The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 12:13-21

 


OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, LUKE’S IS THE MOST CONCERNED WITH ECONOMIC JUSTICE, IN HIS RECOUNTING OF JESUS’ TAKING THE RICH AND THE PHARISEES TO TASK FOR NOT CARING ABOUT THE POOR AROUND THEM. IT IS NOT THAT HE CONDEMNS THE RICH FOR BEING RICH, BUT WITH WHAT THEY DO WITH THEIR RICHES. IN THE GOSPEL PASSAGE FOR TODAY, AS JESUS IS SPEAKING TO THE CROWD, SOMEONE SHOUTS OUT TO HIM. “TEACHER, TELL MY BROTHER TO DIVIDE THE FAMILY INHERITANCE WITH ME.” IN THE CUSTOM OF FIRST CENTURY JUDAH, THE INHERITANCE WENT TO THE FIRST BORN SON, SO THAT THE LANDS AND OTHER PROPERTY WOULD NOT BE SPLIT UP. THE TEACHERS, THE RABBIS, WOULD OFTEN BE ASKED TO MEDIATE ANY DISPUTE, AND RENDER A JUDGMENT ON THE BASIS OF WHAT THEY CONSIDERED TO BE FAIR. THE QUESTION WAS NOT UNUSUAL, BUT THE CONTEXT CERTAINLY WAS. JESUS WAS TALKING ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND THIS GUY INTERRUPTS HIM TRYING TO GET HIS HANDS ON THE FAMILY MONEY.

JESUS REFUSES TO TAKE THE BAIT, AND INSTEAD WARNS HIS LISTENERS TO BE ON GUARD AGAINST ALL KINDS OF GREED, FOR “ONE’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF POSSESSIONS.” OF ALL THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, THIS ONE SENTENCE CONFRONTS AND COUNTERS THE MAJOR ASSUMPTIONS OF OUR AFFLUENT SOCIETY. WE ARE CONSTANTLY BEING TOLD THAT WE “NEED” THIS OR THAT TO MAKE OUR LIFE BETTER AND MORE COMPLETE. FROM THE CAR COMMERCIALS THAT TELL US HOW BUYING THE RIGHT MODEL IS WHAT WE SHOULD DO, TO THE DESIRE TO HAVE THE LATEST SMART PHONE, TO THE WONDERS OF AMAZON, WHERE, WITH THE CLICK OF A KEY, WE CAN GET ANYTHING FROM A TO Z, WE ARE BESIEGED AND HOUNDED WITH THE NOTION THAT WE NEED MORE AND BETTER. WE ARE ALL SUBJECT TO GETTING HOOKED BY THIS MATERIALISM OF A CULTURE OF WANT, A CULTURE OF GREED. NOW THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ANY OF THAT STUFF IN AND OF ITSELF; IT IS THE UNDERLYING NOTION THAT ALL THAT STUFF IS WHAT MAKES OUR LIVES BETTER.

THEN JESUS TELLS THIS PARABLE ABOUT THE RICH MAN WHOSE LAND PRODUCED ABUNDANTLY. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS; IT IS A GOOD THING WHEN THE CROPS YIELD FRUITFULLY, ESPECIALLY IN A LAND SUBJECT TO SCANT RAIN AND POSSIBLE FAMINE, AS ANY KANSAS FARMER WILL TELL YOU. NOTE, HOWEVER, THAT JESUS SAYS THE “LAND” PRODUCED ABUNDANTLY, NOT THE GREAT EFFORTS OF THE RICH MAN, FOR HE SURELY HAD A SMALL ARMY OF WORKERS TO BRING IN A GREAT YIELD. HIS PROBLEM NOW WAS THAT HE HAD NO PLACE TO STORE HIS CROPS, SO HE THINKS ABOUT IT AND HAS A CONVERSATION WITH HIMSELF. THIS IS THE KEY; HE THINKS ONLY OF HIMSELF, NOT OF HIS WORKERS, NOT OF HIS NEIGHBORS, NOT OF ANYONE BUT HIMSELF. HE DECIDES TO TEAR DOWN HIS BARNS AND BUILD LARGER ONES, TO STORE THE ABUNDANCE SO THAT HE, ALONE, WOULD HAVE AMPLE MEANS TO LIVE OUT A LIFE OF COMFORT AND EASE; TO RELAX, EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY. YET, HE WOULD NOT LIVE TO SEE THE NEXT DAY.

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PLANNING FOR AND PROVIDING FOR RETIREMENT. 401K PLANS ARE A GOOD THING, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE MEANING OF LIFE. PLANNING FOR RETIREMENT IS SOMETHING WE ALL SHOULD DO, BUT LIFE IS MORE THAN STOCKING MONEY AWAY AGAINST FUTURE NEED. I AM AT THE POINT IN MY LIFE WHERE I SEE, ON AN ALMOST DAILY BASIS, HOW FRIENDS AND FAMILY’S LIVES CAN CHANGE IN A HEARTBEAT. ACCIDENT, ILLNESS, AND DEATH CAN COME UPON ANY OF US WITH AN UNEXPECTED SWIFTNESS. MY OWN DEAR COUSIN MOVED ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO BE NEAR HER FIRST GRANDSON, AND TWO WEEKS LATER HAD A DEBILITATING STROKE THAT CONFINES HER TO A CARE HOME FOR POSSIBLY THE REST OF HER LIFE.

LIFE IS TO BE LIVED NOW, AND THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS RELATIONSHIP. AFTER WORKING AS A HOSPICE CHAPLAIN FOR EIGHT YEARS, I CAN’T RECALL ANYONE TELLING ME THAT THEY WISHED THEY HAD SPENT MORE TIME AT WORK. THEIR REGRETS WERE ALL ABOUT FAILED, BROKEN, OR LOST RELATIONSHIPS. FROM MOTHERS ESTRANGED FROM THEIR DAUGHTERS, FATHERS FROM THEIR FAMILIES, TO THOSE ON THE BRINK OF DEATH WHO MOURNED THE BREAKUP OF THEIR MARRIAGE YEARS IN THE PAST, ALL THEIR REGRETS WERE ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. NOT ONCE DID ANYONE TELL ME THAT THEY WISHED THEY HAD BOUGHT THAT NEW BUICK. AT THE END OF THEIR LIVES, WHAT WAS MOST IMPORTANT WAS THE PEOPLE IN THEIR LIVES, AND THOSE WHO WERE NO LONGER IN THEIR LIVES.

THE PROBLEM OF THE RICH MAN IN THE PARABLE IS NOT THAT HE IS RICH, NOR THAT HE WAS BLESSED WITH THE ABUNDANCE OF THE LAND, BUT THAT HE THOUGHT ONLY OF HIMSELF. HE WAS RICH IN POSSESSIONS BUT NOT RICH TOWARD GOD. LUTHER ONCE WROTE, “SHOW ME WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR GOD.” WHEN GOD, AND HIS KINGDOM, WHICH WE ENTER THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST, IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN OUR LIVES, WE DISCOVER THAT RELATIONSHIP IS THE TRUE TREASURE OF THIS LIFE, AND THAT RELATIONSHIP BECOMES THE BASIS FOR ALL THE RELATIONSHIPS OF OUR LIVES. OUR LOVE FOR GOD IN CHRIST INFORMS AND SHAPES OUR LOVE FOR OUR FAMILIES, OUR FRIENDS, OUR NEIGHBORS, AND THE STRANGERS WE MEET IN THE COURSE OF OUR LIVES.

WHETHER WE HAVE MUCH OR LITTLE DOESN’T REALLY MATTER; WHATEVER WE HAVE IS OURS ONLY FOR A SHORT WHILE. WHAT TRULY MATTERS IS OUR LOVE FOR GOD, AND THROUGH THAT LOVE, OUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER.
AMEN