“Rich Toward God” (Luke 12:13-21)
If you had to leave your home suddenly – with the likely possibility that you will never return – what one possession would you be sure to take with you? Your decision will reveal much about you: what you value, what is most important to you.
This is a decision that many people around the world have to make. Perhaps a wildfire is racing toward their home. Maybe a hurricane is threatening their coastal community. For many, an invading army forces them to leave their home and their homeland. They will soon be strangers in a strange land … refugees.
I recently ran across a series of photographs online entitled “The Most Important Thing.” In these evocative black and white images, refugees from places such as Sudan and Syria “pose with the one thing they couldn’t let go of when running away from home.” Among the Sudanese, Omar holds a rustic axe which he used to cut firewood and build shelters for his family during their journey. Hasan holds an empty wallet which once held enough money to buy food for his family on their 25 day journey to the border. Magboola holds a cooking pot small enough to travel with, yet big enough to cook food for her three daughters and herself. Among the Syrians, Salma displays a gold ring given to her by her mother on her deathbed. Ayman sits next to his wife, of whom he says, “She’s the best woman that I’ve met in my life. Even if I were to go back 55 years, I would choose you again.” And little Leila holds up a pair of jeans. She liked them because they had a flower on them, and she loves flowers.
Think for a moment about your possessions in your home. If you had to take one item with you and leave the rest behind, what would it be? What would it say about you? Your values? Your life?
Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Those who are refugees are keenly aware of this fact. It becomes all too real when you are forced to leave everything behind in the face of disaster, whether natural or manmade. But what about us here in this land of abundance? What have we accumulated around ourselves? What does it say about our priorities? Our values? Our life?
A man approached Jesus and asked for help to settle a dispute between the man and his brother over their inheritance. This sounds so contemporary. How many stories have you heard about families fighting over an inheritance? Maybe you’ve been in one of those family feuds following the death of a parent.
Jesus replies, “Who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus did not come to judge inheritance rights. But like the man in the parable Jesus told – the man who wanted to build bigger barns to store all of his grain and goods – there will come a day … or a night … when your soul will be required of you. There will come a day when you will die. There will come a day when Jesus “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” What will you have to say about what you have done with the things you have prepared? Whose will they be? What will your accumulation of possessions say about your relationship to the judge of your soul?
Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. In lands of plenty such as ours, it’s hard not to feel as though it does … even when the economy struggles, even when there is an economic downturn. Most of us here still live comfortably. We are well-taken care of.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying what God has given you. These are all part of God’s First Article gifts … “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have” (Small Catechism, First Article). There’s nothing inherently wrong with “building bigger barns” if God so blesses you. There is something wrong when you want more at the expense of your offerings to the Lord. There is something wrong when you want more and neglect to care for your neighbor who is in need. There is something wrong when you fail to acknowledge the source of all your gifts. That was the problem with the man in the parable. He lived and accumulated his possessions as if there were no God. God calls him a “Fool.” It’s the “fool,” according to Psalm 14:1, who “says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
The commandments that tell us “You shall not covet” often get overlooked. They’re not perceived to be as big a deal as the other commandments. Adultery breaks up marriages. Gossiping ruins reputations. But coveting? Coveting doesn’t hurt anyone. Or does it? St. Paul equates covetousness with idolatry in today’s Epistle reading. Covetousness destroys our relationship with God. It subtly creeps in and draws our attention away from God’s provision. It causes us to doubt God’s care for us. It causes us to be ungrateful for what we already have. And so we must repent.
Jesus knows what it is like to live a life without great possessions. He left his homeland of heaven and took up residence in the womb of the Virgin Mary. When he was born, he was not laid in a bed of “soft and silken stuff” but one of “hay and straw so rough” (LSB 358.11). As a baby, his family lived as refugees in Egypt until the king who wanted Jesus dead was himself dead. And even when he returned, he was rejected by his own people. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). They sent him to the cross to die, stripped of his last earthly possession … his garment for which the soldiers covetously gambled. But it was also our sin of covetousness and every other sin of ours that sent Jesus to the cross. And that is where your sins have already been judged. Jesus has now become your arbitrator. “We have an advocate with the Father,” St. John reminds us, “Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Christ’s righteous blood stands between your unrighteousness and the wrath of God. The shed blood of your crucified and risen Savior covers over your sins. You are forgiven and given the riches of the heaven, because of Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
As God’s baptized child, you have eternal riches beyond your wildest imagination. Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Your life consists in being rich toward God. You have ample goods laid up for you in Christ Jesus. Your inheritance in Christ consists of a new relationship with God, oneness with Christ and all the saints in heaven and on earth, eternal life, a place in his kingdom, redemption, and the forgiveness of all your sins (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 1:11-23; Eph. 3:6; Titus 3:7; Col. 1:12-14).
All your possessions here on earth will spoil and fade. In some cases, they may be ripped away from you. Christians in this life will face suffering and persecution. We are strangers in a strange land … even in our own homeland. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). But remember what St. Peter wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
In Christ Jesus, you have ample goods laid up for eternity. So relax! Eat, drink, and be merry!
Relax! Rest in the forgiveness that he won for you in his death and resurrection.
Eat and drink! Eat and drink his body and blood in the feast he has prepared for you.
Be merry! Be joyful because of the wonderful Savior you have and the eternal inheritance that awaits you.