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2016 Thanksgiving Sermon

November 29, 2016

November 23, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

The farmer’s life couldn’t have been better. The effort that began with springtime planting had reached its end. Harvest time was over. The barns were full, even fuller than full. Now he would have to spend some time getting bigger storehouses, so that all his grain could be kept. When that was done, he would be set for many years; he could even be freed from the work of planting the following Spring. The farmer’s comments revealed his gladness: “I will tear 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.”

The farmer in Jesus’ parable doesn’t seem too different than some of us who have gathered here this night. Some of you have that security. It wasn’t given or unearned; it was the result of hard work, wise investing, even a little bit of luck and opportunity thrown in. But it’s true that not all are in the same situation. Some of you work paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have the full security of wealth. The past decade with the Great Recession and its lingering effects brings enough ups-and-downs. Yet, even in our nation, those who aren’t considered wealthy, those in the lower middle class or the working class, have a level of security that others around the globe envy.

But being like the farmer in Jesus’ parable is not actually a good thing. True, it’s not a sin to have wealth or the temporal security that wealth can bring. All of us who have been given earthly possessions can wisely use them according to the LORD’s will. But when those possessions become the foundation of trust, the reason why people are confident in their life and have no concern for anything else, then the blessing turns to curse. That is what Jesus reveals in His story, as the farmer speaks about himself: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Where is such confidence to be found? Not in the things of this world. This is made clear by what happens in the parable: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” All the treasure in the world is of no value to a person when his life comes to an end. The farmer’s barns will remain full, but he will not benefit from them. His wealth is great, but he cannot spend it in the afterlife. The joy of having days of leisure disappears when there are no more days to be lived.

Jesus wants His disciples to understand this. That’s why He warns about being like the farmer: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Jesus doesn’t condemn having treasures on earth. But He does speak against being spiritually impoverished. He exhorts His followers to be wealthy in eternal things. That wealth is given by Jesus, as He reveals the LORD’s wisdom to mankind and exhibits divine love in the atoning work that He performs. Both trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the source of your eternal salvation and receiving His teaching and having it as the charter for your life makes you rich toward God. That takes you away from the folly of the farmer in Jesus’ parable, so that you are wise about what endures forever.

That wisdom is demonstrated in what you do with the earthly possessions that the LORD allows you to have, whether the amount is great or small. The LORD wants you to recognize that He is the source of temporal wealth. That’s learned from the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ followers are taught to ask the Eternal Father for what is needed to live in the world that He has made. Our turning to Him in prayer recognizes that He is the source.

Such recognition is not an original thought in the New Testament. It finds its antecedent in the instructions given to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy. Their prayer proclaimed the LORD as the source of their temporal blessing: “The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which You, O LORD, have given me.” 

But note that the LORD’s people do not simply make a verbal statement, they also perform an act of worship. That act of worship in the Old Testament was the bringing the first harvest to the LORD: “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make His name to dwell there.” This offering expresses the gratitude for what the LORD provided. It also shows trust that the LORD will provide what is needed, since the first part of the harvest was given to the LORD. Through that act, the people of Israel confessed their reliance on the LORD.

The same thoughts stand behind the instructions about offerings that Paul gave to the Corinthian Christians: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’” Like the ancient Israelites, the Corinthian Christians had the opportunity to express their faith in an act of worship involving offering worldly wealth to the LORD. Paul exhorts them to have the same belief: that they have gratitude for what the LORD has given and that they trust that the LORD will provide what is needed. That belief is established through the testimony that Paul gives to them about the LORD.

As the Corinthians would offer their gifts of wealth for the work of the Church, they showed that they were not finding security in temporal things. Their confidence was not in money or privilege. It was placed in the LORD. Their offerings pointed to the richness that they had toward God: “You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.”

That is the same richness toward God that can be granted to you. The offerings that you bring to this altar show that you have received the wisdom that Jesus revealed: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Your life is not found in how much you own. Your security is not found in wealth or possessions. No, your life is found in the LORD. He is the source of it. He gives you your daily bread: everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body. The LORD provides and preserves your eyes, ears, members, reason, and senses.

But your life is even more than that. For the LORD’s giving to you does not end with temporal things. No, He gives what is needed for an eternal living. That is the deliverance from death and the restoration of righteousness that is granted to you through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s what you receive from Him as you gather to hear Jesus’ Gospel. You can even relax, eat, drink, and be merry. But the reasons for doing so isn’t because you have full barns or a loaded bank account. No, it’s because you are the LORD’s people, who have His righteousness given to you and a place in eternity assigned for you.

That true security allows you to be content with the temporal wealth that the LORD permits you to possess. You can use it to further His will. You can offer it back to Him, knowing that you will be provided with what’s enough for living each day that the LORD allots to you. You can be generous with it. For your treasure is not the amount of possessions that you have. No, your treasure is the everlasting life that Jesus has prepared and bestowed to you. That’s what makes you rich toward God. Such richness will not be taken away from you. No, that inexpressible gift from God will be yours to keep, even on the day when your soul is demanded of you.

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

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