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Pentecost 8C Sermon
Ecclessiastes 1:2, 12-14;
2:18-23, Luke 12: 13-21

August
4, 2019

 

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Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labours under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 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.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 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?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

As I mentioned at the beginning of our service, this is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost. Most of us Lutherans call this the Pentecost season, lasting from Pentecost until Advent. Some refer to it as the “Green season” because the paraments are green, it spans the seasons of spring and summer, and encourages growth in faith and discipleship. It spans about half of the calendar year and includes no major festivals or Holy Days. It is for this reason that some Christians – especially Roman Catholics and Episcopalians – call it, “Ordinary Time.” While big days like Christmas and Easter tend to be riveting and awe-inspiring, ordinary time is for the common folks who just want to live our lives in ways that pleases God, are imbued with joy, and helps people. While not flashy or special, ordinary time can be the best season of the year.

Part of the reason for this is that, as the teacher reminds us in our Ecclesiastes text this morning, life can become nothing but vanity … meaningless and empty, like a vapor or mist that hangs in the air for a short while before it dissipates into nothing. This is true of the busy-ness of everyday life that the teacher calls, “unhappy business.” This is true of the toil in which we engage for the many years of our lives because after we are gone, we cannot guarantee that those who come after us will treat our accomplishments and earnings as we did when we were accomplish and earning them!! Even wisdom, knowledge and skill disappoint us as we look for lasting meaning and joy. In these Sundays of Ordinary Time, we are challenged today in our scripture to address the questions, “What brings true meaning in life? What is it, in the midst of the ordinary stuff of life, that makes this extra-ordinary? In the reality of this warning about the vanity of life, how do we not despair but rather see what we have and what we leave behind as gifts from God?”

Our Gospel lesson consists mostly of the parable about the rich fool. Jesus is approached by a man who wants him to intervene for him with his family, so that he might receive his fair part of the family inheritance. An inheritance is something that you do not earn – it is left to you by your parents or other family figures who love you and want you to have some of their wealth when they are gone. But Jesus refuses to get involved and instead warns people about greed. He tells a parable about a man who has so much that he pulls down his barns to build bigger ones, then he settles in to eat, drink and be merry. Jesus calls this man a fool – he warns him that his life will be ended that night and that he will lose all control over what he leaves behind. As usual, the original hearers of this parable might be drawn into believing that this rich man is doing the right thing … after all, he is rich (which would have been a sign of many blessings from God) he seems wise and responsible in what he is proposing to do, and he is not reckless with his life or wealth. He should be commended.
So why does Jesus call him a fool? Is it because of his riches or his desire to want to enjoy life? Is it because he is planning for his future? No, Jesus does not chastise him for any of these things. He does chastise him for storing up treasures for himself AND for not being rich toward God. Notice that the man in the parable only speaks to and about himself. “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this; I will pull my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry’”. This man never expresses gratitude to God for abundant crops. He never talks about returning to God a portion of his bounty. He never acknowledges that it has taken many workers to build his fortune and will take many workers to do as he is proposing now. And he never expresses a concern for those in his community who live without enough to even eat or drink, let alone to be merry. In a gospel which recounts Mary’s words that we call, “The Magnificat,” in which she proclaims that the hungry will be filled with good things and the rich will be sent away empty, Jesus is being consistent in his call for justice in God’s creation … for all of God’s creatures. There is something in this man’s greed that has blinded him to the hunger that exists around him; this is why Jesus calls him a fool.

Each of us probably has different definitions of what it is to be rich and what it is to be poor. In the context of the entire world, each one of us in here is rich beyond measure. But in the context of living in this nation with all of it’s demands and challenges, many people with good jobs still struggle to live paycheck to paycheck. And yet, there is still a sense that we can be rich even though we may not be on any lists of wealthiest people. A friend recently shared this quote with me, and I thought it says a lot in light of the parable that we heard this morning: When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, you aren’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you have more than you need, you are poor whether you acknowledge it or not.

So many of us are at the same time rich and poor. We store up treasures for ourselves out of necessity, and yet we are not rich toward God. Being rich toward God means sharing. Sometimes that means sharing money or food, clothing or other items that we have accumulated in our lives. Sometimes that means sharing your time to be with someone, a listening ear, a comforting touch or a shoulder to cry on. Jesus’ challenge to this one coming to him for help with his family’s inheritance is that he remember what is important in all of this – what brings deep and lasting meaning for you. Is that the money you are supposed to get? Or is it the love that your family has shown to you, and that you are called to return to God and to others as you are able. We all are able to return love to God. It is not only good for the mission of Jesus in the world today, but it helps each of us from having to tear down our barns to build bigger ones. We can enjoy the life that God has blessed us with, and we can share those blessings with others. That is having treasures ourselves and being rich toward God. We have enough … we are called to express gratitude to God and to those who have helped us along the way. We are challenged to acknowledge that we are not solely responsible for the blessings of life. In these ordinary Sundays of the church year, we are called to remember the vanity of chasing after our own wealth, and the real joy and meaning that come in sharing love with all. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.