Sermon August 1, 2010

Luke 12:13-21

It’s been noted that the Lord Jesus spoke a great deal about money and especially possessions – for in his times, wealth was measured not so much through money but through the lands that one owned and also – sad to say – the people that lived on those lands under control of the owner.  However that may be, Jesus spoke a lot about this topic, and the whole of Luke chapter 12 is dedicated to what we own.

The story that Jesus told speaks of a man who had many inherited properties, that is, he had received a great deal from his ancestors.  He had not worked with his own hands to win what he had; it was free.

And he prospered with what he had.  He realized a harvest greater than those of other years.  What to do with so much?  He decided to hoard what he had.

The decision is very serious.  Even today, those who own much property tend to hoard. For example, in many places the poor working people of the countryside need farm inputs so that their land can produce a harvest, and for those they must take out loans.

When the harvest comes, they have to sell their product immediately to pay off their loan and avoid more interest. Since everyone is harvesting, there are many products and the prices are low.  They have to sell, because in addition to the debt they have no place to store the harvest.

Later on when they begin to feel hunger, they have to buy the grain back, at a higher price, from the hoarder. They also have to buy their seed at a higher price, and so the cycle continues of poverty and exploitation.

Perhaps this landowner in the story had this idea, to hoard his goods and sell them at a high price when scarcity came. It didn’t occur to him to share this great harvest.  It was all about him.  He thought only of how to take advantage of the situation.  He decided to have a good time, take it easy, and live in greater luxury than he had ever known before.

In the Lord’s Prayer, the request of the people is “Give us this day our daily bread” an expression of faith that God will provide what is needed for today. But it is not given so that we may hoard for the entire year.  This man did not believe in God, but in his own riches.  He put his confidence in what he owned.

Then God said to him, “Fool.  Idiot. Imbecile.”  Strong words.  “What are you thinking?  This very night…”    Now, among the Jews the beginning of a new day was counted from the previous night.  The day always began at sundown.  So “this night” is the beginning of a new day.  “Fool” says God, “in the beginning of this new day, something is going to happen.  They are going to demand your soul.”

Who is going to demand the soul of this man? While I was studying this summer at Virginia Theological Seminary, there was a teacher who lectured on stewardship, the management of what God has commended to us. Many times in stewardship classes you already know what the topic will be: how to encourage people to give their offerings to the church so it can carry out its mission. It is like a code word, which really means “offerings”. And the assumed message from this story would be, “You are going to die soon, so it’s better if you leave your wealth to the church.”

This teacher surprised me. He spoke about this very passage, and he said that those that are coming to demand the soul of this man are his possessions, the things he “has”. Except they “have” him.  In fact, he has already turned over his soul to them.  He said, “Soul, you have many possessions stored for many years.  Rest, eat, drink, rejoice.” His belongings are coming to demand his soul, and he has already given it to them. He lives for his belongings.  He lives for the pleasure he can get from them, without considering the needs of those around him, or his responsibility. “On this new day that begins with nightfall, things will be different because you have given yourself, body and soul, to your possessions.”  

Jesus emphasized that no one else can make decisions for us. A man came and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”  Jesus said, “Friend, who made me a judge over you?”  He did not want the man to evade his own decision of how he felt about that inheritance, and why he was so worried that his brother might get more than he, that there was a competition reflecting his own values, his self-esteem based on whether he possessed much or little.  Each person has to decide the way to relate to their own belongings.

This is what that teacher, Scott Schanztenbach, said this summer: Stewardship is about the relationship between a disciple and their stuff.  That word stuff is hard to put into any other language that I know of. In some places where Spanish is spoken, the term “garrero” is used. But it usually means stuff that that one does not want.  In Nicaragua people speak of “chunchero” but it almost always means something that gets in the way, as in “Get that chunchero out of here”. But in English, “stuff” is something we have that we generally want to keep, “my stuff”.

The relationship between and disciple and their “stuff” is stewardship. It is a totally spiritual question, more than financial, more than material, although it is also that.  God is a materialist.  God created material.  And God is concerned about our relationship with material stuff. God gives us stuff for our good and for our stewardship, and if we allow stuff to take the place of God in our lives, we deserve to be called fool, idiot, and even stronger words – because we have lost the inheritance that God wants to give us.

It’s about daily decisions.  Not too long ago I obtained some food for a family in need.  I took them a box of food, and in a few hours I found out that they had shared what they had with another person, a man who came by on a bicycle asking for something to feed his family. Our daily bread is for us to share. 

This attitude made me recognize once again the spirit of plenty versus the spirit of scarcity. If we live with a spirit of scarcity, we say, “We have this much and we have to keep it because this is all we have.”  If we live in the spirit of plenty, we say, “God has provided and will continue to provide, and sometimes we are the means by which God provides to other people.”   When we see a need we share without fear of lack.  It is an attitude of the heart.

As the Lord Jesus repeats in Luke 12:34, where your treasure is, there is your heart also.  And this is in the plural.  Where the treasure of all of you is, there is the heart of all of you. This is not a message just for an isolated individual but also for the community, the people, the church. How many times have we seen the sad sight of a church that has stopped living for its mission and has begun to worry only about survival, how to care for its building, what it has, the group that meets there and nothing more?  The teacher Scott also indicated this summer that a church that lives for itself is a church headed for death, because its possessions have demanded its soul.

When property is more important than mission, a church has already lost its soul, which is invested in the building and not in sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, sharing by its deeds, by its priorities, and even sometimes by its words. 

This has to do not only with the external mission of the church.  Our collective heart as a community of faith clearly expresses itself through the importance we give to the way we treat each other within the church. 

Yesterday I spoke with a church brother about the church in Corinth, to which the Apostle Paul wrote at least two letters, and maybe more, in which he had to speak sadly of the problems within that congregation.  One problem was that when they gathered to share the supper of the Lord, there was not a heart of generosity to reflect the ministry and practice of Jesus.

The people met, not for a symbolic supper like the one we celebrate in communion or the Eucharist, but to eat a meal together sharing the foods they brought. Some had much and others little.  The problem was that some arrived earlier because they could, and others arrived late from work, because the Lord’s Day was nothing special in the culture of Corinth where the majority was not Christian.

The church would meet, and those who came late would find that there was very little food left. Those who came early were overfed and because wine was served they were also somewhat drunk.

Paul wrote and said, “No wonder this church is sick. When you eat and drink you do not discern the body of Christ.”  This has been interpreted to mean that when one does not take the Lord’s Supper, communion, in a respectful way, one will become ill.  I think there is a much deeper meaning: that if the sharing that happens around the table does not reflect in an authentic way the spirit of Christ, it is worthless.

We are the body of Christ.  If we do not recognize this, if we do not treat each other as part of this body, we do not discern the body and we treat one another as if the other person did not matter.

It has been said that we should use things and love people, but many times we love things and use people.  If this is our attitude as a church, as a people, as individuals, it is a sick life, about which God says, “Fool!  Your belongings have claimed you and demanded the possession of your soul!”

The vision of Jesus Christ for his body, for the church, the vision he expressed in chapter 12 of Luke is “Human life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

If it does not consist of this, then of what does it consist?  In abundance that shares, in a generous spirit. When we come to share around the communion table, in a spirit of true self-giving, of committed solidarity, when we share around this table we will come to share in all of our lives, and we will love generously as God has loved us in Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for love beyond understanding!

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