Monday, August 2, 2010

Proper 13 of Series C (Luke 12:

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, as I travel the roads of northern Crawford County, I cannot help but notice how wonderful the crops look. Each and every field seems to be bursting with tall, green corn or full and bushy beans. It seems to me that we are headed for a bumper crop and a joyous harvest. Now I know that most of you are not directly involved in bringing in that bumper crop, but I don’t have to tell you that the entire economy of this area is ultimately dependent on those fields, making a good harvest good for everyone. The Lord has truly blessed us this summer, but when you think about it, He has blessed us each and every year, for even when the crops are not so good, He still provides for our needs.

That is because our God is a giver- He loves to shower His good gifts upon His people. I don’t think anyone has expressed this better than Luther did in his explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that 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 I need to support this body and life.” The gifts of a fruitful creation, providing all that we need to live on this earth, come only from God. He works through humans to give these gifts to us, but they ultimately flow from His desire to give us every good thing. All that we have to support this body and life flow from the loving hands of our Creator. But notice how Luther began: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul…” Not only does God give us the things we need for our lives, but even our lives themselves are a gift from Him. Our lives are not our own, but they are given and sustained by Him as a gift, along with every other gift.

But somehow that doesn’t sit right with us. We have been taught that our lives are our own, to use how we please, that the abundance of the earth is a result of our labor, to provide for our own pleasure and perceived needs. The rich man in our text is not too far off from any one of us. Listen again to this parable of Jesus: “The land of [a Crawford county farmer] 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.’” There is nothing wrong with building a barn, silo, or grain bin, but notice what the rich man doesn’t do. He doesn’t give thanks to God for this abundant harvest. He sees the abundance of his fields as something for himself, something earned solely by his own labor, and therefore something to be enjoyed by himself. Listen to the pronouns: my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. He depends on no one but himself. And now he even has a conversation with himself: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’” What is your first response when God has blessed you? Is it to give thanks and praise to Him? Is it to think of the needs of others that you can now provide for? Or do we, like the man in our text, praise ourselves and think about our own wants? The rich man completely isolates himself from others, he doesn’t think of God, he doesn’t think of his neighbor, but only about number one.

Before He tells this story, Jesus warns us: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.” Saint Paul in our Epistle lesson has an interesting take on that term, which is the same thing as greed: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Paul equates covetousness or greed with idolatry! It is not too hard to see why. Idolatry is the violation of God’s first commandment: “You shall have no other Gods.” Luther gives us the explanation: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Who did the rich man fear, love, and trust? Himself. He made an idol out of his own accomplishments, his own wealth; in fact his own life of leisure became his idol. That is what happens when we depend on ourselves, when we don’t give thanks to God or share our bounty with others. We become self-centered and self-dependent, eventually worshipping not the God who gives all good gifts but instead only ourselves. But God has a wake-up call for all who trust in themselves: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” A fool is one who places his trust in anything or anyone other than God. When we are focused only on ourselves, we are blinded to the fact that our own lives are given by God. It is His prerogative to take that life back when He so chooses. At that point, anything we have stored up here on earth is worthless, it can do nothing to help us, as God tells the rich man, “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus’ conclusion is a warning to us all: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This brings up an important question: how do we become rich toward God? It is relatively easy to lay up treasure for ourselves, for greed is not simply a vice of the rich, but where is it that we find heavenly treasure? The answer, once again, comes in God’s character. Our God is a giving God. And in order to give us the heavenly treasure we needed, He gave us another gift. Luther talks about this gift in the explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” That is why we open presents on Christmas, because on that night God gave to us the gift of His Son. And Jesus Christ came into the world as God’s great gift to us to bestow on us even greater gifts. Luther continues: “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

Jesus Christ came to give to us His own life in our place, on the cross He won the great gifts of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. He came to fulfill the promise we heard in today’s Introit: “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” We couldn’t pay for our own redemption, no amount of the stuff of this world could fulfill the debt we owed. But Jesus Christ, God’s gift to us, paid on our account with His life, with His very blood. He ransomed us from the power of death, He gave to us His very self. Jesus did this out of the same love that motivated the Father to create us, the same love that motivates Him to give us every good thing. Jesus hung on that cross to deliver you, to redeem you, to pay your debt out of His great love for you and His desire to give you the ultimate good gift: eternal life with Him.

When Christ rose from the grave on Easter Sunday, He went forth to deliver the heavenly treasure and inheritance to you, me, and all people. One becomes rich before God by being joined with Christ, by having His treasures poured into our hearts. He pours out on you in abundance His holy Word, filling your treasure chests with every good thing that your soul needs. This very day He gives to you the gift given by God on Christmas Eve and by Christ Himself on Good Friday, His very Body and Blood, given and shed for your salvation. He fills you with the treasure of Himself. Finally, he poured out on your head the treasure of Holy Baptism, where He gave to you an eternal inheritance, one that will never fade. You are not your own, you are His, bought with a price, and so the Lord desires to give you every good gift. The treasure and inheritance delivered through those gifts declares us right before God, it is the treasure that counts in eternity.

The man who called out to Jesus at the beginning of our text wanted Jesus to divide his inheritance with his brother. Jesus responded: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus did not come to grant earthly inheritances, He came to grant to us a heavenly inheritance, entry into the new heavens and the new earth where we will dwell into eternity. Because we have such a treasure, such an inheritance, we can have confidence that our God will continue to provide for us out of His rich bounty. We are freed from worry about trying to store up treasure on earth, for our inheritance is not of this world. Now, this does not mean that we sit around, waiting for God to send us abundance from the sky. We do continue to labor wherever God has placed us. But we do so with confidence in God’s providing hand, and with thankfulness for whatever He gives to us. If God gave to us His very Son, how will He hesitate to provide us with everything we need for this body and life? Our God is a giver God, and the same one who gave us Jesus Christ for our salvation will also give to us “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have.” He will provide for you because He loves you and has redeemed you through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Unlike the rich man in our parable, as Christians, when God blesses us with abundance in any way, we do not keep it for ourselves, but we give thanks to God for it and put it to use to bless those around us. The Lord uses us as His means for providing those ‘First Article gifts’ to our neighbors. We do this in the confidence that as God has blessed us, so He will continue to bless us. He is our heavenly Father, who desires to give good gifts to His children. He has given to you His Son Jesus Christ, and someday He will show you the heavenly inheritance that He has won for you! Amen.

No comments: