Faithfulness in All Things
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 16:1–16:15
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 22, 2019
“Faithfulness in All Things”
The big news here at St. John’s is the rededication concert of our Wicks pipe organ that took place last evening. It was a glorious debut for our nearly 40-year-old organ that has served our congregation well for so long. When we start hitting middle age – whether as people or as an organ – things can start to break down, and you have to address some tune-up issues. After a 4-month refurbishment and expansion project, our organ is back to lead us in “songs and hymns and spiritual songs, and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19) for many years to come. Thank you to everyone who helped to make this possible. The total cost for this organ renewal project was $75,189, which is a lot of money. But the organ itself is worth literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, even before the renewal project occurred. How much more valuable is it today – not just in terms of its financial value, but in terms of its value as the principal instrument that leads us in praising our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Late last year, the congregation gave approval to fund the organ refurbishment, as well as Sanctuary improvements that were done earlier this year with the painting of the Sanctuary ceiling and new lighting in the Choir Loft and under the balcony. The total estimated cost for all of these Sanctuary projects was $120,000, and we were only $2000 over budget. The grant total for all of this work came to $122,143. Did you know that our gifted and dedicated Director of Music has been at work behind-the-scenes over many years slowly building up an Organ Fund? Honorarium donations received for various occasions, as well as individual gifts, would all be channeled into this fund, which at the time work on the organ began was $57,000 – more than two-thirds of the total cost. That, my friends, is good stewardship. It is faithfulness in all things, including the small things that are actually not so small. Faithfulness in the small things is what leads to faithfulness in the big things of life. Flowing out of Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel lesson, this becomes the theme for preaching: Faithfulness in All Things. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus tells a story about a dishonest business manager – sounds quite current and relevant to our own times. We hear about this sort of thing all the time: embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, cheating, theft. The manager is going to get the boot and be fired for his dishonest business dealings. But then he hatches a plan that is so shrewd and clever even the big guy, the man whose money the manager was wasting, has to praise him for his ingenuity. And it has come at his own expense! Jesus’ words are so very true: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus’ followers, the “sons of light,” are often perceived as naïve, not very savvy in business dealings, and ignorant of how things work in the real world. Sometimes that perception is accurate; other times, it is not. The point is, where are we putting our trust and confidence: in ourselves and our ability to “make it rain?” Or in the Lord God Almighty, the Maker and Owner of heaven and earth? Jesus does not mince words here: “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No one 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” (Luke 16:11-13). So who or what is your master? Whose bidding do you do? It really comes down to the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7). And what does this mean? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s Explanation to the First Commandment in the Small Catechism).
Way back when yours-truly was in college, and I was enrolled in the Pre-Seminary program at my alma mater, Concordia University-St. Paul, Minnesota. We were required to take the Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek in order to have an understanding of the original languages of Scripture and use these tools to dig deeper into God’s Word. As part of our Hebrew learning, we had to take a big exam known as “the Qal test.” The Qal (ַקל) is the basic verbal stem which indicates active voice (though some passive forms do exist) and the unnuanced type of action. This was a take-home test, and when our Hebrew professor was handing out the test forms, one of my fellow students wondered out loud: “How do you know we won’t cheat?” And I will never forget the answer that the profess gave: “If I can’t trust you with a Qal test, how can you be trusted to preach and teach the Word of God?” As you can imagine, things got very quiet; you could have heard a pin drop in that classroom. Amazingly, I managed to pass the Qal test and here I am today. In no way am I a Hebrew or Greek scholar, but these tools have served me well over the years in ministry. By God’s grace and with his help, we strive for faithfulness in all things – the big things and the small things in life.
The truth is, no matter now much we strive for faithfulness in all things, the end product will be imperfect at best; stained with our own selfishness and sin. Sometimes despite our best efforts, all that striving ends up as a complete and utter mess. We wonder what has happened as we look at the shattered ruins of all our striving. Thanks be to God that we are not judged by our faithfulness, but according to the faithfulness of Jesus who came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. By his life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will and by his innocent suffering and death upon the cross, Jesus has paid the price for our selfishness and sin. Through faith in Jesus, all that Jesus has done has now been transferred to you and me. Through the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, God claims us as his own beloved children. Through the Body and Blood of Christ in his Holy Supper, we are assured again and again that there is mercy and grace to help in time of need. Through the Word of God, we find that God is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31b), and that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Something far more valuable than wealth or money is found here: security, peace which passes all understanding, knowing who we are and whose we are.
Jesus’ call to manage wisely and faithfully things that are not our own serves as prelude to our Fall Stewardship series next month. The theme for this series is the Offertory Prayer that we’ve been using over the summer and now in the fall as well: Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Our selves, our time, and our possessions – all of these come from the Lord and belong to him. They are merely on loan to us for a time now in this mortal life until Christ shall come again. And when Christ shall come again on that great and final day, the faithfulness of God’s people in all things, made perfect through the cleansing blood of Jesus, will be revealed for all to see as the Savior says to his beloved children: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21). Amen.
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