Posts Tagged ‘greed’

What Makes You Whole?

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

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

Click here for audio of this message

“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!

“Vanity of Vanities!”

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!” [Eccl. 1:2]

Webster’s dictionary defines vanity as, “something that is vain, empty, or valueless”, and that is a pretty good way to start off our message this morning.  God wants to take are eyes off of things… things that are vain because they’re self-serving; He wants to take our hopes off of things that are empty because they offer no eternal promises; and He wants to take our hearts off of things that are empty because our eyes, our hopes, and our hearts should be centered on nothing but Jesus and His righteousness, because all other things are vanity!

But make no mistake friends, God is not saying that things of this world are inherently evil; instead it is our focus on these things that make them evil.  In short, God is saying that you are evil, your very heart is evil, and your only means of defeating this evil depends entirely on God and His means.   It is God’s desire that you will choose these means and not the means of the world. 

I. In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is teaching a vast crowd of disciples and others who have gathered to hear the words of eternal life.  He has just finished teaching this important heavenly truth.  God is aware of and concerned with even a small creature like a sparrow.  Since this is true, Jesus asks us to consider how much more God is aware of and concerned with us; we who have been created in the image of God by God’s own hand!  Think of the meaning of this wonderful truth; while birds are plentiful and come and go from this world, you who are created in the image of God are a deathless beings who will continue to exist in self-conscious awareness throughout eternity.  So don’t be afraid of people who can kill your body, but instead fear the judgment of God upon your life; a judgment that can send you straight into hell; forever separated from a God who created and loves you!

Now, the crowd along with each of us is left to ponder this truth because Jesus taught it with such authority.  But a selfish man, not at all affected by this teaching shouts out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Oh you poor fool you have missed the point, and I am afraid so do many of us do as well!  Jesus warns the rude man from the crowd and He warns us this morning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15]

Well let’s turn to Webster’s dictionary one more time and get another definition.  This time lets define covetousness.  “Covetousness” is marked by an inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.  It can also mean a craving for possession.  People are often covetous of another person’s power or position.  Now make no mistake, the rude young man knew exactly what Jesus was saying, and I am afraid so do many of us.  But to ensure that His warning would hit its target, Jesus tells us this story: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “(self) What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store (my overflowing) crops?”  And he said (to himself), ‘I will do this: I will tear down my (old) barns and build (newer) and larger ones, and there I will store ALL of my grain and (all of my other riches) and goods.  And I will say to my (self)… self, you have (plenty of things) laid up for many years; (so) relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’” [Lk. 12:15b-19]

Now so far this sounds like the American dream doesn’t it?  “What’s so bad about preparing for the future” we wonder?  But Jesus continues… He always does: “But God said to him, ‘(You) fool!  (Tonight) your soul (will leave this earth and your body), and the things you have prepared, whose will they be (then)?”  And so is the (way for everyone) who (also) lays up treasures for (themselves here on earth) and is not rich toward God (with heavenly things)!”

II. Pension plans, 401k’s, Annuities and savings accounts are all something each of us is encouraged to  maintain.  We would call this our earthly portfolio.  Now, as I said earlier, these things are not evil in and of themselves.  In fact it is wise to invest your money so that you can be cared for when you are older, and if possible also leave a little something behind for your children.  But if we listen to Jesus this morning, we’re also taught that there is another heavenly portfolio that we must be more interested in.  In one, you work hard all of your life to build up and maintain, only to be guaranteed that eventually you will lose it all; either with the collapse of the stock market or at your own death.

In the other, in your heavenly portfolio, God has done all of the work through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, and He promises you that no one can take this treasure away from you.  He alone has created and amassed and unfathomable amount of wealth, and He has given it all to you!  These are the things that Jesus says that we should be worried about so that we are rich toward God!  Our hope should be centered on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness.  All other ground is vanity of vanities! 

Can you see friends that one of the most blatant reasons that covetousness is a sin is the simple truth that every bit of our identity, every bit of our actual life is not drawn from our earthly possessions but from the giver of those gifts and possessions, including our very lives?  The simple truth is this, that the possession of life, the greatest possession we have, depends entirely on the God who created us!  If we can see this truth, then the question begs to be asked and answered, “Do you trust Him to keep you and care for you with all that you need?”  And what is it that we need?

III. We need to receive and put away!  What shall we receive?  Things from above!  What are those things?  Forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternal life, and the joy of our salvation, which come from the Word of God!  We need to receive a new identity that has been hidden with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We need to receive the assurance that in our baptism, our old sinful nature has been drowned, crucified with Christ.  We need to receive the assurance that when Christ appears to us, our new life will appear with Him as well.  We need to put away our old sinful way of thinking that cares only about the vanities of wealth of this world and receive and put on the wealth from above.  We need to put on the new self, which is the heart and mind of Jesus Christ!  We need to be renewed daily in this new image of our creator.  And we can only do this by daily dying to self and living to please God by embracing our new identity! [Col. 3:1-11]

Jesus called the rich man a fool and he was!  Jesus asked him what would happen to all of his rich things of this world that he prepared when God required the judgment of his soul.  Yes his wealth was his; he acquired it along with his ripening harvest.  He poured out his best strength to acquire it at the exclusion of everything else that was higher and needed.  And now when his life is over, “whose shall they be?”  “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.” [Ecc. 1:2]  But the Preacher, the Savior of our souls has this truth to leave us with and it is good news: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This (is from) the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases Him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner, (one who gathers up treasures only for this earth) He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give it to one who pleases God.  This is also vanity and a striving after wind.” [Ecc. 1:24-26]

Dear friends, to be rich in God is to have the wealth that is found in God.  This wealth is nothing less than the pardon, peace, and salvation that is given to us when we are trusting in Jesus Christ.  You are indeed rich in God when you receive the saving gifts that Christ acquired and gave to you in your baptism, which He continualy gives to you in His Word and Sacrament.  And because we are now rich in Christ we are encouraged to daily claim these gifts and hold onto them with gratitude.  We who are baptized into the life and death of Jesus Christ are truly rich no matter how little or how much of the world’s wealth we possess!

Friends, this living hope in our heavenly treasure and life to come is what guides us and transforms us.  It fills our hearts with joy and hope.  Because our Lord may come to us at any time, we are always refocusing our love on things of God and not things of this world.  We look forward to a true inheritance that shall always be ours and we do not put to high of a value on earthly things.  Our entire lives here on earth are forever being filled with the promises of God to the point where it is changing how we think and how we live.  We do not live as those who have no hope, but instead we live with the great assurance that because we belong to God, it is His obligation to care for us.  I pray that you will rest in this truth always and see all other things as simply vanity… and I ask this in Jesus name AMEN!