O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Wheh 'rich' really means 'poor'
Wheh 'rich' really means 'poor'
Based on Luke 12:13-21
Preached on August 4, 2013
In Christ the Lord, treasured sisters and brothers! When the 3-year old came in the back door, she thrust a fistful of dandelions at her mother. She said, "I picked these for you, Momma." It just about melted her parents' hearts. They loved that girl. That's why they felt joy when she was rich in love back to them and toward other people. I know all about it. I was there to see the 3-year old with dandelions in her hand.
I. The Father of Jesus Christ loves His children, too. AS A FATHER HAS COMPASSION ON HIS CHILDREN, SO THE LORD HAS COMPASSION ON THOSE WHO FEAR HIM, we sing in Psalm 103. Jesus in love has hopes for His sons and daughters. I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL, He said. He is unspeakably happy when you live the abundant life, when your life is rich toward God and rich toward people God puts around you. So Jesus taught: LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF. That's what it means to be rich toward God, oriented toward God, tuned in to God. This is not just teaching stored in a book. It's the burning hope Christ has for you, the beloved child He bought with His own blood. Because Jesus' hopes for you are so powerful, it won't surprise you that Christ also feels sorrow over His children at times. It's no shock to know He feels sorrow when He looks over the world and finds people He died to save killing one another, stealing from others, breaking into houses and frightening old people. He feels sorrow over men who beat up their wives, over parents who drown helpless children in a bathtub, as happened in Winnipeg recently. It hurts Him to see teenagers lie to their fathers and mothers, to watch vandals wreck others' homes and workplaces and sometimes even dishonour the dead by smashing tombstones. We expect Jesus to feel sorrow when His hopes for people get disappointed like that. That's not all the sorrow He feels, however. One day He looked out over a whole city. It made Him cry, JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM, YOU WHO KILL THE PROPHETS AND STONE THOSE SENT TO YOU, HOW OFTEN I HAVE LONGED TO GATHER YOUR CHILDREN TOGETHER, AS A HEN GATHERS HER CHICKS UNDER HER WINGS, BUT YOU WERE NOT WILLING! That city was not just full of robbers, murderers and liars. It was filled with many upstanding, respectable people. Jesus had hopes for them, too. He felt deep sorrow when His hopes for them were dashed. Today's Gospel is razor-sharp when you really listen. That's because you and I seem like "upright" men and women. We're not getting written up in the newspaper for murders and robberies. But Jesus wants to show you how upright people can turn hollow, and how folks who look "rich" turn out to be "poor".
II. This Gospel shows pictures of what that looks like. Luke begins: SOMEONE IN THE CROWD SAID TO [JESUS], "TEACHER, TELL MY BROTHER TO DIVIDE OUR INHERITANCE WITH ME." Here was a real-live man. He had a real-live problem. I take it he was the younger kid in a family where the parents died and left an estate. Maybe his older brother was cheating, grabbing every penny for himself. Maybe that older brother was rotten to the core. Maybe this guy's complaining was valid. There is nothing in this Bible chapter to indicate that this person wanted to have anything other than his rightful share of what Papa left behind. Reasonable as this guy's complaint may have been, Jesus poured cold water all over it. "MAN, WHO APPOINTED ME A JUDGE OR AN ARBITER OVER YOU?" THEN HE SAID TO [THE CROWD], "WATCH OUT! BE ON YOUR GUARD AGAINST ALL KINDS OF GREED; A MAN'S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS." Even if he was in the right, this guy was losing his way! The Lord warned him about greed. You heard me right. It's quite possible to be guilty of greed even if you are the innocent party in a dispute like that. Even if this guy had been wronged, even if the older brother really did owe him, he who was right could still end up being dead wrong if he allowed the money to loom larger than every other concern. If this squabble had gone on long enough, I wouldn't be surprised if this guy would have been content to take his money and then cut off contact with his brother for the rest of his life. Maybe he had actually reached the point where the money mattered more than the brother God gave him. And isn't it sad that this guy, hearing the great prophet Jesus teach repentance and faith and God's kingdom, decides all that doesn't matter so much as convincing this great prophet to get him his money? The Lord paints another picture in this Gospel. HE TOLD ... THIS PARABLE: "THE GROUND OF A CERTAIN RICH MAN PRODUCED A GOOD CROP. HE THOUGHT TO HIMSELF, 'WHAT SHALL I DO? I HAVE NO PLACE TO STORE MY CROPS.' THEN HE SAID, '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. AND I WILL SAY TO MYSELF, "SELF, YOU HAVE PLENTY OF GOOD THINGS LAID UP FOR MANY YEARS. REST; EAT; DRINK; MAKE MERRY." This farmer is not only rich. He appears to be a valued citizen in his community. After all, it doesn't say he cheated to get rich; didn't abuse his workers; didn't defraud Revenue Canada. We're not told he lied to anyone in his business dealings. Furthermore, the Word of God makes clear that being rich is no sin in and of itself. Abraham was rich. He owned immense flocks and herds. King David was well off. God didn't criticize those guys for that. He's the One Who enabled them to become wealthy. But rich as this landowner is, he wasn't rich toward God. He didn't thank God for anything. He didn't pray for the Lord's help in his work. He showed no desire to use his prosperity to give glory to God. He didn't donate a red cent toward helping anybody in need, so far as we can tell. Listen to the guy talk! It's sickening! What shall I do? I've got no place to store my abundance! I'll tear down barns! I'll build bigger! I'll store my grain and my goods. I'll tell myself, "TAKE LIFE EASY; EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY." It's like he's saying, "I made this happen. It's all for me. I'm holding it close. My pleasure is the big goal." The guy was no robber, no murderer, nor scoundrel. He seems to be an honourable man of achievement. But here's a guy who shows you how it is when "rich" really means "poor". After all, the same night the guy decided on those drawings for a new barn, his wife had to call the local funeral home and book an appointment, because she found him dead in bed. He lost his wealth. Because he wasn't rich toward God, he lost the only solid treasure there is, life everlasting. It's no sin to be well off. Most all of us are by comparison to people in virtually every other time and every other part of the world. It's no sin, I repeat. But it can make you vulnerable. Face it. All of us respectable, prosperous people are vulnerable to greed. The little picture Jesus shares shows you how. Then He adds, THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE WITH ANYONE WHO STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF BUT IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD.
III. It sounds harsh when Jesus heard that first guy complaining about inheritance money and brushed him off. MAN, WHO APPOINTED ME A JUDGE OR AN ARBITER BETWEEN YOU? our Lord said. It seems like a total put down. Actually, that brush off is a wonderful piece of Good News from God. God did not send Jesus to be a judge, a fixer of financial disputes, some strongman come down to get your money back. God did not send Jesus Christ into the world to prop up the coveting heart you often have. Even if a money dispute comes up and you happen to be in the right, God knows very well that you'll be poor no matter how right you are if you let money and posessions call the shots in your life so that they mean more than other people do and even mean more to you than the Lord Himself. It's great Good News that God did not send Jesus to be an arbiter to nurse anybody's greed. God sent Jesus to be your Saviour. THE SON OF MAN CAME TO SEEK AND TO SAVE WHAT WAS LOST, Jesus said one day in Jericho. He came to save people lost in ignorance, the ones who grew up not knowing anything about the true God. He came to save people lost in wickedness, men and women who are breaking God's commands by lying, hating, cheating, sleeping around. Those aren't the only lost ones He came to save. The Son of Man also came to save the "respectable" lost, the upstanding men and women who work at their jobs, pay their taxes, build a comfortable life, but live as though money and their stuff mean more to them than the Lord Who loves them and has such high hopes for His children. Even you're "in the right" in some money matter, you can lose your way if getting what you've got coming to you matters more than giving God what He's got coming to Him! Giving God your heart of sorrow because of all the ways you've hurt Him; giving God your trusting heart to cling to Jesus Who spilled blood to buy your pardon; giving God your committed heart that says to Jesus, "I love you back." That's what it means to be rich toward God. St. Paul said about Jesus, HE WAS RICH, BUT BECAME POOR FOR YOU, IN ORDER TO MAKE YOU RICH BY HIS POVERTY. Jesus didn't worry about coming out on top, even though He was in the right. Jesus was willing to be the disadvantaged one, the abused one, the loser, when He mounted that Cross up on Skull Hill. He did it to save you. He did it so your heart would be truly warmed toward the Lord above. He did it so you could be rich toward God. Remember the old hymn, Rock of Ages? It teaches something about what kind of Saviour Jesus is. You may have sung it a hundred times and still missed this: "Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood From Thy wounded side which flowed Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt AND pow'r." Yes, Christ's blood is a double cure. First, it brings pardon for your wrongdoing. It cancels the debt you owed God so you are not guilty in His eyes. But Christ's blood does more. It unhooks your chains so that sin's power cannot make you obey any longer. I'll be quite specific on the subject of greed and a covetous heart. Jesus died to pay the penalty for every greedy thought, every selfish bit of scheming, every time you closed your heart to God because money and stuff meant more to you than He did. More than that, the Jesus Who died to forgive your coveting gives you strength to start getting greed under control in the power of His Holy Spirit. Want to see how this works? Look at Zacchaeus, that old tax collector from Jericho! He had squeezed and overcharged, stuffed his bank account and financed his own selfishness all his working life. When Jesus Christ got to his house one day and brought the message of the marvelous grace of a forgiving God, Zacchaeus believed. He took Christ's pardon for all his greed. He also immediately began giving money away to people he had cheated and even to people he had not cheated who needed it worse than he did. I guess Zacchaeus felt a lot like St. Paul, who said, I CONSIDER EVERYTHING ELSE A LOSS COMPARED TO THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD. Christ is my true treasure. Being right with Him matters more to me than coming out on top in any other area. You see what happened to Zacchaeus. Jesus Christ transformed wealth from a trap that kept him far from God into a powerful force Zacchaeus used to glorify God's Name and show love toward others all around him in the community. I guess that's why a young pastor in the Bible was told, COMMAND THOSE WHO ARE RICH IN THIS PRESENT WORLD NOT TO BE ARROGANT NOR TO PUT THEIR HOPE IN WEALTH, WHICH IS SO UNCERTAIN, BUT TO PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD, WHO RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING FOR OUR ENJOYMENT. COMMAND THEM TO DO GOOD, TO BE RICH IN GOOD DEEDS, AND TO BE GENEROUS AND WILLING TO SHARE. I'm not a young pastor anymore, but I want to leave the same kind of teaching with all of you here today. Jesus forgives you every scrap of greed of which you have ever been guilty. Jesus sets you free from greed so you can begin putting it behind you. But Jesus shows Himself to be an even more powerful Liberator when He moves you to be really lavish and generous, not just in buying stuff for yourself, your house and your hobbies, but in promoting His mission in this world, or to help other people in their need. When you think of the millions still starving in places like Ethiopia, or the folks who suffered recently from the flooding out in Alberta, or families in Winnipeg so dependent on the food banks and other helping agencies, it won't be hard for you to show great love in the world, which really is a way of being rich toward God. That precious lesson never sank in with the rich guy. He could think of nothing but bulldozing barns and heaping up more for himself. If you've lost your way with stuff like this, I hope you'll thank Jesus for loving you enough to tell you the truth about it in the Gospel reading before us today. Then go look for some way to grab your own fistful of dandelions and run with them to Him to make this Saviour glad, who has such high hopes for you, His beloved child. Amen.
Robert Bugbee, President