7th Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who freed us from our sins, friends in Christ,
What do you think life would be like? By the actions of people stronger and more powerful than you, you are treated not as a person but as a piece of property that can be bought or sold at someone else’s discretion. You have no power over your own schedule, rather, your entire life is prescribed for you by someone else. You are forced to work, you are forced to work hard, you are forced to accept punishment at the whim of someone else, no matter how hard you work or what you do, you get nothing out of it other than the basic necessities to live so you can continue to work. You can’t call in sick but must work every day like this until you die. There is no such thing as vacation or retirement for you. And you are deprived of any right to leave. What do you think life would be like to be a slave?
Thankfully none of us –to my knowledge- has had to live in physical slavery like that. However, there’s a different slavery that each of us is threatened with every day of our lives. It may not be as physically abusive but it is just as and even more controlling. It’s a slavery that Jesus addresses in our text for this morning. (read text)
In this text Jesus discusses our relationship with worldly stuff. Jesus makes a distinction between what is little and has little significance in the grand scheme of things and what is true and lasting. The little thing of life is worldly stuff, material things, which actually don’t really belong to us and which do not last. The true thing, the true riches of life is what lasts forever: the gospel, the news of God’s forgiveness, the gift of eternal life in heaven- that’s true riches. And Jesus warns us here that if we mismanage the little stuff, put our trust in the little stuff, spend our lives as slaves to the little stuff, then we are unfit for true wealth: His forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.
Jesus put it this way: “No servant can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” A lot of people like to think, “I don’t want to be anyone’s servant. I’m my own master.” But that’s impossible. Every human being has one of two masters: God or the devil. Here, having money or worldly stuff as a master is the same as having the devil as a master.
Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I love my job so much I would do it without pay!” I kind of wonder if they would make that statement if all of a sudden they’re employer took them up on that offer. The fact is a paycheck is huge part of our going to work every day. That’s kind of the way God has set it up from the beginning. Adam and Eve would have to work the ground in order to grow food to eat. God even tells us, “If a man shall not work, he shall not eat.” It’s ok to work and expect to be paid for it, it’s ok to use your time and abilities to earn money to provide food and clothing and shelter for yourself and your family. And it’s even ok if through that work you receive even more material blessings that exceed your needs. That’s ok!
But this is where Jesus’ warning comes in: Don’t let money become your master. And here’s how it can happen: it starts with the honest desire to put food on the table and a shelter to provide for the family. Then the materialistic culture in which we live sets in. At the cost of millions of dollars, commercials are produced with one goal in mind: to convince us that we need a certain product and our lives will be unbearable until we have it. Then we begin to see in the store or restaurants things that we can’t afford. Then we see roofs with houses underneath that are much bigger and more beautiful than ours. And then the devil leans in and whispers in our ear, “It’s ok to want more, just as long as you are willing to work for it.” So, what do we do? So we take on more responsibilities and extra hours to get that lifestyle that’s been imbedded in our dreams. Then since we’ve been working so hard and feel guilty about not being with the family we decide we need a vacation and so we need to make more money to pay for it. Then we realize that if we don’t accumulate a large enough nest egg we won’t be able to enjoy this same lifestyle once we retire, so we work even more and cycle goes on and on. And before we know it, we’ve spent our whole lives serving money, serving stuff.
Worldly wealth is a cruel slave driver. Jesus said, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches.” Interestingly in the Greek the word translated “worldly wealth” is literally “dishonest or unjust wealth.” Worldly wealth is really and “unjust” or “dishonest” master. Worldly wealth can’t really deliver on any of its promises. The hope it offers is empty and worthless. Think about it. Money promises happiness, if you only get enough of it, but is there ever enough? Does the happiness ever last? There may be excitement when you buy that new house, but then there’s the leaky roof the roof or the broken furnace. There’s the steady flow of bills demanding more for your mortgage, taxes, insurance, utilities, not to mention everything inside of your house that comes with many of the same demands. The car needs new tires. The ipad breaks. The kitchen needs a new refrigerator. The closet needs some new clothes. And you keep chasing after more and more stuff, always coming up empty in terms of anything really meaningful or lasting. Money is an unjust master who never delivers on what he promises.
The allure of wealth is one of Satan’s most powerful tools in our world today. It leads Christians to let work commitments conflict with their commitment to worshipping the Lord or caring for and fulfilling their role in the family. It leads us to spend money on things we want but don’t really need, creating financial obligations that interfere with our giving to the Lord. And Jesus says, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” It’s disgusting to God, not that you and I have worldly wealth but that we chase after it and measure success and happiness by it, that we let it become so important to us—that we let it become our god. That we place the measure of life on the house we own, the care we drive, the clothes we wear. That’s disgusting and detestable to God.
Jesus says, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” Have we done it? It doesn’t work. They have completely different goals for our lives. One is focused on the short time we are on earth; the other has our eternity in mind. One wants only to take from us; the other wants to give us riches that no one can ever take away from us. One leads to death; the other gives us life. We can’t serve both.
But God wants to free us from that cruel slave-driver and give us true riches. How so? He told, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” Jesus came to our world setting aside the honor, power, wealth and riches of heaven. Why? To tell us about true riches, true blessings that last. To give us those blessings, he had to do what none of us were able to do, stay free from the slavery to money or to any other sinful thoughts, pleasures, deeds or desires. Jesus faced every temptation you and I face and more and yet remained perfect. Then he shed his blameless blood as the ransom to free us from our slavery to worldly wealth when he died for us on the cross. Then he proved he won the victory- that our slaver was ended- by rising from the dead.
Since Jesus has set us free from slavery, he’s given us riches beyond imagination, riches that the world can’t come close to offer us. He’s given us the forgiveness of sins, a certain inheritance in the kingdom of heaven where we will walk on streets of gold. He’s given us baptism and the Lord’s Supper where we receive that forgiveness. He’s given us the only message that frees people from slavery to Satan and the world, he’s entrusted with you and me the only message that gives hope to a hurting humanity!
When Jesus looks at you and me, he doesn’t see worthless workers who waste opportunities and squander the master’s wealth. Instead, he looks at you and me and sees the trustworthy servant Jesus was in our place. Not only has he set us free from slavery to the world but he’s entrusted us with riches beyond our wildest imagination! So as a servant of God and not money, use the material blessings God has given you in ways that give him honor and praise, use it as a tool that you use to serve him and not as a master whom you serve. Amen.