Here it is the Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year. Themes of the Second Coming, Judgment, heaven and hell hang in the air, and what's our text about? Could it really be about stewardship?
Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman leaving to get a kingdom, promising to return, who is hated and rejected by the people he's suppose to rule. Who else can this be but Jesus? Surely the one begotten from the Father from all eternity is noble. And John tells us that He came unto His own and His own received Him not. And didn't the crowd on Good Friday scream, "Take Him away; crucify Him. We have no king but Caesar?" Finally, Jesus ascended into heaven to be crowned king of heaven and earth, and promised to return.
The man of noble birth certainly fits Jesus, and what does this nobleman do before leaving. He leaves his 10 slaves (not servants, slaves) each a mina with the instruction, "Put this money to work until I come back." I can feel a money sermon coming on right now. Are you diversified enough? No, not do you have your money proportioned correctly between stocks, bonds, and CD's, but between heaven and earth, the things of God and the things of men. As they say, that sermon will preach.
In the parable we have the Jesus figure, those who reject Him, and those who are His slaves being entrusted with His riches to use on His behalf before He returns. And you have the final judgment. Both those outside the Church and those inside the Church are judged. Hypocrites are exposed, and the faithful are grandly rewarded. Of course this text is about stewardship, but the question is stewardship of what?
This text isn't about the stewardship of time, talent, and treasure. That's a different parable. That's the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 where a man leaves 3 slaves not 10 differing amounts - one 5 talents, one 3 and the last 1. Our English word for talent, meaning ability, comes from this parable, and isn't it the truth that talents differ greatly between people? Some are good in school, some in sports, some in business. Some are good with their hands others with their head. Some have a talent for people others have a talent for cooking. Also a talent was a large amount of money in Jesus' day. It was worth more than a $1,000. Today it would be worth $660,000. And doesn't that ring true to life? The talents of individuals are highly regarded. Whole TV shows are dedicated to people who have even silly, strange, or stupid talents.
You could preach the Matthew 25 parable applying it to time, talent, and treasure, but not this one in Luke. Here all the slaves are left exactly the same amount. Our little group here doesn't have exactly the same amount of time, talent, or treasure. There is a dizzying array of these things even among us. Furthermore, in this parable the slaves are left a small amount. One mina was worth about 3 month's wages, 1/60th of a talent. Today it would be worth about $6,400. Finally, in the parable about talents faithfully using them is rewarded by a vague "many things." Here, faithful use of one mina is rewarded incredibly. For each additional mina made the slave is given a city.
So, what do we all have the same amount of that is considered small in the world's eyes but rewarded far beyond our wildest dreams? What but the Means of Grace? Our Lord when He ascended into heaven left to His Church, to us Christians, Baptism, Absolution, and Holy Communion. Not one of us has more or less of these things. But these things are pitifully insignificant in the eyes of the world. Baptism is just simple water only. Absolution is just words; the Bible these words come from just stories. And Communion is nothing but bread and wine and not very good bread or wine at that! The only treasurer the world thinks we Christians have is the gold and silver of our sacramental vessels, our buildings, and property. What is in our sacramental vessels, what goes on in our buildings and on our property is worthless to the world.
But see how incredibly it is rewarded! The faithful use of Word and Sacrament is rewarded with forgiveness, life and salvation. Doing business with Baptism, Absolution and Holy Communion delivers one from sin, from death and from the power of the devil. No matter how well you use time, talent, or treasure, you don't get forgiveness, life or salvation. No matter how generous you are with your time, talent and treasure that doesn't result in being delivered from sin, death or the devil. O, I'm not saying that the Lord doesn't reward these. No, He rewards all the works He does in us, but the reward of using the Means of Grace is more grace than you can get your head, heart, or hands around. It's whole cities full of grace.
This text is about stewardship, our stewardship of the Means of Grace, and the Means of Grace are nothing less than Jesus. What came out of the side of Jesus on the cross when the soldier speared Him? Water and Blood. There in that baptismal font is where the Water from Jesus' side is today. There on that altar is where the blood that flowed from His riven side is today. Where is the forgiveness Jesus won for the whole world, for every sinner under the sun found today? Right where Jesus put those words: In the mouths of His people. Absolution is the voice of Jesus speaking on earth to day; the Gospel is the voice of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness wherever His people speak it.
Stewardship of the Means of Grace is stewardship of the suffering, bleeding, dying Savior. Profanity is not vulgarity but treating something holy as plain and ordinary. Esau, says Scripture, profaned his birthright. How? By selling it for a bowel of lentils.
Baptism is the water of eternal life. We profane it when we regard it as an outward washing or as insufficient to cleanse us completely from our sins. Absolution is the living Word of God spoken in time. We profane it when we think of it as a pastor's wish or opinion not actually here and now sending our sins away from us. Communion is the same Body of Christ the Romans nailed to the cross. Communion is the same Blood of Christ that was pressed out of Him in Gethsemane. When Martin Luther was an old man, he spilled the Blood of Christ while distributing Communion. He got down on His hands and knees and licked it up. We profane the Body and Blood of Christ no less than the Romans who beat and crucified Him when we regard this as plain bread and wine giving less thought and regard to it than we do a fancy meal.
Come back. You can get derailed in a hurry at this point. The Sacraments and Words of our Lord are to be revered as holy, precious, and sacred, and that is part of their stewardship, but it's not the main part. The highest use of the Means of Grace is faith: believing that just for you Jesus made Baptism a life-giving Water rich in Grace; believing that your sins were sent away this morning by the Absolution I spoke; believing that the Body and Blood of Jesus on this altar was given and shed for you personally.
Let's jump back in the parable. The first two slaves used the Means of Grace while waiting for their Lord to return. They saw their sins washed away by baptismal waters. They heard their sins lifted off them by absolving words. They fed on the Body and Blood of their Lord rejoicing in the forgiveness, physical life, and eternal salvation in them. But there's a third slave, but he isn't called the third slave. Jesus speaks of "the first one" and "the second," but not the "third." No, it's "another slave." Our word "heterodox" is related to these Greek words. Heterodox means to hold other doctrines, other teachings, other beliefs than orthodox ones, correct ones, straight ones.
In the parable the heterodox slave simply buries the mina. He doesn't use it for himself. He doesn't use it at all. He doesn't daily return to his baptism to die and rise with Jesus. He doesn't believe the pastor's absolution does a thing. And he doesn't care to eat and drink the Body and Blood of his Savior either. Why not? He claims he doesn't use the Means of Grace out of fear. "I was afraid of you." You'd think that Jesus would have shown mercy at this point. "O you poor fellow. It really was out of pious fear that you didn't use Baptism, Absolution, or the Lord's Supper."
But what does Jesus do? He explodes on him. Jesus calls him a wicked slave and says he didn't fear Him at all. The Introit explains, "With You, O Lord there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared." Getting no forgiveness in the Means of Grace, the wicked slave could have no fear either no matter what he said. He had hatred, contempt, and rebellion for his Lord.
So, fellow slaves of the noble Lord Jesus, are you using the mina your Lord left you? Note that use of the mina produces more minas. Using the Means of Grace: being reborn daily in your baptism, having all your sins separated from you by the Absolution, and eating and drinking the Body and Blood of your God leads to more forgiveness, more life, more salvation. Faithful use of the Means of Grace leads to more victory over sin, over death and over the power of the devil.
When we don't take shelter in our Baptisms, when we don't regard the Absolution as God's last word on our sins, when we don't regard Holy Communion as the Body and Blood of Jesus here for us and our salvation, we can only view our Lord as a hard man who expects too much from us. And when we see our Lord that way, we see our fellow man, our spouse, our boss, our neighbor, our parents, our kids that way. They are takers from us; they expect too much from us. They aren't for us at all.
It's different when we see God viewing us as righteous, innocent, and blessed in the Means of Grace. It's different when we see that for Jesus' sake God doesn't see even one of our sins. It's different when we see that the Lord who left us with the Means of Grace only wants to give us more. It's different, not because God is different but because we are. Having His forgiveness, life and salvation, we become stewards of them. And how can that not be "well done"? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year(20071118); Luke 19: 11-27