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Posts Tagged "Luke 12:13-21"

You Can't Take It with You

August 04, 2019
By Rev. Pastor French

It was about a month ago that we read in Luke: Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. As you can see, while He was determined, He certainly wasn’t in a hurry. He took time in every town and village to heal the sick, drive out demons, and proclaim the Kingdom of God. As today we continue to follow Jesus on His journey to the cross, someone in the crowd calls out to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

You do have to wonder if this guy had heard anything Jesus said or if his question was the only thing on his mind as he stood in that crowd. You can work your way back to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, in fact, you can check all four of the Gospels and you will not find even a hint that Jesus was interested in judging over the distribution of an estate, as He makes perfectly clear saying, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

The question did, however, give Jesus a teaching opportunity. And so Jesus began to teach about the danger of basing your self-worth on your stuff. He addressed the entire crowd and said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” That is your wealth or lack thereof does not define who you are.

Jesus then goes on to tell a parable that highlights the foolishness of trusting in the wealth of this world. He began: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” In more modern terms, he had several seasons of bumper crops and favorable markets. The Lord has blessed this man so that he never has to lift a finger to support himself for the rest of his life. He is independently wealthy.

God blesses many people with wealth, which I think of as a good thing. The problem is not wealth. The problem is how we look at wealth. In his explanation to the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther taught, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” So the question is: Did the landowner in our parable receive his wealth with thanksgiving?

Well, what does he do? Does he talk it over with family or friends? Does he pray to God for guidance and wisdom? No, what we read is, “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.”’” Clearly this man’s worldview was centered on himself.

The end result of his earthly wisdom is that God comes to him saying, You fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? The point: You can’t take it with you. He put his trust in his earthly treasures, but his treasures could do nothing for him at the time of his death.

How sad it is that this man, who should have known the Scriptures, failed to learn the lessons of Solomon. As Solomon says, “I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon carefully documents his study and exploration of every lifestyle found under heaven. He tried wine, women, and song. He tried hard work. He tried hard play. He tried travel. He tried education. If you can think of a lifestyle, Solomon for the sake of understanding, lived it.

Ecclesiastes, it turns out, at least on the surface, is a very depressing book of the Bible. It’s depressing because all these different lifestyles were without God, and what he found was that if this world is all there is to life, then life is completely pointless, that it would be better not to be born at all. After actually examining life without God, Solomon concludes, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” That is, apart from the one true God, a separation that happened when our first parents sinned, there is no meaning to life.

But remember, the problem isn’t the wealth. Jesus had many disciples who were wealthy. The problem is allowing wealth to become a substitute for God. It’s thinking wealth is the source of our security and comfort. And if you don’t think you do, just remember Jesus’s answer to the young man who asked the question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” which was, “sell everything you have and give to the poor … then come follow me.”

You see, you have to know in your heart that we are all guilty and need God’s mercy every moment of our lives. Our sinful nature, which is what we daily fight against, will always turn what we do into a god of its own making. Truly, we are born of sin and sin will always be the desire of the natural heart. The difference is, by grace the believer fights against it, and through the gift of faith holds to the promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake.

And so, we don’t just focus on wealth. Jesus adds, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” So, people, however we classify ourselves, need to be on guard against the love of things, because things are not what bring true joy and peace into our lives. They can enhance earthly life, but they do not make life.

But in the life we received when grafted into Christ through the waters of our baptisms, we find there is not just meaning, there is freedom, there is value, there is salvation. Jesus closed this parable with these words, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” So, first of all a word of warning.

If we spend our lives so focused on getting ahead that God and church become a nuisance, the end is eternal damnation. But the opposite is also true and gives us hope. When the Holy Spirit creates the gift of faith in us, it will take time, most likely a life time, but all who believe will come to see and give thanks that the treasures of heaven are not like the treasures of earth.

God revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus, and Jesus has his own value system. Even though He is the creator and owner of all things, He lived among us as One without even a place to lay His head. Even though He had all authority over heaven and on earth, He humbled Himself and lived under the authority of the law.

Even though He is all-powerful, He made Himself nothing and offered Himself in our place to be punished for our sin by suffering and dying on the cross. Even though forgiveness, life, and salvation are worth more than anything we could ever offer in return, Jesus freely gives them to all who come to Him. And even though Jesus deserves our unending service, it is He who comes to you again, right now, that He might lovingly serve you with the gift of Himself through His Word and Sacraments, a gift that by grace through faith makes you and all who believe rich toward God.

In His Name, Amen.

How to Be Rich toward God

June 10, 2018
By Rev. David French

 

In our lesson, a man asks Jesus to command his brother to divide the family inheritance with him.  Jesus ignores the argument and instead uses this situation to teach a vital lesson on the subject of greed.  “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus goes on to tell the story of a wealthy farmer.  His fields produce abundant crops.  He loves his work and everything he does seems to turn to gold!  We don’t know what opportunities he had to develop his spiritual life, but apparently, he considered getting “more” a more valuable use of his time and energy.  A pattern that to this day is all too easy to fall into.

Eventually, the farmer decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his grain and goods!  Bursting with satisfaction, he says in effect: “I’ve got tons of money in the bank and my future is secure; now … I think I’ll just kick back eat, drink, and be merry!”

But that very night God said, “You fool!”  No doubt at his funeral, people were saying: “He was a genius, a shrewd business man, a wise investor!”  But God called him a fool - not because he was doing anything evil, but because of his greed.

And that leaves the obvious question: What good did his barn full of grain do him?  He invested all his time and energy into storing up earthly riches, while investing nothing in what mattered the most, and in the end, he stood before God a fool.  Jesus concludes, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

So what’s important … is that we be rich toward God!  But, what does this mean?  It’s really not complicated; it simply means to invest our lives in our relationship with God!  We spend so much time and money investing in education, work, friends, families, and entertainment, but are we rich toward God?  A disciple, that is one who is always learning to trust Jesus, needs to learn to invest his or her life in serving God by meeting the needs of others.

One way for us to be rich toward God is to give faithfully and generously.  We need to ask ourselves: “What is God asking me to give?”  To be sure, 10% was the amount given in both the Old and New Testaments, but in Christ we’re no longer bound to that Law.

So, as Christians, what amount of our incomes should we give that shows our gratitude to God for Who He is and what He’s done for us through His Son?  We’re not commanded to tithe, but, just as Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to continue their tithing, we are encouraged to use the tithe as a guide for our giving. 

In the end, the amount we give means nothing when compared to our attitudes and motives for giving.  We honor God even if we give less than the tithe when we give our gifts cheerfully and from faith.  When God has your heart, the things of life, even money, begin to find their proper place in our lives.

But still, we must learn, and so we turn to the Scriptures to teach us what it means to be rich toward God.  For example, in Exodus 23:19 we read: “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.”  That is, we are to give first to what is first in our lives.

Remember, we are sinners and our greediness can lead us to spend until we have nothing left for the work of our God.  It’s a little thing, but set aside the money you want to give to extend God’s kingdom first.  It really will make a difference.

So, how much should we budget for Church?  Again, the tithe is a good goal, but as Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be expected.”  That is, the more you make, the more you are expected to give!

That means, beware of the temptation to think, “I give my tithe, so I‘m good!”  Not necessarily.  Ten percent isn’t the goal.  The goal is by God’s grace to give generously!  Usually when we get a raise, our first thought is, “Now I can get this or do that, when it should be now I can give a little more for the work of God’s kingdom!

Remember, God’s Word does not teach that you shouldn’t invest or prepare for emergencies and retirement and so on.  It does not teach that we can’t have luxuries, but it does teach that those who can afford luxuries are also “… to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

We need to keep a balance.  God gives the good things in this life as gifts for us to enjoy and to be generous in our giving.  You see, we are also rich toward God when we give cheerfully, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “… for God loves a cheerful giver.”  The Church should never make people feel guilty about giving.  We give joyfully by God’s grace, and grace never threatens or condemns.

Consider the following story: Two brothers shared a field and a mill, and each night they evenly divided the grain they had ground together during the day.  One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and large family.  The single brother started thinking, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I only have myself to care for and my brother has children to feed.”  So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without.

The married brother also said to himself: “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one.  What will he do when he is old?”  So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary.  As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.

You see, as we cheerfully and generously give the first fruits of our labor to God, we are, by His grace, being rich toward God.  So, how much should we give?  The bottom line is, God is pleased when we offer our gifts from loving and thankful hearts.  Today the tithe acts as a biblical benchmark and, if needed, an encouragement for us to grow in the spiritual discipline of giving.

Very few of us give as generously as we should; I know I don’t.  But then, very few of us obey God in any area like we should: Bible study, prayer, loving others – I don’t do any of those as well as God demands, and yet God still loves me.  Even if you never give a penny, God will not love you any less.  Christ died for all our sins, including our lack of generous giving!  But if you don’t give even a penny, and we all can give that, at least ask yourself why not?  Why don’t you feel the need to share in God’s work here at St. James?

You see, it’s through Word and Sacraments that we grow as disciples and we do come to understand more and more of what God has done for us in Christ, until we are led by the Holy Spirit to respond by sharing the resources that God has given to us to help meet the needs of others. 

My friends, God will transform our selfish hearts into hearts filled with a desire to share if we have the courage to let Him.  In doing so, we also are growing in the grace of becoming rich toward Him who sacrificed His Son for you.

In His Name, Amen.

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