Sermon from Sunday, August 1, 2010
Concordia Lutheran Church, Concord, New Hampshire
Eat, drink, and be merry! That’s what Jack was talking about! Living life and living it well. He finally had hit it big and he was bragging to all his friends. Until…He heard a voice in the crowd say, “You fool! You should just sell everything you own and give it to charity. You’re not going to take it with you, you know.”
What? Jack couldn’t believe his ears! What was this he was overhearing? Jack had come from such meager beginnings. His whole life he worked at one unappreciated job after another. No matter how hard he worked, he received no recognition for his efforts. But Jack didn’t let that stop him.
No, Jack was determined to get out of the cycle of poverty that had a hold on his family. He set out to get out of the pit of the neighborhood and move up to the lifestyle he dreamed of. Jack was not going to be another statistic. He worked hard, stayed up late, answered his phone 24/7, showed up whenever the boss wanted him to, at times neglected his social life, his family, his friends, the hours of sleepless nights, it was sheer insanity! But, it had paid off. He was going to be somebody. And he was. No more hard life for him. No more getting by on hand-me-downs. No more coach seats. It was only the finest from now on. It was time to eat, drink and be merry.
Jack now lived in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. He had more money and possessions than he knew what to do with. In fact, he had so much that he upgraded his house not once, but twice. Some people thought Jack was greedy, but Jack worked hard for this life. Jack didn’t kill anybody. He wasn’t a member of the mob. He wasn’t trafficking drugs. Jack earned his wealth by honest hard work. Who on earth did this guy think he was to call Jack a fool! And give it all away? Was he crazy? Jack was outraged! Do you blame him? Wouldn’t you be angry if you were in Jack’s shoes?
Maybe his name wasn’t Jack. Call him any name you want, but the man that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel story could be any one of us. How many of us could relate to how this man would have felt if he heard Jesus say “This very night your life will be demanded of you.” How many of us have come from meager beginnings and worked our way to the relative comfort we have now. Maybe some of us still haven’t achieved all the material comforts we’d like and what is wrong with wanting to be comfortable? What’s wrong with wanting to breathe a little and not have to worry about where every last dime is going to come from to pay the bills? Didn’t Jesus say He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly?
There’s nothing wrong with abundance, but we have to remember what kind of abundance Jesus is talking about. There’s nothing wrong with wanting material possessions, and money isn’t an evil thing. But when we get to the point – like the man in the Gospel today- where we have more than we know what to do with, when we’re on the show Hoarders and we’re buying storage bins because our house isn’t big enough to store it all, we’ve got a problem.
And maybe it’s not even that severe. What if we’re not financially or materialistically wealthy? Can we still be hoarding? Maybe we just walk downtown, or watch the news or read the paper and see that the homeless population continues to increase and we just turn away and don’t even try to do something about it. Maybe there’s an opportunity to tell someone through our words or actions about the love of God and instead of doing so, we keep it to ourselves. Maybe we’re denying them the spiritual food that God has given to us to share with them. Are we hoarding the Good News found in these pages to ourselves?
I’ve been going through a humbling example of what I like to call the rich man syndrome in my own life the past couple of months as I prepare to go away to seminary. I’ll have my own apartment on campus, but I can’t bring a lot. I didn’t think I was that materialistic and by many people’s standards I’m not. But the words “go sell all your possessions” have taken on a more real meaning than I ever understood. I didn’t come from a rich family. In fact, growing up my family was quite poor. We struggled financially all the time. As an adult, raising two daughters as a single mom after my divorce, created a lot of financial hardships, but over the years God has blessed me with all I need and more.
Now, as I pack up my belongings to go to seminary, I know I need to pack light, so many of the things I have and save to purchase have to go. I can’t take it all with me. I’m not taking my comfortable sofa, my table, most of my furniture, the things that have held sentimental value all these years. They have to go. There’s just no space for these things. I have to let them go. And it’s harder than I thought it would be. I don’t even know how I’ll pay for all my monthly expenses when I’m in school, but I know one thing…God is all I need. God is all any of us need because as long as we have God, we have everything.
Jesus says further on in Chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel not to worry about what we should eat, or what clothes to wear. He says “seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.” Jesus says don’t worry; be happy. I’ll take care of you. People may let us down, whether intentionally or not, but God never will.
Oh, God may not give us what we want, but He always gives us what we need. Always. Sometimes, we think that God says no to our prayers, and He does. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t hear us. God just knows what is best for us. Sometimes we have to struggle, but the good news is we don’t have to struggle alone. We don’t have to sell ourselves out or sell our souls to get what we want. If we trust in God, He will take care of all our needs.
We read in Psalm 49 “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me?” Later, in the Psalm, it says that the “fool and the wise perish together, but God will ransom my soul from the power of the Sheol, the power of the pit.” We may suffer for a while – it may be a day, it may be a week, sometimes months, or maybe even years but God will ransom our souls.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is from 2nd Corinthians. “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” Praise God nothing can defeat us because we have the power of the Holy Spirit. And Jesus says ‘My Grace is sufficient.”
So if, Like Jack – or whatever name you want to call the rich man in the Gospel story today – we aren’t to store up our possessions, what are we supposed to do with them? And if we don’t have them to begin with? What should we strive for?
The person in our first reading in Ecclesiastes gets the point. He understands that life is at times filled with toil and pain and “death comes to the wise and the foolish.” He realizes that all there really is in life is to eat, drink, and be merry because as he says, “I saw this was also from the hand of God. For apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”
That’s it isn’t it? It’s not the “stuff” that makes us happy. Apart from God nothing can make us happy! God is our happiness. God is our joy. God is everything we need and all we have comes from God, not from our doing. And we need to store up the real treasures of kindness and mercy, love, tenderness, compassion, justice and grace. And when our storehouses are filled to the brim with that Grace – and they are – we need to open the doors and let it flow out to everyone. Let it flow out to our families and friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, the stranger and even those we view as enemies. There is an endless supply of God’s grace and it cannot be contained and we cannot keep this grace or faith to ourselves. It is for everyone. We must share it with the world, a hungry world, a world that is lonely and hurting and in need of this amazing grace. A world that needs to know God loves them, just as they are.
Our hymn of the day today is My Faith Looks Up to Thee. The second verse ends with “Oh may my love to thee, pure, warm and changeless be, a living fire.” So let us eat, drink and be filled with joy – filled with a passionate fire to spread God’s love. Set ablaze with our gratitude for all the priceless treasures that God has given us that cannot be taken away. Set ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit that will open the doors of these treasures to welcome all to the amazing, powerful and life-giving power of Christ’s love. Amen.