Sunday, August 04, 2013

Not Every Gift Is Created Equal (Sermon preached August 4, Proper 13-C)

Sermon text: Luke 12:13-21

 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

In the name of T Jesus.
            “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness,” says Jesus, our Lord.  And we might be tempted to believe that, in saying these words, Jesus, our Lord has taught us to be on guard for others; you know, keep an eye out for those who are greedy…and that may be the case in a secondary sort of way.  But in fact, when Jesus speaks these words, he is encouraging two guilty sinners to take care, and be on guard against their own sinful desires—specifically, the sin of covetousness.
Jesus rebukes two brothers who are coveting the family inheritance, at the expense of their very own brotherhood; he’s not telling them to be careful about someone else’s sin; he’s telling them to repent of their own.  And so, if we are to hear these words of Jesus rightly, and if they are to work in us as they are intended, we must hear them like this: “Be careful, for you will covet; be on guard, for you will be greedy; you will selfishly desire to keep for yourself what should be shared with others.  So be careful,” says Jesus, our Lord, “and guard against your own covetousness desires, for life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
You see, the reason those brothers were fighting over a family inheritance, and desired to have its riches more than they desired to have each other, is the very same reason you will covet, and be greedy, and will have a selfish desire to keep for yourself what should be shared with others, dare I suggest, even sometimes, at the expense of your own brothers and sisters in Christ.  They were selfish sinners.  And Jesus would see them repent of their greed, so that they might stop their coveting, and enjoy their life together as brothers—even if one might have more than the other.  The same is true for you.  The same is true for me.  The same is true for all of humanity.  Jesus would see us repent of our greed, so that our covetous desires might be put to death and no longer separate us from one another.
You see, all of your sin, all of my sin—maybe especially this sin of coveting—comes from within.  It’s not his problem, or her problem, it’s your problem and mine.  And it comes right from within—right from our heart—from which Jesus has warned us every sinful desire will flow.  St. Augustine had a term for it, incurvatus in se: “Man curved in on self.”  It’s the reason Cain killed Abel.  It’s the reason David fell into sin with Bathsheba.  It’s the reason we hear the apostle Paul lament in Romans 7, that he cannot do the things desires, but keeps on doing the things he doesn’t desire.  Cain, David, Paul, you, me, we are incurvatus in se: “man curved in on self.”  We have hearts which, by nature, seeks to serve ourselves at the expense of others.  It’s the universal human condition and, as Luther says, scripture, “describes man as so turned in on himself (so incurvatus in se) that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.” [1]
Cain coveted, and it led him to kill.  David coveted and it led him into adultery and other great shame and vice.  Paul coveted and there’s no telling what sins he had to confess.  The brothers who came to Jesus, asking him to settle their dispute, were coveting, and it was about to divide their family.  You and I have been separated from brothers and sisters in Christ over budgetary disputes in the congregation.  You and I have made accusations of others because of what we would have preferred to see money being used for.  You and I have treated our neighbors with hatred because of our own covetous desires.  The results is that we may be richer, or they may be richer; you may get what you want, or they may get what you want; but too often, we’re left wondering why we’re no longer speaking with one another.  You see, what Jesus desired of those brothers, Jesus desires of you and me.  That’s why we have His rebuke in our ears today.  So that you, and I, might repent of our covetous desires, receive life in the forgiveness of sins, have fellowship in the faith with our brothers and sisters, and use God’s gifts in service to our neighbor.
And boy are we blessed with the abundance of gifts.  Which of you does not have a fridge, stocked with food, and even a second one to boot?  And which of you does not have a freezer full of more food?  Jamie and I have one refrigerator in the house, and one in the garage.  If you visit, I will likely retrieve a beverage for you from the one in the garage—and you’ll have you choice between six or seven different options.  But more than that, each of those refrigerators has a freezer, and then we have a chest freezer in order to keep all of our meat, and other frozen goods.  And of course, there’s a pantry and cabinets with more.  I’ve even thought that I might have to build some shelving in order to be able to store the rest of the food we’ve been blessed to receive.
Which of you does not have two cars or more, and cable T.V., and clothes in your closets you haven’t worn for years, and shoes for occasions you only hope you need to wear, and more books than will fit on your shelves, and numerous bank accounts in a multitude of financial institutions?
And do we not remember a time in this congregation when we had to take from one account to pay bills from another?  We may be a Sunday or so behind in this year’s projected giving, but have you taken a look at the financial gifts the Lord has given to this congregation?  We have thousands of dollars in endowment, just waiting to be used in support of mission and ministry.  We have received gifts from families that love this church, and want to see the ministry of the Gospel continue to go out and impact the lives of people in this community.  We’ve received unanticipated tax refund dollars, and still have Christmas Tree dollars, and other numerous resources with which we’ve been blessed by God.  And we are grateful to receive these gifts, even as we remember, that possessing these gifts is not where we find our life together as Christians.
  When Jesus told the parable of the rich fool to those arguing brothers, he told the story of a man whose land had produced crops in such abundance that his storehouses were filled to the brim.  Notice, that Jesus didn’t describe a man who himself had produced anything, but rather, spoke of a man who received the fruits produced by the land.  As any farmer knows, even a man who is diligent in his work has no control over the earth.  The point is, the storehouses were filled not because the man had filled them himself, but because he had been blessed by God in abundance.  He had been on the receiving end of many gifts.  In fact, he had received such an abundance of gifts that he could not keep them all.  Or should I say, he could not keep them all, unless he built bigger barns?
And so he did.  He built bigger barns so he could gather more goods.  He wanted to continue collecting this abundance so he could relax, eat, drink, and be glad.  But then tomorrow, he was dead.  God came to him, and demanded His life from him.  The Lord Himself came and took back the gift of life, so that those other gifts, could finally be used for what He had first intended them to be used.  That foolish rich man, whose covetous desires lead him to gather more and more goods at the expense of his neighbor, could not stop God from giving those goods to his neighbors, even if God had to end his life to do so.
May we repent of any covetous desire that continues to flow from our hearts, and has caused us to be unnecessarily divided from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  May we repent of our selfish seeking of stuff, that has caused us to miss out on opportunities of service to our neighbors.  May we confess, that the greed which flows from our hearts has often been the source of our hoarding, and our fighting, and may even be what has hindered the extension of God’s Kingdom because of a lack of financial support.  By the Holy Spirit, working through the rebuke of our Lord, Jesus, may we all, repent of our covetous desires, and confess them to the Lord, and if necessary, even to one another, so that, the LORD might not put us to an end in order to see His gifts finally being used in service to our neighbors.  The Lord has blessed with gifts in abundance.  Let us not be found having our life demanded of us, because we’ve desired money, goods, or other possessions, more than we’ve desired each other.
You see, not all of God’s gifts are created equal.  There are gifts which are given for the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, house, home, land, money, and host of possessions that most of us have in abundance.  Each of these gifts is from God, and it is good, and pleasing in His sight for us to have them, and enjoy them.  But none of them, should be allowed, to separate what the LORD has joined together.  None of them should be used to divide the body of Christ, or to separate brothers, one from another.  Because none of them can compare to the gifts that are given to us through the preaching of the Gospel.
Forgiveness, life, and salvation: these are the gifts which come to us through the preaching of Christ.  A clean conscience before God is the gift which Jesus has earned for us, the gift He delivers to us through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  And life lived in accord with God’s Word, being conformed each day in repentance and faith to the image of Christ, is the gift which is ours when we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word which is placed into our ears.  A life-together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, each of us who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb in Holy Baptism, declared not-guilty in Holy Absolution, and have had the very Body and Blood of Jesus to sanctify us and make us one in the Holy Communion.  And so, in repentance and faith, we receive the gift of salvation, and have every confidence that He who has promised it, will bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord.  There is simply no other gift that compares with what is ours in Christ, and what we have together in Christ.
And so, in repentance and faith, dear friends, being made by the Holy Spirit through the words of Jesus, to be on guard, and looking for our own covetous desires to reemerge from within our sinful hearts, we are no longer, just incurvates inse.  We are no longer simply turned inward on ourselves.  On the contrary.  Being forgiven of all covetous desires, and being guided by the Word of God, and learning to see fellow Christians as our brothers and sisters in Christ, an no longer being able to deny our neighbor who is in need, we will be a people with our eyes turned away from ourselves, and focused on the cross, where we will forever see the one who teaches us to give all we have in service to our neighbors.  For when the Father demanded Jesus to give up His own life, He did it, so that everything He had stored up, could be given to you. And if you know you’ll be given everything, what could possibly keep you from sharing it with those who continue to be in need?  In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

[1]Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 25 : Lectures on Romans. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1972 (Luther's Works 25), S. 25:345

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