Sermon on Luke 12:13-21
Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But Jesus said to him, “Man, who appointed me to be a judge or an arbitrator over you?”
15Then he said to them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because a man’s life is not measured by how many possessions he has.”
16He told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced very well. 17He was thinking to himself, ‘What will I do, because I do not have anywhere to store my crops?’ 18He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and goods. 19And I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20“But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your soul will be demanded from you. Now who will get what you have prepared?’ 21“That is how it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Money has the power to drive some people crazy, who otherwise seem perfectly balanced and reasonable. Have you known families that have refused to talk to each other for twenty years because of how dad or grandma divided the inheritance? It shouldn’t surprise us that it was just such an argument about an inheritance that led Jesus to tell His parable and conclude: “… ‘You fool, this night your soul will be demanded from you. Now who will get what you have prepared?’ 21“That is how it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
How many people haven’t found themselves alone at the top of the heap of power and wealth—alone because they trampled everyone underfoot on their way up? How many marriages haven’t broken up because of disagreements about the family budget or spending? “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” Paul wrote (1 Timothy 6:10a). Worldly wealth is an unforgiving, false god—one that can’t accompany you on the road to eternity the way the true God can. Worldly wealth is a worthless goal. Therefore, as Paul wrote in our epistle lesson, “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” “Get Rich,” the world tells us. Instead, Jesus urges us this morning to Get Rich! (toward God).
Watch Out for Greed
Plenty of lives have been ruined by greed, but of all the tragedies caused by the love of money, the worst is losing your eternal soul. How many people aren’t already spending eternity in hell, like the man in the parable, because they made money into their god? Greed kills the soul. How modern it sounds when someone in the crowd gathered to listen to Jesus interrupts Jesus because of greed. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” How rude! How abrupt! How presumptuous to interrupt a Bible lesson to ask Jesus to settle an argument about money! Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me to be a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Jesus was in the middle of preaching about heaven and hell. He was telling people to forget about earthly things that pass away—telling them to be willing to even sacrifice their own lives in order to single-mindedly pursue heaven. He had promised the crowd that God would take care of their needs if they just put Him first. He had even warned them about the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit. And right in the middle of this talk about the most important things of all, this numbskull comes along and interrupts Him, sounding like he hadn’t been listening to one single word of Jesus’ sermon!
Wow! Awkward! How spiritually clueless and hopeless people seem! And apart from the Holy Spirit, that is exactly what people are—us too! Thank heaven Jesus didn’t throw up His arms in despair and just go back to heaven. Instead, He took a deep breath and began to tackle this big green monster called greed. “Watch out!” He said, “and be on guard against all greed, because a man’s life is not measured by how many possessions he has.”
It’s not without good reason that greed is called one of “the seven deadly sins.” At its core, greed is a form of idolatry. It’s a lack of trust in the true God. It’s placing some or even all of our trust in something other than Him. As Jesus later said, “No servant can serve two masters. Indeed, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). God expects us to love and serve Him only—to be completely devoted to Him. That’s the first commandment: “Love God more than anyone or anything.” [i] If we love money more than God, we are in serious danger of falling from grace and losing our hold on eternal life. St. Paul wrote “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evils. By striving for money, some have wandered away from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. 11 But you, O man of God, flee from these …” (1 Timothy 6:10,11a).
Greed leads to spiritual death. We are all put here for a time, and for a purpose. The goal of life is to come to faith and become spiritually productive. When our time of grace is ended, then we die. And if we die producing for ourselves and not for God, we will not be counted worthy of eternal life. “So if you have not been faithful with unrighteous mammon, who will entrust you with what is really valuable?” Jesus said (Luke 16:11). If we don’t use our material things for God here on earth, how could He possibly entrust us with real treasures in heaven? The answer is, He can’t and He won’t. If God asks us to manage something, and we start thinking we own it, then He won’t ask us to manage great things in heaven. He won’t even let us in. That’s what the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable was guilty of. And God calls him a fool.
The Rich Fool
Listen to the parable again: “The land of a certain rich man produced very well. 17He was thinking to himself, ‘What will I do, because I do not have anywhere to store my crops?’ 18He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and goods. 19And I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20“But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your soul will be demanded from you. Now who will get what you have prepared?’ 21“That is how it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
What precisely was his sin? Was it a sin to be rich? No. Was it a sin to be blessed with a good crop? No. What was sinful was his religion. He committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. He refused God’s grace, that alone can save, and trusted in his blessings instead of in the One who blessed him. To him they weren’t ‘blessings.’ They were things ‘he’d earned’ according to his way of thinking. “Since I earned them, I get to decide how they’re used, and I’m going to use them for myself.” Scripture teaches that everything we have is a loan from God to be used to help others, starting with our family, then the needy, then taxes, then church work. You remember all the passages in the catechism:
- 1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own family, and especially for his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
- 1 John 3:17 “Whoever has worldly wealth and sees his brother in need but closes his heart against him—how can God’s love remain in him?”
- Matthew 5:42 “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of every week, each of you is to set something aside in keeping with his income….”
How are each of us doing in regard to the 7th and 9th Commandments? …In helping our fellowman? There’s an interesting statistic that shows that on average, the richer people are, the less money they give to church or charity. That’s not true of every rich person, of course, but it is a bigger temptation for them to be selfish and greedy, which is why Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. …But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 9:24,26). Jesus is not opposed to savings accounts or investments. Jesus is opposed to the idolatry of mammon, because it leads to hell. That, finally, is why God calls this rich man a fool. He traded eternal life for stuff and for leisure.
Store up for yourselves Heavenly Riches
So, what should we do? What does God expect of us? Should we give up all leisure and possessions and join a monastery? Not at all! But what we should do is Get Rich Toward God! How do we do that? By pursuing righteousness, holiness and godliness. By considering His Word and Sacraments the greatest and the highest treasures on earth and in heaven, and by doing everything we can to obtain them and store them up in our hearts.
We don’t have to spend our lives worrying about our retirement savings, even with the way the market is. God our Father has promised to take care of all our needs. Each day He gives us our daily bread—and, often enough, steak and cake to boot. He gives us family and home, people who love us, a congregation of fellow followers of Jesus. He protects us and watches over us. Who knows how many times God has kept disaster from us? Best of all, He sent His Son Jesus to be our eternal Savior. Every one of our sins—even our sins of greed and worry, self-reliance and selfishness—have been paid for. Jesus suffered for our dreadful sin of worshiping mammon. He washed you clean of your sin in Holy Baptism and He strengthens you through Holy Communion, so your soul can put Him first and make it to your heavenly home.
And now He pleads with us. ‘Stop worrying. Stop running after worldly things that rust and rot and fall apart. Trust in me. Put me first.’ “Seek first the kingdom of God His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” And He promises, ‘I will give you what money can never buy. I will still all the longings of your heart. I will give you eternal wealth in heaven.’ The Sunday paper comes filled with advertisements promising 10%, 20% and even 50% off. God’s gifts are always 100% off. They are free for the asking and they bring true and lasting happiness. Paul once commended the great generosity of the Macedonian churches. These were truly poor people by this world’s standards. But they generously opened up their hearts and poured out their gifts to help even poorer Christians who were suffering in Jerusalem. What made them so generous? What freed them from the greed that so easily entangles? Paul says they “gave themselves first to the Lord.” Let us do the same! The Holy Spirit empowers us to say “No” to things and “Yes” to Jesus. He empowers us with His forgiveness to pursue true riches. Let’s make His kingdom and His righteousness our driving passion. Let’s Get Rich Toward God. Then we can say one day, ‘Master, … you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ (Matthew 25:20) and we can hear His commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.
[i] Simplified Catechism, Northwestern Publishing House.