Thursday, November 24, 2011

LSB Harvest Festival (Thanksgiving) Sermon -- Luke 12:13-21

November 23, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

Jesus’ parable stands as a warning about placing one’s trust in the earthly possessions. It is given in response to a man who wanted Jesus to serve as a probate judge in an estate matter. You heard abut this man: Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” The man wanted a divine statement directed at his brother, a commandment from Jesus that would lead to receiving property and wealth. The request seems reasonable enough. But note how Jesus answers the man: “But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

What is at the heart of Jesus’ statement? Why does He respond so? Jesus’ emphatic teaching and preaching is on what He will provide, something more than an earthly inheritance. He wants all who follow Him to know that He is the source of earthly blessing. But more importantly, Jesus wants them to trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. There is more to be given by Jesus than house, home, wife, children, land, animals, and all that you own. Even those who recognize the fullness of Divine Providence but do not see what He gives in the spiritual realm will ultimately be poor.

This is what Jesus teaches with the parable that is a warning against covetousness. He gives an example of a man who has benefited much from the good weather, good soil, and good climate that the Lord provides: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” The man is going to enjoy the fruits of creation that have been made his. He exults in what he has: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

But in that statement something is revealed about his faith, what he trusts in. Where does he say the confidence for his soul is found? Hear again the man’s words: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” That is the confession of faith, a creed that the man makes. His faith is in what has been stored up, all the crops filling his new barns. Now his soul can rest secure. Or that is what he thinks.

But Jesus’ statement of judgment about that man shows his folly: “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.” The man had put his trust in what had been given to his soul—earthly things. But now the One who has given him all earthly things and who has given him that soul requires it of him. And the man has no fear, love, or trust in Him. His possessions had become his god. He had laid up plenty of treasure for himself, but had no eternal wealth provided by God. On that day when his soul is demanded of him, no barn full of wheat will avail him anything.

Jesus wants His hearers to learn that they must have possession of what He gives in order to have wealth for eternity. It is a similar lesson taught to the ancient Hebrews by Moses. As the Exodus people were about to enter Canaan, the land flowing in milk and honey that the Lord was entrusting to them, they were told about how they should consider what was given to them. When that land would bring forth its fruits, the people were to recognize what the Lord had bestowed to them. It would be done by a thank-offering: “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.”

But note what the people were to learn from this: “And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.” Their worship would be centered on what they stated about the Lord: “We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The reason why they had anything good was due to the Lord’s actions done for them. Even the annual harvests were to teach them this dependence on Him and drive them away from trust in their possessions. Each harvest in the Promised Land would remind them of their deliverance from slavery and the covenant promises made to them by the Lord. Their identity as the Lord’s Covenant People who had salvation given to them would be confirmed. That is how they would become rich toward God.

The same is true for you. Like the Hebrews of old, you have received deliverance from the Lord. He attains it by His actions: His obedience, His sacrificial death, His resurrection. His “mighty hand and outstretched arm” has gained a place for you in His kingdom. It is given to you, as He calls you to be His own people. He grants you the wealth of the heavenly realm. His righteousness is given to you. His life is made to be yours. It is planted in you by the Holy Spirit who comes to you through the Gospel. It is what the psalmist described: “Praise is due to You, O God, in Zion, and to You shall vows be performed. O You who hears prayer, to You shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, You atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one You choose and bring near, to dwell in Your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, the holiness of Your temple! By awesome deeds You answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation.”

There will be a harvest drawn from this righteousness planted in you, as the apostle writes: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” What the apostle describes is not a life that finds trust and reliance in earthly goods. It is not a covetousness life that seeks to acquire more and more stuff, never content with the current level of possessions. Rather, it is a life formed in the recognition that whatever you have has been given to you and that trust in the Giver and not the gift is required.

You do not kick up your heels and feel secure because the barns, houses, or storage sheds are full. Your life is not one of hoarding everything and believing that you are set for life. No, you look forward to what the Lord continues to give you here on earth. And you have your minds set on what will be yours for eternity. In the meantime, you look to the interests of others with what earthly possessions have been entrusted to you: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.” So you exult in what has been given you: a place in the household of God the Father and the opportunity to use the gifts of His creation as instruments of His generosity.

What is given to you as temporal blessings allow you to reflect that same graciousness to your neighbors: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” That is quite the difference from the man in Jesus’ parable! Your soul doesn’t dwell secure by putting fear, love, and trust in earthly things. Instead, your soul dwells secure because of Christ’s work for you.

Yet, you do not dwell idly secure. You are called to an active life of faith, working for other’s benefit, just as Jesus did for you. Your submission to the Lord’s will which flows from your confession of the Gospel of Christ will keep you from falling into the error of the man in the parable. That is what the Holy Spirit accomplishes in you. Unlike that foolish man, you will be rich in the treasures that Jesus has prepared for you and has laid up for you to receive when your soul is demanded of you. You will go to the place that He has chosen to be yours for all eternity. But until that time, be what you have prayed for this evening: stewards of the Almighty God’s creation who receive His gifts in humble thankfulness and who share His bounty with those in need.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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