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 01, 2010

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 13)
August 1, 2010
Text: Luke 12:13-21

Beloved in the Lord, what if you lost everything tomorrow? I mean everything, all your possessions, your money, your house, your car, your job and position in life, your health, your honor, your friends, your family? No doubt the counsel of Job’s wife to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9; ESV) would be the first option for many. On black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, heralding the beginning of the Great Depression. Many stockbrokers tragically took the counsel of Job’s wife that day, jumping off of buildings to their death because, in their minds, they had lost everything of importance. And there is great fear today that history will repeat itself. Politicians and pundits alike tell us that we are in the most severe recession since the Great Depression. Many worry that a double-dip recession or even another depression may be just around the corner. Try as we might, we cannot secure ourselves against the possibilities. The stuff of this earthly life is fleeting. Not matter how tight our grip, we may lose it at any moment. Then what? What if the grim possibilities become reality? What if our worst fears come to fruition? If we lose everything, will we consider our lives over? Will we take the counsel of Job’s wife? Will we curse God and die?

Better to take the counsel of Solomon and St. Paul and Jesus Himself. Wise King Solomon reminds us that if we live for the stuff of this life, possessions and prestige, this is vanity. It is, in fact, the vanity of vanities, for when we die and our bodies return to dust, all that we’ve worked for and striven after will be enjoyed by someone else who did not work for it (Ecc. 1:2; 2:21). St. Paul offers the corrective for this sad state of affairs. We ought to set our minds on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1). “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” writes Paul (v. 2). Why? Because you have died to those earthly, perishable things. In Baptism, you died with Christ, and you’ve been raised to new life in Him, new life that you possess even now. But your life is hidden with Christ in God. Set your mind on that life, and the stuff of that life, that is hidden with Christ in God, and which will be fully revealed on the Last Day when Christ, who is Himself your life, appears. For “then you also will appear with him in glory” (v. 3).

In the mean time, now, in this earthly life, remember what Jesus says to you this morning: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:16). Beloved, your life does not consist in what you possess. It does not consist in how much money you make or how much money you’ve saved, nor does it consist in how much money you lose in a plummeting economy. Your life does not consist in your possessions, or your house, or your car, or any of the things that you purchase with your money. Nor does your life consist in your job or your position in life. It does not consist in your health. And while it is true that your new life in Christ is to be directed wholly toward your neighbor, including your friends and family members and even your enemies, they are not the substance of your life, such that if you lose them, you cannot continue to live. Christ is the substance of your life. He is your life. Not your stuff. Not your reputation. Not your health. Not even other people. Christ Jesus is your life.

Therefore guard against all covetousness, as Jesus says. To covet is to desire something in such a way that you believe acquiring that thing will somehow complete you. To covet is to believe that you are not whole unless you have acquired whatever it is you desire. To desire something is not sinful in and of itself. It is when desire becomes covetousness that it is sinful. In this way both things and people can be coveted. And when we covet things and people, we make these things and people our gods. That is why covetousness is so often singled out in the Bible as such a dangerous sin. It leads to false worship and faith in false gods, setting up people and things and ultimately our own selves as our gods. May the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keep us from this evil. For this is an evil that leads to death, not just bodily death, but eternal death and damnation.

Jesus illustrates this for us in a parable. The rich man in the parable has a bumper crop. Now it is true that farming takes a lot of knowledge and skill. But every farmer knows he is ultimately at the mercy of the conditions: the land, the weather, and any number of variables that are not in the farmer’s control, which is to say, the farmer is at the mercy of the Lord. The parable says that the land produced plentifully (v. 16). God is responsible for the rich man’s increase. God is the Giver of every good gift. It all comes from God’s hand, and in reality, it all belongs to God. But the rich man does not consider God when he asks the question, “‘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’” (vv. 17-18; emphasis added). I and my. The rich man is only concerned for himself and his own needs and desires. He covets the good life. He believes that his life consists in his possessions. He wants to store them up so that he can relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He believes that he has brought this fortune on himself. He does not consider the needs of his hungry neighbors. St. Ambrose said something to the effect of: He had plenty of room to store his grain in the mouths of the poor! The rich man does not consider the glory of God. He does not thank God. He does not give even the slightest credit to God for his good portion. If he did, he would have fed his neighbor, knowing the grain belongs to God and that his life consists in God, who will continue to bestow good on him. He is not rich toward God, but toward himself. And that very night his life is required of him.

It is no sin to be rich. Nor is it a virtue to be poor. The question is, rich or poor, whether you trust in God, or trust in riches. To covet is to trust in riches. And that makes riches your god, because a god is whatever you fear, love, and trust above all things. The rich man trusts his possessions. The poor envies the rich. And rich and poor alike, along with everyone in between is not satisfied with what he has, but always wants more. Beloved in the Lord, repent.

Your life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ redeemed your life from the empty promises of the competing gods that claim your allegiance. Christ is your life. Not stuff. You belong to Christ. You were bought at a price, the blood of the Son of God. And in truth, you own nothing. God has given you everything that is yours as a gift and as a trust, a trust over which you are a steward. So you should use everything at your disposal, including your very self, for the glory of God, which means using it to serve your neighbor. This is what it means to be rich toward God. Do not store up treasure for yourself. It isn’t yours anyway. It is God’s. So be rich with it toward God. Spend it on your neighbor. For God has placed you in the life of your neighbor, and God has placed your neighbor in your life, that you might serve your neighbor with what God Himself has given you for this very purpose. Do you really think that you can exhaust the gifts of God by being too rich toward Him? Do you really think that God’s gifts will dry up if you spend them to help your neighbor in need? No, beloved, that is setting your minds on earthly things. Set your minds rather on things above, where Christ is, and where your life is hidden with Christ in God. And be rich toward God by being rich toward your neighbor. The gifts of God never dry up. He is faithful, and His love is inexhaustible.

And beloved, He has redeemed your life by the blood of Christ for this very thing, that you be rich toward Him by loving and serving your neighbor with all you have, with your very self. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Almighty God, the Son of God, took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was made man. And He humbled Himself. In His state of humility, He did not serve Himself with His divine powers. He only used His divine powers in the service of others, for us men, and for our salvation. And He humbled Himself yet more. He gave Himself into the betrayal of His friend, the hands of His persecutors, though at any moment He could have commanded a legion of angels to destroy them all. He stretched out His hands in weakness to receive the nails of crucifixion. He was pierced for our transgressions. He suffered, bled, died, for us, in our place, the punishment for our greed and covetousness and miserliness. He did it to purchase us, to buy us back from our slavery to godless mammon, from our slavery to sin, death, and the devil. He gave His very self. And beloved, He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity, and gives us to participate in His life. He is our life, hidden to be sure, in God, but He is our true and real and abundant and everlasting life.

Why then, do we hoard earthly stuff as if it could give us anything in comparison with this? Let it be so no more. For Christ is risen, and you are His. In the joy of Christ, give. Give yourself, for He has given Himself for you. Give an offering to the Church, give alms to the poor, feed the hungry, give the thirsty to drink, clothe the naked, visit those sick and in prison. And do it all because Christ has done it for you. Do it all because Christ has saved you. Do it all because in doing it to the least of these, you do it to Him. Do it not because you are compelled, but because it is your joy and privilege in Christ. And Christ will fill you in a way that stuff never can. He will fill you with an inexhaustible supply of Himself. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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