Archive for the ‘Ecclesiastes 1-2’ Category

What Makes You Whole?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 11C, August 4th, 2013

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“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.  I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.” [Ecclesiastes 1:2, 18-19]

All hope in material things is vanity.  And that was really the point that Jesus wanted the young man in our gospel lesson (Luke 12:13–21) to understand; it is the lesson that He would have each of  us learn this morning.  But it is a hard lesson for people like us to remember, because we love our stuff.  The lure to acquire more and more stuff can be intoxicating if we are following the wrong  standard of what it means to be blessed.  If we use the worlds standard of success, to be blessed means to have more stuff.  So what will it take to make you whole?  How much stuff do you require,  before you will consider yourself blessed?

Here is a pop quiz to determine whether you are rich in the things of this world or rich in God:  Which disturbs you more… People dying without Jesus or a scratch on your new car? When you miss  worship service or missing a day’s work? A sermon 10 minutes too long or lunch an hour late? A church not growing or your garden not growing? Your Bible unopened or your weekend plans ruined  by bad weather? Church work being neglected … or housework neglected? The multitude of hungry in this world or the closing of your favorite restaurant? Your Sunday offering decreasing … or your  income decreasing?  Be honest, which really disturbs you most?

This morning, Jesus would have us explore the very purpose and meaning of life itself.  He wants us to see that our worth as individuals is not determined by our ability to consume, but instead by a determination that God alone has made.  Our worth as individuals must be seen through God’s Word, that is by God’s Saving action for sinful men and women throughout history and specifically in the event at Calvary when His Son, Jesus Christ died for us sinful men and for our salvation.  This morning, God’s Word will force us to see the truth that we can’t separate our worth and value from this one great event.  He will box us in so that we will understand that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” [James 1:17]

So again, what standard will we use to measure whether we are successful?  If we will follow the standard set down in our society, we will be following the same pathway that Jesus warned the young man not to follow.  “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [v.15]

The way of covetousness is one that is sure that life, its values, its goals, its very possibilities are determined by the things that we have or the stuff that we acquire.  But take care when following this path, as it may become the very cause of your downfall and demise.

In North Africa the natives have a very easy way to capture monkeys. A gourd, with a hole cut just big enough so that a monkey can put his hand into it, is filled with nuts and fastened firmly to a branch of a tree at sunset. During the night a monkey will pick up the scent of the treats, find the source, and put his hand into the gourd and grasp a handful of nuts. But the hole is to small for the monkey’s clenched fist, and he doesn’t have sense enough to let go of his prize so he can escape. So he pulls and tugs all night without success, and then when morning comes he is quickly and easily captured.

But we are not monkeys; we have an intellect that protects us.  Or does it?  In Tolstoy’s Man and Dame, Fortune the hero of the story, is told he can have the right to all of the land around which he can plow a furrow in a single day. The man started off excited, full of the possibilities of owning his own land.  At first, he was only going to plow a square of land that he could easily care for. But as the day progressed he wanted more and more land. He plowed and plowed, until at the end of the day there was no possible way he could return to his original point of departure, but that did not stop him from struggling to do so.  In the end, he fell to the ground dead, the victim of a heart attack. The only property he secured was18 square feet of land; the grave he was buried in.

The incessant lure of acquiring the world’s riches and the misuse of the stuff we have can all be linked to a false idea of security; a twisted understanding of what we need to make us happy.  At the very heart of covetousness is the desire for security.

Jesus story about the rich man allows us to see the very heart of covetousness.  It is the picture of a man who has arrived; he is a text book example of success.  This rich man looks out at a new storage facility and all of his stuff and says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  You are a success!  But Jesus says that God has something else to say about the matter.

“Fool! This (very) night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

So what went wrong?  Well, the man in Jesus story made a foolish investment.  He was rich in the things of this world, but poor in the things of God.  He was willing to receive all of the stuff that life brought him, but unwilling to acknowledge the very God who gave them to him.  Why he even thought that his soul belonged to him.

Jesus story is more than a warning to the rich or those who want to be rich in the things of this world.  Isn’t it true that there are plenty of unhappy rich people in our society?  No, this story is about death and it is about life!  In Jesus story, at the moment of death, the moment that the rich man’s soul was returned to God who gave the soul, he is greeted with the words “you fool!”  A fool says in his heart there is no God.  Or a fool decides what his god shall be.  In this case the god of this fool was stuff; things made by human hands that pass away as quickly as they are acquired.

The rich farmer in Jesus story would be considered a real success story in our society today.  No where do we hear that his wealth was acquired illegally or immorally, and yet according to God’s judgment they were immorally acquired.  Why?  Because he failed to see where these things came from.  He failed to see the giver behind the gifts.

When we look at people who seem to have it made, who seem to be blessed we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg so to speak.  But God sees the whole picture, and He would have us see it too.  What we need to see is the iceberg under the water—the emptiness of a life that ignores God as the giver, grasps all that is given, and calls it mine!  This is the heart of an investor that Jesus calls fool!  A fool is someone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [v. 21]

So what must we do to make sure that we are making eternal investments?  Only one thing… repent!  Turn to Jesus Christ and His cross and away from your desire to set up false gods that promise security, but in the end provide only judgment.  Turn away from a desire for what the world calls the “good life” and instead turn to your baptism and see what Paul calls in our epistle reading (Colossians 3:1-11), the good things above in the hidden life.  Listen: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” [vs. 2-3]

In those very words, St. Paul offers wise counsel that is guaranteed to bring good returns.  He says that in our baptism we were not only crucified with Christ, but we were also raised with Christ; so, we should set our minds on things, good things that are already ours; gifts from above.  What kinds of things?  How about complete forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and salvation that assures us that we are united with God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ!  Through faith in these gifts you are already rich in God; you have the saving gifts that God has given you.  Each time you repent; that is each time you turn away from the temptation to acquire more stuff you are turning instead to Jesus Christ, his atoning death upon the cross and His empty resurrection tomb.  You are turning away from false security that comes through wealth and instead you are turning towards eternal security that was given to you in your baptism.

What is the mark of a successful man or woman?  It is the baptismal life of repentance.  Such a person is truly rich, however little or much they may have acquired of earthly things.

Dear friends, we are Christians.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not look at things of this life like the rich fool.  Instead, we see a God who created all things and created them good.  We see a God who loved so much that He made the greatest investment possible to save us from the disaster that we deserved.  In Jesus Christ, He set our feet back on solid ground; back on the road of life which is secured not in stuff but in His promises and His real presence with us.  You are already whole through Jesus Christ; you lack nothing that is good.  Now go out and live a life of wholeness.  In Jesus name… AMEN!