Preached: August 8, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to us is recorded in Luke 12
Then someone from the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
He said, “Man, who placed me as a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed, because even when someone has a lot his life is not about what he has.”
He told a parable to them, “The field of some rich man produced a good harvest. He reckoned to himself, 'What should I do, since I do not have a place where I can gather together my harvest?' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. There I'll gather together all the grain and my good things. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many good things laid away for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is demanded back from you. Who will get what you have prepared?' In the same way is he who treasures up things for himself but is not rich in God.”
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Estimates ranged from between one to five million dollars. That's the price tag some have tried to guess for Chelsea Clinton's wedding last weekend. We love to criticize how the rich spend their money. Do you remember when the auto industry CEOs flew into Washington on their corporate jets to ask for a bailout? Or look how much money flows into election campaigns, often from the candidate's own private wealth, millions and millions. There's plenty of criticism about the left or the right, whether it's the Clinton wedding or Rush Limbaugh's private Gulfstream jet. Don't you know how many problems could be solved if they would just spend their money the way I want them to?
Besides the obvious that it's not my money and even if it were I would not prove to be as wise a manager as I imagine, there is a deeper problem here. Do we criticize the rich to cover up our own hearts? Does focusing on their supposed misuse make us feel justified in our attitude toward money? Are we trying to deflect examining ourselves so that we can continue on our own merry way?
Jesus' parable rips off our mask and calls on us to examine our own hearts before it's too late. Ask yourself what kind of barns are you building? What kind of riches are you storing up? What's the harvest you're looking forward to?
Don't deceive yourself. Rather enrich your life in God. That's the theme to take to heart today. Greed wants to rob you of that, but in the end only God's barn endures. So, dear friends, enrich your life in God.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15 NIV), Jesus warns you and me. The Greek word for greed has the same root as the word for more. Greed longs for more. Whether you already have a lot or barely enough, greed looks for more. It's a bottomless pit. No matter how much you throw in, greed hungers for more.
Notice how Jesus says “all kinds of greed.” It's not only greed for money, but also for what money can get you: stuff, status, security, satisfaction. It includes the miserly Scrooge fingering his pennies and the spendthrift continually buying more. And anything in between, any degree of greed, any level, is included as well. “All kinds of greed,” Jesus says.
But there's more. And here we need to pay close attention so as not to deceive ourselves. Greed does not always make us feel that we have to get more. Sometimes the greedy heart feels satisfied and even content with what we've already accumulated. The greedy fool in the parable was satisfied with his final harvest, wasn't he? But even if greed isn't wanting more at the moment, it does love what we already have. For you see, greed is not a matter of the pocketbook but of the heart. It's a love of having. Think about that. If you love what you have, you're guilty of a greed, even if you don't want more at the moment. Greed is a love of having. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15 NIV).
Let's look at some of the symptoms of greed laid out in the text so that we can diagnose the disease in our own hearts.
Some man asks Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute. We don't know whether this man's claims were just or not. It doesn't matter. Jesus knows his heart. He knows the real problem. This man loves the earthly. He does not see Jesus for the real work he came to do.
Maybe our minds jump to those preachers who promise earthly health and wealth to their followers: “If you believe hard enough . . . If you tithe . . . If you truly follow Jesus . . . then your life on earth will improve.” Like that man, they don't see Jesus for what he really came to do. But by looking at them, we're deflecting the examination from exposing our own heart.
You do know why Jesus came, not to bring earthly riches but to pay our debt of sin. He came to bring us a heavenly inheritance in the place of the death and hell our sin has earned us. You know that, but is your heart firmly fixed on that? When our earthly lot falls short of what we expect, do we feel as if Jesus has let us down? Our complaining, even if we don't explicitly blame God, betrays a mind that thinks that God's care for us in this life isn't good enough. We're expecting Jesus to give us more out of life, just as that man was. “Jesus, tell life to give me my fare share.” This looking for more, this love of what we could have out of life -- isn't that a kind of greed?
Now consider the man in Jesus' story. There's no hint of dishonesty or ill-gotten gains. He's a hard-working farmer. Who knows how many years he's toiled away? But now the big payday has come finally in. He has so much he has to build bigger barns.
But his words begin to betray his true heart. Notice how his thoughts focus on his accomplishments. Count how many times he says I and my. “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops . . . This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12:17, 18 NIV). And what does he want out of life, now that he has a good retirement account for many years? He wants more leisure, more recreation, more of the finer things of life, more time to enjoy himself. “I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry'” (Luke 12:19 NIV). He's looking for more.
Do you see the many masks greed wears? What symptoms prove that greed infects your heart? Do we work hard because, like this farmer, we measure our worth by what we can accomplish? We know enough to acknowledge God, but is that only a shallow thankfulness to cover up a self-centered heart that pushes God to the sidelines as this man did, so that we can focus on the here and now? Do we rationalize greed arguing that it's not about money, but about getting the most out of life -- having the recreation, the leisure, the family vacations, the time for ourselves, the pursuit of happiness, the peaceful retirement, and so on? Isn't this all a love of having and a looking for more out of this life?
Yes, common to all this is that greed places the focus of our hearts somewhere else. We love what we have or what we could have, more than we love God. No wonder Paul called greed idolatry in the Second Lesson (Colossians 3:5). Greed robs us of God.
“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20 NIV). How terrifying those words are! But that's where greed take us. Greed robs us of heaven. It robs us of the inheritance Jesus won for us. It robs us of the riches Jesus' blood purchased for us. “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21 NIV). How dreadful!
How can we escape? How can we enrich our lives in God? Remember whose barn endures forever.
The rich fool planned to build bigger barns for his harvest. But only God's barn endures.
John the Baptist preached about the Christ saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17 NIV). That rich fool was chaff. His harvest might have been safe in someone's barn, but he was headed for unquenchable fire. He was was not rich in God. Only God's barn endures.
Enrich your life in God. Take to heart what the Apostle Paul wrote in the Second Lesson: “Since,then, you have been raised with Christ, set you hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1, 2 NIV). The rich fool set his heart and mind on earthly things.
Set your heart on things above. Focus your heart on God's barn. Don't focus on what your hands can build, but on what Christ's hands, his nail-pierced hands, have built for you. Remember the words of comfort he spoke for his disciples on the night he was betrayed. He said he was going to his Father's house and then promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3 NIV). He's coming again to gather his wheat into his barn. He's coming to take his faithful people to heaven. Only God's barn endures. Enrich your life in God.
“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 NIV). Yes, focus your heart on Christ, risen from the dead, reigning over all. See his hands in majesty that was were pierced with nails. See his face shine that once was drawn in agony, weighed down in our shame. See his head once crowned in thorns, crowned in glory now. Your Savior reigns! He enriches your life in God.
His holy, precious blood has enriched you with forgiveness, life and salvation. No amount of gold or silver, no harvest or retirement account, no labor of your hands, can bring those riches -- only the blood of Christ, our God. Just as an earthly inheritances comes through a death, your heavenly inheritance comes through the death of One no less than God himself, Jesus Christ, God's Son. He died in your place. Just as he took your place in death for your sin, so also you are now a co-heir with him through faith in him. For in Baptism you died with him and were raised to life. You were reborn a child of God and an heir of eternal life. “In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade -- kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV). Only God's barn endures. So enrich your life in God.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2 NIV). For with our Savior reigning over all, why trouble ourselves with the cares and worries of this earth? He bled and died for us while we were still sinners, fighting against God. How much more will he do for us who are now children of the heavenly Father through faith in him?
We could fret and worry about our family finances or our congregational deficit or all the work the synod could be doing if more money were there. And when times are better, we could glory in our successes, as that rich farmer did. Or, dear friends, we can enrich our life in God, today and every day. “Set you hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1 NIV). Only his barn endures. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.