Date: August 4, 2019 (Proper 13, 8th Sunday after Pentecost)
Text: Luke 12:13-21 (The Parable of the Rich Fool)
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Exegetical Statement: In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus warns against the dangers of trusting in one’s wealth/possessions. The man’s foolishness was that he never considered giving to the poor and he based his security in his possessions rather than God. Material wealth does not give life. Rather, wealth (faith) in God gives true life.
Focus Statement: God names you and claims you as His own treasured possession.
Function Statement: That my hearers may receive comfort that God graciously claims them as His own possession.
Law (Malady): We place our trust in other things besides money. We are distrustful of God. We believe false teachings like the prosperity gospel. Reconciliation doesn’t happen. People burn/break our trust.
Gospel (Means): God names us and claims us in Christ. God’s salvific actions prove He is trustworthy. God remembers our sins no more.
Sermon Hymn: #732 All Depends on Our Possessing
“Name it and claim it!” This is the infamous bumper sticker theology of the prosperity gospel. Preachers like Joel Osteen say if you name and claim what you desire in the name of God, God will give it to you in due time. Do you want that Lamborghini? Name it and claim it and it will be yours! Want that job promotion? Name and it claim it! Wanna’ get healed? Name it and claim it! Want a bigger house? Name it and claim it! If you just pray hard enough and believe hard enough, they say, God will give you prosperity—He will give you wealth and possessions. The prosperity gospel says: If you are wealthy, you have God’s favour; but if you’re not wealthy, you don’t have God’s favour and you must’ve done something wrong to be at odds against Him.
What do you think? Is Joel Osteen right? If he’s right, this would mean the Apostles and Christians like them did not have God’s favour. The Apostles were all martyred for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, with the exception of John who was exiled to the island of Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation, but not before a failed attempt was made on his life.
The Apostles were not wealthy by any stretch. They were poor and they were brutally murdered for proclaiming Christ. St. Paul, for example, was beheaded in Rome. And St. Peter was crucified upside down, which he actually requested his crucifixion be upside down because he didn’t consider himself worthy enough to be killed in the same manner as Jesus! According to people like Joel Osteen, the Apostles like Paul, Peter, James, and others did not have God’s favour because they were poor, persecuted, and murdered for the sake of Jesus. Is he right?
Our parable text for today scoffs at the prosperity gospel. Jesus’ words in the Parable of the Rich Fool condemns false teachings like the prosperity gospel. What brought on the parable in the first place? As Jesus was teaching, a person from the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (v. 13). Jesus then proceeds to preach on the sin of coveting, which is full of envy and greed.
Is wealth inherently bad? Of course not! If it were, all of us here would be in big trouble. Some of you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, I’m not making six figures, so I can’t be wealthy.” Sure, by our subjective standards you might not be wealthy, but we’re Americans. What someone makes in minimum wage here in America is a fortune for someone living in third world countries. In some of these places, something as “small” as 5 American dollars is enough to cover their entire year’s salary, sometimes more! So, if wealth were inherently bad, all of us here would be in big trouble.
And we would be mistaken to say Jesus claims wealth to be evil in and of itself. We actually hear this error all the time. A lot of people think they’re correctly quoting the Bible when they say, “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not what Scripture says. Paul, writing to Timothy, says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” [1 Timothy 6:10]. This love of money is precisely what Jesus is warning against in this parable.
The love of money, as Paul says, is merely a root of all kinds of evils, not the sole root. Our love for other things can be a root of evil as well. There’s a fancy word for this: idolatry. For what does Luther’s explanation to the First Commandment say? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Putting our fear, love, and trust in anything other than God is idolatry, and a root of all evil, for it was Adam and Eve’s fear, love, and trust in themselves that led them toward acquiring the knowledge of good and evil, particularly the distinction between the two.
What have you loved and trusted more than God? What are you loving and trusting more than God? Is it money like the parable warns against? Or is it something else? Do you love family so much that you allow your kids to skip hearing the Word on Sunday in order to go to their baseball game? Do you love sports so much that you skip hearing the Word to attend a sports game, especially during events like the World Series, the Stanley Cup, and the Superbowl? Or something else, like politics over God’s Word, or your own made up beliefs over God’s Word, or the beliefs of society contrary to God’s Word? Or maybe you don’t trust in anything or anybody at all, not even God?
Some of us might trust pretty easily. Others of us might be more cautious with whom we consider to be trustworthy. Either way, I think it’s safe to assume all of us here typically don’t place our trust in someone unless they’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy in some way.
How do you trust someone to watch your children, for example? Well, you might’ve met them through church or work. You’ve worshipped with them. You’ve worked with them. You’ve eaten with them. You’ve spent time together. Maybe you’ve wept with them and rejoiced with them. Maybe you’ve even interviewed them for the job. Through these and various actions, they’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy to you.
Of course, as sinners, there is always vulnerability in trusting someone because when we trust a person, we are also trusting a sinner. Sometimes we get burned when we trust someone. Sometimes it might be horrible, even so horrible that no reconciliation happens. Even if it was horrible or not as bad, maybe you have come to reconciliation with someone and you both learnt to trust each other again. After all, the Holy Spirit calls us to reconcile to each other since we have been reconciled to God through Christ.
I can recall countless times when someone has burned my trust. Like when I was depressed in high school. My parents were going through a divorce and my marching band director noticed a change in my behaviour. Believe it or not, I used to be very outgoing, and this behaviour completely changed in my depression, so he took notice.
At this point, I had already trusted him. Although I went to public school, he was a good Christian. He was a great teacher and a great band director. I’ve had wonderful talks with him. I had friends who were able to trust him with private information. Then he burned my trust. Without asking for my permission, he told the entire marching band—over 200 teenagers—about my depression as we were all standing on the marching band field. I was mortified! And you know how high school is: People began treating me differently. People were gossiping and spreading lies and rumours that I was crazy. They refused to listen to the whole story… He burned my trust.
But the burn wound healed. My error was not that I trusted this man. Because of his position as my teacher and mentor, I should’ve been able to trust him, but I did not put a single ounce of trust in God. That was my error. It wasn’t until a year later that I began to put my trust in God’s promises when He gradually worked in me to help me through my depression. I was even able to reconcile with my marching band director. I approached him, I was honest with him that what he did betrayed my trust, but I told him I forgave him. I forgave him because as a baptised Christian forgiven in Christ, He calls me to forgive others who have wronged me even when they don’t apologise. I told him this, and he actually did apologise (after I confronted him), and we were reconciled. Now, we have a restored relationship just like you and I have a restored relationship with God through Christ.
What does all this talk about trust have to do with the Parable of the Rich Fool? Isn’t the parable about money? Only on the surface. The issue is deeper than that. What did the man trust? God? Nope—that was his error. He placed his trust in his abundance of possessions and didn’t place a single ounce of trust in God. He loved these things so much that it never occurred to him he could give to the poor. After all, all his hard work to acquire these possessions paid off. He’s successful. So, he figured, he didn’t need anything or anybody else but all the things he’s acquired.
What about you? How are you using your money? Are you keeping it all to yourself? Are you giving to the church? Are you helping those in need? How about your time and talents? Are you keeping these to yourself? Are you using your time and talents for the church to advance God’s kingdom? Are you using your time and talents to live life with your brothers and sisters in Christ, your family, and the lost who do not know Jesus? Do you live in your own little bubble that you keep everything—or most things—for yourself?
In the end, are these possessions trustworthy? According to God in the parable: Not. At. All. He says, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” [v. 20]. In other words, “You fool! Tonight, you are going to die. When you die, these things are not coming with you. What good are they?” The man has acquired all these things throughout his life, and for what? For nothing. His trust in these things have burned him. Particularly, he will be burning in Hell, and all his possessions will not follow him there.
We can trust others because of what they’ve shown to prove themselves and we trust ourselves because of our successes and acquisitions of wealth, but what about God? Can we trust God? We might place our trust in people based on their actions, which can have its faults, but the fact that we do this is not so bad because our God is a God who acts to save His people. The entire Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—is all about God’s actions to save His people. It begins with God’s act of creation and it ends with God’s act of redemption and His glorious new creation in Jesus Christ.
It was not Noah who preserved mankind and all creation; it was God. It was not Moses who brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and parted the Red Sea; it was God. It was not Joshua who brought all Israel to the Promised Land; it was God. It was not Mary or Joseph who conceived Jesus; it was God the Father in the Holy Spirit. It was not the Apostles who cast out demons and healed the sick; it was the power of God given to them.
Did all these people take part? Absolutely. But they never claimed it for themselves; they always gave all the glory to God because it was God alone who gave them the ability and God Himself who acted these things. The thing is, God promises to work through means, the means of which for today are the hearing of the Word and the partaking of the Sacraments. God acted in His chosen means in human history presented to us in the Scriptures, and He continues to act today in His chosen means of Word and Sacrament to save you.
Our God is a trustworthy God. Not once, in all of human history, has He burned our trust. As it is written in Joshua 21:45, “Not one word of all the good promises that Yahweh had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” And this word is true for us today, too, for God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
God promised in Genesis 3:15 that a seed from Eve shall come to crush the head of the serpent. “One greater than me will come,” Moses prophesied. And Isaiah prophesied of the Suffering Servant, who would bear our transgressions. This seed—this one greater than Moses, this Suffering Servant—was none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Messiah, came as God had promised, and He bore all your sins on the cross.
How about those prosperity gospel folks? What are they trusting in when they “name it and claim it”? Is it God? No, not at all. They are claiming their own ability to acquire possessions in the name of their false god, Greed—or “covetousness,” as Jesus calls it in the parable—basically through magic. Jesus’ proclamation in this parable spits in the face of such greed. What good is your acquisition of wealth when they will not come with you as you pass into eternal life or eternal death? It is no good! Place your trust, rather, in God alone who gives you true life, who promises eternal life in Him through Christ Jesus!
And this faith is a gift! While folks deceived by the prosperity gospel are naming and claiming useless things and striving after wind, God has named you and claimed you for Himself! God’s Word says nothing of naming and claiming things for the acquisition of wealth being a sign of His blessing or favour. His Word does, however, speak on God’s acquisition of you; this alone is God’s blessing and favour. You might even be familiar with it, 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him [Jesus] who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
Speaking of God keeping His promises, this promise of making you into a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation was first promised in Exodus 19:5-6. God made this promise to Israel on Mount Sinai before He gave them the Ten Commandments on how to live as His chosen people. And did God fail to follow through with His promise? No! He fulfilled the promise for you in Jesus Christ, who is the perfect embodiment of Israel!
And how do you know this? How do you know God has made you His own possession? How did you get this gift of faith? Look no further than to your Baptism.
Hear also the logic of Paul, from 1 Corinthians 3:23, “…you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” You belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God the Father. Therefore, if you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God the Father, then you also belong to the Father. This means God has named you and claimed you as His own in Jesus Christ through faith, through Baptism, and through Jesus’ body and blood.
What is your name? Child of God. What has God claimed for you? He has claimed your sinful debt in the blood of Jesus and now claims you totally blameless before Him as His own treasured possession.
The Devil calls you by your sin. God calls you by your name. The Devil says, “You are greedy. You’re an addict. You’re a liar. You’re divorced. Shame on you!” God says, “I have heard your cry for mercy. I forgive you. You are Mine. I love you. I remember your sins no more. You are Mine, now and forever.” Amen.