Download or listen to The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, “Where Is Your Life?” (Luke 12:13-21)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the things I appreciate about living here in this area is that when Jesus uses agricultural language, agricultural pictures, agricultural metaphors—and He does that a lot—I can understand it more clearly than I might be able to if I lived in a large city. There are clearly differences: no one at Jesus’ time farmed 10,000 acres. But even the differences sometimes shed light on what Jesus is saying. For example, you are very careful with how you plant seeds, you want to waste as little as possible, and maximize your yield and your harvest. So when Jesus talks about scattering seed everywhere, on the field, on the road, in the rocks, among the weeds, you know He’s talking about something other than normal farming practices. But this familiarity can cut both ways. The reason Jesus tells this story about this man with his crops and his barns is because of something that is said to him from the crowd. A man from the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. Perhaps that sounds as familiar to you as the agricultural language Jesus uses. The man may be in the right; he may have a good case. He may be right about what is fair, or even what is legal. But Jesus says, “Man, who made Me arbiter over you?” Jesus cannot solve this problem because the problem is not really the inheritance. The problem is greed, covetousness. So Jesus says, “Beware, watch yourself, be on the guard against all covetousness. Your life does not consist of the abundance of the things you own.” Beware all covetousness; covetousness is, says Paul, idolatry. Breaking the Ninth and Tenth Commandments is really breaking the First Commandment, that you fear, love, and trust God above all things. Covetousness is wanting what God has given to someone else, and not only wanting what God has given to someone else, but not trusting God to give you what you need. Coveting means that you are not content with what God has given you, so you want what God has given to someone else. And so you make an idol of what God freely gives.
So Jesus tells a story to illustrate this. He says, there was a certain man who had good fields, good crops, good harvests. God had blessed him with an abundance of good things, and there’s nothing wrong with what he had or even how much he had; after all, God had given it to him. But he comes to a point where he has so much that he doesn’t even have to work any more. He’s had such good harvests that he has enough to live easily for many years. So he says, I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones. I will store everything there, and I’ll take it easy, relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be required of you, demanded of you, and then all that stuff you saved for all the years to come, whose will it be?” So it is, Jesus says, for one who stores up treasures for himself, but is not rich unto God. And though Jesus probably made up this story, what if the man in the story was the father of the two brothers? I would not be surprised, because of how often such things happen. What if the sins of this father were visited on his two sons, as they greedily contended for his inheritance? Even so, to the world, this man’s plans just look like common sense. What’s wrong with what he did? He was just planning well, preparing, making sure he could support himself. But as with the inheritance, the problem is not the wealth, or the saving, but the attitude toward the wealth. This man has forgotten that everything he has is gift. He would have nothing if God had not given it to him. And not only did God give him all his possessions, but his very existence was a gift. He would be literally nothing, if God had not given him life and breath. And now his life was over, and what had he gained? What could he take with him? This is how it is for someone who has stored up treasure for himself, but is not rich in God.
See, there are only two places where your life can be. Either your life is in the things of this earth, in yourself, in what you own and what you’ve earned and what you’ve saved; or it’s in God. One or the other. You cannot serve two masters. Either you will love the one and hate the other, or you will hate the one and love the other. You cannot serve both God and possessions. If your life is in this world, then it dies when you die. You will have spent your life gathering and earning and saving, and when you die, what good will it do you? You will have spent your time trying to hold on to something you cannot hold on to. You’re trying to hold the wind in your hands. You’re trying to be the captain of a ship that has, your whole life long, been taking on water far faster than you can bail (Capon). You are trying to keep perishable things when you yourself are perishing (Augustine). You cannot keep this life, no matter how hard you try. It will be taken from you, sooner or later. And then what? What is all this worth? Whose will it be? And who cares? Emptiness of emptiness, said the preacher, and he was right.
But your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. If it did, you would die, and your life would be lost to you forever. There is only one safe place for your life, and that is in Christ. Lucky for you, you’ve already died, so your life cannot be in the things of this present age. You were buried with Christ in baptism, and you were raised with Him in His new life. So don’t go worrying yourself about the things that are here below. Set your mind on the things that are above. That doesn’t mean thinking about heaven and what it will be like. It means that your life isn’t here, but instead it is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is your life. If you belong to Christ, and you do, you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. You have been crucified with Christ, and now you no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in you. And even the life you still live in the flesh, where you make use of the things of this creation, you live it by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you on the cross. He died, and you died with Him, so that you would be free of your frantic grasping after the things of this earth, free of your sin, free of your death which is certainly coming, and alive with a life that is not your own. You are dead! So what does all of this matter? Sure, you need it for the needs of the body in this life; and God gives it to you precisely for that reason. And there are all sorts of people here and around the world who need the abundance God has granted to you. And you’re free to give it to them, because it’s not your life. You know where your life is, and it’s not in the things you can see and touch and earn and spend. This stuff is all for this world, but your real life is hidden with Christ in God. Your real life is Christ, and if your life is Christ, then you are rich in God, because Christ is all and in all. You lack nothing, because Christ is everything. So use the things you need to use, and give away the things that others need, and your Lord will take care of you. And when Christ, your life, is revealed, then you will be revealed in glory, in the glory that He shares freely with you. Then you will be revealed in the glory of a new creation, which will never fade or die. You will be revealed in a new body, and you will never lose any of it. It cannot be destroyed, it cannot be burned up, it cannot be lost or stolen or rust or rot. You will live forever, because Christ lives forever. He is your life, now by faith in the life He gives to you, and then, finally, in the revelation of His glory.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/3/13