False Hope, Foolish Trust
Luke 12:13-21 & Colossians 3:1-11
We have here this morning one of the more forthright yet frustrating parables of Jesus. It’s not a complicated story, but it causes us no end of difficulty because of what Jesus holds up as a stupid—that’s the actual word there, our translation just tempered it a bit—way of living that seems quite pragmatic to us.
Only one of us here—Pete—is a farmer so we don’t have large harvests we can store away. In today’s world we harvest monetarily, we store our harvest in investments. And this is where we hit the stumbling block, because it seems that Jesus would find more foolish the person who spends recklessly and does not plan for the future.
True. But this parable is not a criticism of people who plan for the future. There is a difference between planning for the future and hoarding for the future, a difference between being prudent and being greedy. There is a difference between the person who takes care of others yet still finds enough to live well, and the person who believes that there’s never enough to ensure the future.
What the man in Jesus’ parable is guilty of is greed, of always wanting more, of never having enough, and wanting what isn’t really his. That’s the cause of Jesus telling this parable, because a man “in the crowd” asks Jesus to tell the man’s brother that he should give this man part of the family inheritance, in complete contradiction of tradition and law. He wants what isn’t his; he’s greedy.
Greed is not the real sin here, not for the man in the parable or the man in the crowd; greed is the sin symptomatic of a deeper, fundamental sin that plagues us all. Greed stems from anxiety, from a desire for security and peace but an inability to find it…because we place our trust for the future in bigger harvests, be it grain or finances.
But harvests can rot, and if there’s anything the past five years should teach us it’s that investments are never a guarantee of the future, be it buying stock, or buying a house, or investing in finds that are worth less now than they were six years ago, or the number of companies or governments gutting their employees’ pension plans.
The deeper, fundamental sin is the sin of trusting in the things of this world for our future, trusting in an “abundant harvest” and not trusting in the abundant blessing of God.
We place our own desires and sense of priorities ahead of God’s, we place our trust in “small, green pieces of paper” rather than in God’s wealth, we commit the sin of being rich towards ourselves rather than being rich towards God. We want to trust in God’s promises, in God’s provision, but time and time again we pull back from that trust because we don’t…quite…believe it. We believe in things we can put our hands on, things we can touch, feel, taste, see.
We seek security and peace in our home, in our cars, in our jobs, in our investments like our 401(k) or pension, or—I dare to say it—our endowment—but those things will and do fail us. Houses develop problems like leaky roofs or failed appliances, our cars break down, we lose our jobs, our investments go up and down or are taken away from us by employers failing their fiduciary responsibility or near-catastrophic downturns in the economy.
We seek peace in these things, we seek security, but it is a false hope, as false as the hope that taking our shoes off at the airport and letting a stranger grope us somehow keeps our nation safe from terrorists.
We place our trust everywhere but in God! As people who have been raised up with Christ out of the ways of death and ruin, we cannot place our trust in any thing or anyone other than God because, Paul reminds us, we have a life higher than this one, we have the love and promise of God, in Jesus, whose single greatest instruction to his disciple Peter was “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep.”
The lambs and sheep of Jesus are the lost of this world, those who are mired in hopelessness and yearn for hope. They are people of all economics, for this is not a question of having money or means. They are people of all nations, all backgrounds, all perspectives. To modernize what Paul wrote to the Colossians, here there is no American or foreigner, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, homeowner or homeless, but Christ is all, and is in all.
If we are unwilling to risk everything for the sake of others, unwilling to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the gospel, unwilling to let go of our feeble securities to grasp the sureties of Christ we are, like the man in the parable, stupid for we condemn ourselves to our undoing. If we miss the opportunities to demonstrate the power of the Good News to the world, we not only cheat others of the opportunity to experience Christ for themselves, we cheat ourselves of real life.
So what would be more fulfilling: to possess more of this world’s false “security”, or to give more of ourselves to others as God has done for us? We are…encouraged by Jesus to trust that the life he gave for us at the cross seeks to live within us and empower us. We are encouraged to claim the freedom he offers at the cross to live for God and for our fellows through the power of Jesus’ loving spirit living within us.
We seek higher things than material gain, we seek better ways of living than taking care of ourselves first and others…much further down the list. We do not dwell on budgets but on God’s blessing, we do not look to numbers to save us but to grace and compassion, we give ourselves away to gain God’s abundant wealth.
This is what it is to seek to live in Christ, to live rich towards God.
I’d like to close in a prayer that is taken from the 3rd verse of a hymn by Pastor Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, who some of you may remember from when she and her co-pastor husband Bruce worshipped with us a few years ago when they were visiting Carolyn’s parents in Smithsburg. Let’s pray.
God of love, we long to know what will make us truly blest.
Jesus taught us long ago wealth won’t give us peace or rest.
You are our security! Safe in you, we serve, O Lord.
May we find we’re rich indeed when we’re sharing with the poor.