The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
July 31-August 1, 2010
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this day and age, this text is twist, misapplied, misused, and misinterpreted in every way imaginable and some that aren’t. Christ tells a parable to explain the problem of covetousness. In the parable man dies. What did he do that was so terrible that God was going to strike him dead? Was it because he was wealthy. No. Nothing wrong with being wealthy. Was it because he had a good harvest. No. Nothing wrong with having a good harvest. Assuming that he had labored and planted, he was simply reaping his reward. Even if he was a gentleman farmer, hiring others to do the work, he had carefully managed his operation, leading to the good crop. Was his life taken from him because the man wanted to save for the future. No. Nothing wrong with saving for the future. That’s just plain prudent. Everyone should try to salt away a portion of their earnings for future needs. Was it wrong to celebrate? No. In fact Christ made a bunch of wine for a party. Celebration has its place in life. Was it wrong to build bigger barns? No. Again, that is just prudent. If you don’t have the barns to store the crops, they will spoil and be worthless. So nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong then? The man was not about the things of God.
Here is the key to our text. We are to be about the things of God. But what does that mean? It is a far more loaded of a statement than we might think. Christ is packing a great deal of assumed information into that statement. To understand the things of God, we must first understand who we are and what our relationship to God is. The man in the parable lusted after wealth in order to gratify his desires. But was that his first sin? No? Was that the first time he came under God’s condemnation. No. In fact he was born under God wrath. King David says in Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This confirmed by St. Paul in Romans 5 where he talks about how all men became sinners when Adam fell into sin. So this man in the parable was born a sinner and therefore was born under God’s anger. He compounded God’s anger by his actual sins, including his lust for self gratification. So how then does a sinner go about doing the things of God? If he is a sinner, he is under God’s judgement. He cannot do things for God. The answer lies in the work of Christ, who reconciles us to God. He reunites us with God by paying the price of sin on the cross in our place. He bears our punishment. You and me are supposed to be on that cross. Christ is the One who is there. In Holy Baptism we are made children of God. This would the same as the man in the parable, who was made a child of God when he was circumcised at eight days of age. Baptism replaces circumcision as God’s rite of adoption. So this man was a child of God, by God’s grace. It was a gift given to him. So he was to be about his Father’s business.
So then, as a forgiven and resurrected from the dead, child of God, how was this man supposed to use the blessings given to him. First, yes, he should build bigger barns and use that as an excuse to employ people, to whom he would pay fair wages. He certainly would have needed help to bring in the harvest. When the harvest came in, the first ten percent, the first and best, taken off the top, was to be given to the church. This was a law in the Old Testament. For us it is not a law but is a still a model of proper Christian practice. He was to share his bounty with those who could not work - the blind and the crippled. Now that he had the wealth and the leisure that goes with it, he could look to the needs of the poor and the widowed. He might even train to become a physician to help care for crippled and infirm. Perhaps, if he was unmarried, he could even go out of his way to take a young widow as a wife, thus, redeeming her from widowhood. This is simply what a child of God does.
Let me apply this matter to the issue of government charity. The government was not created by God to be an agent of charity it and does it badly. Often those who receive government charity are harmed by it. And often those who would genuinely benefit are refused assistance. Christ is not advocating government programs in the New Testament. He is telling us to get our hands dirty and serve our fellow man. If each person does what they can for those in need, where they know the need is real, we will have a far better society than what the government can create by it’s programs.
This also ties in very nicely with a Lutheran understanding of worship. We come into the church and Christ serves us with Word and Sacrament. Then we go into the world and serve God by serving our neighbor. As Dr. Luther would say, God doesn’t need our works, our neighbor does. First we are given the gifts of forgiveness and life. We are adopted as sons of God. Then we live in the world as a child of God. What happens to us in church changes what happens out in the world.
Some will object saying, pastor isn’t that works righteousness. Aren’t we saved by faith alone? Technically, we saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Getting the prepositions right is important here. So we are save through or by means of faith alone. Yes, that is correct. Our salvation is gift of God to us. But, as Luther says, faith is never alone. In Christ we are a new creation. Faith changes who we are. If we are a new creation is Christ, we will live our lives differently. So our works are not the cause of our salvation, but rather are cause by our salvation. Thus, Jesus’ brother James can write, “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)
Jesus tells a parable to explain the problem of covetousness. Rather than coveting goods, we are to count our blessings. We are to take what God give us and use it for His purposes. We are His sons by the adoption of baptism. We are to be about heavenly Father’s business. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good party, say in celebration of wedding or some such thing. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the material blessings that we are given. But we do these things always as children of God. These things never become the focus of our lives. Our lives are not about ourselves. Our lives are about Christ who died for our sins and gives to us eternal life.