11 Pentecost Proper C13                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 12:13-21
August 4, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
---  "Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing" 
430 "What Is The World To Me"
352 "O Saviour Precious Saviour"
WOV 734 "Softly & Tenderly Jesus Is Calling"

TEXT (vs. 16-21):  “And [Jesus] told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'   Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I'll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'   But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” 

            It hardly seems like it’s been just over ten years ago that Saddam Hussein was ousted as the dictator-president of Iraq.  The actual date this happened is April 9, 2003, when a United States and British coalition invaded Iraq to depose him and liberate the country.

            One of the images we saw over and over again was this huge 12 meter statue of Saddam Hussein with an outstretched right arm that stood in Firdos Square in Baghdad.  Ropes were tied around it, and it was pulled over so it crashed face-first to the ground.  This happened amid the cheers of the crowd of people gathered there.

            The mighty Saddam Hussein had been unseated, and no longer had any control over the people.  His reign had been a tumultuous one, beginning in July of 1979, and can be best described as that of a ruthless dictator.  He lived in the lap of luxury while people outside his door were impoverished.  And he ruled with such an iron fist that people lived in constant fear of him. 

            The statue was, of course a monument erected because of the absolute power he wielded over the people.  Even though he was a Sunni Muslim, he saw himself as a type of god in his own right, and he basically did whatever he wanted to do.  And there are some absolutely horrible stories that go along with this.

            This type of behavior isn’t unique to Saddam Hussein.  Throughout history, dictators and rulers have elevated themselves to positions of high authority and power.  Any country that is or was ruled by a dictator will have images of that person literally everywhere. 

            Nazi Germany in World War II is a good example.  Hitler had his image posted everywhere.  The people were required to pledge their allegiance to Adolf Hitler, and not to Germany.  And he exerted a type of power over the German people that was incredible.  People lived in great fear of him and all of his minions. 

            I’m using the rather extreme examples of Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler to lead us into our Gospel lesson for today, which is a classic warning against selfishness and self-serving attitudes.  Both of these men had their own agendas that had virtually nothing to do with the good of the people as a whole.  They never gave proper consideration to the end result of things. 

            When we look at this account in Scripture, we automatically think this is only talking about greed and selfishness.  And that brings up an interesting point for us. This may surprise you, but this text isn’t only about greed and the coveting of earthly wealth.   Certainly these nine verses speak specifically to the sins of greed and coveting and trusting in worldly goods over God.  However, there is a whole lot more to the conversation that Jesus was having here with his disciples. The nine verses for today only provide us with a brief portion of an entire discourse.

            “Take care, be on guard…beware.” These are the words Jesus uses throughout this chapter as he speaks to his disciples.  And sometimes we overlook these words because we get stuck on those sentences regarding riches.

            Jesus had just finished eating a meal with a bunch of Pharisees and other high-ranking church officials.  These men were quite upset with Jesus for not following all the rules of the law and making a big show of ritually cleansing his hands before he ate.  And this was not just washing the dirt off of one’s hands; this involved a whole ritual.

            This was ridiculous as far as Jesus was concerned.  So he gives them the sharp end of his tongue:  “Woe to you who cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Woe to you who burden people with all kinds of impossible rules and laws, and you yourselves don’t even lift a finger in an attempt to bear the same burdens in your own lives.” Naturally the Pharisees and church officials weren’t very happy to have their sinful hypocrisies exposed.  But you can see how well their attitudes parallel some of the power hungry and selfish dictators we see in today’s world.

            Jesus knew that he was in a losing situation amongst these people, so he leaves.   As he’s walking along, a great crowd of people, especially his disciples gather around Jesus. Now we know that Jesus is not one to pass up a good teaching moment, and this is no exception. He starts off this entire teaching discourse with these words, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered over or hidden that will not be revealed….”

            Jesus builds on this by then pointing out what some of these sinful hypocrisies look and sound like in everyday life, teaching about such things as rightly fearing God and not man.  Basically, you can hear Jesus hammering home to these people the meaning of the First Commandment:  Fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Everything else is sinful hypocrisy, no different than the sinful hypocrisies of the Pharisees.  You can dress it up and justify it all you want.  It is what it is though.  Sin is sin.  Beware and be on guard.

            Jesus really brings it home at this point.  Nobody should really mistake what Jesus is talking about.  So what happens next?  This guy comes running up to Jesus and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

            You can almost hear the frustration Jesus exhibits here.  “Aaarrrggghhhh!!  This is exactly what I’m talking about!  You call me teacher, but don’t listen to what I’m saying.  You’re not listening, because you’re too busy waiting for your chance to voice your lack of trust in God above all things. This is hypocrisy of faith; this sinful worry and fixation over all the wrong things.  This is no different than the Pharisees worrying about hand-washing procedures. Beware of this sort of blinding, deadly hypocrisy!”

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, that’s really what Jesus is talking about.  Our lives need to match what we say we believe. We hear these words of Christ in our Gospel lesson for this morning, and just like this guy did, we blindly fall into the same hypocritical trap. “That’s not us,” we reason. “We’re not rich. We’re not greedy. We’re not covetous with our money and possessions. We always put God before our checkbooks, and store up our treasures in heaven.”

            But who are we kidding?   I think that we put worldly possessions ahead of spiritual blessings all of the time.  We look at tangible things in front of us in the short term, and fail to see God beyond it all.  Yes, we are hypocrites too; and we become more concerned about the here and now instead of the hereafter.

            You might have heard the news report from earlier this week about a brawl that involved about 20 people in an establishment in Brookfield, Wisconsin.  The police came in and broke it up, and took a couple people to jail.  Pepper spray was used, and paramedics treated about five people at the scene.  It was an ugly incident, but it was handled quickly and efficiently.

            So where did this happen?  It sounds like a scene from a biker bar someplace, or at least some sort of seedy dive in a bad part of town.  But that was not the case at all.

            This was a scene from a Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza restaurant in a suburban neighborhood; you know the place that advertises “where a kid can be a kid.”  They have all these various arcade type games that use tokens, and the machines dispense a certain amount of tickets that can be redeemed for a variety of toys and child-related items.

            The fight broke out between two parents because one parent got upset when a little girl was taking too long exchanging her tickets and choosing her prize.  One of the injured people was a six year old boy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Fortunately he just suffered a bump on the head, which wasn’t serious. 

            I think Chuck E. Cheese’s is a great place for kids to go and have fun; but the adults who should know better are a different matter.  They show all of the maturity of the brothers fighting over the inheritance, or the man who’s only concern was building a bigger barn.  A person’s soul is much more important than the worthless things of this world.       

            One lesson in our Gospel today is about selfishness and greed, which is rooted in hypocrisy.  The scene opens up with one greedy brother fighting with another greedy brother.  Neither one can see beyond the material trappings of this world.  Nothing else mattered to them.

            This was the kind of senseless petty argument that Jesus didn't need to referee.  Instead, he points them to the higher lesson to be learned.  He tells the story of the young man who continued to amass and hoard a great fortune for himself.  He was trying to find comfort and happiness in dollars and cents.

            At the end however, the man has to consider his death.  Then what happens?  How comfortable and secure would his great amount of money be to him then?  He would be standing before the throne of judgment with no checkbook and no hope.  All his wealth would be no good to him.  He would be standing there, all alone.  He would be judged according to his miserly and greedy attitude, and not according to his bank balance.

            When we bundle all of this together, we can see how hypocritical we can be in our faith.  We haven’t loved God above all things.  We’ve looked at earthly wealth as the “be all to end all” in our existence.  But common sense will tell us that there will be no U-haul behind the hearse.  And if we consider people like Saddam Hussein, all of his power and wealth ended on December 30, 2006 when the trap door opened on the gallows, and his lifeless body was swinging from that rope.  What kind of welcome do you think God had waiting for him?

            When we focus in upon our relationship with Jesus Christ, I think that the example of the Macedonian Christians is one that we need to consider.  The Macedonians were amongst the poorest of the poor.  They had very little in the way of material possessions and money.  But they treasured the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a most awesome and genuine way, which is a good lesson for us.

            In 2 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul writes about the Macedonians.  In verse 9 we read:  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

            In Revelation chapter 3, verse 17 Jesus says:  “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”   And that’s the way we come to Jesus, just as we are.  We don’t come clinging on to those things of the world that don’t matter.  We come to him through nothing else but faith alone.  We know that whatever we can come up with on our own cannot remove our sin.  We might be the wealthiest person according to the world’s standards, but still we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked as far as God is concerned.

            Jesus puts the emphasis on the condition of the soul in our Gospel lesson this morning.  When the day comes when our soul is required of us, we know that we will be clothed in the righteousness of Christ through faith alone. 

            An eternity in heaven awaits us, which is not built upon earthly fame or wealth, but built upon Christ alone.  And so we can take special comfort in the words that Dr. Luther uses as an explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed:    “ I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”