Sunday, August 4, 2013

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost (C) 2013

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Luke 12:13-21
Theme: All Things In Christ

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Money makes the world go round. Have you heard that phrase before? It expresses a fundamental truth about culture and the nature of what makes people tick. Around the acquisition and retaining of material goods human society has constructed a system of value that it refines and defends vigorously. Such definitions of worth pervade every aspect of human existence, even the spiritual. No one is exempt from confronting these influences. Jesus says, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”1 May the Spirit grant us the strength to believe this whole-heartedly!

We are only custodians of God’s gifts and our stewardship consists of assessing and meeting the needs of others. But Jesus is hardly just beating the drum of generosity and advising that all things be done in moderation. He is warning of spiritually fatal obsession with material wealth. He is cautioning against loss of faith and finally, eternal life. Paul echoes the same with His well-known admonition, “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.”2

The day of reckoning will come. It’s not a possibility. It’s a certainty. Each of us will face our Maker. Avoidance or denial will not change the reality. Facing mortality is the issue in today’s Scripture from Luke. In answer to an inheritance dispute Christ warns about the dangers of greed. His parable of the rich fool speaks directly to contemporary life. The man was not foolish in the world’s eyes, but spiritually. In a worldly sense he may well have been known as a shrewd and successful businessman. Such praise from society is a powerful motivation for the pursuit of success.

How worthless are our material riches in comparison with the value of the soul! It’s one thing to hear the preacher say that, it’s another thing for people to believe it. Little effort is needed to convince people why we so easily get caught up in the desire for wealth. There is always a perpetual and resilient belief among the majority of people that money is the key to happiness. The pursuit of material wealth and security dominates the interests and energies of many people. It is vigorously argued that a certain amount of money secure contentment. In truth, contentment is the key to handling money.

Chasing after money causes terrible stress even from a worldly perspective. It can control a person’s mindset and compromise their health. Greed and jealously ruin friendships and even divide families. Lottery winners are often more unhappy after their ‘windfall”. God knows your temptations, your weaknesses and your blatant sins when it comes to money and material possessions. He knows when you’ve been stingy, dishonest, selfish, and jealous. These transgressions are not to be excused, or defended, but confessed.

We are naturally quick to judge others and colour the situation in our favour. We all know the tendencies of a self-righteous attitude. When other people take a long time to do something, they're slow; when we take a long time, we're thorough. When they don't do something, they're lazy; when we don't, we're too busy. When they succeed, they're lucky; when we do, we deserve it. It’s no wonder the news media are known for using spin; it’s built into our genes. But God sees us as we are. The struggle of the Christian life is to live as such.

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run; knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave on his land. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide.

Through the parable of the foolish farmer the crowd was being strictly advised about the genuineness of their faith. Faith cannot exist in name only. It is not positive thinking or moral respectability. Action characterizes faith, showing it to be either alive or dead. Faith does not have independent existence. It depends on the Holy Spirit and lives in connection with Christ. Faith exists in repentance. It lives in struggle. You cannot measure your faith by gauging its effortlessness or ease. Faith grapples with God’s promise to provide daily bread. It wrestles with the action of sacrificing for others. Faith is active in love- not only those from whom we expect reciprocation- but particularly the love of those who are unable to return our generosity.

Christ is the example par excellence. The Scripture says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.”3 It wasn’t His meager material comforts during His earthly sojourn that speak most clearly of His profound compassion but His act of immersing Himself in the muck of sinful humanity. Christ’s greatest humiliation did not involve harsh treatment or unfair rebuke but rather His willingness to become as one of us, flesh and blood, so that He might bear the burdens of our sins. He bore our guilt all the way to the cross and laid it to rest in the grave. His resurrection opened the way for us to serve in freedom. We are released from death’s curse.

Through baptism you have become a participant in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In this covenant He binds Himself inseparably to you. The apostle says today, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”4 The motivation of materialism dies in a Christian because he or she believes these blessings are just a means to an end.

But because this belief is flatly rejected by the world Christians are risk-takers in the highest sense. Fidelity to the teachings of Christ runs the risk of opposition, discrimination, and even persecution from the world. This is not a one-off possibility, but the constant reality of living the faith. Yet this taking on of risk is not optional for the believer. It is part and parcel of identifying with Christ’s name. St. Peter says, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”5

Luther never tired of reminding people that in comparison to what God has prepared for His people all of our challenges in life- even the most severe trial- are trifles. Even our greatest pleasures are mere shadows and previews. To teach this is to do nothing less than preach the Good News of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. God has greater riches in store for you than you could ever accumulate or even enjoy in the life. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 Luke 11:5
2 1 Timothy 6:10
3 2 Corinthians 8:9
4 Colossians 3:1-3
5 1 Peter 4:19

Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
4 August 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt