I thought since I haven’t gotten around all week to posting anything new, I would post this. It was approved by my advanced preaching professor, Dr. Torgerson (a fantastic teacher and preacher!), so I thought I would build up the courage to share this. I will not quote the text, so you can look it up: Luke 12:13-21
Sermon preached in chapel at CLTS, St. Catharines.
Dear friends in Christ,
You probably remember being in school. Do you remember the relationship between you and your teachers? Your teachers taught you reading, writing, and arithmetic. And in their teaching, as your parents’ representatives, they had authority over you, and the students recognized that authority. When two kids got in a dispute, one student would often go and tell on the other student. And the teacher, with his or her authority, dealt with not only the curriculum, but also cases of dispute among students.
Before we consider this portion of Luke’s Gospel, we should remind ourselves who the first one to read this Gospel was. Luke dedicated this first of two volumes to his friend Theophilus, and he tells Theophilus the reason why he writes this account of Jesus. He writes: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
And so it is in the text for this morning that Jesus teaches. And when Jesus teaches, people recognize His ability to teach and the authority He demonstrates. When Jesus teaches, you can have certainty that He knows what He is talking about. So someone in the crowd, recognizing Jesus’ authority, says to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
When you think about it, humanly speaking, the man doesn’t really sound that foolish. After all, by this time, Jesus had raised the dead, He had cast out demons, He had healed the sick, and He had shown His superior wisdom over the Pharisees and other experts of the Law. This Man Jesus must have had some authority to do such great things.
But Jesus doesn’t claim any authority other than that which His Father has given Him. Though Jesus was the very image of God, God Himself, He chose not to use His almighty power and authority. Instead, He humbled Himself, and He only did what His Father sent Him to do. And this was to teach about the Kingdom of God, and then open that Kingdom to all believers. He was sent in order to reconcile the sinful world to God, but not before teaching what He would do and how He would do it.
But this man in the crowd looked to Jesus as someone who could help him get his brother’s inheritance by a show of right. And is this not exactly the attitude of our own sinfulness? When we see someone in authority, do we see someone whom God has put on earth to protect our neighbor’s inheritance? Or do we see him as someone who we can use to get our neighbor’s inheritance?
We learned the ninth commandment from Luther’s Small Catechism:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it by a show of right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
If someone we know has a lot of money, we should really watch out! Is this because rich people are greedy? No, but rather because we, by nature, want what is not ours; we want our neighbor’s stuff! Man by nature is so sinful and selfish, he would go to the highest authorities, even to God Himself if he could, just to get some of his neighbor’s property. After all, shouldn’t all these rich people give up their piece of the pie so that we all can have a piece? Is it not the Christian thing to do for our neighbor to hand over what belongs to him? And if we can get him to do it by a show of right, by getting mom and dad, or teacher, or someone else in authority to approve, well, then maybe it’s ok. Right? But judging your neighbor for being more fortunate in bank accounts, cars, houses, and other assets is more foolish than a little child complaining that his brother got a larger portion of ice cream than he did.
On the other hand, if we are ever blessed with an abundance of wealth, whether it be money, assets, good friends, a good family, a strong body and mind, a good voice, or anything else, we should also be on guard! Why? For the same reason: we are sinners. Sinners sin! Sinners want things; sinners are greedy; they lookout for themselves; they worry about their own skin while thinking little of their neighbor, and worst of all, they often cling to the things of this world more fervently than to God’s Word.
Now, as Christians, we know Jesus, and we can know that what He says is useful for us. He is our Lord; He is our King; He is our Savior; He is our Brother; and He is our Teacher. So let’s listen to what our Teacher has to say about treasure and wealth.
Jesus tells of a man who has so many crops that he needs to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Now it is not immoral to build a bigger barn for your crops. But Jesus explains the foolishness of this man in his attempt to bring comfort and security for his soul. The man says: “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Eat, drink, be merry.”
But God responds: “Fool!” The fool says in his heart there is no God. The fool says to his soul that the fruits of his own labor will preserve him. The fool says to himself that his efforts will bring him joy. The fool proclaims: “There is no inheritance for me except for that which I enjoy here on earth.” The fool looks to his own name, his own reputation, his great number of friends and talents, and he says: “Look at all the good stuff I have! This is my life! This is my well-being! This is what I want on my tomb-stone.”
But Jesus teaches us that our souls do not belong to us. They are not ours to comfort and encourage by means of earthly goods and treasures. “Fool,” God says, “This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
It is as if God were saying, “You may just as well have built a sand castle to live in. All it takes is for the wind to come and dry the sand out until it crumbles or for the waves to come and wash it away. You have trusted in your own accomplishments and your own cleverness, but now you are leaving with nothing!”
Finally, Jesus ends the parable: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich in God.” In other words, so is the one who trusts in his earthly possessions but does not have those riches from God, which make you really rich!
So, fellow believers, that jewel of God’s crown, that light which shines in the darkness, He, Jesus Christ, is the door to all the riches of God. And we find Him here in our text, surrounded by a crowd of people. This crowd included scoffers, cheats, gossips, likely prostitutes and tax collectors; we find Him surrounded by sinners. What was the Incarnate Son of God, God in the flesh, the ruler of the whole universe doing among people like that?!?! He was teaching. He was teaching of the heavenly riches, of the riches only He can bring. He was teaching these sinners the mystery of divine riches.
And aren’t those divine riches great! They include peace with God, redemption by Christ, and comfort and forgiveness delivered by the Holy Spirit. You see, Jesus had his eyes set on Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem where He would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and suffer the penalty of the whole world’s sins. He did not come to settle real estate disputes; rather, He continued to make His way to Jerusalem, teaching, healing, and teaching some more, obediently fixed on doing His Father’s will. And the will of the Father is explained to us by Martin Luther when he wrote:
He spoke to His beloved Son:
“Tis time to have compassion
So go, bright Jewel of My crown,
And bring to man salvation.
From sin and sorrow set him free;
Slay bitter death for him, that he
May live with Thee forever.”
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, don’t look to your bank account for the comfort of your soul. Don’t look to your neighbor’s stuff either. If you want your neighbor’s stuff, if you want his money, his car, his boat, his house, his family, or his friends, repent! Instead, look to Christ! Because He wanted what was yours. He wanted your sin, your guilt, your shame, your foolishness. That was his plea to His Father. That was His prayer. “Father,” He said, “glorify Me!” It is as if He were saying, “Give Me what is theirs! I want it! I desire it more than the most covetous man wants His neighbor’s inheritance! Make me the gossip! Make me the thief! Make me the adulterer, the greedy guilty sinner!”
Yes, our Lord wanted our sin from the depth of His heart, and the Father gave to Him what He desired. He gave Him our temptations, our failures, our hatred, our sin, and our Lord Jesus bore it to the depth of His soul! He drank the cup of scorn and wrath to the bitter drop. And while He made His way to Jerusalem to bear the cross, He did not look back. He willingly bore ridicule, contempt, and disrespect. He asked the Father for our redemption, and the Father answered His prayer with nails and a cross. He answered His prayer with the blood of His only begotten Son, the sinless blood of the lamb. And this is not just any blood! This is the blood which makes our garments as white as snow. The Father answered His prayer with the resurrection of Jesus from the grave and that glorious verdict on all mankind: not guilty!
So when we gather together around God’s Word we eat of the fruits of the cross. We find the living Jesus once again dwelling among sinners. And what is He doing? You guessed it! He’s teaching! He’s teaching you what belongs to you by faith in His name. He’s teaching you what you received in your Baptism. He’s teaching you what you receive when you eat and drink His Body and Blood. He’s teaching the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He is delivering to us by the power of His Holy Spirit, the fruits of His sacrifice on the cross for us. When Jesus teaches us, He feeds us. And when He feeds us, He makes us rich. He feeds us with His Word and Sacraments, making us rich by clothing us in His own innocence so that we may stand before God as holy and blameless heirs of His Kingdom.