8/14-22 – Trinity 9 – “Eternal Dwellings” – Luke 16:1-13

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I. Introduction

1. What are you working towards? This is a question that some people never even consider asking. They just go through the motions of life and do what needs to be done without a second thought as to why. They have very little, if any, savings. Their retirement plan in non-existent (much to the dismay of all the financial advisers out there). And their attitude towards life is to live in the moment and enjoy the money and possessions that they have, as much as they can, while they still can. On the other hand, this question of what you are working towards is one that other people consider almost obsessively. Their lives are deliberate and planned. Their savings accounts are full. Their retirement plan is well-funded. And their attitude towards life is to build as much wealth as they can, at any cost, so that their future is secure. But neither of these extreme examples is overly helpful. They are both, in their own way, a pursuit of the same thing: They are both a pursuit of what the Scriptures would call “mammon.” Mammon is an old Aramaic word which refers to the wealth and property which a person possesses. Mammon isn’t simply money. While mammon includes money, it is more than that. Mammon includes money, property, and possessions. In short, it’s the physical (and in today’s day and age, also the digital) stuff that you have. Mammon is everything you possess. It’s all that so many people in our world are working towards. My friends, we must consider what we are working towards because our Lord says at the end of our Gospel Reading for this morning:

“No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).

When we work toward the accumulation of mammon, it draws us away from what really matters. Martin Luther said in his Large Catechism that the pursuit of mammon is a false god or an idol because it becomes that thing in which we place our ultimate trust and hope. Luther then says:

“This [mammon] is the most common idol on earth” (Large Catechism, Part 1, Paragraph 5).

As we think about our own struggles with the idol of mammon, our Gospel text offers insight.

This parable gives us a warning and an encouragement:
1.) The warning: Don’t become enslaved to mammon; and
2.) The encouragement: Rightly use God’s gifts in service to him.

II. The Warning

2. First, we consider the warning. In fact, the parable itself is the warning. The parable has two noteworthy characters. First is the rich man. he is a wealthy business owner. It appears that his business is some sort of trade business, based on the debts that are said to be owed to him. He seems to have dealings with many merchants, through whom he builds great wealth. His wealth is so great that he can afford to no longer manage the business himself. This is where the second noteworthy character comes in: the steward (or the “manager”, as our text calls him). This steward has been given complete charge over everything. He has complete authority to act on behalf of the rich man in all matters. The rich man trusts his steward completely—which proves to be a mistake, as we quickly discover. We’re told that charges were brought to the rich man that the steward was wasting his what belonged to him. The charges, which were presumably brought by one or more of the lesser employees, were very clearly true. An investigation didn’t even need to be launched. And so, the rich man said to the steward:

“What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can on longer be manager” (Luke 16:2).

The steward did not object, which more than anything confirmed his guilt and the accuracy of the charges. And so, the steward went off to close the books, so to speak. As much as the rich man might have liked to dismiss the steward on the spot, it was necessary for him to close the books and hand over his records. The rich man had been so disengaged from the business that he would have needed the steward’s management records for the business to continue. Only the steward possessed the official record of debts owed the rich man. And it was in this time of closing out the books that the steward saw his opportunity. After all, we shouldn’t forget that any man in this position would have been deeply concerned about what he would do next. He had made his living so long in management that he wasn’t strong or healthy enough to do manual labor. He had lived too long in prosperity to sink to the level of begging. Then, in a flash, the solution to his problem came to him. He would take one last series of actions as steward which would secure his future. After all, he was the possessor of the official records. It wouldn’t do to simply make changes to the records of what some of the debtors owed. That would leave a traceable record of his actions such that it could be reversed. So, he called some of his master’s debtors to enact his plan. He would reduce the debt of his master’s debtors by destroying the old record of debt and write a new one. This would ensure that the debt would remain reduced when he was removed from management. It was the only way to ensure that these debtors would remain indebted to him and would receive him into their homes when he had nowhere else to go. It was a prudent, and even shrewd plan. When the rich man found out, he was forced to admit as much. He praised the steward’s actions because there wasn’t anything he could do about it. The steward had “got one over” on him, and there was nothing to do but to give a metaphorical tip-of-the-hat to the steward’s prudence. My friends, here is the warning that this parable gives: don’t become like that. The sons of this age are more prudent than we Christians because they have to be. They have nothing to work towards beyond this life, so they are enslaved to mammon. Don’t allow yourself to become enslaved to mammon, lest you become so corrupted by it that your sense of morals and values is completely lost, and you lose your place in the eternal dwelling of the Lord.

III. The Encouragement

3. This is the warning. Now for the encouragement. Admittedly, this encouragement comes as a bit of a riddle, but it is there, and it is significant. At the conclusion of the parable, our Lord says:

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

This is the point of the parable—not that we should be like the steward, deceiving and cheating for our own selfish gain. In fact, that is exactly the opposite of the point of this parable. The point of the parable is to encourage all of our Lord’s disciples to zealously pursue a place in the eternal dwellings. Now, to be clear, this is not some kind of encouragement toward a works/righteousness. You can’t, by your own efforts, earn a place in the eternal dwellings. A place in the eternal dwellings is given only as a gift when our Lord himself comes to seek and save those of us who were lost. Our Lord makes this clear in three parables of chapter 15, which immediately precede this one when he demonstrates how he came to earth to humble himself, associate with sinners, and to suffer death on their behalf so that they might be granted a place in the eternal dwellings. We don’t earn a place in the eternal dwellings, but we do work towards it. The gift that we have been given must be nurtured and maintained. The faith we have been given and the promise of eternal life which is ours can be lost. We see this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which occurs later in Luke 16. The rich man in that text is a descended of Abraham—one to whom the gifts of faith and eternal life have been granted. And yet he, through a sinful pursuit of the false god of mammon, lost those gifts and was sentenced to hell. And so, the parable in our text for today is an encouragement to rightly use God’s gifts in service to him as we pursue a place in the eternal dwellings. Our obedience to the Lord and our faithful use of his gifts will never be enough to earn for us salvation. But they can, by God’s grace, serve as a means by which the Holy Spirit works in us to strengthen our faith and to bring us ever-nearer to our eternal dwelling-place.

IV. Conclusion

4. And so, my friends, I want to encourage you today to allow this parable to prompt you to consider two questions about how you are using your mammon. First, how is my mammon helping me work toward my eternal dwelling? Am I using my money and possessions in pursuit of that which will be lost when I die, or am I using my money and possessions to instill in myself the kind of faith and virtues which the Lord seeks to build in me? How can I leverage the things I have been given, not in pursuit of selfish gain, but in the pursuit of the Lord? Second, how is my mammon helping others toward their eternal dwelling? It’s not insignificant that our Lord says:

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

It is those people whom we help in this life who will welcome us into the eternal dwelling-place. They will be present to bear witness to the faith which the Holy Spirit has worked in us. And, in a strange way, our service to others is, in fact, a service to Christ himself, as he said in Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

May our Lord grant us the grace which comes from his Spirit alone to be faithful in our use of mammon as we help ourselves and others journey toward our eternal dwelling.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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