Friday, August 9, 2013


Luke 12:13-21
12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."

12:14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

12:15 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."

12:16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly.

12:17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?'

12:18 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.

12:19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'

12:20 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?'

12:21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

If it is one thing that the secular world and the sacred world can agree on it, it's that we should not build up an abundance of possessions.  Frank Capra exhibited that theme in his movies You Can't Take It With You and It's A Wonderful Life.  Who is the richest man in Bedford Falls?  George Bailey, of course, who had nothing.  Mr. Potter, who had everything, was unhappy and bitter.  This theme is so overwrought in our culture, we can either think of Jesus' statement as redundant or one of the few statements that permeates all the world of common sense.  Of course we should follow this teaching, no matter what religion or non-religion we follow.

But look at what else Jesus tells the man: "Be on your guard against ALL KINDS OF GREED."  The man wasn't asking Jesus for more stuff, he was asking him to arbitrate between him and his brother in regards to the inheritance.  What's wrong with that?  Doesn't he deserve fairness?  Look at the parable Jesus tells: the man in the parable is only providing for himself, so that he doesn't starve.  That seems sensible, doesn't it, at least by today's standards?  Making sure we have food and clothing are necessities, right?  What problem would God have with that?

ALL KINDS OF GREED: accumulation of stuff is only one SYMPTOM of the greed Jesus is talking about.  What Christ is talking about has more facets than accumulating stuff.  It involves the "sensible" things, too, like inheritance and providing for oneself.  Greed is so much more than getting lots of stuff.  Let's look at what Paul says in our epistle reading:

Colossians 3:1-11
3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

3:3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

3:6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.

3:7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.

3:8 But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.

3:9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices

3:10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Did you notice the laundry list of earthly sins: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed?  This isn't a list to chose from, as if to say, well, I guess I was PASSIONATE before I came to Christ.  No, all of these things came TOGETHER.  And the giveaway is the parenthetical after greed, WHICH IS IDOLATRY. Greed IS idolatry.  We think of idolatry as anything that can be worshiped in God's place.  Idolatry is much more than that, just as greed is much more than the accumulation of stuff.  Idolatry is the gateway to worshiping other things.  It is the provider of idols.  Just as God is the provider of blessings, idolatry is the provider of sins.  There are seven deadly sins, and when we look at them--lust, greed, sloth, etc--they don't seem so bad, but they are deadly because they are gateway sins to a plethora of other sins, sins like the ones Paul lists: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire.  The inward idolatry of greed led us to the other, outward, physical sins in the list.

Think of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  What is the first thing the son does?  He asks his father for his inheritance early.  Sounds like the man who asks the question of Jesus in our gospel reading.  What does the Prodigal Son do with his inheritance?  He blows it on fornication, impurity, passion, and evil desire.  The initial greed was a gateway to the other sins.

Did you notice the other laundry list?  But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Have you ever been in the presence of people talking about finances?  Have you been in the midst of a discussion about money with friends or relatives?  It may start out as a peaceful discussion, but as it progresses, the anger builds, the wrath increases, the hatred heats up, and then irrelevant attacks on character come into play, and all the while the "F" bomb starts dropping everywhere.  When we were not followers of Christ, we were idolaters (there is no middle ground).  The idolatry took the form of greed, and all those symptoms we read about in Paul were our behavior.  

So, what is the solution?  We know the solution came with following Christ, but we still get dragged into the old style of living.  Otherwise, why would Paul continually exhort us to set our minds on heavenly things and put to death earthly things?  Shouldn't our new lives in Christ just happen automatically?  No, our change in life is a process.  But, the good news is that God will not fail us.

Just as the idolatry of greed is a gateway sin into darkness, so God himself is a gateway.  We cannot think, however, that he is a sugar daddy who is a gateway to more stuff, health, wealth, happy family, successful career.  We end up in the same predicament as the man who built bigger barns.  No, look at this line from Paul:

3:4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

God is the gateway, and he is also the destination.  Christ IS our life.  The Holy Spirit connects us to Christ.  God transforms us into the model of his Son.  We look to Christ for everything, and he doesn't give us good stuff.  He gives us HIMSELF.  He gives us his teaching, he gives us his joy, he gives us his suffering, he gives us his death.  These may not all be comfortable things, but they are Christlike things.  They are the result of lives whose destination is heavenly.  Christ is the gateway to the cross.  The cross is the gateway to everlasting life.  We can't just take part of Christ and leave the rest.  We can't just take the good parts.  We have to take the suffering, too.  Suffering produces endurance, preparing our souls for everlasting life.