THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14, 2: 18-23
Colossians 3: 1-11
Luke 12: 13-21
Luke 12: 13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
This instruction from the Lord on the place that material wealth ought to hold in our hearts is one of those biblical lessons that is easy to disregard.
Not because it is unimportant
Not because it does not apply to our lives
But because it is one of those pieces of TRUTH that we believe we already know.
Yes Jesus, we know there is more to life than abundance
Yes Lord, we know there is more to life than possessions
Yes God, we know that we are not supposed to be focused on wealth. We already know.
Scripture is full of these kinds of TRUTH
Truths that are so fundamental, so obvious that we cannot help but think we already know and therefore have nothing to learn.
Much like when we read the 6th commandment, (“Thou shalt not commit murder”), it is easy for us to believe that we, as human beings, “already knew” ALL OF God’s truths before they were passed down to us.
At worst, this state of “already knowing” the TRUTH causes us to tune out from all of God’s truth. We begin to say:
“I don’t need Jesus to tell me possessions are not the most important thing”
“I don’t need God to tell me that murder is bad”
“I’m already a good person”
In our culture, there is an oft-repeated conclusion that “church is for people who need it”
That church is for people who need to believe in something
That God’s commandments and truths are for those people who need to be reminded of what is right and important
That we already know what is important and therefore don’t need to be told every Sunday…
We’re all already good people. We don’t need church. We don’t need the Bible. We’re not going to go murdering anyone, after all.
“We don’t need that old book to tell us anything”
Among the important lessons that this morning’s Scripture teaches us about God, ourselves, and our material things, is the humbling truth that if we think God took on human flesh and died on the cross so that we could roll our eyes and say “I already know,” then we have tragically and sorely missed the point.
Jesus did not come to earth to be a simple and boring disciplinarian.
God did not become flesh so that we would be able to recite the commandments or to simply “know” that we are not to waste our lives on the accumulation of possessions.
Christ, in his own words, did not come to be a simple arbitrator, but rather so that we would be saved and have eternal life, and, yes, one of the crucial things we do need Him to save us from is that stubborn voice within us that says “yes Jesus, I already know”
This morning’s reading begins with a request from an unknown “someone” in the crowd:
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me”
“Say Jesus, you have a lot of authority, people listen to you, would you mind telling my brother to give me the money he owes me?”
Given the circumstances, given the man’s confusion that the Son of God took on earthly flesh to do a job which could be asked of a dozen judges and arbitrators in the man’s own town, Jesus’ reply is actually quite mild:
“Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
But having compassion on the man, Jesus used the opportunity to teach both the man and the crowd a lesson:
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
And, at the risk of trying to peer into the mind of God, I wonder if in that moment, the words of Ecclesiastes came to Jesus’ mind as he began to teach.
This morning we heard the words of Koheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes, as he reflected, dimly, on the vanity and foolishness of storing up possessions during life.
(2: 18) I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who came after me – and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity
Though we may not share Koheleth’s dim view of life, death, and possessions, we have likely felt a bit like this author from time to time in our lives.
At a funeral
At the reading of a will
On the day that we clean out the home of a dead relative
On the day we come home from the lawyer’s office with our cheque or our heirloom and we wonder how this thing is meant to represent a whole human life.
Things are fine
Money is fine
Even treasured family heirlooms are fine, but we would rather have the person to whom they belonged, the rest is, well, vanity.
On those days when we sit down to write or update our own wills, how do we imagine the future world in which it will be read?
Do we see our younger relatives gathered together in mourning as our final wishes are solemnly read?
Do we imagine that our gifts and bequeaths will make them happy? or sad?
Do we imagine that everyone will leave that reading feeling satisfied? That those people will know we have executed wise judgement over our earthly possessions?
Do we feel a sense of calm?
or do we feel anxious about what will happen?
Do we imagine the fights and the squabbles that our wishes will cause?
Do we see our children fighting amongst each other?
Do we see disappointment, and anger, and jealousy?
What did the father of the man who spoke to Jesus see?
Whatever he saw.
Whatever we see.
Whether we are hopeful or anxious, we are actually on the right track as long as we are thinking about other people and not merely about our own pride in the size of the estate we are leaving.
Returning to the crowd.
Then [Jesus] told them this parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
Have you noticed something on this reading that you did not hear the first time?
On this reading did you notice that the man only ever refers to one person as he is thinking aloud?
‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
It’s all about him. All about his estate and the size of it.
Indeed, this rich man would fit in nicely in our current “cult of me”
He is goal-oriented!
He is a go-getter!
He is looking out for number one!
Jesus tells us that after the man had finished congratulating himself for his prudence and his wise saving, he found his peace interrupted!
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
The point of this divine interruption is not to say that the man was foolish for neglecting to write a will or to make more plans for his earthly things. Rather, the point is that in all of the man’s I-statements, in all of the man’s first-person focus, in all of the man’s self-congratulation, he had no answer for how his self-satisfied soul would fare after this self was demanded away.
In other words: a self-satisfied soul can no longer be satisfied if the self has died.
If we have trained our souls to take satisfaction only in ourselves and our efforts, we will one day find ourselves alone before God.
In that moment, when the soul is divorced of every earthly possession (of every treasure, of every personal accomplishment, of every trophy and accolade it has undertook to possess) it will be utterly and hopelessly alone if it has not taken the time and effort to know and be known by God.
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
We do not know much about the man who spoke up to Jesus that day, the one who asked Him to arbitrate between he and his brother and prompted this lesson, this parable, and this warning.
We do not know if he was a rich fool or a poor one
But in Christ’s compassionate response to the man, Jesus gave him the infinitely valuable gift of grace that he would not have to be a fool at all if he would heed the Lord’s word.
The man was not so different from any of us.
He had challenges and goals in his life.
He had a sense of justice within him that what belonged to his brother also belonged to him.
He had plans for his earthly possessions and a life that he felt was on hold until he got what was his.
Like I say, not so different from us.
It is likely, too, that the man was like us and those around us in another way: it is likely that this man “already knew” that money wasn’t everything. That no matter what happened between him and his brother and the family inheritance, that “life does not consist (merely) in the abundance of possessions.”
And indeed that is true!
But Jesus didn’t have to be Jesus to teach the man the first half of this lesson.
Jesus doesn’t have to be Jesus to teach us the first half of this lesson.
As the culture around us is fond of saying, none of us “needs that old book to tell us anything”
At least, not if the lesson ended there.
Friends, take care to note that the lesson of the man and his inheritance, the lesson of the Rich Fool, does not end at the pithy instruction to focus beyond our material wealth.
Rather it ends with these words: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It is one thing to “already know” that money isn’t everything.
It is another thing altogether to hear, and to listen, and to learn that God is.
God is everything.
God set the planets in alignment.
God gave us the earth and the sky and everything in it.
God knitted us together in our mother’s womb.
God called a people together and named them Israel.
God taught us right from wrong and what it means to be faithful and just.
And God sent his only begotten son, so that we would not perish, but have life eternal.
This Son came among us.
He lived a human life.
He suffered human pain and died a human death on the cross.
And just a little while before that, he stood in a crowd and told a man that he was not sent to be an arbitrator.
Within this book, (Bible), within this book that, sadly, so many have been misled to believe is merely a collection of things we already know, is the history of God’s mission of love, creation, and reconciliation with humanity.
The story of God’s covenant between Himself and humanity
The story of God’s rescue mission in Jesus Christ to save us from sin, and
The story of Christ’s church as it figured out “what it means to be a community in Christ’s name”
To use a tired, but well deserved cliché: It is the greatest story ever told.
And if there is any person who has undertook to understand this story and live by this story and has come to the conclusion that it’s simply a list of things we “already know” and it’s a book “we don’t need” then I would urge them to go back and read it again.
Because it’s not just a story. It’s our whole life with God.
A God who came among us to save us from sin, including the sin that tells us we “already know.”
A God who, even if we do spend our lives focused solely on material wealth and the abundance of our barns and bank accounts, will interrupt us, a God who will interrupt our foolishness and call us to know Him better.
And through such boundless grace, we will learn that the story was never about us and our things at all, that it was about our place in God’s world, a God who has stopped at nothing to set us free and to teach us what we don’t already know.