Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
August 5, 2007
Text: Luke 12:13-21/ Eccl. 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). It is the making of gods out of material possessions. This is why our Lord is so pointed in His admonition to avoid covetousness. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; ESV). To covet means “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.”[1] Theologically, it means to selfishly desire what God has not seen fit to give you. When Jesus tells us to guard against all covetousness, He is preaching the 9th and 10th Commandments. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.”[2] The 9th Commandment prohibits coveting our neighbor’s inanimate possessions and urges us to aid him in protecting and keeping them. The 10th Commandment is like unto it: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.” The 10th Commandment prohibits coveting the living things that belong to our neighbor and urges us to promote their loyalty to him.

Coveting is stealing in your heart. And every one of us is guilty. We always want a little more. We always want what someone else has or what we can’t have. We always think the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. This is covetousness. It is also, as I said, idolatry. It is idolatry because it makes possessions and physical things into gods. It also makes us into our own gods, because it is ultimately our pleasure and comfort that we seek, without regard to God’s will or the good of others. And it is a failure on our part to recognize the Father as the Giver of all good gifts, to believe in His providence, that He gives us all that we need for the support of this body and life and the good of our souls. It is a failure on our part to be content with what He has given us and to receive it with thanksgiving.

A sainted professor of mine, who is now in heaven with Jesus, Kurt Marquart, always said that the secret of happiness is contentment. He gained that beautiful insight from the Holy Scriptures. St. Paul writes, “there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). He writes elsewhere, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).

We could all be happy if we only learned to be content. But we make the mistake of seeking contentment in our possessions, rather than in God. We should be happy in God, not in our possessions. Our fallen flesh, however, always believes the lie of the devil that a little more money, another man or woman, a faster car, a little more food at the potluck, is what will finally bring us happiness. This is the mistake the rich man made in our Lord’s parable. He had been greatly blessed by God. His fields had produced plentifully. He was set. He had more than he could possibly use. Now, the Christian and God-pleasing thing to do would have been to use his abundance to help others, to have mercy, and so to be rich toward God. But that thought never entered the man’s mind, or at least if it did, he quickly shoved it away. No, rather, he said to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). The rich man had stored up his treasure for this life, desiring to enjoy the pleasures this life has to offer without any thought of the life to come. This was the rich man’s fatal mistake. “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” (vv. 20-21).

Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, understood this. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity… I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2; 2:18-19). It was quite clear to Solomon that the treasures we store up for this life are worthless vanities. We can’t take it with us when we go. Everything we achieve in this life will go to someone else when we die. Earthly pleasure is fleeting. Our lives are but a breath. So you see the pointlessness of coveting. If only for this life we work and toil for our own pleasure, we are to be pitied above all men.

The question is, really, where is your treasure? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money” (v. 24).

So how do you lay up treasure in heaven? First, you must recognize that you cannot earn your way to heaven. Salvation is a free gift of God in Christ. Christ died for you and forgives you all your sins. That includes your sins of covetousness, your lack of contentment, and your ungratefulness for all God has so graciously given you. You do not go to heaven because of your works, but because of Christ’s work on your behalf and the forgiveness He has won for you. Furthermore, He gives you His righteousness. For when you coveted, He did not covet. When you were not content, He was content, even as a Lamb being led to the slaughter. When you were ungrateful, He was singing praise and thanksgiving to God. A remarkable thing happens to you and to Jesus in Baptism. Everything that belongs to Jesus is given to you. And everything that belongs to you is given to Jesus. So when God looks at you, He sees one who has never coveted, who has always been content with what has been given, and always received God’s provision of daily bread with thanksgiving. But when God looked at Jesus on the cross, He saw all the covetousness and ungratefulness of the whole world, and unleashed His holy wrath. So Jesus dies your death, the sinner’s death, and you go free to continue enjoying the gifts of our God. It is by no means fair. But it is wholly righteous and unselfish on Jesus’ part. Far from coveting, He had not His own pleasure in mind, but our redemption. His treasure was not on earth. He was saving up for Himself treasure in heaven. And you are that treasure. God rewarded Jesus by raising Him from the dead. And we, too, because we are baptized into Christ, are rewarded in Him with new life now and our own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day.

Jesus is our priceless treasure. That treasure comes by grace alone without works. But God does speak of other treasures as well in heaven. What these are, we do not know. But we receive them by being rich toward God. St. Paul writes, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). How are we rich toward God? When we are merciful toward our neighbor… when we, who have received the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He continues to pour out on us generously in Word and Sacrament, likewise are merciful to our neighbor in Jesus’ Name, not coveting our neighbor’s possessions, but always helping him to protect and preserve them, and always keeping our neighbor’s benefit in mind. That is work that is by no means vanity, but will last on into eternity. That is saving up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.

Still, we don’t do our good works in order to gain treasure, not even of the heavenly type. We do them because that is now who we are in Holy Baptism. That is our new life in Christ. That is faith active in love. And we do these good works in thanksgiving and praise for all that God has so freely done for us in Christ. Christ is our ultimate treasure. He is our happiness and contentment. And He is given without charge. We have no need to make gods out of our possessions. No greater god is conceivable, than the one true God who is revealed in Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Covet,” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1992) p. 314.

[2] All Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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