Comparing notes on the dishonest steward

The Gospel reading for yesterday was the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13), the guy who knew he would lose his job for embezzlement and so took the opportunity to forgive the debts of those who owed his boss money, as a way to get in good with them when he would be unemployed. His boss commended his shrewd dealing, as did Jesus, in a way. That’s a fascinating parable, but it’s one of the hardest to interpret and apply.

Churches that follow the three-year-lectionary, not only Lutherans but other denominations as well, will all have read that passage in church yesterday and very likely heard a sermon on it. That means that many of us here heard takes on what that sermon means. Let’s compile what we learned.

My pastor took the part about those who had their debts forgiven and applied it not to money but to sin: We all have a debt we cannot pay. We were forgiven it earlier in the service when we heard the absolution from the pastor.

I heard of another pastor today who observed that the steward, for all of his own problems, was showing mercy.

What aspects of the parable were illuminated for you in yesterday’s sermon? (Pastors, tell us what you did with it. Laypeople, tell us what you got out of it.)

Dumb parables?

Another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite, preaching on Luke 15:1-10.  An excerpt:

And so Jesus says: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

And the Pharisees and scribes are perhaps thinking to themselves here: What man of them? None of them! Why risk the 99 for the sake of the one? It shouldn’t have wandered off anyway. It’s probably too dumb to stay with the flock. But to preserve the 99, that – you see, Jesus – is what’s called an “acceptable loss.” But even so, if one did find that sheep, why rejoice? It needs discipline, so it won’t wander off again. Hmm . . .

Then Jesus says: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”

Well, this parable makes a little more sense, for sure, you’re talking about money here. Of course you’d look for lost money!

But then, Jesus continues, “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ ”

Um, no. Because if you found this coin you’ve just been looking so hard for, why spend it on your neighbors? They didn’t help you look for it, did they? And why would you spend so much time looking for it if you were just going to spend it? Hmm . . .

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. . . . [T]here is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy? Why? If a sinner repents, he’s just doing what he was supposed to do. And he shouldn’t have sinned in the first place! So why rejoice? These are dumb parables, Jesus. Nobody does these things.

Well, not nobody. Jesus does them. The true Shepherd. The Good Shepherd. The Shepherd for whom there are no “acceptable losses.” The Shepherd who laid down His life for all the sheep. The Shepherd who searches and does not give up. The Shepherd who loves His sheep more than you can possibly imagine. The Shepherd whose heart is filled with joy whenever one of His sheep is found. No matter who they are, no matter where they have wandered, and no matter how long they have been lost, there is joy in heaven and in the heart of the Good Shepherd when each and every sheep is back, safe and sound, in His arms.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 16 Sermon.

“When He sees that their power is gone”

We had a wonderful Palm Sunday service, and the sermon was on a text that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed before, Deuteronomy 32:36-39.  Moses says that “When he sees that their power is gone,” that is the time when “the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.”  When their power is gone!  What a passage for Law & Gospel and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory!

Postmodernists reduce everything–culture, law, government, morality, religion–to power.  One group is exercising power over someone else, and all of the veneer of civilization is just a mask to hide that fact.  So goes postmodernist cynicism.  (Notice how we Christians play into that mindset and confirm it when we create the impression that what we seek is political power.)

One line of apologetics to the postmodernists is to say that, yes, that does explain a lot.  But there is one counter-example.  One religion that is all about not power but the abdegnation of power.  God who emptied Himself of power:  Jesus on the Cross.

And this text reminds me that Christians too meet Jesus when our “power is gone,” when we admit that we are broken sinners, that we are powerless.  And that’s when the very different power from what postmodernists cynics bemoan manifests itself.  Not an oppressive power but a liberating power.  A saving power that raised Jesus from the dead and that in compassion will “vindicate” us too, raising us from every kind of death.

Pastor Douthwaite did a lot with this text.  Read the whole via sermon, which includes the quotation I gave above.  I remain haunted by this:

Besides, no matter how powerless you are, no matter how low, no matter how tired and weak and piled upon, you will never be at the bottom of the pecking order.

That spot is reserved for one person: Jesus.

The Prodigal Father

How many times have you read the story of the Prodigal Son?  How many sermons have you heard about it?  Do you think you have seen everything there is to see in that parable?  Well, check out what Pastor Douthwaite did with this text in his sermon to our congregation yesterday.  Go here.

I was struck with the vividness with which he described  the family situation with the two sons  (including that added speculative detail at the very end of the father now looking out, waiting the arrival of the good son); the depth of the application; and, in the biggest surprise for me, the thought that we enact the story of the Prodigal Son every time we come to divine service, in which we confess that we have sinned before heaven and earth and are received back by our Heavenly Father who puts on for  us the Feast of Holy Communion.

Luther’s writings on vocation

I have been charged with putting together some curriculum on Luther’s writings on vocation. This teaching, of course, is scattered throughout his voluminous works, but I need to pull together some primary sources. My task is complicated by the habit of Luther scholars of referring to his works by volume and page number from his collected works, often the German edition, instead of by the title of his book or sermon. (Could Luther scholars agree not to do that, or, rather, to give the title of the work, as well as where it can be found in the collected works?)

Anyway, Frank Sonnek put me onto this sermon, which is a good example of what I am looking for and is available online. It’s Luther’s sermon on the NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, preached in Marburg in 1529. Here is a paragraph on vocation. I will also throw in a paragraph on the kingdom of Christ just because it is so beautiful and profound. Both quotes show Luther at his stylistic best:

Our foolishness consists in laying too much stress upon the show of works and when these do not glitter as something extraordinary we regard them as of no value; and poor fools that we are, we do not see that God has attached and bound this precious treasure, namely his Word, to such common works as filial obedience, external, domestic, or civil affairs, so as to include them in his order and command, which he wishes us to accept, the same as though he himself had appeared from heaven. What would you do if Christ himself with all the angels were visibly to descend, and command you in your home to sweep your house and wash the pans and kettles? How happy you would feel, and would not know how to act for joy, not for the work’s sake, but that you knew that thereby you were serving him, who is greater than heaven and earth. . . .

Therefore we are to regard the kingdom of Christ as a large, beautiful arch or vault which is everywhere over us, and covers and protects us against the wrath of God; yea, as a great, extended firmament which pure grace and forgiveness illuminate and so fill the world and all things, that all sin will hardly appear as a spark in comparison with the great, extended sea of light; and although sin may oppress, it cannot injure, but must disappear and vanish before grace.

Now let me ask for your help. What are some other Luther writings on vocation? “Freedom of the Christian,” of course. “Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved.” The catechisms. What else? What sermons and postils and commentaries? What is the source of the oft-quoted but seldom sourced quotation about how changing a baby’s diaper is a holier work than that of all the monks in all the monasteries?


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