Sunday, August 4, 2013

True Riches

Sermon on Luke 12:13-21
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 4, 2013 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)

    “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”  The problem with an inheritance is that it is, well, inherited.  It’s not something you earn, and it’s also not something you can demand.  It’s a free gift that becomes yours upon the death of the one giving it to you.  Now, it’s true that people contest the last will and testament of their fathers and mothers all the time, especially when they think that someone else has gotten what they should have gotten.  They think they can grab what is another’s by a free gift, and who really knows which is right and which is wrong?  Is the judge’s decision right?  Is it fair?  It’s hard to know, since the one who wrote the will is already dead.  It’s a matter of this world, because all worldly riches will perish along with this world.  And that means any riches you have, whether inherited or earned, will eventually go to someone else.  The farmer who has a bumper crop may die the next day, and will never enjoy the fruits of his labor.  Vanity, says St. Solomon.  In this old world, all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.
    Because it’s a worldly matter, it’s for the judges in this world to decide.  Jesus isn’t here to be a judge of this world.  He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.  And He isn’t really concerned about whether things in this world work out “justly” or “fairly” or not.  Nothing in this life is fair in the first place, since everyone is already corrupted by sin, and so any attempt to make it more fair or more just is doomed to failure from the outset (and that’s true whether you take a socialist or a libertarian view of what the words fairness and justice mean, by the way).  Jesus isn’t here for vanity.  He’s not here to fix petty squabbles that will soon pass away.  He’s here to provide us with the true riches of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
    By the way, the last sentence of today’s Gospel lesson is easy to misinterpret.  At first glance, it seems to say that we should give richly to God, either in the form of gifts to the Church or of charity to “the least of these My brothers.”  And, yes, donations to charity and to the Church are something that God would have us do.  But I don’t think that’s the main thing Jesus was talking about here.  The phrase rich toward God can also be translated as “rich in God,” or “rich from God’s perspective.”  You see, everything we are and have is already His.  He doesn’t need any of it.  Yes, our neighbor needs it, and we should help him out, but the point here is that, from God’s perspective, there is only one way we can be rich, and it’s not to be found in the “health and wealth” teachers we see around us on TV and in Christian bookstores.  The only thing that counts as riches to God is the heavenly riches, the inheritance we have from Him that is only ours through the death of His Son Jesus on the cross.  The only true riches to which we have access are those things that are not vanity, those things that will not belong to another once our soul is required of us, those things that are laid up for us in the heavenly storehouse.  The only true riches to which we have access, in other words, are the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
    The thing of it is, though, that the true riches of God are an inheritance.  They are not something we can ever earn, nor can we demand that someone else give us our fair share.  Fairness isn’t part of the picture here.  Fairness would end all of us sinners in hell.    Inheritance, on the other hand, is a gift.  It’s something you haven’t earned.  The very idea of suing someone else for this inheritance is absurd, because the Judge in this case gives freely to all, and everyone who receives it has the fullness of it.  It doesn’t matter whether you have only a third or a quarter of this inheritance, because a quarter or a third of infinity is still infinity.  It’s a gift that comes completely unfairly, despite our having done anything and everything that should have caused us to be written out of Jesus’ last will and testament.  It’s a gift that doesn’t really have meaning in this old world, because it doesn’t give us any advantage in dealing with this old world.  But it’s a gift that is given with the death of the one who wrote the will.  Take, eat, this is My body.  Take, drink, this is the new testament in My blood.  This last will and testament gives us the testator Himself, risen from the dead.  Not only do we get the inheritance, but more importantly we enjoy the eternal fellowship of the one who gave it to us.  A testament takes effect upon death, but this testament is given by one who is also resurrected and will live forever.  The gift He gives us is Himself.  And that is worth more than all the riches in this world combined.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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