Luke 12:13-21 (click to display NIV text)
July 21, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”
A man interrupts Jesus with a request or a demand. He wants Jesus to be a judge between him and his brother so he can get his share of the inheritance. In the Gospels, demanding an inheritance never turns out very well. The Prodigal Son demands his inheritance too, and ends up in the far country starving and feeding pigs. Jesus has been talking about the goodness of God and about relying on God, the God who knows every sparrow. This man either just arrived, or else he was so consumed with his own thoughts that he simply had not been listening to Jesus.
Jesus does not become a judge in this family dispute. Instead, he discerns a deeper issue in the man’s life: greed and the confusion of possessions and salvation. This man has focused his life on a worldly inheritance rather than on the gracious provision of God.
The kindness and provision of God is to lead us to response. Living in the goodness of God leads people to be rich towards God. When people truly hear what Jesus is saying about the God who cares for them, it moves their attitudes and behaviors so that they find security in God, and not in possessions.
Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who lived in a way that was not rich towards God. The basis of the story may come from a few verses in the Apocryphal book of Sirach, which says,
“There is a man who is rich through his diligence and self-denial, and this is the reward allotted to him: when he says, ‘I have found my rest, and now I shall enjoy my goods!’ He does not know how much time will pass, until he leaves them to others and dies.”
It may be that Jesus took that brief picture and stretched it and filled in some detail in order to make a point. He says that a farmer harvested a great crop one year, and so he decided to stop working, and to stop trusting God. His life became oriented towards his possessions. He stored his grain in new, large barns, and kept it all for himself. Now he did not have to trust God for his provision. Now he did not have to share with the poor, or give his tithe. Now he could be his own provider and not be rich towards God. But that very night, he died.
We wonder if material blessing, the big crop, uncovered in this man’s heart a desire to live unto himself, to be secure outside of asking God for daily bread, outside of relationships of caring for his community, and outside of God’s salvation. Does the big crop distort this man’s thinking? Klyne Snodgrass says it this way: “He thinks he possesses his soul, but it is only on loan.” So the man uses all his goods to create a life that he has long desired. He has imagined a life without work, a life without worry. He sees now that he can simply “eat, drink, and be merry” for the rest of his days. So he grabs this vision of life and he spends all he has to make it come true.
Joel Green writes, “The farmer has sought to secure himself and his future without reference to God. He did not consider that his life is on loan from God. He failed to account for the will of God. He failed to account for the responsibility that attends the possession of wealth. He does not show compassion for those around him. His possessions become his security apart from God.” So in summary we would say that the farmer did not entrust his life to God, and his dream and his plan came to an end before the night was over.
Jesus then interprets the parable in verses 22-34.We will spend more time on these verses next week, especially on the instruction to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Green sets out several points that Jesus makes. He says not to worry, because our lives are in the care of God. Worry is based on an inadequate view of life. It does not take God into account. It has no power as a strategy. It is not needed in light of God’s care. The word translated as “worry” is in other places translated “to be arrogant” or “to make demands.” There is a connection between worry and arrogance. Both leave out room for God.
God will take care of you, like he cares for the lilies and the grass in the field. In their brief time of flowering, they look more impressive than King Solomon with all his wealth. What you can make of yourself does not compare to what God can form out of you, if you let him mold your life.
If you view the world with eyes of faith, you will see God’s generosity and care. Faith seeks the Kingdom of God. Mere sight does not get beyond searching for something to eat or drink. Live for that which is eternal.
Over the past 40 years in ministry I have become aware of what are now being called the twin dangers of “incompetence” and “fraudulence.” The awareness of your incompetence leads you not just to develop ministry skills, but in a deeper way to pray for daily bread and to seek God with all your heart. Fraudulence is the attitude of he farmer; the arrogance that pushes God aside so that you claim to be what you are not.
I began in ministry by being well educated, but deeply incompetent. That began a journey of learning, working hard to develop skills in ministry, mixing progress with lots of mistakes. I did not know how to do a funeral, and frankly the thought frightened me. So I was given 30 funerals to do in my first three years. Competence means that fear gives way to being able to care for people and help them in some way as they go through a time of grief.
I did not know how to organize a wedding, and with Kathy’s help, I have done lots and lots of them, relying on a well-written book of worship that fit a generation or two and helped couples speak their hearts in words that carry well through the years.
I was not sure about pastoral care, but my first day on the job in Jamestown, Pastor Rask handed me a list of about 20 names and told me to go visit these people. He was headed out for two weeks of vacation and would check how the visits went when he got back.
So the first part of ministry was confronting fears and incompetency and learning how to live out the calling in helpful ways. The last part of the journey has been more about developing an awareness of what I do not know, of understanding my incompetence. Some express a desire to hear topical sermons. That would be wonderful. I don’t know how to do those. I admire others who have skill in strategic planning and vision setting. I might as well try to sing in the choir as craft one of those statements. But more to the point is that everything I thought I knew, I now see more clearly what I do not know or am unable to do. This has the effect of pushing me back to praying for daily bead, of relying on the goodness and provision of God.
I see fraudulence as a more serious and damaging pitfall. Fraudulence is the arrogance of pretending to know when you don’t know. It means harming people when you are trying to save face, to appear as something you are not. Fraudulence proclaims one thing and lives another. It is the rich farmer proudly asserting his salvation through possessions. It is saying, “I own my own soul.”
What Jesus is saying here is that we move away from fraudulence when we are rich towards God. Instead of becoming boastful in earthly treasures, we lay up treasures in heaven. That simply means we include God in everything we do. It means we remain in community relationships, even when we feel we want to run away. We stay to help the poor. We stay to be helped by the brother or sister. Mostly it means to always rely completely on faith in Christ for salvation. Salvation is not a work of our own hands. It is always a work of God.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”