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Sermon for July 31, 2022 – Proper 13

Speaking of Life 4036 | Not So Buried Treasure

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life Script 4036 | Not So Buried Treasure
Greg Williams

You have probably heard this funny story about a man who did not want to part with his money. I’ll give you the short version if you haven’t heard it.

There was a greedy old miser who loved his money so much that he made his wife promise that she would put every cent he had in his casket after he died. Well as it so happened, he did die, and just before they buried him his wife put a box in the casket. Her friend asked her if she really carried through with her promise to bury him with all that money. She replied, “I sure did! I’m a good Christian and I’m going to keep my word. I gathered up every cent he had, put it in my bank account, and wrote him a check.”

That story gives me a chuckle, but it also makes a good point. We admire the wife for her wise solution to the problem. At the same time, we recognize the foolishness of a man who thought material possessions secured his life.

Now, if you are a believer, you know you have an abundant life secured in Jesus, a life of riches beyond measure. It’s no funny matter when we lose sight of this reality and settle for worldly loose change. But, let’s face it, in our materialistic world, there is always something shiny to distract us. So, here is a little reminder of how we can keep our eyes on the reality we have in Christ, so we don’t play the fool this side of the grave.

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
Colossians 3:1-5 (NLT)

I hope that will be a helpful reminder to you the next time you are tempted to settle for worldly wealth. The treasure that we have in knowing Jesus and Jesus knowing us is wealth beyond measure.  

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

And hey, if you still want to take your money with you, give me a call. I’ll gladly write you a check.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 • Hosea 11:1-11 • Colossians 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21

This week’s theme is restorative love. The call to worship Psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving that provides a moving portrait of God’s steadfast love. The Old Testament reading from Hosea is one of the most well-known and touching depictions of Yahweh’s unwavering love for a recalcitrant Israel. The epistolary text comes from Colossians 3, where Paul sketches a profile of those who live in union with Christ and participate in his compassionate love. The Gospel reading from Luke presents a parable from Jesus aimed to restore fearful and greedy hearts back to their loving God.

Rich Toward God

Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV)

Our text today begins with,

“Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13 NRSV)

The crowd referenced here is the crowd that has “gathered by the thousands” found at the beginning of this chapter. The crowd was so big we are told people are trampling each other. This is a chaotic scene from which someone is trying to speak to Jesus. Crowds can be distracting, especially chaotic crowds. Perhaps we may feel like we are this “someone in the crowd” who has a request for Jesus. Maybe you are feeling trampled by the “crowds” that are crushing in on you from every side. Our lives so often place us in “crowds” that make our days and nights chaotic and even threatening. And being surrounded by thousands in the same crowd, we may also feel insignificant, forgotten, and overlooked. In these chaotic crowds in which we live, we too may call out to Jesus with our request. We may think Jesus doesn’t see us and he is unaware of our situation. Have you been there? Maybe you are in that crowd today.

If so, this story invites you to hear Jesus speaking to you personally. He sees you and he is more aware of your situation than even you are. Let’s face it, when we are being trampled and crushed by crowds, surrounded by chaos, and jostled about, we are probably not seeing our situation as clearly as we think. Fear has a way of clouding our thoughts, over-accentuating some things we should ignore while ignoring other things that are important. But Jesus is not distracted or thrown off by crowds. He remains focused on his purpose and plan for you, and he doesn’t change what he is saying. He’s steady, consistent, and he sees clearly through the crowds. As we go through this story, I encourage you to picture the chaotic crowd surrounding Jesus. At the same time, picture Jesus looking at you in the crowd. Notice he is not worried. He is not afraid of the crowd, and there is no panic or concern in his voice. This is how he addresses us even today in our chaotic and crowded lives. It seems he knows something we don’t. He is not worried. He is full of peace and not triggered or thrown off by our concerns. He’s not just another random frantic and frenzied citizen in the crowd. He is the one we can listen too. He sees much further than we do, and his words to you today invite you to share his peace and assurance in your time of chaos.

Have you ever been in a classroom or maybe a conference where someone has been talking on a subject for a while and then someone raises their hand and makes a comment or asks a question that has absolutely nothing to do with what was being said? It’s one of those eye-rolling moments when you want to say, “Where have you been for the past hour? Have you not heard anything that’s been said?” That’s pretty much what the “Someone in the crowd” does when he says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

If you go back to the beginning of this chapter, you will see that Jesus has been speaking to the crowd about some pretty heavy issues. He is talking about how to respond in the face of death. He has dropped weighty words about not fearing those who want to kill you, but rather to fear God who cares for you. He talks about the consequences of denying the Lord and of blasphemy. He talks about what to do when you are asked to defend yourself against rulers and authorities – pretty heavy and hard-hitting topics. And through it all, he has one consistent and resounding point. Do not fear and do not worry. God has not forgotten you, and he cares for you. Then out of nowhere, you get this one person in the crowd who says, “Hey Jesus, can you get my brother to give me what’s mine?” You can imagine the eyerolls from those who had actually been listening to Jesus. Where did that come from?

Now, a good public speaker at this point would probably just ignore the comment and stay on topic. But Jesus does far more. He engages the person and still stays on topic. Let’s look at how he does this.

“But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:1 NRSV)

First, he addresses him as “friend.” Have you ever had someone address you as friend, and you know that means that they are about to tell you something that may sound unfriendly? That’s about the size of it. Jesus is not being inauthentic here; he is simply trying to soften the blow. He wants the man to know that what he is about to say to him is coming from a place of friendship. Meaning, you can trust that what is being said is for your good. Jesus is not positioning himself against this person, even though the individual has attempted to hijack the moment for his own personal gain. This is important for us to remember when we hear Jesus speaking to us. He comes to us as our friend and the best friend we could possibly imagine. He never intends us harm. So, even when he tells us something we don’t want to hear, we know where it’s coming from. He can be trusted.

Second, Jesus asks an interesting question: “Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” How often does Jesus ask this question of us when we come to him? The “Who” question. We see all through the Gospel stories Jesus asking this question directly of those who come to him. “Who do you say that I am?” When we come to Jesus with our questions and our requests, it is important to know who he is. Otherwise, we may not be in a position to receive anything from him. If I happened upon Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and asked him to help me find my seat in his stadium, and he offers me to sit with him, I may miss out on enjoying the game in a luxury suite if I had mistaken him for an usher. Knowing who Jerry Jones is would be really important in that situation. That crude analogy may only work for Cowboy fans, but I hope you get the point. Knowing who Jesus is will have a big effect on what we are able to receive from him. He may be offering us far more than what we are asking.

This particular man is asking Jesus to settle what appears to be a dispute between him and his brother over dividing their inheritance. It was not inappropriate for someone to ask a rabbi to arbitrate over such dealings. But to ask Jesus in the middle of his message is not only to miss what Jesus had been talking about the whole time, but it is to miss knowing who this particular rabbi is. He has confused the Son of God with another run-of-the-mill lawyer.

Jesus does not become offended. He wants to help this man – and us today – to receive from him what he has for us. We don’t know the situation between the brothers, but clearly, this man wants what belongs to him and he wants it now. He is focused on himself, and he sees an opportunity to enlist Jesus to his cause. And that is a mistake of a very high order. May we take seriously the correction Jesus intends in his question. Jesus was not sent by the Father as just another person we can use to get what we want. Jesus will not be manipulated and used as a means to our own ends. He is Lord and King and the Author of life. He is not the means to the life we have been trying to build for ourselves. He is our Life!

Now Jesus has this to say to the man and to all of us in the crowd:

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NRSV)

Jesus is getting to the root of the issue here. This is probably not what the man wanted to hear, but it is what Jesus had been trying to say all along. Life is not about possessions. If we think it is, we will continue to live in fear. He does not go off topic. He uses the man’s off-topic request as an opportunity to further make his point. Jesus warns about “all kinds of greed.” Greed is not just wanting more money; it’s just wanting more. Can you see how fear will feed greed? When possessions and anything of this world are seen to be the essence of life, then we will fear losing those things. In fear, we will try to accumulate more and more in hopes of securing our own life. There will never be enough even when we have plenty. But the opposite is true when we know who Jesus is. Even when we don’t have enough, we will have more than plenty. Our cups will overflow. And there is no fear in Jesus. No one can take him away. He is the gift from the Father that will never be taken back. We can rest in him and stop striving to secure our own lives. Our lives are secure in Jesus. And in case the man still doesn’t get it, Jesus chooses to add a parable to his teaching.

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” (Luke 12:16 NRSV)

Notice how Jesus begins the parable. It is the land that is doing the producing, not the rich man. That seems to be a subtle hint with where Jesus is going. The rich man is rich by grace, not by the works of his own hands.

And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” (Luke 12:17 NRSV)

The sentence, “And he thought to himself” is literally, “debated within himself.” The rich man is in self-dialog. He is not seeking anything from anyone outside of himself, which means he is in no position to receive from another. And what is he concerned about? Storing his crops. Fear is developing into greed. The land has provided for him abundantly, but he is fearful that he will run out of food. So, instead of trusting the land to produce next year, he will take matters into his own hands.

Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” (Luke 12:18 NRSV)

Notice the orientation of the rich man. It’s all about him. He’s thinking for himself, he’s talking to himself, and whatever he does, he will do it himself. This is a self-reliant person who doesn’t seem to have any room for others in his life. And how sad that instead of enjoying what he has, he launches into a demanding work project to secure his future. His plan involves tearing down the things he built in the past and replacing it with something larger. Are you scratching your head at why the rich man would want to tear down his existing barns instead of just adding more to them? That seems a bit odd, does it not? Perhaps it indicates an underlying problem of greed.

The rich man seems incapable of being satisfied with what he has. Not only does he want bigger barns, but he also won’t be satisfied until what he has is destroyed. Fear and greed certainly hinder being rational in our plans and decisions. And one more observation may be worth mentioning. Notice what never entered the rich man’s plans. He never entertains another option for the overflow of grain and goods, namely that of sharing it with others. No thought of giving it to the hungry and poor. No thought of using it to be a blessing to others. He only wants it for his own enjoyment. But, ironically, instead of resting and enjoying what he has, the rich man is working himself to death out of fear of not having more in the future.

And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19 NRSV)

This is the rich man’s hope. He wants to reach a point that he is completely self-sufficient. In a sense, you could say he wants to one day be able to say to himself, “Well done me, now enter into your own joy.” And that joy is articulated as “relax, eat, drink, be merry,” which is the proverbial expression of living life for one’s self in the present with no expectation of any future life or judgment. The rich man is not held up as a godly man, but rather as a man deep in hedonism, unaccountable to anyone.

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20-21 NRSV)

This conclusion sets this parable as one of a kind. It is the only parable in the Gospels where God appears as one of the characters and speaks. And this distinction marks the only place in the parable where another voice appears, disrupting the rich man’s inner self-focused monologue. Maybe Jesus knew we needed a jarring parable that breaks through our illusory belief that our life is only what we make it. It shows that the rich man has been foolish in thinking and living as if he is the only one in the room. He has forgotten to listen to God, much like the man wanting Jesus to settle a dispute wasn’t listening, either. What about us? Are we listening now?

The sin Jesus is locating is not that the man had lots of money or how he gained his riches. Following a common theme Luke brings out in his Gospel account, the sin is simply that the rich man is hoarding his riches instead of living generously with it. Underneath this sin is a fear manifested by greed. The rich man is unable to trust his future to anyone but himself. In this way, he is unable to be rich toward God. Another way to say it is he refuses to live by grace and opts instead to live in an attempt at self-sufficiency. In this way, he is unable to receive what God richly provides, and therefore is not “rich toward God.”

With this parable, Jesus has put his finger on what is really needed for the person in the crowd who wants Jesus to intervene in his inheritance dispute. This person, like you and me, needed to see Jesus as our rich provision. He is God’s grace to us, and we live by his word, not by our own words of self-counsel. The person in the crowd was not receiving what Jesus was giving him in that moment. Jesus’ parable was a way to redirect the person’s focus from himself and onto Jesus.

I pray this parable helps us today as well, to redirect our attention to one who is our life. In Christ, we have nothing to fear. We can receive what he has for us, and in doing so, escape the trap of greed and be generous with all the Lord gives us. Only those who truly receive from the Lord, by trusting him fully to be their life, are free to truly give generously, for there is no fear that their generosity will deplete the eternal storehouses of God’s care and provision.

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W5

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July 31 – Proper 13
Luke 12:13-21 “A Bumper Crop”

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Program Transcript

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins—W5

Our next passage is Luke 12:13-21. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 13 in Ordinary Time, which is July 31st.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

The parables aren’t cute little Sunday school stories with a clear and reasonable understanding. I’ve heard people say that. We’ve got to be more discerning than that. Parables are just the opposite because they turn our commonsense thinking on its head. The parables about the kingdom of God and the kingdom turns the way this world works upside down. If we ever need to come to scripture with an open mind, it’s when we come to the parables of Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many sermons I’ve heard from the parables, and the preacher will say something like this. The parable clearly means such and such. Tread carefully preachers of the word, teachers of scripture.

[Robert Farrar] Capon says this:

 “In resorting so often to parables, Jesus’ main point was that any understanding of the kingdom his hearers could come up with would be a misunderstanding. Mention “messiah” to them, and they would picture a king on horseback, not a carpenter on a cross; mention “forgiveness” and they would start setting up rules about when it ran out. From Jesus’ point of view, the sooner their misguided minds had the props knocked from under them, the better. After all their yammer about how God should or shouldn’t run his own operation, getting them just to stand there with their eyes popped and their mouths shut would be a giant step forward.”

End quote, as only Capon could say it.

The theology that created the problem, cannot be the same theology to resolve it. I’ll say that again, the theology that created the problem—if there’s a problematic theology to begin with, it cannot be the same theology that resolves it. Jesus was approached by man seeking Jesus’s input and judgment on a family squabble, the dividing of assets after the death of one’s parent caused then (and causes today, feelings to be hurt), especially when the cultural norm was to give more to the older son.

And this was a practical matter done to ensure the family name and wealth lived on well beyond the death of the father. This younger brother received what was due to him by the cultural norms of the day, but he wanted more. The younger brother approached Jesus with a question of greed cloaked in a dispute over fairness.

Jesus chose not to intervene on the younger brother’s behalf, as Jesus is not some celestial genie or judge. Jesus is the Savior of the world, all creation, revealing God’s good purposes for us. Jesus is not focused on patching up family disputes or incidental injustices.

[Robert Farrar] Capon puts it this way.

“(Jesus’ ministry) is the bearing of the final injustice – death – and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation.”

Hallelujah, praise God. After being unwilling to settle the family squabble, Jesus moved to tell a parable, a rich man hit the agricultural jackpot. His farm had been producing enough to provide for him, but then he hit the bumper crop. The abundance he had was nothing in comparison to the yields from his field during the latest harvest. The rich man tore down the existing barns to store all of the grain and goods his fields had given him; the man had an abundance on top of abundance. His store of grains and goods was so great that not only did he tear them down, what he already had for the sake of storing more, but he also made plans to take a hiatus from the farm to relax—eat, drink, and be merry.

The word fool seems to be a throwaway line used by Jesus. The word “fool” (it’s only used four times in the Gospels, two times in Matthew’s gospel and two times in Luke’s gospel), but each time fool is used, Jesus uses the word to describe behavior contrary to God’s good purposes for creation. To be foolish is to act out of alignment with reality, with the reality that God has revealed in himself in the person Jesus Christ.

Foolishness then, according to Jesus, is not merely a flippant attitude, but instead, an obsession, a need for more. This hoarding is greed. I need more wealth for the sake of having more. Now, Jesus is not saying that wealth is wrong. That’s where the parable trips us up sometimes. This is not a parable about selling off all your possessions and then giving all the proceeds to the poor.

Jesus is warning the younger brother caught up in the family squabble that the possessions he has and the desire for more will one day possess him. Jesus is telling us that the possessions we have and the desire for more will one day possess us. The wealth accumulated by the rich fool blinded him of his foolishness of destroying the barns he already had so that he could accumulate more.

The rich fools use of the first-person language, along with his plans for a sabbatical without an end date, signals his true intentions. He was not storing up grain so that he would be prepared for famine or to be able to help a neighbor knocking on his door in the middle of the night, seeking three loaves of bread.

On some level, all of us are rich fools because we live in a world where greed, extreme greed—Capon uses the word “avarice”—is the driving force behind flawed economic systems, the desires where more and more homes, of overindulgent retirement plans. And listen, I’m not pointing the finger. I’m just simply saying we have this need for greed in our society. We want more, we clutch to our lives and our purposes for them rather than living into the new life in Christ.

Listen friends, a rich fool is living “success,” uber success, but that success can lead to an insatiable appetite for more, instead of a desire to leverage that wealth for the sake of others, which is generosity. And this is not, again, not a contractual thing, a have-to. This is who God is. He is the generous one.

He is the one who shared everything with us in Jesus. This is the life we’ve been called to, a life of generosity. And here’s the thing. Generosity—it begets generosity. I think when we’re generous with others, I find that people tend to respond. We want to be generous because we’re made in the image of a generous God.

Richard Rohr said this:

“It’s hard and very rare to call your own job into question. When Jesus called his disciples, he also called them away from their jobs, and their families too (see Matthew 4:22). Of course, jobs and families are not bad things. But Jesus called them to leave their nets, because as long as anyone is tied to job security, there are a lot of things they cannot see and cannot say.”

Jesus is not saying you have to leave your work, but I guess the question is: what are we putting our assurance in? What gives us a sense of security? Is it Jesus or is it our stuff? And I remind you once again, the kingdom of God doesn’t look like this world. And loved ones, if we want to disciple the world, the less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it.

The less like the world we are, the more impact we will have upon it. Let’s be kingdom people who out of the generosity of God, his very being, we live in generosity toward others. Amen.

Friends, thank you for allowing me to take this time to share some commentary on these passages. May the word of God richly dwell in our hearts. And may you be blessed as you study and pray and prepare to preach and proclaim the good news of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us pray.

Father, Son, and Spirit, what a joy it is to be your children to be included in your life, to be forever united in this Father-Son relationship through the Spirit. We are overwhelmed with your generosity toward us.

The Bible, holy Scripture is a gift. Thank you that it reads us, that we not only encounter Scripture to teach others, but we encounter it to be taught by the Spirit. Have your way, Lord. Teach us, and may we be prepared as we show up on Sunday to share the good news. May we be prepared, that we’re excited to say what you’ve given us to say, because we have been communing with you throughout the week.

Lord, we love you. And we thank you that you first loved us. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • In what ways do we foolishly think material possessions can secure our life?
  • The scripture cited in the video said that “a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” What are some things of this world that we are tempted to worship beyond money?
  • The scripture also said we should “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” What are some things of heaven we can think of that will help us turn our eyes from the things of this world?

From the sermon

  • Could you identify with the “someone in the crowd” who wanted Jesus to settle a dispute? What ways do you identify? What ways do you not identify?
  • Did it help to picture Jesus being calm and not worried when speaking to the person in the crowd? How does it help knowing Jesus is not worried or concerned about the things we fear?
  • What did you think of Jesus’ handling of the man’s disconnected question? What does this say about Jesus for you?
  • How does knowing Jesus is truly your “friend” help you hear words from him that you don’t want to hear?
  • Can you think of times when someone tried to use Jesus to get what they wanted? Have you seen yourself do this?
  • What connections did you make from the sermon between “fear” and “greed”?
  • What part of the Parable of the Rich Man stood out to you the most? What was Jesus saying to you today through his parable?

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