We know whom we want to serve: the God whose love for us cannot die, who gives us the power to serve with the same kind of love.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 25 C
Texts: Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The remarkable thing about this manager is there’s no inner tension; he knows exactly what to do.
His world makes sense when he is comfortable, wealthy. Serving that interest gets him into trouble, but he handles it in stride. He doesn’t reconsider his ways or admit wrongdoing. He simply shifts gears and starts a new plan to be comfortable and wealthy, without missing a beat. He knows who his master is, and exactly what to do to serve that master and get the rewards that master offers.
That’s what Jesus admires, that clarity. Jesus isn’t advocating cheating and embezzling, in fact it’s the opposite. He’s saying those behaviors are appropriate to those who serve wealth and comfort, to get what they want. But Jesus notices that those who claim to serve God somehow lack that clarity, to know what to do and when to do it.
Instead, we’ve got tension inside between what we know God would have us be and do and what we often want to be and do. That tension reveals we’re serving two masters, Jesus says, and that’s not going to end well.
We find the tension in our divided loyalties nearly every time we hear God’s call to our lives. Like in Timothy today.
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”
The author of Timothy is clear about whom he serves, and from that clarity comes this exhorting: pray for everyone, everyone in high positions. In this election season, that means everyone running for office, even for the highest one in this country. In this divided nation, that means everyone who serves in office, even those we disagree passionately with.
This is what our Master asks of us. How often do we live in prayer for all these people, everyone? To look at our political landscape, most of us divide ever deeper into our camps, and struggle to find civil words to say, much less prayers to make. We talk to our friends, share with them on social media, because they agree with us, and we can get as angry and nasty about things as we want to.
Timothy isn’t arguing not to care about this election. That’s not God’s way, either. He’s just saying that people who follow the true God are people who pray for everyone in authority, who wish them all peace. And that causes us tension. Like many other things do.
There’s virtually nothing about the Christian life that doesn’t challenge some god or master we have.
Jesus actually called for something harder than Timothy. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and to love them. But we sometimes serve a master who says we need to protect ourselves, we need to be right. That master will always give us reasons why loving our enemies isn’t practical. Which master will we serve?
Jesus challenged our use of wealth a lot, not just here. He told us to be careful of holding so tightly to things that ultimately don’t last, he warned us of the dangers of wealth to pull us away from God. But we sometimes serve a master who says we need to be sure we have enough before we can let go. This master will always give us reasons to say that Jesus didn’t really mean let go of everything. Which master will we serve?
Jesus commanded us to love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves. But we sometimes serve a master who reminds us that sometimes our neighbors aren’t very nice, and sometimes they aren’t very much like us. This other master tells us that the people we might think of as neighbor really are too far away to count, or their lives don’t really affect ours, so are they really our neighbor? This master will always help us find ways to define “neighbor” so we don’t have to really love them all. Which master will we serve?
Martin Luther taught us that our god, our master, is that one to whom we turn for our greatest good. The one whose voice makes us move, the one whom we listen to when we have choices to make. By gathering here today, we claim to serve the one true and Triune God. But in practice we’re not so sure who it is we serve.
Jesus is pointing out this tension so we can be honest about our divided loyalties. That’s all he needs to do. Because ultimately we don’t need to decide who we want our true Master to be.
We belong to the God who has claimed us in love that cannot die, who loves us even when no one else will. Whom else would we serve?
Once we’ve heard that God’s love for us was so powerful God became one of us, and loved us even to the point of death on a cross, what other master would do? The best our worldly masters can offer us is some kind of security in this world that we know won’t last through death. The only one who can offer us life now and life forever is the true God, our true Master, who died and rose to bring all to life.
The problem is that our true Master wants us to follow the same example. Our Master’s instructions to us are, follow me. Go, and do likewise. Love God, love neighbor, even if it costs you your life.
There’s our dilemma: we want to serve the God whose love has made all the difference in our lives, and who can bring us even through death. We’re just not always ready to make the hard decisions that service asks of us.
But our good news is found in the very Master we serve.
In taking on our life, the Triune God has said our lives are worth living. God repeated the words of creation, “This is good.” We might be a mess, we might have all sorts of tensions and struggles to follow faithfully, but God took on our flesh and blessed us, so we might be made new.
And God does just that by filling each of us with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit gives us strength to become true servants of our Master and servants of each other. When we feel tension as we struggle between masters, part of that tension is the voice and pull of the Holy Spirit, calling us to be Christ, helping us find the right path.
Timothy tells us clearly what our Master wants: “God our Savior desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” No one gets lost, no one gets left behind. And the Triune God will give whatever is needed to make that happen.
You see, Christ came to serve, not to be served.
So Christ continues to serve us by helping us become servants ourselves, giving us the will do to what we know we want to do, what we know God wants us to do. Giving us the courage to choose what we know we want to choose, what we know God wants us to choose. Joining us to the life of the Triune God so that we become like our Master.
This is the Master whose love first won us over, and now works within us to shape us into the same love. We can’t serve two masters, and we don’t want to. Thanks be to God who gives us what we need to serve the only Master we know is our life, our love, our hope, our joy.
In the name of Jesus. Amen