Based on: Luke 16:1-13
The world really appreciates and looks up to someone who is clever. Those who are able to outwit someone, to solve a problem in an ingenious way, to beat the odds with shrewd determination and innovative thinking win the world’s respect. Think of those who have shown their military shrewdness such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon and those who are successful in business like Donald Trump and Bill Gates. We may not agree with the way they achieved their success, but we have to admit that the world considers them clever and resourceful, even shrewd. They have used the resources that were available to them to get what they wanted. Jesus tells us to do the same thing. He tells us to be shrewd – to use the resources available to us to win friends in heaven.
You heard the parable Jesus told in our gospel for today. A wealthy man had someone working for him and taking care of his business. He deals with customers and other businessmen and keeps track of how much each one owes his master. The owner heard that his manager has been wasting his money. So the owner tells the manager that he will be fired – he needs to get his books in order. Faced with reality of his pending unemployment, this man comes up with a plan to avoid manual labor or begging. It is a clever plan, an ingenious plan, a shrewd plan. He goes to each of the people who owe his master money, and he reduces their debt. He is cheating his master of money and, in a sense, giving it to others so that these people will owe him a favor. He expects that these people will return the favor and provide for him after he loses his job.
We might call this cheating and stealing. Perhaps some call it creative accounting or self preservation. Either way, this manager is thinking ahead. He has a goal in mind, and he found a creative solution to achieve that goal using the resources that were available to him. Finally the owner, the wealthy man who had employed this manager, finds out about what he had done. The rich man actually praises this dishonest manager. He doesn’t praise him for being dishonest, for being a thief, for cheating him. This wealthy man certainly did not like the fact that so much of his wealth was distributed to others by this shrewd manager, but as a businessman himself, he recognizes the ingenuity in the clever way that this man solved this problem. He must admit that this manager was very shrewd. Wouldn’t you agree? Even though you know that what the man did was wrong, wouldn’t you agree that this man found a creative solution to his problem?
Jesus tells us to do the same thing. No, he doesn’t mean be dishonest or steal or cheat. He wants us to be shrewd, to be clever and resourceful and to use the earthly blessings that he has given us to reach our goal. He tells us exactly what that means. He says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." The point of this parable is that we should be shrewd when it comes to using our earthly wealth. That we should think outside the box. That means that we don’t think like the rest of the world, but we think beyond the confines of this earthly life to the mansions of heaven. Jesus says we should use our money and possessions to make friends – friends that will share heaven with us.
We certainly can’t buy our way into heaven or buy a spot in heaven for someone else. Then what is Jesus talking about? He is telling us that one of the reasons he gave us money and he gave us possessions is so that we could support the spread of the gospel.
Just think about how we help others when we support the work at this congregation. Everything we do to help keep this congregation active and growing and sharing God’s word with the people here and the people in this community means that God’s word is being shared with people who will end up in heaven with us. We will have friends in heaven there to welcome us. Those friends will say, "Thank you for supporting the work of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Sleepy Eye. Because of what you did I was baptized at that church.", or "Because of St. John’s I heard the gospel message and was brought to faith. When I strayed from the faith there were people there to lovingly bring me back." These people might live 50 or 100 years in the future, but what we do know will have an impact on them.
Because we are shrewd and clever and ingenious with the way that we use the money and possessions God has given us, we can make eternal friends not only here in Sleepy Eye or southern Minnesota, but also around the world. As we work with other congregations we can do even more than we can do alone. That is why we send money to our Wisconsin Synod. With this money our Synod trains pastors and teachers to share God’s word here in the United States and around the world. With this money our Synod sends missionaries to share God’s word with people in other countries and to train people in those countries to be ministers so that eventually the congregations in these mission areas can support themselves. As we use our money shrewdly to help those around the world, we gain friends in heaven from around the world, welcoming and thanking us – people from Indonesia and Russia and Africa and many other places.
After telling us to use our worldly wealth to gain friends, Jesus seems to go in a different direction, but it is related. He describes the connection between worldly wealth and heavenly riches. First he says this world’s wealth is small compared to the riches of heaven. He says this world’s riches are not the true riches. If we are faithful with what only appears to be wealth on this earth, then we can be trusted with the real wealth of God’s kingdom. He also says this world’s wealth does not belong to us. It is on loan to us from God, and if we can’t handle what God lets us borrow on earth, why would he give us wealth of our own in heaven?
Jesus is telling us that to be shrewd in the use of worldly wealth and to gain friends in the eternal dwellings is the God pleasing way to manage our money. This is the way the Christian proves himself trustworthy with a small amount of wealth God of loans to him here on this earth.
Now each and every one of us, after hearing what Jesus tells us in this parable, must take a look at our own use of money. God does expect us to take care of our families and he wants us to enjoy the gifts he gives us, but we each should ask the question, "Am I using my earthly wealth to gain friend for myself in the eternal dwellings?" Each of us will give different amounts depending on our situation, but we each need to ask ourselves whether God would call us trustworthy for the way we have handled the small amount of riches he is given us on this earth.
Jesus says at the very end of this account, "You cannot serve both God and money." If our offerings show that we are serving money, that we find our happiness and security in what money can buy, then we should repent for our own spiritual good and eternal life.
We have a good and gracious God and the true spiritual riches that he blesses us with is the blood of Christ that covers our sin. Jesus lived a life that used perfectly this world’s wealth to gain friends. He was shrewd and resourceful and clever in using this world and its wealth to spread his gospel. He alone did perfectly what he commands in this parable. He alone was perfectly trustworthy with worldly wealth. He alone gives us his perfect obedience as our own. Our failures at being shrewd and our failures at properly using the wealth that God gives us became Christ’s failures. Christ was punished on the cross for those failures. We are forgiven for not being shrewd with the wealth God has entrusted to us.
The Gates of Heaven remain open for us because of Jesus Christ. That is a message we want to tell others. We want to be ingenious and clever and creative, even shrewd, in sharing that message with others. As we share this message we can be sure that we will gain friends for ourselves, and we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.