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Sermon for Pentecost 11

watchoutSermon for Pentecost 11 – Luke 12:13-21

Heavenly Host, 2013

Click the link for mp3 audio 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is from the Gospel for today.

The crowds are following Jesus and listening to him as he teaches.  Someone from the crowd asks Jesus to interpret and apply the Torah to his specific situation.  This was not an uncommon practice in Jesus’ day.  It was common for Jewish people to ask rabbis for advice with regard to a particular situation.  This happens to me all the time.  But this is a little different. This is a property dispute and notice Jesus’ reaction.  He refuses to get into the middle of this kind of question.  Jesus came into this world to free all people of their covetousness, not enable it, or let himself be used in the justification of it and so, instead of granting the man’s request, Jesus takes this as an opportunity for what teachers call “a teachable moment.”  And he tells a little parable after framing it with a little more clear teaching.

Our text reads, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  There is actually a little more edge to this in the Greek.  More literally, it could be read, “Be watchful, and guard against every kind of greed.”  I like this more literal rendering for the fact that it sounds a little more like what it is we really should be doing.  Be on guard.  Greed is the kind of enemy that will attack when you least expect it.  There’s nothing wrong with the word covetousness.  It’s just not a word we use very much today.  I’m not sure if we have even as much a working definition for it as we do for things we’ve just recently learned about like “static kills” of oil wells.  On the other hand, greed is…  Well, we know what greed is.  It’s one of the seven deadly sins.  And even though Lutherans don’t really work off Pope Gregory the Great’s list we know that greed is the beginning of stealing.  It’s the intense desire to take something that belongs to somebody else.  It’s the beginning of the sin.  That’s why there’s two commandments against it, 9 and 10, and that’s why Jesus says here to be on watch and guard against it.

The second short teaching from Jesus is very simply, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  In other words, possessions are not the source of true life or even wealth not in relation to God.  The person who gives himself over to a life of greed, a life of accumulating possessions is a person who is trying to measure the meaning of life by what he has.  “He who dies with the most toys, wins,” so goes the bumper sticker.  Sadly, a person living life this way can never understand who they are in relation to the One who put them on this planet to begin with, oh, and by the way, gave them a purpose too.  Jesus is right.  Not even when a person has an overabundance of possessions is his meaning for being and purpose derived from those possessions.  He just happens to be one of those people God has blessed and has blessed abundantly.  Or more simply, “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.”

Jesus expands this general principle by telling a story about a man who had a lot of worldly wealth.  For us, the proper understanding of this parable centers around the meaning of gift.  “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.”  Even to what he has more is added as a gift: his land is fruitful.  All his possessions are pure gift and even his very life is a gift bestowed.  These all come to him apart from his own efforts.  It was the land that produced plentifully.  Any hobby gardener can testify to this, much less a farmer.  There are good years and lean years.  This was a good year and so this is the question that confronts him.  What should he do with the gift of abundance from the land that has produced so plentifully?  Will he share with the neighbor as God would have him do or will he greedily hoard the gift?

The center of the parable is the decision from this wealthy man.  He has a little speech where he asks himself what, or what will he do?  Instead of sharing with his neighbor he will “tear down” his old barns and “built up” new ones, bigger ones, to hold the increase.  This language of tearing down and building up comes straight out of the prophets.  It is language that God uses to describe what he will do with Israel, what He eventually accomplishes through His Son on the cross.  It is profoundly theological language that describes the courageous acts of faithfulness on the part of a God who will suffer to accomplish them for the sake of his people.  And here this noble OT language is shamefully cheapened by this overindulgent rich man who is determined that he, and he alone, will consume these good gifts from God.  Even without the end of the parable this should be a lesson to us that we cannot ever allow ourselves to being to think that Social Security is our true security, that an individual retirement account will ever give us true independence, that our 401k is our salvation.  Worldly wealth does not secure life much less eternal life.

“And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”   This poor man actually congratulates himself on the wisdom of his plan.  “So, I says to myself, ‘Self,’ I says, ‘that’s a good idea, take it easy, retire.’”  In addition to the tragedy of his decision, another great sadness is that he is so completely alone in his decision.  This is something that I think might be lost on us today in the me, myself, and I generation of today.  It’s not called a wePod, is it?  It is a sad and wicked thing that his greedy heart has sentenced him to celebrate his newfound wealth alone.

But before he can seemingly enjoy one grain of that newfound, self-pronounced security, the Giver of every good and perfect gift speaks to him.  Uninvited.  Greed leads only to death.  “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”  This rich man was rich but still a fool.  It never dawned on him that God had provided the surplus from his land.  He is further surprised to find out that even his life was a gift from God that may be demanded back when God so wills it.  This was a man who was so concerned about gaining the whole world that he did, in fact, loose his life.  This is the reason why he’s a fool, because the possessions that possessed him in life are now meaningless when that life is demanded back by God.  “Whose will they be?” God asks.  Solomon is quoted in Ecclesiastes 2 as having said, “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.”  The wisdom of Solomon and the wisdom of the one who is wiser than Solomon, considered together suggest that the remedy for worry and anxiety over wealth is to give away one’s surplus.  Those given an abundance of God’s gifts in this world may fear and love God, enjoy his gifts in community and freely give what God has freely given.  This kind of freedom eliminates the worry over what one’s heirs will do with such a large inheritance that might cause nasty disputes after one is gone as well as curb healthy ambition in this life.

“So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  The godly response to wealth is faithful thankfulness to God and the free giving of those possessions in response to that faith, which means sharing them with others rather than accumulating them for oneself.  To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all things, including life.  To show that one believes is to share with others the gifts God gives.  This is the consistent teaching of Jesus in his many words about possessions and wealth.  Underlying all of Jesus teaching about worldly possessions is the Gospel of grace.  The worldly things we have, we have by the gift of God.  It is a perfect mirror to the same spiritual gifts that come from the same gracious Giver of all things.  The Gospel of grace is that forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life are yours again, as God’s gift to you.  Now is the time to freely give of all those gifts we have been freely given.  After all, we are nothing but given to.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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