All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
September 9, 2018
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
We are called to be rich in heaven, rich in our following the Lord, we are to be rich, not in the things of this would but in the joy of submitting to the will of the Lord.
This call challenges us, and makes us feel like the rich ruler who asked Jesus what it meant to follow after Him, and goes away sad when he realizes that he must give up everything he holds dear to follow after Christ.
A week or two ago I made the statement that “It is a far more challenging thing to be a Christian in an age of plenty, in an age where we can be lured into think that we need nothing.” As we work our way through this passage, we will be returning to this thought. As we contemplate the brother, and the rich man, we want to be asking what we hold dear, as though our salvation rests in that thing as opposed to resting in Christ.
This morning we find our Lord teaching when he is interrupted by one of those in the crowd. The man’s desire was to share in his brother’s inheritance. I suspect we have all been there before, we see someone else’s good fortune and we hope, that perhaps they will share with us. We hope that perhaps their blessings will overflow on to us or perhaps we think
“that’s awesome! When will I get mine?”
We rarely feel shellfish in doing this and usually we have good reason. We think “I have school loans,” or “I have a little credit card debt, wouldn’t it be nice if my bother shared his fortune with me.” Yet, here we have set up a wall between ourselves and the fortunate one. I think even before we get to Christ’s rebuke of this man we can see the problem with this mindset.
However, let’s unpack it a little bit, the Christian is call to love his neighbor as himself, he is called to love his brother well and walk with him. Each of us are to learn what it means to be a blessing to those around us, and a part of this is learning to walk with others. This allows us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and weep with those who weep. We build these friendships and relationships not for our sake, or for what we can get out of them, but for the sake of those whom we are learning to love. We are called to be a blessing in this way.
Recently, I was talking with a group of people about singleness. I think it is tough to be single in a society that places a high emphasis both on sexual gratification and talks as though finding ones partner is the chief end of being a human being. One of the things I have noticed is that a vast majority of single Christians feel called to be married. I think, as singles, we need to change how we talk about this. We desire to be married but this desire must be submitted to the will of God.
Now, you might be wondering “what does this have to do with this poor brother who simply wants a little financial help from his brother?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
As Christians we are called to seek the will of God and this is a very good desire. However, we often get this backwards, and mistake our will for the Lord’s will. So much hurt has come out of this mistake in the realm of Christian dating, but it extends to all aspects of life. Perhaps the most heart aching way of making this mistake are those who meet someone they think is their soulmate, and they wait, and they wait, and they wait, and then that person marries someone else. Suddenly, whatever their reasoning for thinking this other person was set aside for them is crushed, and so it seems as though God does not love them or that God is not good.
I do not wish to denigrate the reality that feelings can often be helpful in how we sooth out what God is calling us to do. I think they can be and are in fact important, we need to be at peace about our choices, but we cannot live in a vacuum. While the realm of Christian dating may not be relatable to most of you, certainly heartache is, and certainly disappointment is. Do not mistake disappointment of your own will for a sign of God’s goodness or favor. If your will is disappointed, God is still good and in fact, that disappointment is good as well. For God has turned you away from something that would not have been good for your soul.
I would like to turn you away from your feelings for a moment to the four essential elements to the Christian life, for we can no longer walk up to Christ and say “Teacher! Tell my brother to divide his inheritance with me!” Yet, we have many gifts that can help us determine what the Lord will have us do. These elements are reading your Bible, praying, partaking in the sacraments, and fellowship.
In reading the Bible we have the privilege of actually hearing the word of God. Hearing what he commands, how he calls us to act, what it is that He desires of us.
In praying we can talk to God, pour out our hearts, and throw all our hurts and joys at the foot of the cross. There may be times that it may feel as though he doesn’t hear us, but those times of deepest sorrow take the greatest amount of healing and it is why laying the ground work of these four disciplines is so important. It is in those times that the Lord seems silent that reading His word, partaking in the sacrament and having fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ are so important.
In the sacraments, specifically Holy Communion, we experience Christ. It is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and the marriage feast of the lamb. It is a foretaste of our final marriage to the Lord and that joyful time in which we will be, finally, and fully bound to the Lord. So when we come to the table we come to mystical experience of the Lord.
Now we come to the last of the habits, a point that I think is especially hard for us to struggle through – that is fellowship. As a community we are good at fellowship, at least on one level. We are good at laughing together, telling stories, we are even good at rejoicing and mourning together, but I want to challenge you a little bit to go deeper – do you have a brother or sister in Christ who you can call up when you struggling? Who you can say – friend, today was hard, could you pray with me?
Is there a brother or sister in Christ in your life that you can tell them what you’ve been struggling with? Or where the darkness seems to be creeping in? Who you can tell about major life choices and get their advice? We need the godly council of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not called to live in a vacuum but to live in a community. Time and again, we can see people in the church doing foolish things, with good intention. I can’t help but wonder if they had sought wise and godly council from their fellow Christians, perhaps that pain would have been avoided. The church is called to be a family not a social club and it is in this final pillar that we see this family being established.
Now on a practical point – a point that is probably obvious, but experience tells me I should be clear about – this friend should be the same sex as you. This is twofold, if you are married – again, we don’t make decisions in a vacuum and good communication between spouses, especially about spiritual matters is critical. So talk with your husband or wife about where you’re struggling, talk to them about what the Lord is teaching you. A part of the marriage covenant is that you are called to help and encourage each other in your growth in the Lord.
A friend outside of that marriage covenant that you can share your joys and sorrows with is also a very good thing. A friend can encourage you along the race that you are running, can exhort you, and can even remind you to talk to your spouse, but men find male friends, and women find female friends.
Now, I realize it may feel as though we’ve wandered pretty far from the text this morning, but here is where I wrap this back in. First – in this friendship we learn to rejoice with them in their joy – they come in to money that perhaps they desperately needed – glory to God, and we mourn with them when they’ve lost something precious and we pray with them when they’re struggling with some dark sin.
Let us guard our hearts from being jealous of them, from thinking “how can I convince God to get my brother to share his inheritance with me.” The other side of this lesson is this – in participating in the Christian life – we are encouraged into a deeper relationship with our Lord. We can be nourished in our walk, and corrected when we wander. Prayer, reading the word of God, partaking in the sacraments, and fellowship does this for us, and correcting is what Christ does for the brother today.
We turn back to our lesson where we find Christ asking the man who made him a judge or arbitrator. Of course, Christ is qualified to be a judge, and we know from scripture that at the end of time He will judge us all. It will be Christ seated on the judgment throne who will say well done good and faithful servant, or I never knew you, be gone. So he is qualified to judge, but that isn’t the point here.
The man recognize Christ’s authority but he wants to use it for his own ends. Christ points the man beyond his worldly needs to his deepest spiritual poverty, the poverty that can only be answered by trusting in the riches of Christ.
It is of interest to note here, that in the last century there has been a school of thought that tried to find the core essence of who Christ is. This school of thought was called the quest for the historical Jesus, which if we’re honest sounds like a pretty awesome quest. The unfortunate part about it was they reduced the text of the New Testament, and specifically the gospels to the parts that they deemed as authentic, in the end, they found the historical Jesus looked an awful lot like them.
This, reductionist view is a misleading way to pursue who Christ is. Instead, as conservative or Bible believing Christians we confess that the words we are reading this morning are the historical Jesus. He is not cordial here, and he is not nice and he even breaks away from what we assume St. Luke’s key interest in the justice for the poor. If Christ was merely interested in social issues he would have snapped his fingers and said “yes! Your brother is being selfish he should share with you!” But we see here the critical point – Christ “came to bring people to God, not property to people.” Christ is fundamentally and critically interested in our knowing God and here he sharply criticizes the man for being distracted from that goal. His response seems harsh as he addresses the man as though he was a stranger. However, Christ’s response, we must admit, is good, but in a worldly sense it seems terribly harsh. The historical Jesus, in fact the only Jesus the Messiah, is interested in the kingdom of heaven and the mending of souls.
Continuing on we are reminded of two facts - we must be on guard against all covetousness, and despite what the world would tell us “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
The point I made earlier about singleness, has much to do with covetousness – if we are too busy being jealous of others, whether it be because we are young and single and all our friends have seemed to have met someone and are getting married, and buying houses and having kids, or because one person is rich and we feel poor, or any other point of jealous that we store up in our hearts we cannot be good brothers and sisters in Christ to them, we cannot love them well. So be on guard against covetousness.
But here is the much harder point – if we are coveting someone else’s possessions, if we are jealous of someone else, we are saying in our heart God is not good in how He has provided for me. This is a part of the reason that I find God’s sovereignty so comforting. If I am earnestly seeking and joyfully submitting to the will of God – where I am, whether it be a clear day filled with joy or a tumultuous storm that is requiring all of my faith to persevere through – it is a good place to be, because God is in control.
We want to avoid covetousness with all our might, being quick to repent of it, and asking for God’s healing in it – because when we let it creep into our hearts we are saying, what God has done, is not good, surely God does not love me as much as the other. No, God loves you deeply, and wants you to draw into a deeper and deeper relationship with Him and that is very good.
Now, we must address this pernicious lie of our culture. Think about those whom we revere, so often it is the football star who has made millions, or the business man who has made shrewd decisions and now sits comfortably in his house but the parable reminds us – these things will not last. The football player with amazing stats will be forgotten when another better player comes along, and the rich man’s nice house will eventually crumble or being torn down.
This isn’t to denigrate anyone’s hard work, all hard work done to the glory of God is good hard work. Whether it be done in business or sports or the work of the gospel, when we strive to glorify God in our lives – it is very good. However, we want to celebrate someone’s faithfulness to the gospel. In my life with Christ the people who I am the most indebted to are the presbyters who were mocked and kicked out of their churches by bishops for standing firm for the gospel. It is the little old ladies who took the long road, who persevered through rough relationships or the heartache of losing their loved ones and did not grow bitter but grew deeper in Christ. It is those who have lived long or short lives and never lost sight of the gospel of Christ, who never gave up on being faithful to God and giving all their joys and sorrows to Him in prayer. These men and women have been more encouraging to me than any worldly role model ever could be.
These saints will quickly be forgotten by the world, but it is on these people’s back that the kingdom of God has been build. It is these people who are the heroes of the faith. Soak in their knowledge, their joy in the Lord, and let it be an example for how you live out your life, faithfully following after Christ, even in the darkest of valleys.
Now we turn to the parable Christ teaches this morning. The rich man who thinks he’s finally arrived. As we read the parable perhaps we think of Joseph in Egypt. Here the rich man hoards his wealth, but he is doing the very thing that Joseph tells the pharaoh to do isn’t he? Has the wisdom of Joseph suddenly become foolish?
No, the difference lies in this – the rich man is trusting in his wealth for the provision of his life and he is not doing this to glorify God or to help those around him. We, especially in our land of plenty where we are constantly tempted to do this. We can trust in wealth, or a loved one or a possession but possessions, wealth, and romantic love are so very fragile and can disappear in the blink of an eye. It can be here one day and gone tomorrow.
So there are two points here, the only thing we can trust in, that will not betray us, that will not abandon us in our time of need is the Lord, and so whether you are rich or poor, have all you desire or desire the whole world, cast those cares upon the Lord and trust in Him completely.
Remember this also, if you are thinking “that is great advice, I’ll get to it tomorrow,” or “I will learn what it is to trust in the Lord when I have more time,” no, friend, learn to trust today for life is so very fragile. I suspect this rich man thought the same thing. But life slips out of our hands much quicker than it comes into the world. The rich man in the story does not think “I could die tonight,” and yet when we read this carefully we realize this is what is happening. When God requires his soul, he has chosen to trust in Himself, but God is calling him away to a place where his riches have no authority, and cannot help him. The rich man dies that night and his soul becomes the Lord’s.
Please do not mistake this for some doom and gloom prophecy type statement – but we are called to trust in the Lord always and in every way because life comes and goes in the blink of an eye, we need only to read the news to be aware of this.
We are often tempted to place our trust in anything except God, whether it be wealth, or a relationship or the promise of a relationship. We like to have something solid and physical to cling to, but God calls us to step out and trust in Him. God calls us to forsake all else for His glory for His riches not the riches of the world. As we end our passage this morning we are reminded to be rich in the kingdom of heaven. The early church father Cyril of Axelandria summarizes this richness as follows:
It is true that a person’s life is not from one’s possessions or because of having an overabundance. He who is rich toward God is very blessed and has glorious hope. Who is he? Evidently, one who does not love wealth but rather loves virtue, and to whom few things are sufficient. It is one whose hand is open to the needs of the poor, comforting the sorrows of those in poverty according to his means and the utmost of his power. He gathers in the storehouses that are above and lays up treasures in heaven. Such a one shall find the interest of his virtue and the reward of his right and blameless life.
I want to push this definition a little further – we want to be trusting that the Lord in all things and submitting joyfully to His will. It is so easy to covet someone else’s life. I used my own personal example and a struggle that I, and many young Christians have with singleness. I realize for many of you this is not a struggle – but I hope it gives you a tangible example to apply to your own life. For all of us we want to learn to cling to this truth – even when the Lord’s will doesn’t feel good – it is in fact good, for we are learning to be rich in virtue and in our trust in the Lord.
So, dear Christian family, let us learn to be glad for the gifts that others have been given, let us live with all generosity of heart with the gifts we have been given, let us forsake covetousness for love, and virtue. Let us, in all things, always to seek to glorify God that we would know Him more deeply and more intimately.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.