The 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 13C (7/31/16)

Lessons:Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Psalm 49:1-12 (3) Colossians 3:1-11 St. Luke 12:13-21

Semicontinuous Series: Hosea 11:1-11 Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (8) Colossians 3:1-11 St. Luke 12:13-21

Prayer of the Day: Benevolent God, you are the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives.  Teach us to love what is worth loving, to reject what is offensive to you, and to treasure what is precious in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

St. Luke 12:13-21. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Rich Toward God

This week’s Gospel lesson provides an extraordinary opportunity, especially for pastors in congregations where financial receipts have not been as strong as they need to be:

“Friends, you may be socking your money away in IRAs and Medical Savings Accounts, trying to prevent yourselves and your families from being harmed by potential future catastrophes. But Jesus warns us that our lives may end this very evening. You’d be more faithful to invest your money in ministry. Strengthen our congregation. Make a donation to the hospital in Tanzania. Sponsor a refugee family. Advocate for our congregation’s commitment to community service. Sign up to spend a few hours (and a few dollars) on a Habitat for Humanity build. That’s how we refuse to store up treasures for ourselves, and make ourselves rich toward God.”

That’s not a bad sermon. And I’d be lying if I tried to convince you I’ve never preached it. But this week my attention is drawn in a different direction. I am thinking about this man. Not the rich farmer who built new, larger barns, so he could store up all the fruits of his labor and depend on that accumulation (instead of on God!) for his security. After all, he’s just a guy made up by Jesus, the story-telling Rabbi who was trying to make a point. No, I am thinking about the person who asked Jesus to take over the distribution of his family’s assets after the head-of-household died. “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

There are various customs in various cultures that determine how inheritances will be handled. Last month in Tanzania we learned that there, among the members of the Chugga Tribe, it is the lastborn son who inherits the father’s property, because he is most likely the one who stayed behind to care for the parents after all of his other siblings left to begin new lives. In Biblical times it tended to be the firstborn son. In our culture, individual need or equality often rule the process. But in most cases (Prince excluded…), there tend to be established patterns or legal provisions in place that guide the distribution.

In the Gospel lesson, though, we meet a sibling who is less interested in custom, and more interested in getting a piece of the pie. But he misses the larger issue at stake: the relationships he has with his family, and those who surround him. He drags the family laundry out in public. He asks the Son of God to overrule how the inheritance has been distributed (assuming, of course, that it will cause him to get more than he would have otherwise). He risks damaging the fabric of his community in his lust for more.

So Jesus offers him another path. Be rich toward God. Set you mind not on riches or possessions, but on justice and righteousness. Work with family members, neighbors and friends to create a community where all are cared for, and none go without life’s necessities. Think not about yourself, but about your brother, your sister, your neighbor.

Jesus calls us to be rich toward God. Perhaps it is as we invest in one another that we accumulate the kind of riches he has in mind.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does the questioner in this week’s Gospel really want?
  2. What does he have in common with the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable?
  3. What changes would the questioner have to make to line up with Jesus’ advice?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been more interested in myself than in my neighbor?
  2. How might my life change, if I reached out to others in more significant ways?
  3. How might my congregation change, if it did the same?