< Back

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.