Pastor Kyle Bitter - Last Judgment Sunday - Sunday, November 7, 2021

Text: Luke 16:1-15

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If you’ve been paying attention to current events, you’ve probably seen reports on the large numbers of Americans who have been changing jobs in the last year or so. Maybe some of you are among them. Pundits offer different reasons why this trend is happening. Some point to things on the job: working conditions, wages, and benefits. Others point to factors outside the workplace like childcare, family situations, and health concerns. A couple weeks ago, I read an article that proposed another idea that was kind of thought provoking. This author theorized that for many people, their career was the primary source of meaning and fulfillment in their lives. When the events of the last couple of years changed everyone’s relationship with work, many were left feeling empty and discouraged and looking for something new. What’s the real reason? I suppose some combination of all three, but for today I’d like to think about that last one a little more. We have a built-in desire to see meaning and significance in our lives. When we get to the end, we’d like to be able to look back at everything that has been accomplished, the time invested, the energy poured out, the money spent, the relationships built, and all the rest of it and conclude – that was worth something. That had meaning and value and significance.

Such thinking comes up in today’s worship service too as we focus our attention on the Last Judgement – the day of Jesus’ return when we get to meet our God face to face. So, what will that day be like? How will we look back and evaluate our lives? More importantly, how will God look back and evaluate our lives? In today’s sermon text, Jesus uses a very unusual parable to describe a couple of features of a meaningful life. He calls it a Life Lived Shrewdly, and that’s our emphasis for this second month of the God Lived Life series.

A Life of Urgency

So, let’s look at Jesus’ words. Luke records it like this: “Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.” (Luke 16:1-2 – NIV84). Apparently, this man had been running the business into the ground somehow, and the business owner’s patience had run out. Turn over the logbooks and records, I’ve had enough, you’re fired! The manager appears to realize that there’s no changing the business owner’s mind. His time as manager is about to run out, so he acts quickly and decisively to look after his own interests. “The manager said to himself, “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg – I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.” So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” “Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,” he replied. The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.” Quickly! Don’t delay! Time is of the essence! Then he asked the second, “And how much do you owe?” “A thousand bushels of wheat,” he replied. He told him, “Take your bill and make it eight hundred.” (Luke 16:3-7 – NIV84). He called in each one of his master’s debtors, and it’s fair to assume that he did the same thing for many others. His time as manager was running out and he knew it, so he made the most of his opportunity.

Clever? Certainly. Unethical? Absolutely! But from a human perspective, it was effective. Even the business owner recognizes it. The parable concludes with a somewhat shocking twist that draws attention to Jesus’ point. The master isn’t angry. Instead, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” (Luke 16:8a – NIV84). The manager recognized that time was running out and he acted quickly and decisively. A Life Lived Shrewdly is A Life of Urgency.

The emphasis of the Last Judgement reminds us that the same thing is true of our lives – the clock is ticking. Time is running out; the end is coming. So, a question prompted by the parable is this. Could our spiritual lives be described as A Life of Urgency? Or do we find ourselves tempted to put pressing spiritual matters off again and again? Let me give you a couple of examples to think about. Let’s say you’re considering starting a habit of family devotions or Bible study attendance or some other effort to spend time with God’s word, and there’s a little voice in the back of your head that chimes in and says: “It’s so busy right now, wouldn’t it be better to wait until after the sports season, after the school year, until the kids are older, until the kids have moved out or whatever it might be.” Or maybe you hear a call for volunteers here at church, or you have the opportunity to help a neighbor or co-worker with something that’s going to take a little time or energy, and the little voice says, “You’re busy and stressed out and have so much to do, maybe someone else can do it this time.” Or, maybe it’s during a stewardship program and you hear the pastor or church leaders encouraging you to prayerfully evaluate your financial support for the ministry here at church, to consider forming a habit of giving, even if it’s just a few dollars, and the little voice says, “Why don’t you worry about that later when finances aren’t so tight when I’m in a position to give a gift that will have a bigger impact.”

These are challenging situations because time and energy and money are finite resources. You can’t possibly do everything that is worth doing, and you can’t possibly fund everything that it could be good to fund, so you have to make decisions. But the point is this: Our sinful natures constantly tell us that there will always be time for spiritual things later. But the reality is this. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. Like the manager in Jesus’ parable, our time here too is limited. We could die at any moment; Jesus could return at any moment, and if spiritual matters are persistently neglected, then there’s the very real personal danger that we ourselves could eventually slide away from God, distracted by all kinds of other things that seem more important! Make no mistake, that’s exactly what the devil would like to see happen because if allowed to run its course to the end, that path of neglect is one that eventually leads to hell when the time runs out. A Life Lived Shrewdly is a life that recognizes this danger and reacts accordingly. A Life Lived Shrewdly is A Life of Urgency! The time for focus on spiritual things is now!

A Life of Priority

So, what does that focus look like? I think a good word would be “priorities.” I’ve been told that if you want to evaluate your priorities in life, you only need three pieces of information. Your calendar, your to-do list, and your budget. Those will tell you if your actions are matching up with your priorities. A Shrewdly Lived Life means taking the time for such an honest self-examination. If you’re anything like me, that might be a painful process, because our sinfulness makes this incredibly hard. In fact, if we tried to live life shrewdly by our own effort and intention, it would be an exercise in frustration and futility. But we aren’t doing it alone – we can and should look to Jesus. A Shrewdly Lived Life is only possible when he’s in the picture.

So, what do we see him doing? What kinds of priorities filled Jesus’ calendar? Time spent with people, teaching God’s word, showing how God was keeping his promises. How about Jesus’ to-do list? Time training his disciples, time teaching people, time in prayer. How about Jesus’ budget? We don’t have a lot of information there, but we do see occasions of him helping the poor and those in need. In other words, Jesus lived shrewdly, exactly the way God wants, every single minute he spent here on earth. Jesus was a perfect manager of every single thing that God entrusted to him. So, why did the almighty Son of God put aside his divine power and serve people in the tedious human way? You know why, and it shows what Jesus’ ultimate priority was. You. Me. All of the other people Jesus loves so dearly. Jesus lived the life we fail to live and earned God’s favor so he could give the credit to us, and then laid down his life as payment for our misplaced priorities, our selfishness, and all the rest of the ways we have made a mess of things. In other words, every day and in every way, Jesus looked at life through this filter: What will it take to pay for their sins and get them safely home to heaven? And then he dedicated his life to that!

Jesus wants to continue that work on that priority today. Now he works through you and me. That’s why he keeps us here instead of taking us right up to heaven. That’s why he entrusts us with time and energy and money and relationships and everything else we have. He wants to fulfill his priority of getting people to heaven. With that in mind, Jesus’ parable prompts a second question. What might God bring about if God’s people took the kind of shrewdness and cleverness that is so effective in worldly things and used it instead for godly purposes? Jesus put it like this, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:8b-9 – NIV84). Use what you have to make friends, Jesus says. Build relationships, show God’s love to others in the way you spend your time and prioritize your life, the way you work together with other Christians to see the good news about Jesus proclaimed to those who need to hear it.

That’s a Life Lived Shrewdly, and it’s a life filled with meaning and significance. No matter what your career might be, no matter how much or how little influence and impact you might feel as though you have in the world, when you get to heaven, you’ll get to see the meaning and significance God has brought about when you’re welcomed into heaven. Welcomed by the people whose lives God touched because of you, perhaps when you didn’t even know what he was doing. And a welcome from your Savior, who takes stock of what he has done in your life and then gives you the credit. “Well done, good and faithful servant – come and enjoy your master’s happiness!”

As we anticipate that day, may God open our eyes to the blessings he has given and the ways we can use them shrewdly. Just like last month, you will again receive a mailing this coming week with some personal challenges to prayerfully consider incorporating into your life. This month, the challenges focus on ways you can be shrewd and intentional as you manage the many blessings God has given you, whether that’s in the formal ministry here at church or the opportunities God gives in your family, school, or workplace, we can always find ways to live more shrewdly. The mailing has some ideas to get you started, but don’t be limited to just those. Living shrewdly and pursuing God’s priorities is a challenge worth thinking about and praying about, because as we see on Last Judgment Sunday, the clock on the world is ticking. The date of Jesus’ return has been set, and even though we don’t know exactly when it will come, Jesus tells us to live as though it’s coming soon. May God bless us as we serve him by continuing to pursue a life filled with meaning and significance: God-Lived Life - a life lived shrewdly. Amen.