Sermon preached 31 July 2016, Nairobi, Kenya
Luke 12:13-21, Colossians 3:1-11, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-26
Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of you who are parents of more than one child know what it is like when children fight over things. Often it is the smallest things that cause trouble, perhaps a tiny plastic toy or a crayon. One says, “It is mine. Daddy, make him give it to me.” And the other says, “No, I had it first, make him give it to me. I want it.”
When my children fight like that, it usually doesn’t even matter to me who owns the toy. It’s a little thing. What matters to me is that the hearts of my children are not right. What matters to me and what makes me sad is that their hearts love things more than they love one another.
Sadly, this love of things is not only in the hearts of children, is it? We adults also love things. We love things too much, and, often, material things come to hold a central place in our lives.
This is the case in today’s Gospel lesson. We read that someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Now, it is not wrong to have an inheritance, and it is not wrong to seek to protect your property or to get what rightfully belongs to you. But in this case our Lord Jesus saw that there was a problem beneath the surface of this man’s request. There was a problem with this man’s heart. Things were at the center of his life. He loved things too much, and He loved God and his fellow man too little.
And so Jesus warned all the people around Him, and us, by saying, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The Lord Jesus knows our sinful hearts very well, doesn’t he? We easily think, “If I own many good things and have lots of money, then my life is good; but if I lack good things, then my life is bad.” But Jesus wants us to understand an important lesson about life. He says, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.
Then, to help us understand this, Jesus told a parable of a certain rich man. An interesting thing about this parable is that according to earthly wisdom, this man was a wise man. He did not steal his crops. Instead, he worked the soil as an honest man and brought in a large harvest. Then he worked some more and built bigger and better barns to hold all of his good things for many years. He worked hard, he planned for the future, and built a safe and secure life for himself. According to earthly wisdom, this was a wise and hard-working man.
But that is not what God says. God says, “Fool!” “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Why was this man a fool? He was a fool for at least two reasons. For one, he put his hope in things that he knew could not last. Everybody dies. The material possessions that we own now, we cannot keep for long.
The man thought to himself, I will enjoy my things for many years in the future. But the truth was that there was no future for him on earth.” God said to him, “This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The material things that we have here on earth cannot last. We will leave them all behind, and it may be sooner than we think.
King Solomon also reminds us of this in today’s Old Testament lesson, but before we read King Solomon’s words, let’s remember again who Solomon was and how much wealth he owned. Let me read for you a passage from 1 Kings about the wealth of Solomon:
“Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels of gold went into each shield. And he made 300 shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. The throne had six steps, and the throne had a round top, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom.”
Solomon was quite the possibly the richest person who has ever lived. And as an old man at the end of his life he looked back on all he owned and all he had done, and he wrote the words of today’s Old Testament lesson: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Now “vanity” is an English word, but I like the original Hebrew word that Solomon wrote even better. He wrote, “Hvel hvalim”. The Hebrew word “hevel” literally means “breath” or “vapor”. Wise King Solomon looked on all of the majesty of all of his wealth, and he said this is what it amounts to: “hhhh…”. A breath. A vapor. Material things do not last.
And so God said to the rich man who put his hope in such things, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
But there is another, even more serious, reason that this rich man was a fool. His heart had turned from faith in the true God to trust in a false God. He was an idolater. Martin Luther gave a very good definition of a god when he wrote about the first commandment in the Large Catechism. Luther wrote, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
The rich fool said, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”, When he said those words, he showed where his faith was. He showed who his god was. His trust was in his possessions.
“Anything on which your heart relies and depends…, that is really your God.”
When we think of it in this way, we must all admit that we are at times guilty of breaking the first commandment, aren’t we? The new man in us does have faith in the true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but our sinful hearts still very often rely and trust on other things.
If you are like me, your sinful heart may say something like this. “If only I had _____, then I would be happy.” “If only I had _____, then I would be happy.” And different things fit into the blank for different people.
“If only I had a little more money, then I would be happy. If only I had a better place to live, then I would be happy. If only I had this, if only I had that, then I would be happy.” When my heart says those things, I realize it is looking to things besides God. It is trusting in things besides God.
When our hearts think in that way, we are all fools. God does not want us to trust in material things. He created us to trust in Him. And so our Lord Jesus tells us: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”.
So that is what your life is not. Your life is not about your material possessions. So what is your life?
St. Paul answers that question for us in today’s epistle lesson, written to the Colossians. He writes, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Your life is not your possessions. Your life is Christ.
The rich fool’s life depended on his own efforts, and in the end, his efforts failed him; his life failed him. But your life depends on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the work and life of Christ can never fail.
St. Paul wrote that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”? What does that mean? It’s this. When you were baptized, something amazing happened. In a miraculous way your life was connected to the life of Jesus Christ. St. Paul wrote that you were “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God”. Your sinful flesh with all its sins died and was buried with Christ. He paid for those sins by His death on the cross. And now His life, His perfect, sinless, immortal life is yours. Jesus’ life has become your life. When God the Father looks at you, He does not see your sins. He does not see your faults. He sees Jesus. Your life is hidden with Christ in God.
And this hiddenness of your life is very important, because it is very different from the life of material possessions. If a person has material wealth, you can see it, right? You can see his nice clothes and his nice car and his nice house. That kind of life is visible. But your life, scripture tells us, is hidden with Christ in God. When you were baptized, you did not see with your eyes the eternal life that came to you, but it did come to you.
Think even about our Lord Jesus. When He walked in humility upon this earth, His life was hidden. Jesus is and was and ever will be the king of kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator and King of the universe. But when he was mocked and ridiculed and crucified, His glorious life was hidden. For a time, our Lord Jesus lived like a poor man, like a suffering man, even as a dying man. His life was hidden.
It was the same way with the lives of His apostles – Peter and Paul and James and John and the others. They were persecuted; they were hated; they suffered; they were martyred. According to human wisdom, their lives were not very good; but they had a life that could not be seen with the eyes. Their true life remained hidden with Christ in God.
As it was with our Lord Jesus, and as it was with His apostles, so it is now with your life. On this earth God may bless you with more or less material wealth, and in all circumstances it is good to give thanks for what God has given you; but know also this: your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Your life is infinitely more than that.
Right now that life is hidden with Christ in God, but this is what God promises you in the words of Scripture: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
The glorious life of Christ was hidden for a time, but when He rose from the dead it was in glory, and when He ascended, it was in glory, and when He comes again, it will be in a glory such as the world has never seen. And Scripture says, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
This is the final difference between the life of the rich fool and your life. At the end of his earthly life, the rich man’s life was over. He was judged. There was nothing else to see. But when your earthly life is over and Christ returns, your life that is now hidden with Christ will be made visible. Faith will become sight.
All will see that you possess a wealth that surpasses all else, a wealth given to you freely for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The rich fool may have had big barns, but Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth.
Please pray with me.
O Lord, grant us wisdom to recognize the treasures You have stored up for us in heaven, that we may never despair but always rejoice and be thankful for the riches of your grace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.