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Merciless Money - Merciful Master

10/3/04

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Many misunderstand the closing words of our text. Jesus doesn't command us, "Do not serve both God and money." No, He informs us, "You cannot serve both God and money." It's an impossibility, not a choice. So the only question is, Which do you serve?

Money is a merciless master. Money is all law. There are books, ledgers, accounts and records. Money doesn't forget; can't turn a blind eye; can't see what is not there. I see this in voters meetings. Those of us with no training or experience in accounting just don't understand the mercilessness of money. What goes out has to agree with what comes in. Every penny and decimal point must be right even as the Law demands every jot and every tittle. Money knows no mercy.

Money is merciless because it's a matter of the law, and because it's a matter of the law you can always, I mean always be accused when you're in the service of money. In the parable Jesus tells, the manager is accused of wasting his master's possessions. The parable doesn't say whether the manger is guilty. It just wishes to highlight how easily he is accused.

Since the law always accuses us and since money is of the law, we can always be accused when we're serving money. Watch how easily I make all of you feel guilty by merely talking about how you spend money. If you just drank off brand soda, used off brand toilet paper, bought off brand beans, do you realize how much more you could give to Church? If you ate out one less time a week, saving 20 dollars, you could give $1,000 more to Jesus each year. You're squirming, yet you still don't get my point. No matter how you spend money, no matter how frugal you become, no matter how much you gave to the Church you could still be accused in money matters. Because money is a merciless master and serving money is serving the law.

The reason many of you have problems with this is because of the church. You've been taught to seek refuge in your service of money. You've been taught that there is a way to serve money without being accused. Just serve God while you serve money. Even though Jesus says you can't serve both God and money, if you just give to God a top percentage of your money, a tithe, or "enough," then you can go in peace and serve money all you want. As long as you give God His cut, as long as you serve money under God, it's okay. Then money can't accuse you.

Wrong. Under the law sinners can always be accused. You can't stand before God holy and pure based on how you spend money no matter how much you give away. If you think you have or can, then beware of that sin of all sins called self-righteousness. If you think you can stand before Jesus and say, "I've given enough. Used money well enough. I don't sin with money," then your holiness and salvation is in you. And you are lost now and will be damned on the last day. But what's the alternative. If you admit the truth that no matter how little money you make, no matter how much money you give, no matter how you spend money you're guilty under the merciless master of money, then fear of the coming judgement wells up in your heart.

The answer? Money is not your master to accuse you or to save you. Money is merciless; whether you serve money in pride or fear, you serve the law. "Okay, okay. I want to serve the Lord." Fine, but is the Lord a merciful Master to you? Is your Master the Lord we prayed to in the Collect to keep us with His "perpetual mercy?" Is your Master the Lord whose mercy endures forever that we praise in the Communion liturgy?

If your Lord wants to get things from you, then you aren't serving a merciful Master but one of the law. Does your Lord bring you to Himself to get your worship, your service, your money? This is how the erring OT church and NT Pharisees regarded God. Therefore God told them He needed nothing or wanted nothing from them. He begged them in Malachi to shut the temple doors and to stop bringing in their offerings. He told them in the NT that their much giving was nothing before Him.

Is your Lord someone who is angry with you and needs to be appeased by you? Then you are serving the Law, and there is no mercy for you. No, you are doomed to ever trying to please your Lord by what you do whether by coming to Church, by giving money, or even by believing. Yes, you heard me right. If you think that your believing is what makes your Lord and Master not angry with you, then you're really serving the false god of Islam, Allah. Repeatedly the Koran teaches that Allah is appeased by a person believing.

If something I do, something I give, something I believe is what makes God not angry with me, then my salvation is in my hands. I must keep doing, giving, or believing in order to be saved, and I tell you here and now that I can't. I never do enough, give enough, or believe enough to pass the judgment of a merciless Master. I can always be accused based on what I do, give, or believe, because I'm a sinner, and so are you. That's why I tell you here and now to serve the Master of this parable.

Do you see how incredibly merciful He shows Himself to be? He fires the manger and commands him to give an account of how he had spent money. The manger knows he's toast because no one can pass the strict accounting standards of the law. The law can always make a person guilty. There is no way to remain pure under the law. But look at the mercy of his Master He doesn't send him right to prison or worse. The manager is free to go.

Haven't your sins been exposed? Do any of you believe that you can pass the strict accounting standards of the law? Does a day go by that you don't sin in thought, word, or deed? Your Master on any given day could rightly pass judgement on you instantly. We say in the confession of sins in the regular Sunday liturgy that we deserve "temporal and eternal punishment" for our sins. When our thoughts wander, we ought to be given brain tumors right there; when our hands are used sinfully, they ought to be broken on the spot; when we sin with our tongues, they ought to be ripped out; when we sin with money, we ought to be bankrupted instantly. But that doesn't happen, not because God doesn't know or care but because our God is merciful.

Serve the Merciful Master in this parable. He is so concerned with His reputation for being merciful that He's willing to pay the cost of his manger's sins against His money. You must follow closely if you're going to notice this. The manger sees how incredibly merciful His Master is in not sending him to jail instantly. So, he stakes everything on the fact that his Master loves to be merciful. He calls in all his Master's debtors and has them reduce their bills by 20%.

Think what happens. All throughout the village the name of the Master is praised. Without any merit or worthiness in them, the Master had mercy on them. Although they had agreed with him to pay a certain amount, He had reduced what they owed by 20%. That's what they all assumed. The manger still had the books and wasn't publicly relieved of his position. All thought the manger was still acting on behalf of the Master.

At this point the Master has two choices. He can denounce the manger saying that he had in fact been fired, or the Master can let the manger's actions stand. If the Master denounces the manger, He will be known as follower of the law, an enforcer of the law, a Master who deals with those in His service according to the law. If the Master let's the manger's action stand, then far and wide the Master is going to be known as merciful, gracious, loving. Now it's going to cost Him 20% of His business, but rather than being known as a Master of the Law, He would rather be known as a Master of Mercy even if He loses money.

Read your Old Testament. How many times does God do something for the sake of His merciful name? And remember when Moses wants God to show His true nature? What does God pass before him proclaiming? The 10 Commandments? No, He proclaims this: "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and truth." To be merciful costs God even as it cost the Master in the parable. It costs God not 20% but 100% of His only beloved Son.

Rather than send you to hell instantly every time you sin, God sent His Son to hell eternally on the cross. Rather than judge you for your real sins with His gifts as the Law demands, God would rather be known as Perpetual Mercy even though that name costs Him the blood, sweat and tears of His Son. God would rather freely send your sins away at the cost of the suffering and death of Jesus and be known as merciful, then make you pay for every misspent penny and be known as right.

Serve the Master of this parable by relying on His mercy. He praises those who rely on His mercy. The Master does not commend the manger because he is dishonest but because he acted shrewdly. The picture is this. All the village is praising the Master for his mercy. The manger is there beaming. If the Master is going to preserve His name as merciful, He must beam back. He has not choice but to commend this manger because the manger had acted shrewdly by cornering Him with His own desire to be known as merciful. The Lord loves those who rely on His mercy. As Psalm 147 says, "The Lord takes pleasure in those who hope in His mercy."

Serve God in Christ as the merciful Master He wishes to be known as. Don't point to what you do, give, or believe. Point to what God gives, does, and believes when He gives you His own Son, pays for all your sins by Jesus' blood, and believes He'd rather save you from hell than His own Son from the cross. Now that's a Merciful Master, God, Savior, and Lord. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Pentecost XVIII (10-3-04); Luke 16: 1-13