A myHT Fortress

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Merciful Steward: A Homily on Luke 16:1-13



Luke 16:1-13
9th Sunday after Trinity                                                                      
17 August 2014
St. John’s, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Ponder for a moment the passages from Scripture that you hear about rich men, as Saint Luke records:  The prodigal son wastes his wealth immorally, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Zacchaeus—a rich tax collector, even in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we hear the Blessed Virgin Mary praising God that “the rich He has sent empty away.”  There are many other examples, most of which do not paint a pretty picture for the wealthy.  Attempting to get great riches would not, then, appear to be the virtuous lesson.

And yet, that is the goal of our world.  In this era, students are often selecting careers, not on the basis that they have talents and abilities for them, or that these careers are fulfilling vocations, but on the basis of what makes the most money.
  
Guidance counselors, friends, and teachers will promote this attitude, often telling those who choose vocations of service that they are “wasting” their intelligence and abilities.  Students are making huge mistakes according to some professors and leaders if they choose to be counselors or therapists, work in the field of child care, or choose to work in a vocation of serving that will never produce much of a salary.

Riches also make the divorces of the wealthy and famous far more nasty than others.  Even our entertainment encourages a pursuit of wealth, both for the actor or athlete, as well as the message they send to their spectators.  And yet, we see the tragedy of comedian Robin Williams this week, and are mindful that for all the wealth he had received, it could not relieve depression and free him from despair.  A sad reminder to pray for those who seem to “have it all,” that they may receive God’ peace and mercy. 

So how is it that this rich man commends the unjust steward—the dishonest manager?  And who are these men?  Too often we read ourselves into parables, and try to twist them into lessons on “how to behave.”  In reality, this story is one of Jesus describing the saving Gospel coming to us, His lowly debtors.

Yes, you and I are the poor people with gigantic bills.  We owe the Lord more than we can ever pay Him.  We are the ones who have their bills slashed. And in spite of the unfavorable image that our Lord paints of the often unbelieving rich, the rich man here represents our Heavenly Father.  Those who are indebted to Him are all people.  And, believe it or not, JESUS is the Unjust Stewardthe Dishonest Manager. 
  
What?  Jesus – dishonest?  Jesus – unjust?  But wait.  Don’t get hung up on that.  He is called unjust.  Accused of being wasteful. However the better title would be “the Merciful Steward.”  Note also that the Rich Man (God the Father) is not the one bringing charges – He simply has heard the charges.
 
Think about it.  The scribes and Pharisees, religious leaders of the Jews, were accusing Jesus of wastefulness.  He wasted His time and energy, and even Table Fellowship (!) with public sinners.  Jesus would teach and eat with tax collectors, adulterers, and others who had bad reputations.  He welcomed them, in order to preach and teach God’s Law and Gospel.  He was (and is) the Steward tearing up their bills and freeing them of their eternal indebtedness.

Yes, Our Lord Jesus is the unjust steward, who has been accused of wasting his time, energy, talents, on those "sinners."  [The Jewish leaders] want to take away from him his authority to teach, since they believe that He is not tending to those who deserve His time and teaching.  They consider Jesus to be contaminating Himself by associating with lowlifes who are so indebted to God that they can never earn His favor.  However, Jesus has a rather unique solution: “You think I wasted before, just wait!  I'll show you some genuine waste!  I'm going to waste everything I've been given on these sinners.” 

Of course, knowing the generosity of our Great Merciful Steward, we still cannot plan to take advantage of Him.  “Oh, I know that Jesus makes up for my faults and failures.  He pays my true debts.   Besides, we have how many other members here – let them take some responsibility!  So I can just keep on racking up earthly debt, and give a little less to God—He’ll understand.” Thinking and saying such thoughts is a shameful sin in itself.

Vacationing, and then conveniently “forgetting” to present our scheduled tithe or offering to the Lord is poor stewardship on our part.  Or thinking that we are punishing only certain individuals, pastors, or church bureaucrats by withholding gifts from God, simply because we disagree with His servants, or dare to push our own earthly standards of success on the Lord, is also poor stewardship on our part.  And the selfishness that often accompanies such supposed lapses of memory or expectations of the Holy Spirit regarding His work, is harmful to our souls.

Another shameful sin is refusing to admit that we are hopelessly indebted to God, and deserve nothing but the debtors prison of hell.  In our society we are used to the idea of large debts. We don’t see the downfall of such bondage.  And when it carries over to matters spiritual, we don’t see the comparison.

You and I are poor, miserable sinners.  We have racked up astronomical debt of sin and rebellion against our rich master, our Heavenly Father.  But thanks be to God!  He does not want us rotting in prison.  He praises His Steward who has taken our bill and actually paid it in full.

When He bore the scourge of the whip and the piercing of the nails, when He quietly suffered the punctures of the crown of thorns, when He endured the hanging and slow, cruel death on the cross, He was taking your bill, and marking itnot simply a reduction in what you owe, but signing it as paid in full! 
 
Jesus, our Great Steward, has indeed been faithful in delivering to you “unrighteous wealth.”  That is to say, you have received wealth that does not belong to you through your own work and investing.   Dr. Luther had it “Right on the money,” so to speak, when he teaches us to confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him…”

Without the burden of the work and the time and wisdom needed for investing, you have received wealth from the Lord that belongs to Him, and is given to you on account of the work of this Great Steward Jesus Christ!

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  This unrighteous wealth – wealth that does not belong to you, but is freely given to you by the Great Merciful Steward Jesus – is a joyous gift.  It’s a tremendous gift that urges us to share.  We mimic our Lord Steward, making friends by means of this Gospel, that we may see them in the Lord’s eternal dwellings of heaven! 

Take opportunities to let your friends of this world hear the Message of heavenly wealth.  Speak the encouragement of Christ, who has paid your eternal debts, to your family and loved ones.  Call those who are not with you this morning, and let them know that you missed them, and that the Great Steward wants to cancel their debts, and desires their presence around His pulpit and altar. 

Will you be a good steward of such responsibilities?  Perhaps you will try, as each one of us should, but not one of us will do it perfectly.  And that will go onto our bills of debt before the Lord.

But thanks and praise be to our Loving Lord Jesus, the Great Merciful Steward who tears up those bills, and frees us from indebtedness, praising us for the righteousness that He Himself has placed upon us!

My dear friends in Christ, rejoice!  Your debt is paid!  Now come and receive the pledge of that forgiveness, tasting the body broken and blood shed to make that payment, all out of His immeasurable love for you!  Amen.



Reference

Just, Arthur A. (1997). Luke 9:51--24:53 (pp. 612-621). Saint Louis: Concordia Publ. House.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Today is Day Zero



Today is “Day Zero.”  That is what the doctor said.  From this day forward, our lives our different – in a good way.  A healthy way.  As Kristi slept off some anesthesia in the recovery area, I had some thoughts about our life.

We are wrapped up in a culture of food.  Community festivals and events are all about the fried, portable foods that are found there.  When we have thought of showing Chicago to visiting friends and family, we have always thought in terms of where we would take them to eat: Chicago hot dogs, Chicago-style pizza, Italian beef, Chi Tung (our favorite Chinese restaurant,) etc. Family gatherings and holidays are surrounded by our grandmas’ recipes, and overeating all the appetizers, entrees, and fattening desserts that define Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and more.  Even church events are filled with dinners and sweets with coffee or tea.

Now comes a shift in thinking.  The culture of our own family is transforming, so that the food no longer controls or determines the enjoyment of the day.  That is not to say that food will be absent.  It simply cannot – will not – be the focus.

My wife will no longer be physically able to eat the sweet temptations, filled with added sugar.  The reality is, Ben and I need to join her, at least more often than not.  Proteins and vegetables/fruits need to be the vast majority of our diet.  Period.  Is this an easy culture-change?  No.  But it is the change for the better.

A few thoughts can guide our nutrition from “Day Zero,” forward.

Hydration.  Few people really drink the amount of water their bodies need.  Adults should be drinking 64 oz. – TWO QUARTS – every day.  Some trainers such as Ryan Masters actually teach that you should be drinking an entire gallon daily!  First of all, your body needs water to be in its prime condition.  In addition, sometimes people eat when their bodies really are simply thirsty.

Slowing down.  We eat way to fast.  In the car, on the road.  Scarfing down in front of the TV.  At the kitchen table, but rushing to get to ball practice, band, karate, meetings, or whatever we are cramming into our schedules.  In preparing for bariatric surgery, people are taught that we need to be chewing our food about 30 times per bite-full.  The fork or spoon should be set down each time.  S L O W down.

Balance.  Everyone has told you already: we eat way too many fats, and way too many of the wrong carbs.  Basically, the South Beach Diet has good advice: if you have carbs, they should be the right kind.  Not sugary, white flour-filled things.  Not a heap of potatoes or rice.  Not even your typical “wheat” breads.  Truly whole grain items, fresh fruit, etc.  And the fats you eat should be the ones that will contain the “good” cholesterol.  Plenty of protein and plenty of fruits and veggies for the typical person.  For the bariatric patient, it will mean just focusing on the protein at first.  I am sure that Kristi’s blog will go into all the details on that.

Activity.  Here is where we have been lacking.  In general, we don’t eat poorly.  Maybe we haven’t always made the best choices, but we haven’t overeaten either.  Still, we don’t move enough.  Too much of a pastor’s time is spent sedentary.  Writing at a computer.  Sitting in on meetings.  Sitting in hospital waiting rooms with families, or bringing the Sacrament to a shut-in.  Teaching a catechism class or Bible class.

I am one of the rare people that actually enjoys walking on a treadmill.  We have one in our basement, which I enjoy using while listening to podcasts on Disneyyouth ministry, theology, or wet shaving.  The problem is I rarely justify the time.  “I don’t have time to do this,” I convince myself.  And so there I stay, sedentary.  Well, guess what?  Today is “Day Zero.”  There is much more walking in my future, and some weight training down the road.

Our family events are going to be transformed.  What can we DO together, rather than what can we EAT together.  Bottom line is the slogan that has been around for a while and has much wisdom: Eat Less and Move More.  That’s a good family motto.

Today is “Day Zero” not just for Kristi, but for the entire Heinz family.  Want to join us?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Caught Alive: A Homily on Luke 5:1-11



5th Sunday after Trinity
20 July 2014
St. Johns, Chicago, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Throughout my childhood, my family would typically spend a week at the end of July at a certain fishing resort in Bemidji, Minnesota.  And a little over thirty years ago was when our parents first allowed my cousin and I to go alone in the small boat for the day. It turned out to be amazing!  We ended up in a little inlet on the lake, and must have found a favorite spot for the blue gills and perch.  There was a point when it seemed that one of us had just reeled in a decent-sized fish, and the next would have a bite on his line, and catch it, too!  It was the best day of fishing we had ever experienced.

The disciples were not having as much success.  They had fished all night, and caught nothing.  Not just with a pole, either.  Large nets were cast to drag in greater quantities of fish at once.  Still, they spent hours, all night on the lake, and caught nothing.

But forget about the disciples for a moment.  Think about the fish.  Have you ever thought that life would be easy for fish in the sea?  Well, it is not.  Imagine yourself as one of these creatures.  Other fish, stronger fish, larger fish can be predators that are ready to eat you alive, just like the vicious barracuda in the opening sequence of Disneys Finding Nemo. Storms also can make the water you live in rough and perilous.  And some human can come along with a boat and a large net, and catch you to end your life and eat you.

My friends, you are such fish.  Others may be stronger, or larger than you.  They can preach the gospel of a godless system of (or lack of) morals; which is no gospel at all.  You are attacked by those other fish for your so-called narrow mindedness or simple or foolish biblical Christianity.

The thing is, you are prone to giving in, swimming with the fast and easy currents, wanting the attention and prestige and popularity of the bigger fish.  So you cannot lay all the blame on others; you become a glad and willing party to the very ones who eat you up.   

Yes, indeed, these are rough waters all around you.  And the Old Adam is enjoying the thrill of the danger.  Well, stop!  Repent!  Repent of the arrogance of thinking you can go to the brink of danger and then help yourself out of it.  Repent of laying all the blame on culture, society, Hollywood, and any politician who promotes different values and virtues than you.  They all play a role, to be sure, but you are right there with them.  Turn from this!

Dear friends in Christ, the Lord Jesus today shows us that he is the Master Fisherman.  And He has sent His disciples, and all the generations of ordained pastors who follow them, to be fishers of men.  What?!  But isnt that commanding them to catch us!  And you know what happens when fish get caught?!  They get eaten!  And perhaps hung as a trophy on a wall.

Not so, with our dear Lord Christ.  The word Jesus uses for the verb, to catch, describes catching alive.  And He will keep you alive.  In fact, He gives new birth into an everlasting new life!

It is amazingly Good News that Jesus sends His fishers-of-men to cast the net of the Gospel, and haul you into the boat of His Church a boat filled with baptismal water that rescues and enlivens you.  Here in His Church you are nourished, sustained, and you thrive!  No longer in clutches that are ready to deceive you and drag you into hell, but safe and sound in the loving care of our Savior.

So many will try to take this passage, and turn it into a guilt-ridden mandate that every Christian should be evangelizing; that somehow you are all fishers of men.  To be sure, the Lord gives you the joy of witnessing in your various vocations, speaking the Good News of Jesus life, death, and resurrection for you!  And yes, you are to speak that to those whom God places in your lives.  And yes, when you fail to do that constantly, your compassionate Savior constantly forgives and renews you. 

It is a good thing that we gather each Sunday, and park in our lot, with our very presence drawing attention to the church on the corner of Montrose and LaVergne.  It is good that the behavior and talk of Zach Moore, as a college volunteer, will impact several hundred youth and their leaders in Utah this week and be a witness of faith in day-to-day life.  It is good that visitors come and witness our rejoicing in the forgiveness and salvation given in Holy Baptism!  Still that is not the main point of this passage from Luke.

Jesus is the Lord God in the flesh.  He casts His nets to save you from your enemies of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  The nets are tearing, the boats are filling, and yet Jesus gathers them all into His Church.

Along with Peter, when you recognize Jesus as God Himself, you may be filled with fear, as you know your own sin.  But Jesus does not depart from Simon Peter.  He does not see your sin, and abandon you.  He does not rid Himself of undesirable friends.  He reaches out in love and forgiveness, absolving you and welcoming you into His midst.

Take comfort, dear friends in Christ!  Jesus has caught you alive, and gifts you with eternal life, body and soul, with Him!  Your precious Savior keeps you safe and sound in His Church on earth, and His Spirit brings you to follow Him, until you are caught alive through death and the grave to be gathered in His Church Triumphant!  Rejoice, dear Baptized ones, because when you are caught in Jesus nets, it is not the end, but the beginning of your blessed, eternal life, with Him!  Amen.