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LSB Proper 13C Sermon – Luke 12:13-21

August 15, 2016

July 31, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And He said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

“Why bother? It’s all pointless, anyway.” Those lines sound like they could come from the mouth of an angst-ridden teenager. Or maybe they would be said by some of the disgruntled people after this past primary election season. And they may capture the thoughts of a rundown person, the unemployed or underemployed, whose twentieth job application was rejected.

“Why bother? It’s all pointless, anyway.” Such a statement is essentially what you heard in today’s Old Testament Reading. But unlike whom we might expect to hear it from, the speaker is a king, one who had ruled over Jerusalem. That king tells us: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity…. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” Solomon’s words express disenchantment and world-weariness. He has come to the conclusion that the way mankind operates in this world is ultimately pointless.

What does Solomon mean by this? Hear again the statements he makes: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun…. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it…. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest.”

Solomon speaks about the pursuit of wealth and possessions. Mankind can put all its effort into acquiring property and money. It occupies the heart and mind. It requires use of effort and ingenuity. The pursuit can even make the nights meant for rest a time of anxiety. Shakespeare captures some of Solomon’s thoughts in the words of Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Or we can add: “leads soldiers…runs a business…administers a school…manages people’s investments.”

But what does Solomon say happens after all this effort and toil? Death comes to everyone. When it does, all that an individual gained will pass on to someone else. The benefit will be given to another. And who knows how wisely or foolishly they will use the fruit of another’s labor. So the Preacher says: “This also is vanity and a great evil.”

Jesus picks up on this theme when He is faced with a demand that man makes of Him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” In response to that demand, Jesus decides to teach the people about the wealth of the world: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And He tells the Parable of the Rich Fool, driving the point home in the conclusion: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” To this point, we can add the Preacher’s refrain: “All is vanity….”

But the LORD’s truth revealed to us in these passages is not that everything is pointless. They aren’t demands for us to despair. His words are meant to change how we think. But that change is to be brought in line with what He declares about earthly possessions and pursuits, so that we see their actual purpose. What Solomon outlined and what Jesus spoke about in His parable: those pursuits were ultimately pointless and foolish. For they showed how the temporal riches had actually become people’s refuge and strength, their object of devotion and dedication. Goods had become gods. And if that is so, then such a way of life is hopeless and meaningless. It is vanity.

Yet, that is not all that the LORD says on the matter. Even within the negative teaching from Solomon and Jesus, there is a revelation of goodness. Solomon put it this way: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases Him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God.” Jesus presented the matter from another angle: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Both Solomon and Jesus reveal a great truth: the life that you have received from God has a purpose greater than the acquisition of earthly goods. Yes, you have been given duties to carry out in this world. Yes, the LORD permits you to hold and possess property. Yes, you can even be wealthy. But your life is not bound to those things which are simply temporal. When that is heard and understood, then people can be led in the LORD’s way of righteousness that leads to true riches and life.

First and foremost, it must be learned that your identity is not simply as a human who dwells on earth. A greater identity has been given. This is what Paul reminded the Colossians: “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 that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Since that is the case, then to make the acquisition of temporal and earthly goods the central focus of your hearts and minds would be to misunderstand what you actually are. It would deny what Jesus’ death and resurrection have made you.

Life isn’t defined by nor does it consist in the abundance of possessions, which are down here on earth. No, the greater life is defined by and consists of being united to Jesus. That has happened to you. That’s what being made a disciple of Jesus by being baptized and being instructed in His teaching has accomplished for you. You’ve acquired His righteousness. You’ve acquired His forgiveness. You have the abundance of Jesus’ salvation. That is what your life consists of. And unlike those who may still yet think that life consists of possessions, your identity as one who has everlasting life wasn’t gained by your effort. It has been granted to you.

Because that has taken place, now your hearts and minds can be set on those greater and higher things. That takes you away from the covetousness that Jesus warns against. In fact, because you have been given that greater identity, which has possession of eternal things—“When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory”—there isn’t really anything worth coveting that you don’t already have a claim to.

Now this means that you will be and act differently than the world behaves and thinks. Being “rich toward God” may require you to be poor to the world. There can be the demand to put away what the world deems to be good. Note what Paul told the Colossians: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Some of those matters include acquiring things for oneself. And the world can look at those as being worthy of pursuit. But that is not where life is found. Ultimately, it is not where satisfaction can be found: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”

But it is also true: having your minds set on things that are above and not on things that are on earth doesn’t mean that you have no concern for what happens in daily life. It isn’t a call to be idle or lazy. And it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy time on earth. Remember what Solomon said: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases Him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God.” The LORD has created this world for you to live in. He has made it, so that you will work. He has established various vocations for you to take up. And the LORD has provided you with earthly goods for you to use according to His purposes, which you have begun to know and continue to learn.

This has been so since the Creation at the beginning of time. Though you do not live in a perfect world now, you can strive to live as closely to what the LORD’s will is. For you “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” And that means you are called to take what the LORD has placed in this world, sift through it, forgo what is opposite to His way of righteousness, and use what remains according to His will and character, which you now share. Such a life is not pointless; it has a purpose. Such a life is not a great evil; it is God-pleasing. Such a life is not striving after wind; it is seeking to follow and abide by the LORD’s eternal good will.

With that type of life, the worries that bothered Solomon will disappear. When the day comes when your labors draw to their end, you won’t have to worry about where all the temporal goods will go and who will use them. No, you will still possess your true treasure—“the life that is hidden with Christ in God.” That will not be wasted by someone who is foolish. Instead, you will use it in the LORD’s full knowledge and wisdom and joy for eternity.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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