Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost / August 4, 2013 / Message by Rev. Carol Haynes Kniseley
Gospel text: Luke 12:13 – 21 / Preached at Good Shepherd Lutheran and Mt. Nebo Lutheran
Bringing the Gospel Home
We’ve all heard the expression…”it’s as plain as the nose on your face”…which can sound a bit condescending at times. Depending on the context in which it is said, one might come away thinking that they’ve missed something that for everyone else has become crystal clear. Perhaps it’s just me…but when I first read today’s Gospel lesson, I felt sorry for the guy who simply asked Jesus to settle a dispute between him and his brother. Jesus basically puts the fellow in his place…by pointing out that it’s not his job to act as a judge or arbitrator over his affairs. But Jesus being Jesus…according to Luke, had already surmised what the real issue was about. Put rather bluntly: it was (and continues to be) about our accumulation of “stuff”.
Those items that we simply can not live without…nor should we be expected to….not in this day and age. Jesus says it flat out for all to hear: “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Period…case closed…there will be no discussion. But…there will be a parable. Don’t you just love it whenever Jesus tells a story like the one we heard today? It is something that we can all picture in our mind’s eye…no matter what kind of barn we build…or what type of crop we choose to grow.
The point is: we can all relate to what the story is about on one level for sure (hearing the parable as told by Jesus the very first time)…and on a second level (what could it possibly be saying to me…about my life…now?) And…it raises questions for sure. If storing up treasures here on earth is not what God intends for us….then how does one become “rich” toward God? It’s a good question. And according to Jesus, deserves a good answer.
Let’s begin by putting into words what it does NOT mean…to be rich toward God. Well, for starters, it does NOT mean that we are to be PRE-occupied with our possessions. Especially not to the extent that we “store up things” and therefore “gain an abundance” (meaning…far more than we could possibly need on a daily basis). Notice the key word here is need….not want, not desire, not even hoped for. According to Jesus, there is a distinct difference.
Unfortunately, we all know people who have taken “possessions” to the point that the only thing stopping them from purchasing more stuff is quite literally the voice of God (heard from others), or their conscience, or an event that interrupts ‘our pattern’ of behavior…and places us back on the right path. Then there are folks who pride themselves on being “self-sufficient”…to the point that we are determined not to need the love of family or friends, let alone a loving God who always speaks the truth in love.
Lastly, to be plagued with “greed” is probably the worst…seeing how it is often described as ‘the moral antithesis of generosity’. Greed….it has been stated….is a condition that eats away at the compassion we once held for our fellow human beings.
Practical atheism….is how theologian Peter Rhea Jones came to describe it. Turning to the parable, we hear how ‘the fool’ may have said he always believed in God…BUT when it came to living his life, dealing with possessions, and planning for the future, HE LIVED AS IF THERE WERE NO GOD. And so, we need to ask ourselves: “what difference our faith in God makes in the practical matters of life?” Faith, to be real, must be practiced and it’s manifestations “as plain as the nose on one’s face” and clearly evident to all.
So is this what Jesus is trying to get us to stop….and wrap our minds around? To not be guilty of practical atheism but instead act on our faith. And not succumb to the temptation to join the bandwagon that lifts up “self”….while neglecting all others…including God. It may sound “good”….and even “doable by most”….but there is one more obstacle that we need to address. Turns out that there was a common notion in Jesus’ time….that still persists in our time today…that WEALTH was a sure sign of God’s goodness and blessing.
Which might explain why the Pharisees took great pride in material possessions teaching that God provided material blessings for obedience. The kicker came in that the pursuit of material possessions became THE highest goal in life…for by having more “stuff”….one could point to clear evidence of God’s approval. According to Jesus…that simply was not the Gospel truth.
Instead of helping the man to gain his inheritance, Jesus points him in an entirely different direction and to a new understanding about life. What the man needed was a lesson in the purpose of life…namely, that life is not valued or measured in terms of wealth or possessions. The loyalty that one gives to God…is the thing that makes one rich in God’s eyes.
If we think about it, the significant problem in the story Jesus told…is not the size of the harvest, but rather gathering all of it and storing all of it for his own use. The thought of giving to persons in need…never crosses his mind. Jesus, on the other hand, thinks and breathes nothing else.
It should be no surprise to learn that Luke’s remedy to greed was simple: give…to those in need. I can’t help but believe that Luke was one who chose his words with purpose and clarity. In the parable…the rich man is clearly called ‘a fool.’ In the biblical sense, a fool was a person who in practice…denied the existence of God.
It wasn’t what he said...as much as what he did NOT say in words or deeds. He was given the opportunity to demonstrate his love of God with his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength…and yet, he failed to recognize God as the source of everything that he possessed. Bigger barns…or not…the rich fool did not realize that in the end, he “owned” nothing. All he had was on loan, including his life…which could be called back at any time. To those who have ears…let us listen, and turn…from our foolish ways. Lest he come…and take us away? Amen