Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 13)
July 31, 2016
Text: Luke 12:13-21
The true riches have nothing to do with financial security or abundance of possessions. The true riches are yours in Christ. They are the gifts given freely, poured out upon you from the wounds of our crucified Lord. They are the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. They are peace with God, the wiping out of your debt, the end of your death and condemnation, the providence of your heavenly Father, and the protection of the holy angels. The true riches are the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit Himself dwells in you by virtue of your Baptism. And you are in Christ by virtue of your Baptism, and in Christ, God is your Father who loves you, and you are His dear child, and you possess the very Kingdom. When you understand that these are the true riches, distributed here, freely, in Preaching and Sacrament, it reorders your priorities now in this life. Your money and your stuff are really not that important. All that really matters is Christ. For it is He who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; ESV). God became a man, became poor unto death, that you might be rich unto life and dwell forever with God.
You know that by faith, but you live as if it isn’t true. That is why you worry. That is why you never have quite enough, and if you could just have a little more, then you would feel secure and be generous. But of course, when you get a little more, you need just a little more. Even Donald Trump said, long before he was running for president, that his wealth will never be enough. He will always want more. And lest we think this plague is exclusive to the rich, think how this same thinking can afflict the poor. Poverty, by definition, is a lack of money and possessions. So what do the poor look for to deliver them from poverty? Money. Stuff. Rich and poor alike think the answer to all that ails them is more money, more stuff. Covetousness, which is idolatry, plagues us all. Repent.
Is it sinful to have money? Is it wrong to hold possessions and enjoy them? No, these things are good gifts of God and should be received with thanksgiving. God even gives a commandment that affirms ownership and property. “You shall not steal,” God says, which means you should not take your neighbor’s stuff, and your neighbor shouldn’t take yours. Instead, you should help each other prosper and keep your stuff. What, then, is the sin Jesus warns us against in our Holy Gospel? He says, “be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). That means, don’t look for happiness and fulfillment in wealth or in things. God does not give these to you to fill you. They cannot do that. And when you look to them to do that, you have made them a god. You worship a god called Mammon. And you are enslaved. If you can’t give a thing away or suffer the loss of it, you are a slave to that thing. If you cannot be generous with your money and give it away, you are a slave to your money. If you cannot live without that house or that car or even that person, you are a slave to that house or that car or that person. Repent. If something has become an idol to you, the best thing you can do is give it away. After all, you cannot keep it forever, no matter how firm your grasp. As they say, you can’t take it with you when you go. Hearses don’t tow trailers. Naked you came forth from your mother’s womb, and naked shall you go (Job 1:21). You’re going to die, and all your wealth and all your stuff will be meaningless to you.
The parable of the rich man in our text is instructive here. The land produces plentifully. Already we have the language of gift. The rich man cannot produce a crop. God gives the crop success. But the rich man does not receive the gift with thanksgiving. He does not credit God for his success. He credits himself. And he hoards it up. It belongs to him, he thinks. He earned it. And now he knows just what to do. He will tear down his barns and build bigger ones that can hold more. He will store his grain and his stuff and live the good life for many years. He will relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Now, it’s not that God is against relaxation and feasting and merry making. The Bible paints heaven in these very terms. But what is the man doing? He is building his own heaven on earth. And to what does he look to deliver him to that heaven? His riches. His stuff. And he does not stop to consider that God does not give His gifts so that we can hoard them up and be selfish with them, much less look to the gift instead of the Giver for every good, thus making the gift our god. God gives His gifts, not only to be a blessing to us, but to be a blessing to our neighbor through us. This is the key for the Christian when it comes to money and possessions: God gives us gifts so we can be generous with them. God gives us gifts so we can give them to our neighbor in love. To give the gifts (which don’t belong to you, anyway… They belong to God!) to your neighbor is to be rich toward God. And these gifts are not a zero sum game. God does not forsake you when you give the gifts away. He gives you more. To give away more. And then He gives you more. To give away more. God is an unfailing fountain of good. You are His conduit, His pipe. The gifts flow through you and to your neighbor and you both enjoy God’s abundance. But even this, the wealth and the stuff God gives, is not the treasure. The treasure is the forgiveness and life He gives in Christ. Heaven is where we’ll relax, eat, drink, and be merry. And here at Church, where heaven meets earth, we relax in the Word and eat and drink the Supper and we’re merry with praise toward God. But so also, here, now, we have work to do, because our neighbor is in need. God has given us provision to provide for our neighbor. Do it and rejoice.
The rich man was a fool, for he spent all his time and energy in laying up treasure for himself, but that very night death robbed him of his wealth and it all went to someone else. There is a way, though, to save up wealth that lasts for eternity, and this kind of saving takes a wisdom alien to our nature and reason. You want wealth that lasts forever? Give it away now. That’s the way it works in the Kingdom of heaven. The first shall be last, and the last first. The exalted shall be humbled, and the humbled exalted. The hungry shall be filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away. He who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Jesus’ sake and for the Gospel will save it. It’s the great reversal. It is death and resurrection. God uses what is foolish to shame the wise, what is weak to shame the strong. Tax collectors and sinners go into the Kingdom before Pharisees. Jesus dies and sinners live. He gives up His life and the Father gives it back to Him for all eternity. Christ is risen. The filthy are made clean, the unrighteous are justified, declared righteous for the sake of the Crucified and Risen One.
St. Paul tells us in our Epistle to think on that. “(S)eek the things that are above,” he says, “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Why? Because “you have died” … That’s what happened in your Baptism. You died with Christ. And you’ve also been raised to new life in Him, but “your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (vv. 3-4). Christ is your life. Christ is your glory. All your riches are in Christ. So, rich or poor by earthly standards, you are rich in the Lord. And think about these things. God has never yet failed to provide for you. You’re here, aren’t you? You’re alive. You’ve been fed and clothed and sheltered. And in Christ, all things are yours. That is what St. Paul says in another place (1 Cor. 3:21-23). Your brother, the world, may refuse to divide the inheritance with you, but in the end, it all goes to you. It is the Christians who will inherit the earth. Those in charge now are operating on borrowed time. Jesus is coming back, and then everything will be set right. But there’s more. All these things will be renewed on that Day. They will be recreated. You will be recreated, refashioned into the image of God once again. And since all this is true, think how silly it is to covet the stuff of this earthly life. Imagine a prince envying the possessions of a beggar. That’s what it is when we live for the stuff of this world. But you don’t have to do that. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Your life consists in this, and this alone: Christ possess you. He bought you with His own blood. All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (vv. 22-23). Set your mind on this, and let God worry about the rest. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.