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Archive for September 23rd, 2013

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” St. Matthew 18: 10

Introduction:  The following quote is from Luther’s House Postil  (“House Sermon”: he preached daily in his home) on St. Matthew 18: 1-10.  This is one of the two appointed Gospel lessons for St. Michael and All Angels, see “Read Before You Hear” above.   He is preaching on the Word in which the Lord says that children have guardian angels. He takes up the topic that the Lord highly values children, even to send His “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1: 14) to guard them. After reading this sermon, the take away can be “things don’t change”.  In negative, sadly yes but also in the positive, in the Godly:  The Lord commands and helps us to raise our children, something no government, nor school can finally do.  Government and school are to protect and defend families, not replace them.

“Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” In other words, Whoever is responsible for a child, physically and spiritually, trains him properly so that he learns to know God, learns not to curse, swear, or steal; to him I say that he is receiving me personally, is loving me as if he were carrying me, Mary’s child, in his arms and taking care of me just as my mother Mary has taken care of me. That is preaching ever so sweetly and tugging at us ever so winsomely.

 But why does the Lord do it? Solely for the reason that he understands very well how eager young people are to listen to obscene things and how easily they are misled. Moreover, evil mouths are only too happy to lend assistance here and—may plaintive cries rise to God in heaven!—we now find boys and girls, ten and twelve years old, who can curse and swear a blue streak about hurts, physical disorders, pustules, and the like, and are otherwise devoid of shame and are vulgar in speech. From whom do they learn this? From no one else but from those who should be restraining them, from father and, mother, and from shameful, wicked servants (see footnote below). Young people come to know such things more quickly and pay more heed to them than to the Lord’s Prayer. This has its roots in that old, evil firebrand, our sinful nature, that sticks within us. That is why Christ preaches here so compellingly and admonishes so tenderly to take care of young people, saying, When you train one of these little ones, when they are brought up in the fear and knowledge of God, in godliness and modesty, you then have done me the greatest service. I have assigned my noble servants, the beloved angels, to serve and attend them. Remember this and do likewise, do not offend them, let them hear no evil, and minister to them willingly.

Footnote:  Most of us do not have servants in our homes, but we do have electronic servants:  television, radio, CDs, DVDs and especially the internet.  They are our servants not our masters, yet young people in particular can mastered by them with a false, heretical and devilish view of the world. (And so can adults!) Young people can know a wicked song lyric quicker than the Lord’s Prayer, as Luther points out.  These servants can be wicked and want to master.  Fathers and Mothers, and Grandparents must be, with the angels, on guard for such, restricting at times the abuse the devil heaps on us through them.

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The Parable of the Dishonest Manager

Luke 16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 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 money.”14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

The manager of the rich man’s estate knew he was up to his eyeballs in debt especially when the manager was found out and reported to the owner.  The man squandered possessions not belonging to him.  “Squander” is the exact same verb in Greek used by the Lord to describe the prodigal son’s stewardship of his father’s inheritance that the son demanded before his father died:  the son wasted, squandered it, in a far country. He blew it.  The manager or the steward, like the runaway son, blew away what wasn’t theirs to begin with.  The steward quickly realizes he’s not in shape to dig and has too much pride to beg.  He comes up with clever scheme with the master’s debtors. Yes, his master has demanded the books, the ledger, but he is still acting in the name of his boss.  He summons the first debtor who owed the master 100 measures of olive oil.  100 measures is approximately 875 gallons.   Walmart brand extra virgin olive oil:  101 ounces, not even a gallon, $19.28.  Even by today’s prices that’s one heck of debt: about $17,500.  The second debt owes at least 1000 bushels of wheat and that can make a lot of bread, and costs allot of bread.  He reduced both debts.  The manager is about to become homeless and wants to ingratiate himself into the master’s debtors lives so they show him hospitality, welcome him.  Interesting word, “ingratiate”:   there are many words with the same Latin root, gratia, that is grace.  The steward smartly, in his own enlightened self-interest, and wrongly, cooked the books, so to ingratiate, put himself in their good graces  and so save his can.  He knew he did wrong and he is feeling really sorry about it.  He wants to save himself.

 And eventually, if one of those debtors accepts the fired manager into their ‘good graces’, eventually the guest will be told when push comes to shove:  Hey, I know you wiped clean half my debt and I took you when you were down and out and now you owe me you, you owe me big time. Now if I can ingratiate myself to someone, and he accepts my ingratiation, all along it is not grace. It is only more legal problems and debt.  This is not grace.   Grace is gift, unearned, free.  No if, ands or buts.  Jesus knew a lot about debt and He taught us to pray, forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us and ever more grace toward repentant debtors.

 We live in a time of staggering debt. For instance:   the national student loan debt is now greater than the national credit card debt.  This should come as no news to anyone here today.  We are more concerned about building up bigger houses than building up solid homes. We want to drive in fancier cars than to walk in the shoes of another. The federal government wants to raise the debt ceiling again.  I can get my head around a debt of $17,500 but trillions?  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of another servant who owes his master ten thousand talents.  A talent was a weight of silver worth 20 years wages, in another words a debt worth about 1,600 lifetimes.  I can’t get my head around that but it scares me and well it should.

 The enormity of debt becomes real when it affects those around us quite personally. It is only by God’s Law we begin to realize the enormity of going in over our heads.  At first it sounds good, after all don’t you deserve it, the sly voice of the devil whispers.    Then the Law shows us who have been obeying and serving:  mammon, money.  The Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus said they exalt it.   This is the number 1 idol on earth. One of the qualifications in 1 Timothy of a bishop or a pastor is not being a lover of money.  But as for the steward, we have all been called to give an account.  People talk about  their personal sexual lives on “Dr. Phil” or “The Tonight Show”, brag about it on Facebook, but reveal our incomes?  Now that’s personal…and perverse in every way. It’s personal because where our love is there is our heart.  Our love is in our wallets and banks.  It’s like the story of the man in church who went into full panic when the offering plate came around and he only  had a hundred dollar bill in his wallet.  We know what we hold on to tenaciously.  Modesty?  No way.  People want money to be profiled as tough, sexy, smart, rich. Again, perverse.  Mammon can not save.  We want and we don’t have because we spend it on our passions.  Look at our society today.  See how the world worships work, plays at its worship and works at its play.  Is it any wonder that our world is confused, disordered, tired, stressed out, anxious, lonely and lost?  The world is ever knocking at our doors and our hearts. No one on his deathbed ever said, Pastor, I confess that I should have spent more time on my business.  The day of accounting is today.  And the day of salvation. All have squandered  and frittered away so much.  We can’t repay. 

 Like the steward and the prodigal son, all has been given, gratis.  And squandering away even a fortune, Jesus knows the debt. Unlike the shrewd steward, He came to pay the debt, not just pay it down.    The steward only wiped part of the debt of the other vendors. The sons of this world know how to deal with their own.  The sons of light cannot so deal, in fact none of us can in the sight of God.  I owe a king’s ransom. The King has paid the ransom: all of it. Debt forgiven.  We write debt into our lives with our own handwriting.  He paid the debt not on paper with  but on wood with nails with  His own blood. 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

He paid the debt 100%. The record of debt has been stamped, paid in full, gratis.

 The Lord’s goal for us all is clear and concise, better than any corporate or congregational mission statement:  The Lord, “…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”.   We come to faith by the preaching of Jesus Christ and we know His will:  “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…” FOR ALL. He paid what no man or woman could ever pay:  the bankruptcy of the human heart. You are forgiven. Don’t restructure your debt with the false promises of gurus and pundits and bad advice.  Don’t repair  the debt the Lord has already forgiven you. Don’t raise the debt ceiling of sin, saying it’s not so bad when you know it is. But when we go in debt again, turn to Him and the grace He offered in your Baptism by His death and resurrection settles the account again. He paid it not with silver or gold, but by His blood. 

 He calls us to Himself single-minded and heartened in Him.  He is single-minded in finding the lost and making the dead alive. If that steward was single-minded in self-preservation, let us be single-minded in the Lord’s salvation. So, let us use what we have that others may have what we have been given and together we be received into our eternal home. Let us build better homes and help each other to do so.  Not to raise the debt ceiling but raise our voices in witness to His grace and mercy for us all. Let us be single-minded and of one mind in the Holy Spirit to receive His gifts every Sunday without which we are poor indeed. Let us pray for all authorities and those in power that we have peace, so that many come to the Lord.  Let us actually help those down and out and not wait for the government to do so who will pay with one hand and take with both hands. Jesus Christ paid the debt and gave us an eternal inheritance. He paid it with both hands nailed to the wood.  Mammon only leads to death.  Christ Jesus has led us to eternal life. A famous atheist novelist when she died, people brought the floral bouquets in the shape of dollar signs at her funeral.  That sign can’t go far. It’s a dead-end sign.  But the sign of His Cross points us to our eternal inheritance and to our debt forgiven once and for all, ever returning to His grace given in Baptism, forgiven, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

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

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