Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rich Toward God



This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 7/31 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Luke 12:13-21
Our society encourages us to succeed. From the time we are children, we are taught that if we work hard and do our very best we will be rewarded. Having plenty of money, a nice house, lots of vacations and a good retirement is what we are told to strive for. Some would consider such success a sign of God’s blessing of our efforts. 
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That theology was even more prominent in Jesus’ time. From that perspective, the rich landowner was a success. In fact, he was so successful that his current storage facilities were too small.
Today's gospel passage is bracketed by two equally powerful, yet opposite drives--greed and being rich toward God. When Ray and I moved from Rhode Island to Gettysburg for seminary, we left many things in storage in Rhode Island. We felt we could do without them for four years and we did. Whenever we visited Rhode Island and drove by the storage unit, we’d say, “Hi stuff.”  But I have to say that I did miss that stuff--especially the Christmas ornaments the kids made in school.

A few summers ago we were reunited with our stuff. It was like Christmas with all the things we had forgotten that we had. Everything was loaded into a UHaul truck, which I had the honor to drive from Rhode Island to Olean.

Was God telling us that success or having stuff is wrong? Things in themselves aren’t bad. Success in itself isn’t bad, so what is the problem? Immediately before the parable, Jesus warns against greed--a word which covers more than money and gets at the root attitude. It is the strong desire to acquire more and more possessions and experiences.
Jesus does not warn against money, possessions or material wealth. This parable is not about any of those things. Greed is that feeling of never having enough, the sense of never being satisfied with what one has. They must have more. That desire becomes all consuming. Greed is referred to as idolatry in today’s second lesson (Col. 3:5). From Luke’s description of the rich farmer, he had more than enough. The rich farmer had a bumper crop. As theologian Joel B. Green says:
In fact, he did not need the money from the sale of his crops to begin his building program and he will wait a year to sell his surplus produce so that he can get top dollar for them when the market isn’t as saturated (Joel B. Green, NICNT).
The rich farmer would have been the top dog in his village, while the peasants around him would have been living on a subsistence economy. The rich farmer’s need for increased personal storage space would have been considered extremely odd, perhaps even monstrous in the face of the poor around him. In the village economy, the rich man’s practices would have been detrimental to his peasant tenant neighbors. The rich farmer would grow in economic power and status in the village, while others become more dependent upon him. Simply put, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
There are a few confusing things about this rich farmer. Most men were married and had families at that time. When the rich farmer is considering all the crops he has, there is no mention of family to share the abundance with. He doesn’t talk about selling the excess and most decidedly isn’t going to share the blessing with the poor.
Now comes the most puzzling thing of all: if this kind of success is a sign of God’s blessing, then why didn’t the rich farmer thank or even mention God? The rich farmer’s attitude is clearly shown in the verses of his self-dialogue:
"‘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'" (vv. 17-19).
Who is the main subject of the rich farmer’s conversation with himself? IT’S HIMSELF! The pronouns I and my are used repeatedly while he talks to HIMSELF. Is there no one else in his life? We only hear talk about himself, not God or others.
However, there will soon be in a collision of world views. God has had enough. I love the phrase, “But God said to him.” It reminds me of how God interrupted Job with the words, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). God calls the rich man a fool, which is a very forceful word describing one who rebels against God or whose practices deny God. 

God is trying to draw our attention to the right way and wrong way of thinking. The rich farmer’s focus is inward, while God’s is outward. The rich man is selfish, while God is generous. The rich farmer operates out of what is called a  theology of scarcity. God wants us to live a theology of abundance. This means God gives us enough to do everything He asks us to do. When things are tough, rather than turning inward, holding on to what we have for dear life, God says to give and give generously. The rich farmer’s objectives and God’s are diametrically opposed to each other. Contrary to popular belief, the one who dies with the most toys does not win. God wins.
How do we make sure our treasure is God? According to Luke, it all boils down to sharing with the poor. It’s not all about us. If we hold up a mirror to our inner thoughts and our actions, what do we see? Do we see our own desires reflected or do we see the image of Jesus? May God give us the grace and will to be continually rich toward him and to be a blessing to those around us.    Amen!!

Resources:

Joel B. Green, The New International Bible, Volume IX, Luke

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