Luke 12:13-21 (10th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
August 1, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in Luke 12:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy’s story was: How Much Land Does a Man Need?
In a consumer culture like ours, the dangers of greed and covetousness are often downplayed. In fact, some even try to make greed a virtue. In 1991, Americans were polled with the question, “What are you willing to do for $10,000,000? Two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several of the following:
- Would abandon their entire family (25%)
- Would abandon their church (25%)
- Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%)
- Would give up their American citizenships (16%)
- Would leave their spouses (16%)
- Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%)
- Would kill a stranger (7%)
- Would put their children up for adoption (3%)
In love for us, Jesus warns against this self-destructive nature of greed. He gives us new hearts,
which He, the very source of life and goodness, fills with joyful satisfaction through the Gospel, enabling us to be rich toward God.
Jesus’ teaching in our text this morning sets up two principles about possessions and our relationship to them. “Take care, and be on your guard against all greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In other words, your life is not defined by what you have or even by what you do not have. Your life, your existence in body and soul, does not depend on your stuff. Your life depends, is defined by, and exists in relationship to our Creator God. Jesus, therefore, warns us against the improper attitude toward possessions—greed.
So how might we define greed? Webster’s Dictionary says that greed is a “selfish desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves.” To broaden that meaning, greed is an obsession to hoard all things for yourself, blocking out any thought for God or for your neighbor. Jesus illustrates this with the parable of the rich fool. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” Note that this man is already labeled as “rich.” To what he already has, more abundance is added as a gift—his land is fruitful, very productive. We know that this fruitfulness is a gift from God because it is only God who makes the crops to grow and produce. Sure, we can water and weed and fertilize, but that doesn’t guarantee a good crop. It’s through the Lord’s blessing that this man’s land produced in abundance. What, then, is he going to do with the gift?
Remember, greed is an obsession to hoard all things for oneself, blocking out any thought for God or for one’s neighbor. This man decides what to do and acts only on the basis of his greedy heart. “I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Out of his own greedy heart the man declares his present and his future secure. He consults with no one—not God in prayer, nor family, nor community. God is blocked out—there is not thanksgiving, no thought toward the Giver of the gifts. His neighbor is ignored—there is no thought of sharing or providing for those in need. His greedy heart has sentenced this man to celebrate alone.
Uninvited, God comes into the picture. He shows that greed leads to death (as Tolstoy illustrated in our opening story). The rich fool did not recognize that the gift of his surplus goods was from God. Had he not been so filled with greed, he would also have not been surprised by the fact that even his very life was also a gift from God, a gift that may be “required” or “demanded back” by God at any time. So the very clear warning for you and me—do we recognize the gifts of our gracious giver-God or are we so filled with our own greed that we can’t see past our possessions and goods? If we are not aware of the fact that our possessions are gifts from God, we will certainly not distinguish that our very life is a gift from Him.
To help us be reminded of what God has given us, we turn our attention briefly to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” What is it that we mean when we confess those words? Martin Luther’s explanation tells us, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; the He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
While we are warned to be watchful and to guard against greed, we are also shown by Jesus today where true wealth is to be found. We are not to lay up treasures for ourselves, but we are to be rich toward God who is the Giver of all that we are and have. To be rich toward God is nothing else that to believe that God is the Giver of all things, including life and salvation. Being rich toward God is a “faith-thing.” What has God given you? We just went through a whole list of the blessings of God. He supports us physically in this world with all that we need (not all that we want!) But God also supports us spiritually. He redeemed both our body and our soul from sin and death by sending us the greatest gift and blessing, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Out of pure fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us, Jesus Christ was given to die on the cross to secure the eternal blessings of forgiveness and life in abundance—a life with God now by faith and a life with God then in His very presence in body and soul. God has given us life and salvation in Jesus Christ, and along with that, He gives us every other good thing as well. The Bible promises, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
We believe in God the Father who made us. We believe in God the Son who died in our place to win our rescue from sin and death, who rose again guaranteeing our bodily resurrection and life in the new heavens and earth. We believe in God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who has brought to us saving faith in Jesus through the Gospel. We believe, by grace through faith, and so we are counted as rich toward God. And now we get the joy of responding!
We confess, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” For all this—body, soul, food, clothes, cars, games, homes, jobs—it is our joy to thank and praise, serve and obey the Lord. For all this—forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, resurrection, peace, love—it is our joy to thank and praise, serve and obey Him! To show that we believe means that we share with others the gifts God gives. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not block out God nor do we ignore our neighbors. We share the gifts of God that are ours in Jesus Christ. With thankful hearts full of praise, we serve the Lord by serving others. As Psalm 100 encourages, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Romans 12 reminds us, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11)
Serving the Lord with faith and good works is what makes us truly rich in Him. Released from the burden and guilt of our greed and rescued from the power of death, we are free to serve our Lord and King joyfully with all that we are and all the we have received from Him in both body and soul. As you consider the Lord’s blessings and gifts to you, answer the question, “What are you going to do with them?” by first giving God all the thanks and praise. Then use what He has given you to serve others in any need with the love of Jesus. Amen.