Beckett: Sermon – Be Rich Toward God

Featured image: The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt (1606-1669), 1627. Wikimedia Commons.

Date: July 31, 2022
Festival: 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Sermon Hymn: LSB #909 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Introduction: Previously On The Gospel of Luke

Summer is usually the time of year we discover the guilty pleasure of binge watching.[1] A show I recently binge watched was Stranger Things season four. When you binge watch, you hardly need the “previously on” recap because, well, you just watched five episodes in a row. But when you’re back on a schedule and don’t have the luxury of being a couch potato and binge watching a show all day, watching the “Previously on Stranger Things” is really helpful. The recap shows you some important events and sayings that occurred in the previous episode, setting you up for the current episode. Such a “previously on” would be helpful for the context of our Gospel reading today.

So, previously on The Gospel of Luke, Jesus said to His disciples in 12:4-5, “I tell you, My friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him!” And then skip to the scene where Jesus says in v. 7, “Do not be afraid; you are of more value [to Him] than many sparrows.” And we go to another scene in vv. 11-12, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” And then today’s episode begins in our given text where some guy tells Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Law in the Text

So, on the previous episode Jesus had just told His disciples, “You might get killed for following Me. And if that happens, it is better that they kill you than that you deny Me. But do not fear; you won’t give an unfaithful witness because the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.” And then some random bonehead says, “Hey Lord, I want my stuff.” Obviously, this guy was not paying attention, like he stared at his phone during Jesus’ sermons or something.

What would be a more faithful question? As we learnt last Sunday, Jesus promised the Father will give the Holy Spirit to whomever asks Him. So, how about, “Lord, You promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Will You please give me Your Holy Spirit?” Or, “Lord, You’ve come to establish Your kingdom. Will You please give Your kingdom to me?” Or how about, “Lord, will You remember me when You come to inaugurate Your kingdom forever?” But instead, he wants his stuff. Then, as Jesus is keen on doing, He teaches a parable about the kingdom of God.

This parable is often called the Parable of the Rich Fool, but from a strictly human perspective, everything the man plans seems the wisest thing to do. What he does makes sense. He essentially plans to do what he must to save up for retirement—to do all that is necessary in this life and then just “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry” [v. 19]. Besides the white picket fence, this is the American dream! Now, some will read some deeper sin into this man’s deliberation—that he says nothing of helping the poor with the many things he has acquired. But this is reading more into the parable than what’s actually said. The most troubling thing about this parable is that Jesus criticises such covetousness, which we all have. Essentially, the man is saving up for retirement to enjoy his life to the full until he dies. And by having God call this man a fool for doing so, Jesus is strongly implying, “Don’t do what this man has done.”

Now, Jesus prefaces this parable with, “Be on guard against covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” [v. 15]. So, covetousness is not just desiring what somebody else has but also desiring what is mine, which, like that boneheaded guy, will cause you to ignore everything Jesus has said and what He gives. This bonehead could’ve asked Jesus for anything—the Holy Spirit, God’s kingdom, that His name be hallowed on his lips, and so on. But he asks for his stuff. And Jesus bluntly refuses the man’s request to intervene between him and his (probably) older brother. Why would Jesus refuse to help the man get his part of the inheritance? After all, it is his legal right. Well, it makes sense in the context of the previous episodes. He warned His disciples about coming persecution from the Jews [vv. 1-12], so they shouldn’t worry about their possessions.

What Jesus strongly implies in the parable, though, might even seem to contradict what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment [be merry] in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment” [vv. 24-25]? Jesus says to guard yourself against covetousness whereas Solomon says to enjoy what you have toiled. Strictly speaking, the simple enjoyment of the fruit of your wages is not covetousness—like enjoying a simple glass of Bourbon or binge watching a TV show. What is covetousness is not just desiring what other people have but also keeping what you have toiled all to yourself, or as Jesus says, storing up treasures for yourself on earth and not being “rich toward God” [Luke 12:21].

In keeping with Jesus’ teaching, while Solomon does say the simple enjoyment of these things as gifts from God are good, they are nevertheless vanity—or as the Hebrew literally says, vapour. Like vapour, these things are around for a little while, but they inevitably dissipate into nothingness. Even the things we might acquire on this earth due to our covetousness are like vapour; they will not last. As Jesus has God say to the rich man in the parable, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be” [v. 20]? In other words, “You have acquired all these great possessions and kept them all for yourself. But when you die, whose will they be? Not yours; you cannot take them to the grave with you, nor to heaven.”

Now, the rich man could say like Solomon pointed out, “Ah, I have prepared an inheritance for my nearest kin to have these things after I’m gone.” But still, God could say, “But they are still no longer yours. And when your heir dies, whose then will they be? Without Me, both you and these things will fade away into the obscurity of history like vapour.” Or as Jesus said elsewhere, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [Matt. 6:19-21]. Or as He says in our text today, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” [Luke 12:21]. That is, just as all things of this earth fade away like vapour, so will the man who stores up treasure for himself rather than being rich toward God.

Law in the World

In our day, we don’t exactly fear that we might be killed for believing in Jesus (at least in our country). Some of us, though, might fear going to prison or losing our jobs for believing in Jesus, which has almost happened with certain Christian bakers, and which almost happened to Bishop Pohjola in Finland. But most of us, I think, do fear losing our stuff. So, what covetousness do we have in our lives? It is easy to covet money and possessions, like a big house, a larger income, a certain kind of car, the latest tech, and so on; but we also covet notoriety, especially for the younger generations. Social media celebrities make millions from being so-called “influencers,” inspiring others to become influencers as well for the sake of fame and wealth. The whole influencer phenomenon began with my generation, the Millennials, when we started graduating from high school. It all began in 2005 when YouTube was established; most of us were 14- or 15-years-old. By 2009—the year I graduated high school—bloggers and YouTubers took the world by storm. What started out as a hobby became million-dollar careers. And now, almost 20 years later, influencers are all over the place on multiple social media platforms, having passed down the tradition to Gen Zs, and now influencers have become quite redundant and arguably pretentious.

With my generation being the origins of social media influencing, all I can see now is that what they influence are the “earthly things” Paul describes in today’s epistle reading: sexual immorality, impurity, sexual passions, evil desire; covetousness is on the list, which is idolatry; as well as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk [Col. 3:5, 8]. You will hardly find them influencing what Paul describes directly after today’s epistle text as “the peace of Christ” [3:15], which are “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” as well as forgiveness and love [3:12-14]. Even the supposed Christian influencers hardly inhabit this peace of Christ. What good is influencing others when you influence them with the most insipid human characteristics and not the things pertaining to Christ? So, for the younger generations, covetousness is often seen in these desires for fame and fortune—for unconditional acceptance even when sin is involved.

But what about the older generations? As implied in the parable, it is in storing things up for yourself possibly in retirement. In this year’s March issue of The Lutheran Witness, Stacey Egger wrote an article in honour of Rev. Dr. William Matzat. For over 30 years, Pastor Matzat served as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri as well as chaplain and director of pastoral care at a local hospital. In his 17 years of retirement, Pastor Matzat turned the garage of his home into a workshop for woodworking. He has filled many LCMS churches and organisations with his woodwork such as altars, baptismal fonts, lecterns, chancels, among other things. Pastor Matzat is quoted in the article as saying this:

“My mantra is Ephesians 2:10. ‘We are God’s workmanshippoiema is the Greek: We’re His handicraft, we’re what He crafts, we’re His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Paul just got done saying, ‘[Salvation] is not of good works, lest any man should boast’—but we’re created for good works, which God has prepared for us already to do. I think God has prepared something to do for everybody. And I look for that. What is it today? It could be for family. It could be for neighbors.”[2]

Retirement is just another vocation. Pastor Matzat is certainly not the rich fool in the parable; he’s not even rich! I mean, with what pastors make, wealth is impossible. Pastor Matzat is known for rightly criticising our culture’s view on retirement that encourages people to retire from full-time work to just “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” God calls such a man a fool. Ultimately, Pastor Matzat says, after “‘two or three weeks’” of relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry, it’s unsatisfying because there’s no purpose. His biblical teaching is summarised well in the article, “While our culture emphasizes retirement as an opportunity to stop contributing and live exclusively for personal amusement, the church sees retirement as an opportunity for service.”[3] As another retired pastor has said, “God is never done with us, no matter how old we are.”[4]

Pastor Matzat is a great example of being rich toward God rather than for himself in his retirement. He did not spend 30 plus years storing treasure up for himself but in being rich toward God as he serves his neighbour, in keeping the second greatest commandment.

The Gospel

So then, what does it mean to be rich toward God? Well, on the next episode of The Gospel of Luke, Jesus describes what such a life looks like in verses 22-34. Here are a few snippets, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… Instead, seek [God’s] kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” [vv. 22, 31-32]. One who is rich toward God lives as if God’s kingdom has already come, and this is precisely why Jesus teaches so many parables, several of which we have contemplated on this month in previous episodes.

As Jesus told the 72 disciples He sent out, we rejoice that our names are written in heaven [10:1-12]. Like the Good Samaritan, we love our neighbours in our immediate vicinity, making no distinction as to whom we help and preserve [10:25-37]. Like Mary of Bethany, we sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His Word despite our busyness [10:38-42]. Like the persistent knocking neighbour, we boldly approach God in prayer because He is our heavenly Father who is eager to answer with morsels of bread [11:1-13]. And unlike the rich man, rather than storing up treasures on earth for ourselves, we are rich toward God in loving our neighbour, which is what citizens of God’s kingdom do. So, in these past and even future episodes, being rich toward God looks like this: worshipping God for His salvation given to us (which we do here), loving our neighbour in various ways of selfless service, hearing from the Word of Christ (which we also do here and in our homes), and prayer.

Yet do not think of these as things you have to do; rather, think of them as things you get to do. Because God has given you His kingdom in Christ, you get to worship Him, love your neighbour, and pray to Him. The Gospel of Luke has the greatest number of recorded parables among all the Gospels, and he goes on for many chapters with many other parables we will hear from as we sit at Christ’s feet in these very pews for the remainder of the year. The thing that encapsulates all these parables is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Just as we saw that Jesus is the Good Samaritan and God the Father the Innkeeper, and just as we have seen God as the one eager to answer our prayers, so Christ is not like the rich man in this parable. Jesus did not store up treasures on earth for Himself but was rich toward God for you. In much of Paul’s corpus, he often makes mention of “the riches of Christ” that are mysterious and unsearchable [Col. 1:27; 2:2; Eph. 1:18; 3:8-9, 16-17]. He calls this mystery “the hope of glory,” the Gospel, Christ’s “glorious inheritance,” and even Christ Himself. In short, the riches Christ stored up for you was Himself and His inheritance. You have Christ the Son of God in you, and so you are sons of God through faith [Gal. 3:26]; therefore, you also have the inheritance of the Son of God, which is hope in “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come” [Nicene Creed]. Just as He is risen and lives forever, so He shall raise you from the dead that you may live forever with Him.

Neither must we think of Christ’s ascension as retirement. As I always say, Jesus in His ascension is not on vacation; neither is He on retirement. He is not relaxing, eating, drinking, and being merry. He is at work for you; He took on His vocation of being your King, ruling with grace and mercy and with just wrath when He comes to behead that vile basilisk, the devil. He is constantly interceding for you for the forgiveness of sins, of which you shall soon partake in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said He must “go and prepare a place for you,” and then He says, “I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” [John 14:3]. In His ascension, then, Christ is not only doing His workmanship of forgiving your sins, but He is also preparing a place for you, which Christ has revealed as the New Jerusalem to descend from the clouds as the inauguration of His kingdom and the new creation for all eternity, within which is a place with your name written on it [Rev. 21].

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[1] Many thanks to Rev. Dr. David Lewis at Concordia Seminary for this method of development.

[2] Stacey Egger, “‘We Are God’s Workmanship,’” The Lutheran Witness 141, no 3 (March 2022): 19.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] Ibid., 21.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close