Luke 12:13-21 (11th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
August 4, 2013
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.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 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.”‘ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
We Americans are people who have a lot of stuff. If you don’t think that is true, did you happen to notice the tons of stuff that you all donated to the recent tag sale? It was all things that we no longer wanted or needed. And I’m sure that whatever we did donate to sell didn’t leave our homes barren. We all still have plenty of stuff that we could even get rid of more and still live just fine. In his last sermon at New Hartford, Vicar Tim shared the story of his experience one day at the local Stop & Shop. In the dairy section he noticed a group of teenagers standing by the orange juice. They were taking pictures. Curiosity got the better of him and he went over to see why they were taking pictures of themselves with the orange juice. Well, they were foreign exchange students, and they had never seen so many different kinds of orange juice before. You know, there is regular, pulp free, extra-pulp, calcium added. In their country, there was only one kind of orange juice, and that is only when OJ was available. We Americans have a lot of stuff.
And that’s okay. Nowhere in God’s Word are we told that it is bad to have possessions, even an abundance of them. In fact, it is God who is the giver of everything that we have. We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe that God, the Father Almighty, gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all we have. When we pray in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we acknowledge that God is indeed the giver of everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body: food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, and so on. But then greed steps into our lives and tempts us to change our point of view.
“Greed” is an obsession to hoard all things for yourself. Greed is a preoccupation in which we block out any thought for God. This means we have a failure to recognize the gifts of God, even the surplus gifts from God in our lives. Greed tempts us to secure ourselves and our future without any reference to God. This means that we fail to entrust our lives to the Lord as the Giver of every good and perfect gift that comes down from above. Succumbing to greed means that you and I try to establish and measure our lives by what we have. Falling prey to the temptation of greed means that we fail to understand who we are in relationship to God and to other people.
To use the langue of Jesus’ parable, when we fall into greed, when we fail to see that possessions are a gift from God, including the vast abundance of them, we become “fools.” A “fool” here signifies a person who rebels against God or whose practices in life deny God. It is a form of idolatry, having another god besides the one true God. The major deficiency of a person who has fallen prey to greed and become a fool is the failure to account for God in his plans and in his life.
How many of us have been there? Think about the moments in your life when you didn’t take the time to fit God into your plans. Consider the situations where you intentionally left God out of the equation because you were being “independent.” How have you and I failed to entrust our whole lives to God and have thus failed to act faithfully with what God has given us? We do this every time we say, “This is mine,” or “I earned this.” Is it really yours? Did you really earn it? We confessed a moment ago that God’s Word teaches us that God is the giver of all things. All that we have possession of belongs to God and comes from God. Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, and goods—these are all gifts from God freely given to us to use on God’s behalf for the blessing of our earthly life. The salary that we get from working in order to buy the food at Stop & Shop is a gift from God. The car you drive, the cable TV you watch, the Xbox and DS that you play—all gifts from God. Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Likewise, we become fools when greed takes over our lives and we forget that our lives are not based on what we have, but on who we are in relationship to the God who gives us all things.
Last week, we heard Jesus declare in His Gospel, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13) If you and I could accept Jesus’ portrait of the caring God who provides for us, as the Father whose pleasure is made known in his provision, would this not be incentive enough for a radically reconstructed attitude toward our possessions and a new set of behaviors concerning the abundance of our stuff? Can we not find our security more in God than in what we have?
Indeed, we can. We, who are by nature “fools,” rebels against God who so often act like we are in charge of life and life is what we make it, can only find true security in the God who freely gives to us despite our sinfulness. And the gift of God is Jesus Christ our Lord. It is faith in Jesus, who was given to be our Savior, which gives us a whole new perspective on our stuff and what we do with it. For in Christ, our life doesn’t consist in the abundance of our possessions. Life is not about what we have, but rather whom we have been made into—a child of God, an heir of everlasting life.
As a Christian, you are in a unique relationship with God. He sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die on a cross for your sins of greed and idolatry, for all your failures to put God first in your life, for each time you failed to see wealth and possessions as His gift to you. It is through Jesus Christ that you receive this gift of the forgiveness of sins as well as the new life of faith through God the Holy Spirit. And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that enables you to be “rich toward God” and not to lay up treasure for yourself.
To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all things, including life and salvation. To show that one believes is to share with others the gifts God gives. The rich fool hoarded up stuff for just himself. He wasn’t rich toward God. He didn’t trust that everything was a gift from God and so was shocked to find out that the gift of his own life was from God and that God demanded it back from him. The rich fool wasn’t rich toward his neighbor, anyone in need with whom he might have shared in the abundance given him from the Lord. But in Christ, we are no longer fools. Forgiveness is given to us as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ, won for us through His cross and resurrection. We can now discern by the power of the Spirit that all things are gifts of God to us so that we might rightly give thanks and praise to Him and use them to His glory and to the benefit of others.
And this isn’t just true about the material things. It’s also true about God’s gift of forgiveness granted to us by grace through faith in Jesus. Our new life in Christ is not just about sharing possessions, but that which is truly our treasure—the forgiveness of sins. This is what life in the Church is all about. As Jesus said to the woman who anointed his feet with her tears, “Her sins, which are many, stand forgiven.” He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” In Luke 17, Jesus teaches us, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) So Jesus gifted to His Church on the first Easter evening the authority to forgive the sins of all who are repentant: “And He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.’” (John 20:22)
We have been given so much by our gracious God and Father. He sees to it that we are cared for by giving us everything we need for our bodies, plus a whole lot of extras. By giving us His Son, our Father has seen to it that we are cared for in body and in soul for time and for eternity. Our sins stand forgiven. We are made children of God, heirs of everlasting life, who have a right perspective on possessions. They are gifts from God which He gives to us and for which we give thanks and use them to bring Him glory. That includes sharing with others of the abundance of our things, and especially sharing from the abundance of the forgiveness that comes to us from Christ, and then through us to others who stand in need of that life cleansing, that life restoring, gift. God grant us the grace of His Holy Spirit to accomplish these things. Amen.