November 21, 2018
Saint John 's Lutheran Church
“’I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:19-21 (ESV)
Much has been said about how Thanksgiving through the years has evolved from a grateful celebration of the gifts of God into a materialistic feast of self-absorption. It is said that the idea of giving thanks for the things that we have received from the Lord’s hand has given way to things that apparently matter a lot more to people in our society today: things like sleeping late, eating too much, watching football on television, and being the first in line for the Black Friday sales. Hopefully Thanksgiving is for us not a time of overindulgence but rather a time to pause and give thanks to our gracious God for His countless gifts. But even if that is the case, as Christians we need to remember that the Lord has given us not only material blessings but the far greater blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation, all accomplished for us in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. All too often, I am afraid, we lose sight of that at this time of the year and focus instead on the earthly blessings that our God has showered upon us.
The folly of placing too much emphasis on possessions is the theme of this evening’s Gospel--the Savior’s parable of the rich fool. As we listen to this teaching of Jesus we need to remember that it’s not riches that He is condemning here; it’s a false and unhealthy attitude toward riches. That’s an important distinction for us to make. You know, one of the most (if not the most) often misquoted statements in the entire Bible is from the apostle Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. Many people think that it says: “Money is the root of all evil” but what it actually says is: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). The problem is not with material possessions or even with enjoying them; the problem is with thinking that they are what matters the most--having a confidence in them that is due only to the Lord Himself. To be better guarded against this fatal error, let’s listen this evening to what our Savior has to say about “lay[ing] up treasure for [one]self” and about being “rich toward God.”
In Jesus’ parable the Lord characterizes “the one who lays up treasure for himself” as a “fool.” This is more than just a comment on the man’s lack of wisdom. In the Scriptures this is one of the strongest rebukes that can be uttered. It is so serious, in fact, that in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus equates calling someone a fool with taking that person’s life (Matthew 5:22). What makes this man so foolish is that he is completely self-centered and self-absorbed, thinking nothing of his fellow man or of his God, for that matter. In the passage before us the only one he even talks to is himself. This man is a classic example of the kind of person found in another of Jesus’ parables (the parable of the sower). This is the person, represented by the soil infested with thorns, that allows “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” to choke out the life-giving seed of God’s Word so that the fruit of that Word “does not mature” (Luke 8:14). His foolishness becomes evident in that he forfeits the blessing of everlasting life for the sake of worldly wealth. His confidence is misplaced--with tragic results.
It would be well for us to study this man carefully because he has a lot of lessons to teach us--lessons that he was too foolish to learn himself. Of all the temptations that we encounter in life, one of the strongest and most serious is the temptation to become too attached to worldly possessions, worldly affections, and worldly amusements. As I said in the beginning, it’s not that any of these things are inherently evil; it’s just that we tend to place in them the kind of confidence and importance that belongs to God alone. Remember how Luther explained the First Commandment in his Small Catechism? “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Small Catechism, explanation of the First Commandment). The other things in life, no matter how nice and pleasant they may be, are not nearly as important. It’s very difficult to keep sight of that in a world where outward appearances have become the standard by which things are judged. And sad to say, that mindset has influenced even the Church.
In contrast to this earthbound mindset that the Lord judges to be foolish is what Jesus calls being “rich toward God.” Just what does that mean? The riches that matter in the sight of God are the riches that He Himself provides for us in His Son Jesus Christ. They are what the theologians call the “blood-bought righteousness” of Christ that justifies us before God the perfect Judge. It is these riches, and not material wealth, that matter, because God doesn’t care how much material wealth you’ve accumulated during your lifetime. He’s not impressed with your real estate holdings or the finer things in life that you like and can afford. The sooner we realize that, the better. We need to come to the same realization that Job did when he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). I only pray that we can come to that realization without all of the trials and tribulation that it took to bring Job to that point.
Being rich toward God also means that our investments are in the one thing that lasts forever. Jesus gave wise counsel when He said: “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” (Matthew 6:19-21). The observation has been made that, when you see a funeral procession, you never see a U-Haul trailer hitched to the hearse. No matter how much we may value the material things that we have, there will come a time when none of it will make any difference to us. The abundance of your wealth, your popularity, the activities with which you entertain yourself--none of it will matter in the least when you are looking death in the eye. The only thing we have that will last forever and give us enduring comfort is the salvation that God has given us in His Son.
When we think on this holiday of all of the things that we have to be thankful for, I hope we aren’t so enamored with the material blessings that we overlook the greatest blessings of all: the ones that come to us in the Gospel of our Savior. These are the blessings that really matter--the blessings that will last forever. These are what will carry us through life, with all of its trials and temptations, and bring us at last into the heavenly mansions that Christ, our Savior, even now prepares for us. In Him and in Him alone we have perfect confidence and joy in all things, now and into eternity.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.