This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA on July 31, 2016.
13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
I’ve noticed something interesting since Oskar, our youngest son, was born, and especially in the last months, as he becomes more adept at getting around and getting things. It’s interesting how many of these things that Oskar “gets”, are things that Charlie hasn’t used or paid attention to in years, and yet all of a sudden, they are his favorite, as soon as Oskar gets his hands on them. His favorite blankie, favorite lovie, favorite car, or favorite crayon. It seems that whatever it is, if Oskar has something that once belonged to Charlie, it is Charlie’s favorite.
Now, Charlie is a wonderful big brother, but there are those times that we all have, when we need to remind him to share, and tell him that we are a family and that these things belong to all of us. Of course, there are times when Oskar grabs something that he shouldn’t have, like a delicate toy, or something Charlie was using, and then our parenting becomes less about using reason, and more about brute force in trying to free something from the grip of a 18 month old child, and trust me, when he doesn’t want to let go, he’s got a lot of grip strength.
Quite frequently, Carrie and myself find ourselves in the role of judge, or arbitrator over these battles of possession. Not surprisingly, there aren’t many instances where both children go away happy, after we rule in favor for one of them.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus has a crowd following him, when suddenly someone stands up and says, “Hey Jesus! My brother, (who is kind of a jerk) won’t give me my share of the inheritance. You tell him to share with me!” Perhaps this person had a point, perhaps he was even giving voice to a reflection he was having about something that he’d heard from Jesus. But, Jesus didn’t want to be the judge, or arbitrator for this person he referred to as friend. Jesus knew that if he made a decision, if he interjected himself into this dispute, in the way that this person expected him to, no one would go away happy or be at peace. A decision by Jesus would probably just make for two more miserable parties.
What Jesus does do, is respond to this person with a parable, and he speaks it to us today as well. As Jesus gives us this parable, we hear scripture, written thousands of years ago, which continues to speak to us in the present day. How many of us know of someone, or even ourselves have been a part of family conflicts that have to do with money, or inheritance, or over who will get what possessions. These money issues that divide us in our most loving relationships are nothing new, it’s a blight on our humanity that has continued on since a time well-before this man in Luke asks Jesus to help him get his share.
Truly, the Bible continues to speak to us today and these disputes over money or inheritance continue to tear families apart, even close, loving, Christian families. We see how sad this reality of our existence is in the fact that financial disputes aren’t simply between siblings, but can also divide parent and child. For instance, I know of a young man whose brother died tragically years ago. As it happened, he had named his brother the sole beneficiary of his life insurance policy, which upset his father. This strained and divided an already delicate relationship between father and son, and exacerbated the grief they both felt over the death of a brother and son.
We hear Jesus tell us this parable today, and the truth of the matter is that it goes beyond merely our finances or what we possess. Indeed, this parable is cutting right to the very depths of our soul, as we hear this rich man, (who God calls a fool) say to himself, “Soul, relax! Eat, drink, be merry. Soul! Finally, I’ve gotten rid of the anxiety that has plagued me because I’m so rich. I’m finally past all of this, my barns are full to the brim, now it’s time to enjoy things.” Like this rich man, our anxieties over our possessions trouble our souls, giving us little rest. In order to quell our anxiety, we seek more control, we seek to tighten our grasp, like a young boy afraid of losing a blanket that he hasn’t cared about or paid attention to for three years. Our souls are haunted by the anxiety which comes from not wanting to lose our sense of control over what we have.
The thought of losing what we have gives us such anxiety, that we work, often in vain, to ensure what we have at all costs. Whether the things we cling to are our possessions, or our reputations, or our lifestyles; whatever it may be, the thought of losing something causes us such tremendous anxiety that we spend our days slip by as we work in our vain pursuits. It’s like trying to maintain a perfect lawn in a drought. As your grass turns browner, you find yourself worrying about weather and other things you can’t control, constantly watching the sky whenever there’s the possibility of rain, and putting a lot of emotional effort into something that in the end doesn’t really matter much, except for the work you’ve put into that lawn in your own vain pursuit to have a good looking yard. It is our own vanity that can take a hobby, or something that’s supposed to give us joy and cause it to fill us with great anxiety.
This sin of vanity runs deep in us, and it disorders our lives as we constantly live with a fear of being vulnerable, of losing out, of sharing the wholeness of our lives with each other. Our fear driven vanity drives us to satiate desires in our lives that can never be satiated, no matter what we own or what we have achieved. Like the man in the story, the more riches we have, the more problems we then have, at least in our own minds, and so we seek to get more and more in order to finally, put our worry and anxiety to bed, and let our souls rest in the wealth we have spent our days accumulating. Yet we never quite get enough to give rest to our souls, and the only thing that happens is we waste the days that we have been given.
It is here, in the midst of our anxiety, in our vain quest to be in control that Christ comes to us and says, “Be rich with God.” To become rich with God, we aren’t given a step-by-step manual, instead, God shows us how rich the abundance that we are given each and every day is, how rich our daily bread is. God comes to us, in the midst of our own sin and anxiety, the sin that would vainly rebel against our God and nail him to a cross, and God gives us the richest of feasts, the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
God gives us this food, shows us this richness, to help us to grow in our trust of the source of that wealth. God gives us this rich food to nuture us so that we may grow in the work that God gives us. The work of creating, restoring, and enlivening relationships. The work of love. The work of forgiveness, mercy, and peace. The work that is not vain, but that is also really hard, especially when we think we are right about something. Work that is really hard, when the other person doesn’t want to accept the gift we offer in our relationship. Work that is really hard when we lose those who we care so much about. It is for this work, God’s work, the work that is not done in vain that God gives us an abundance to fulfill this work. Indeed, this is the work that God gives us his very life for, and the work through which we pass this life on to others.
This past week, we had Vacation Bible School at Christ the King. For those five days, we had counselor from Camp Calumet join us and share a theme for each day with the children…rah rah rey what’s the theme of the day? Those themes were feeding, forgiving, loving, serving, and praying. Now notice, that there wasn’t a theme about how to have the best bike on the block, or how to grow up to be cool and popular. The themes that the children were given are the very richness of God, they are the themes of what builds a relationship, and they are given to us by a God of such abundance that we may share them with all of creation.
In this, our year of prayer, 2016, may we continue to hear God speak to us about the richness of our faith, and may we hear the call to let go of that which we so tightly cling to so that we may grasp on to the promises of God, and the everlasting life that has been given to us in Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,