Settling Accounts
St. Luke 16:1-13

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. Luke 16:9 [Jesus said] “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… We hear a lot these days about near-death experiences. Whether through an accident or disease, every once in a while someone comes to the very edge of life. Nearly always the experience turns those people around, and they look at life very differently than before.

You might say that the man in today’s text had a “near debt” experience. He was the steward of a very wealthy master, which means he was in charge of another person’s wealth and possessions. He enjoyed all the perks of his position – and he enjoyed them all too well. The problem was, he was an unfit steward, he was crooked, and wasted all of his master’s wealth.

Then came the day of reckoning. The master called him to turn in the books; his time as steward was almost over. The steward had to take stock, he had to re-evaluate how he had been acting. He said to himself, “I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” So he called his master’s creditors and re-negotiated their loans on better terms. He used his master’s money to make for himself, what would be called in today’s corporate world, a golden parachute.

Many Christians, like yourself, when they hear this story, find this fellow to be rather unsavory. He started out by being incompetent as a manager; he ended up being a thief as well. And what a shock it is for us when we realize that Jesus is here painting a picture of each and every one of us.

You see, like that steward, we waste the wealth our Master has given us, and it is not hard to understand why. After a while, we can come to believe wrongly, because of our sinful nature, that all the things we have belong to us. St. Paul asked the Corinthians a question we do well to ponder: “What do you have, that you have not received?” (I Cor. 4:7)

Your life is God’s gift to you. So is your family, your house, your job – yes, everything you are and have comes to you from the hand of God – on loan from the Giver of all good gifts. Furthermore, everything we have belongs to God and someday – maybe soon – He will reclaim them. As Pearl Bailey once said, “I’ve never seen a U-Haul following the hearse to the cemetery!”

Just look, for example, at how you spent this past week. How much time and treasure did you waste? How easy do you find it to sit and be entertained by television instead of using your talents to serve God? And wasted week follows wasted week until, one day, God says, “Enough! Turn in your books!”

God has the right to do that, you know, because all that we have comes from Him. And were He to judge you as you are, there would be more than enough to convict you of waste and fraud, and you wouldn’t even need a congressional hearing to get that done!

Think, dear friends, of all that has God entrusted to you. How have you used the things He has given you? For you, as for me, there is a limited time in which we are stewards. Sooner or later, the Lord who put His wealth into our hands will call us to account. And when that happens, what will you do? Do you even want to answer that question?

That is the question the steward faced. The choices were not attractive. “Should I dig?”–I’m not strong enough. “Should I beg?”– I’m too proud to beg. Nothing this man owned could be enough to take care of him. But then he hit on the perfect scheme; he would use the master’s wealth to make friends for himself so that after he was removed, they would gladly receive him and care for him.

So that’s exactly what he did. He had the master’s debtors come in to him one by one. “You owe my master one hundred measures of oil? Sit down and write fifty. You owe him one hundred measures of wheat? Change it to eighty.” And when the master heard what he had done, he commended the steward for his shrewdness.

In our text Jesus advises us to make friends for ourselves by means of our money. Nearly everything we can do with our resources makes enemies. Whether it is building a house, buying a car, or going on a trip, other folks see what we do and become envious.

In fact, there is only one thing you can do with your resources to make friends. Do you know what that one thing is? The only thing you can do with our resources to make friends is to give them away. We do that in church week after week when we receive the offering. The money you put into the plate is used to help other folks learn about God’s love in Christ. You give away something you would lose anyway, and in return you gain something that no one can take away. You give away money, and gain friends, not just for now, but forever. And the same is true when you spend your time and talent here and all the places where God has called you.

But how can you give so freely? Such kindness does not come naturally to you, who waste the things your Master gives. So it was that the Lord and Master of all became a servant, to make your losses good. The one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills chose birth in a stable. He whom the angels ever worship hid His glory and humbly served you.

Jesus, the one who covers Himself with light like a garment gave away all He had, even literally the shirt off His back, and hung naked between heaven and earth. And there He paid your debt of sin, and paid it in full. He showed how great your debt is when He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then he showed how full was His payment when He cried, “It is finished!”

Dear friends in Christ, the Lord tenderly took you into His arms when you were baptized. He put His own name on you, and shared His own life with you. He has given you riches so great that words simply fail. And when your hands are full of those riches, you find it easy to let the things of this life simply slip away.

You and I never get it quite right in this life. Martin Luther lived a very active life. His writings fill hundreds of volumes. He reformed the church from top to bottom. In fact, at the time of his death, he was working to reconcile two quarreling brothers. Yet the day before he died, he took a piece of paper and wrote words that were found after his death: “We are beggars; that is true.”

God gives his riches to beggars like you and me. And then He gives us the gift of today in which to share them with others. So take some time to think about how you use what God has given you. Why not learn a lesson from this shrewd steward? Make friends for yourselves by means of mammon, so that when it fails, they may receive you into the everlasting mansions by the grace and loving-kindness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.

He gives you His riches here on this altar, the riches of His very own body and blood by which we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. Come and receive His love, receive His gift, for these can never be taken away. These are the gifts that will sustain you until the Lord calls you home.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.