Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘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. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”” (Luke 12:13–21, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Ah, a sermon about money!” Or maybe, “Oh no, a sermon about money!” You hear it all the time, “The church only wants to talk about money!”
“Bill, I was so disappointed.” Mary said, “I worked so hard to get Sally to come back to church.” Finally, after months of trying she gave in and came. Couldn’t Pastor have preached on the Epistle lesson for today? After it was all over Sally said to me, ‘Well, that’s just what I remembered it was like. The Pastor asked for money… again.’”
It’s probably one of the greatest excuses for not coming to church. “They’re only interested in getting into my wallet.” It’s something you’ve heard, as well as I.
“Pastor,” some people say. “You stick to ‘spiritual’ stuff, and leave my bank account alone.”
Well, Jesus actually spends a lot of time preaching about money. Today’s text is one of those times. Really, here though it’s not technically money that he’s preaching about, it’s greed. It’s the love of wealth, the love of money that he’s speaking against. St. Paul echoed Jesus caution about the love of money.
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, ESV)
Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” I know we too, say things like this all the time. We say that people are more important than money. And yet there is a marked difference in the way we treat people who seem to have it and those who don’t. There is an excuse that comes up in our minds that says, people who are poor must deserve it. They must be lazy. They must have some character flaw that led them to where they are. And we make excuses for avoiding them. Like: “There’s a difference between poor clean and poor dirty. I don’t mind those who are poor, but I can’t abide those who are lazy.” The excuse has a way of putting everyone who is poor in the lazy bucket. Well, my Christian friends, Jesus doesn’t see such a difference. He doesn’t care if a person has never done a decent days work in their lives. He doesn’t care if they’ve squandered all their money on prostitutes. He doesn’t care if they haven’t washed their cloths or themselves for a week. Jesus loves them just the same. In fact, he loved them and shows his love by giving up his very life to save them all. Lest we forget, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV) He loved the whole world that means every person in it, the rich, the poor, the filthy and the clean, and the lazy. With him there is no distinction. We gather here in this beautiful church that is maintained by the money we give, and we forget that we are really no different than the “lazy” or “dirty” people we so much want to avoid.
A good number of you probably give regularly to the poor. But we do it in a very safe and distant way. A way that assures that we can continue feel good about doing them, but have no contact with the people we are helping. We can drop our small amount of money in their laps, feel good about ourselves, and still not have to look them in the eye. It’s because we measure them by what they have, by how they dress, by how clean they are. Like it or not we measure people… and ourselves, by possessions. We carefully hold on to what we have, even when what we have is much more than we need. We do it precisely because we value ourselves by the abundance of our possessions, and we completely ignore the fact that God promises to take care of us and give us everything we need. And that’s exactly why this parable of Jesus speaks to us. Jesus makes sure of it. Instead of sitting on the outside clicking our tongues at the Rich Fool, Jesus makes sure we recognize that we are the Rich Fool. Jesus is showing us our own greed and warning us to be careful of it. He is not telling us to watch out for greed in other people.
Look at how he starts it out. “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” You see, the man was already rich. He already had more than he needed. He needed nothing else for his life and support. Already his future was secure. He was rich; he didn’t even need to save for a rainy day. In the parable this already rich man received an extra blessing. “The ground produced a good crop.” He didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t because he worked hard, or even because he already had money. You know how it is. A farmer can plant, fertilize, irrigate, cultivate to his heart's content and still the crop can be awful. God provides the harvest and the abundance in the harvest is as God decides. A bad year or a good year for crops is the decision of God. This rich man didn’t earn the abundance he had been given, the “land produced.” It was a gift over and above his need.
And look what he does. “He thought to himself…” His first thoughts are about how he is going to keep this gift. He only discusses the matter with himself. No financial advisor, no family, no friends, no God. The only question he asks himself is: “Where shall I store my crops?” There’s no concern for his neighbors, no concern for people who are hungry, no concern for anyone but himself. His solution is borne out of greed. He decides that he will tear down his already full barns and build bigger ones. “This is what I will do, with my grain. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones for myself. And I’ll store all my stuff in my new and bigger barns.” And then he goes even one step farther. He congratulates himself on his wisdom. Just like he didn’t consult with anyone on his decision he tells himself just how smart he is. “I will say to my soul, “Soul, you’ve made it big. You’ve got it made. You can eat, drink and be merry.” What he says betrays his real intentions. It shows his greed. He is his own god. He doesn’t even intend to share his parties in the future. He intends to celebrate alone.
But the blessed, rich man is mistaken in his self-sufficiency. The very soul he intends to pamper is just what he looses. He isn’t even able to begin his plans. It is all taken away from him. The very thing he thinks is wisdom, God calls foolish. The things he does that he thinks are very smart, are the very things that God says makes him a fool. He plans for many years; God takes his life that very night. There were not many years of pleasure to come. In fact, after the harvest there were simply a few hours of worry. “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” God asks. And the answer is: other people; other people that he should have been thinking about anyway. God’s intention was fulfilled. The gift was given through the rich man, to be given to other people. And that’s exactly what happened, anyway. Jesus also said, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25, ESV)
It doesn’t take the Wisdom of Solomon to see that what the rich man has done amounts to nothing. Actually, we heard some of Solomon’s Wisdom today, too. “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, ESV) This struggle is as old as Solomon and older even. If we consider the rich fool and what Solomon is complaining about we might come to the conclusion that the easiest way to remedy the problems that come with riches is to give away what isn’t needed. And that seems, at least in part, what Jesus is saying.
Look at the last verse of the text for today. So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The rich fool, laid up treasure for himself. His problem wasn’t that he was rich. It was that, in spite of the abundance of the gifts that were given to him, he showed a lack of faith in God to provide. He was rich for himself, and not rich in respect to God. In fact, you might even say that God saw him as destitute. His real problem wasn’t even really what he did with his wealth. His real problem was that he wasn’t rich toward God. Being rich toward God has nothing to do with the things we have. It doesn’t even have anything to do with how we use the material gifts we’ve been given. Being rich toward God has everything to do with our relationship with him.
It should be very clear as we look at the rich fool and see ourselves in the way he thinks and acts, that we have no hope at all of being rich toward God. It is true. We are by nature sinful and unclean, selfish and greedy. But, God in his great mercy has made us rich instead of poor, anyway. He has built a relationship for us; he has made us rich toward himself. It isn’t based on our bank accounts. It isn’t based on our cleanliness. It isn’t based on our abilities, good fortune or our lack of laziness. If it were we’d still be poor miserable sinners, lost in our sin. God has given us the greatest gift of all. Our sinful and selfish nature has been put to death. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20, ESV) That’s what it means to be rich toward God. To have Jesus in the life you now live in the flesh. To have faith that what God declares for you is true. To believe that everything that he has done for you means that he will take care of you no matter what. You know what he has done, you know the promises he has made. The perfect life of Jesus; the perfect suffering and death of Jesus; the resurrection to new life by Jesus; is God’s gift to you. It’s God’s promise that you are forgiven, that your sinful nature doesn’t affect your relationship with him. To live by faith in the Son of God, is to hold on to the promises of Jesus who loves you and gave himself for you. That’s what it means to be rich toward God. That was it means to be really, really rich. Few of us will ever be called multi-millionaires. Few of us can really imagine how much money that really is. The richness that God gives us in Jesus is also totally beyond our understanding. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1, ESV)
You remember how I said that the rich fool was rich before the story started? You remember how I said that the rich fool was really you and me? Why do you think Jesus told us a story about ourselves? I think He did it so we can see that the story really has a different ending. We are already rich, we have been made God's children in baptism. We have all the promises he gives to his children. And yet God continues every day to give us more than we need, every day. We don’t have to worry about socking it away for our future; our future is already set and sure, we live by faith in the Son of God. The gifts that God gives us he gives us to share. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.