! “Let the good times roll.” More often than not, however, prosperity tends to make people more self-centered, more careless about others, selfish. There’s nothing wrong with prosperity. It is rather your use of it that can be good or bad, right or wrong.

But what is right? And what is wrong? Who is to say? We don’t know! It depends on who you’re asking. It seems that these days there is great confusion about truth and falsehood, good and bad, right and wrong. It’s all relative you see. What’s true or good or right for you may not be for me. How easily in the business world are corners cut, quality shaved, or even false claims made all in order to increase profit? That’s what this little snippet from Amos 8 is all about. Good or bad, right or wrong is ultimately determined by God’s Word. You can either listen to it or ignore it.

Those who, as our text says, “trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end” were always and only concerned with business. Their business! According to the just decrees of God’s word, they weren’t supposed to be open for business at “the new moon” (the beginning of a new month when all were to bring an offering to God) or on the Sabbath when no work was to be done. Remember when businesses years ago in our own country, much less school sports schedules were not open or in business on Sunday mornings or on the “church night” of Wednesday evenings? It’s an increasingly amazing oddity today that a company like Chick-Fil-a is still closed on Sundays! The problem of those whom Amos was indicting was that their mind was not on God as it should have been but on their business as they complained, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?” When will the sermon be over? How quickly can we get out of here?

But it’s even worse than that. For even when they were conducting otherwise valid business God revealed their sin of cheating people either by making the measurements small or overcharging, or even mixing worthless chaff into the grain for sale. The Word of God’s Law and judgment: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

This text was chosen as an illustration of that to which Jesus was speaking in today’s Gospel in the parable of the so-called Unjust Steward. For the key to understanding this otherwise unusual parable is in the attitude the steward had between his previous business dealings and the expectations and heart of his master. He knew and counted on the graciousness of the master and wanted everyone else to know it too.

There is nothing wrong with money. It is the love of money that’s the problem. Sin is the problem. It is the love of God that is the answer. That’s the key as when the steward called all of his master’s debtors in and had them reduce their debt. They figured he was just doing the master’s will and that it was this generous master who was letting them off the hook, at least a little bit. What a great guy is the master! Of course that was not exactly the case. Or maybe it was! Like Donald Trump in his former life on television on “The Apprentice” this master had no problem telling his unjust steward, “You’re fired!” Yet this master was truly the Master. And his steward knew it.

“The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” I mean, everyone came away thinking the master was a great guy! Only he and the steward knew it was the result of… well, of shrewdness. Dishonesty! But the issue here is not your dishonesty, your sin or intentions. Guess what? Your dishonesty and sinful intentions are also covered by the goodness, the graciousness of your Master who is intent on receiving you into the eternal dwellings.

So it is we walk a thin line in this world. Faithful in a little or in much? dishonest in a little or in much? Who is your master?

When the saving and loving God is your master you will serve His grace. Sometimes His grace will even seem “dishonest” or “unfair” in the eyes of the world, the world that demands everything be “even-steven,” “tit for tat,” “fair” from our point of view. But our point of view is tainted by sin. The grace of God at times may seem unfair, unjust. Yet the grace of God is the only answer. For according to His own justice we are guilty, shrewd, dishonest, sinful. But in His grace He sent His Son to become guilty for us, in righteousness to bear our guilt, to take away our sin. From our point of view Jesus became the Unjust Steward who told us to count our debt to God as nothing when He then bore it all in His body on the cross. Was that unfair? No, that was love. Because He became Sin, bearing all our unrighteousness, all those who believe in Him become the righteousness of God.

It may seem unreal, unbelievable. But Jesus said it. The Servant of the Lord, Jesus, loved the Lord, the Master and served Him whose will it was and is to save us. As the debtors of the master so we rejoice.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head. (LSB 563)

Let God Take Over

Text: Ezekiel 34:11-24
Date: Pentecost XVII + Proper 19 + 9/11/16

“Just who does this guy, this teacher, ‘this man’ think he is?” So the Pharisees and scribes grumbled and asked themselves. They didn’t know at the time that they were actually pondering and asking the most important, the number one question of saving faith – Who is Jesus? “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No orthodox, upstanding Jew would dare do such a thing! Just who does he think he is? Continue reading Let God Take Over

Choose Life

Text: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Date: Pentecost XVI + Proper 18 + 9/4/16

God sent His Son to bring salvation to the whole world. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16), He meant “whoever,” that is the invitation is open to all, to every human being. When He said, “whoever believes and is baptized” He meant that God Himself comes and works faith in your heart through His spoken Word and Sacraments and makes you his own. “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Salvation is totally God’s work and gift. By the gift of faith God makes you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a follower, literally a learner. Continue reading Choose Life

Your Greatest Promotion

Text: Proverbs 25:2-10
Date: Pentecost XV + Proper 17 + 8/28/16

At first it would seem that today’s readings are aimed only at good advice or wisdom concerning an aspect of leading a God pleasing life in this world. And that it is. Jesus was being serious if not also a little critical before the Pharisees of the danger of ungodly pride and the need for true humility as we prayed for in today’s collect. With the words, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” and vice versa, He certainly had the principle of the proverb in mind that we heard today, “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble” (Prov 25:6-7). Continue reading Your Greatest Promotion

All Flesh Shall Worship

Text: Isaiah 66:18-23
Date: Pentecost XIV + Proper 16 + 8/21/16

Today St. Luke reminds us that Jesus is continuing on His journey “toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem! It’s the place where God dwells. It is the place of divine worship. It is the place of God’s salvation. So it’s not surprising that a nameless “someone” asked Jesus about salvation. It is interesting that the question was not, as many ask today, whether everyone is going to be saved in the end. Among the Jews there has always been an awareness that salvation will be the possession only of a faithful remnant chosen by God. In the apocryphal book of 4 Ezra it is written, “The Most High has made this world for many, but the world to come for few” (4 Ezra 8:1). This is simply because, while salvation is the totally free gift of God, it is possessed only by faith. Did God make forgiveness of sins and salvation available to all people? Yes, He did. Could all people be saved in the end? Yes, they could. Yet the Bible tells us that it is because of our fallen, sinful nature, our inbred spiritual blindness and deadness that many will reject God’s proffered salvation by unbelief. So if you change the question asking “Will all people be saved in the end?” The clearly unhappy answer is “No.” Continue reading All Flesh Shall Worship

Climate Change

Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Date: Pentecost XIII + Proper 15 + 8/14/16

What’s all this? Casting fire on earth, distress, no peace but division, divided against each other? ‘Sounds awful. Today’s lessons sound like reading the newspaper with all the world’s daily tragedies, turmoil, desperation and death. Then Jeremiah’s report of false prophets and the threats of “the storm of the Lord,” wrath, a whirling tempest, the anger of the Lord. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” It’s bad enough having to endure the criticism and persecution of the world each day, but in line with the Gospel, today’s Introit says we will continue to have troubles and divisions even within our closest relations, even in the Church of all places. “It is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Ps 55:13-14). Continue reading Climate Change

Sinners and Saints

Text: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
Date: Pentecost XI + Proper 13C + 7/31/16

Martin Luther said the book of Ecclesiastes “is one of the more difficult books in all of Scripture, one which no one has ever completely mastered.”[1] Of course then we should not be surprised that he did! For he saw the purpose, summary and aim of the author, namely, “Solomon wants to put us at peace and to give us a quiet mind in the everyday affairs and business of this life, so that we live contentedly in the present without care and yearning about the future and are, as Paul says, without care and anxiety (Phil. 4:6).” This is what is behind our Lord’s parable of the rich fool, namely, the difference between trying to lay up treasure for yourself and not being rich toward God. Continue reading Sinners and Saints

Pleasing Persistence

Text: Genesis 18:20-33
Date: Pentecost X + Proper 12 + 7/24/16

“Lord, teach us to pray” asked Jesus’ disciples. But haven’t they been praying the God-given psalms in the temple and the synagogue, at Passover and around the dinner table? Yet there is something that makes us think we haven’t been doing it right or that there is a more effective technique or maybe a secret password to get better, more immediate answers to our prayers. When the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He didn’t come up with the Rosary; not even the more ancient “Jesus Prayer,” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Continue reading Pleasing Persistence

In Holy Love

Text: Leviticus 19:9-18
Date: Pentecost VIII + Proper 10 + 7/10/16

In today’s Gospel a lawyer intended to put Jesus to the test. He asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lutheran Law/Gospel ears are instantly raised!) In typical Jewish style Jesus answers his question with another question, “What is written in the Law?” In other words, if you want to talk about salvation in terms of doing something you must look to God’s Law, there’s no other way. The man answered correctly quoting the Great Shema of the Old Testament, the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then Jesus ends the discussion with the parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizing that second half of the Great Command concerning love of neighbor from today’s Old Testament reading in Leviticus 19. Continue reading In Holy Love