In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a parable that argues from least to greatest.
By that name, that kind of argument might be unfamiliar to us, but there are examples with which we are all much more familiar.
A coach might encourage his team by saying something like this: “You can accomplish great things individually, but—together—you can accomplish something even greater.”
That’s actually a paraphrase of something I heard from one of the football coaches last year, and it’s an argument we all understand, an argument from least to greatest.
And as they say in music, “The whole exceeds its parts.”
It’s not that the parts are uninteresting or unimportant, but the whole is much greater.
Again—least to greatest.
Or how about this one—and this one is much more fitting with today’s gospel lesson—how about this:
If an underage man is drinking beer our a red SOLO cup, and the Po-Po walks out of the woods, asking to see everyone ID and what they’re drinking, if an underage man is drinking beer and that happens, what will he do?
He’ll poor it out.
He’ll poor that forty-nine cents’ worth of Natty Light out.
Of course he will.
That, too, is an argument from least to greatest, and if any of these arguments are familiar to you, they’re helpful in understanding what Jesus says.
This is what I mean:
Stereotypical underage drinking is, in one word, idiocy.
And yet, an idiot will still poor the contents of his cup upon the ground before the Po-Po get to him.
He was an idiot for drinking underage.
And idiots can still be wise.
“For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8b).
Jesus tells this parable, He argues from least to greatest, because if an idiot can still be wise, if the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the sons of light, and if shrewdness is to be commended [and it is, “The master commended the dishonest manager [not for his dishonesty but] for his shrewdness” (Luke 16:8a)], if all that’s the case, then how much more should you—a Christian—one who hears and knows and rejoices in the wisdom and knowledge of God—how much more should you exercise Christian wisdom?
It’s too easy today to preach the Law in such a way as to only condemn the heathen, non-church-going family members of ours who, like fair-weather fans, rejoice in the faith when the sun’s out but wither and fade over time for lack of roots.
It’s easy to preach against—to teach against—to talk about—all those who are not here.
And you know that’s true—we talk “behind the back” not “to the face” when we want to say particularly terrible things.
What Jesus says He says to His disciples—to them, to us, and against us both.
He wants us to hear and see what shrewdness is, to “work out, with fear and trembling, your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) as St. Paul wrote.
Because the problem of sin isn’t found only in the sons of this world—the problem of sin is found even in the sons of light.
Shrewdness, then, would recognize the necessity of the Law and God’s wrath and the opportunity for the Gospel and God’s benevolence.
Both are necessary.
It’s necessary, sometimes, to call an idiot an idiot.
And, of course, an idiot by any other name is still an idiot. In the South they just say, “Bless your heart.”
You never want that said to you.
With my family, after a particularly spectacular argument between my mom and dad, my mom asked, “How stupid are you?” To which my dad responded, “I don’t know, gimme a test.”
So now, “I don’t know, gimme a test” is code for “I done messed up.”
But we call a thing what it is.
And the Law of God, the pure and holy word and will of God for our lives, calls a thing what it is.
As St. Paul writes and as we heard in today’s Epistle lesson: “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).
The Law must be preached.
You must hear what is right for man and woman, husband and wife, child, teacher, pastor, friend, and neighbor.
Thus says the Lord…
But you must also know that God does not cause His Law to be preached and then remain silent.
Christian shrewdness recognizes both the necessity of the Law and the opportunity for the Gospel.
Nothing—not the disciples, not satan, not your sin—nothing got in the way of Jesus dying as the world’s ransom.
He set His face toward Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51) and He went—for you and me, for the disciples, the Pharisees, and even Judas—He went to cross and death and grave.
For us all. For our forgiveness.
That we would know the love of God and be saved.
Christian shrewdness recognizes the need for the Law.
You have to diagnose the problem before you can apply the cure.
God’s Law sees through every idiotic excuse and justification and lays bare the sinner before God’s wrath.
Repent. Or you, too, will likewise perish.
Jesus died—to consume the all-consuming wrath of God—bearing the sin that required that wrath in the first place.
And if the cause of God’s wrath is swallowed up in the death of Jesus, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Christian shrewdness recognizes and rejoices in this.
God, in His great love, sends idiots to congregations to preach the foolishness of God’s Word, to pour water on infants, and dole out stale bread and four dollar wine.
Not because of how it looks or how it sounds.
Even the sons of this world know what preaching and Baptism and Holy Communion look like.
No, God sends His servants to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to cherish all that Jesus has commanded (cf. Matthew 28:19-20) because of the promises God has made to us.
Thus says the Lord:
We’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, and that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:8, Romans 10:17).
“Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
“Believe and be baptized and you will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Because what Jesus gives, He gives “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
Shrewd Christians, true sons of light, forgiven-and-now-wise, we recognize this, and, rejoicing, welcome two more—Logan and Kinley—into our midst.
As even the idiot must sometimes be wise, so must the Christian shrewdly recognize the Word and will of God. The necessity of the Law, the opportunity for the Gospel, and the one true God who has redeemed us all.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 9 Sermon, 2018
The Baptism of Kinley Grace Sisson & Logan Scott Jones
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt