It is never easy to say good bye to a loved one. It is even harder when that loved one is a mom or dad. I’ve been blessed so far as to still have both my parents living, a gift I offer thanks for on a regular basis. However, my parents have lost parents; I’ve had friends lose parents; I know many of you have lost parents. It’s difficult to have to say good bye to the person who raised you, who changed your diapers, who wrote your papers – I mean who helped you write your papers … the people who you called mommy and daddy.
What is perhaps worse than losing a parent is having to deal with family members over the legalities of wills left behind for personal belongings and the future of an estate.
I can remember when my grandfather and grandmother on my dad’s side died. They both joined the Lord within a year-and-a-half of one another. They had lived in the same home for over 50 years; it was a home my grandfather literally built himself. The home had treasure after treasure after treasure tucked in to each nook and cranny. My dad was one of six children. Each of the six had at least one child, for a total of eleven grand children, and many of us ‘grands’ are married and have children of our own, a number that I think is up to 22 great grand children.
When Gramps and Grandma passed, I can remember everyone in the family putting claims on certain items within the house. Some of the smaller items, people took for their own – I’m sure some items were taken without people even knowing. Other items, like the grand piano, prized family artwork, and the collection of thousands of picture slides, were wanted by nearly every person in the family. Some of the larger items, come to find out, had been willed by my grandparents to one child or another. For other items, the six siblings all agreed which brother or sister should have them. And then, perhaps because no one could agree on a certain item or two, others items were deemed to remain at the family property for everyone to enjoy for years to come. I think I got one extra small black silk shirt my grandfather had worn. I will likely never wear it, it certainly doesn’t fit, but it remains in my closet today.
The experience of living through that time, when I was but 19 years old, was my first encounter with how challenging the process of getting one’s inheritance can be.
Our text today begins with a man coming up to Jesus and asking him to step in to mediate the process of distributing an inheritance. Not only is this a messy process today, it seems it has always been a messy process.
The man who comes to Jesus is a younger brother in the family; this is known because he says to Jesus, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” His brother, most certainly the oldest son in the family, had been promised the full inheritance, as was customary of the time. What’s odd about this request is that the man has come to Jesus to step and mediate. Jesus is not a financial record keeper, nor is he a legal analyst, so why would the man ask Jesus to act as mediator? He was smart man. He asked Jesus to step in and help him because Jesus is a fair and just person – Jesus has been travelling for some time teaching a fair and just lifestyle. Certainly, he can offer a fair and just judgment on the family inheritance.
Now, the man’s request of Jesus presents a real problem to how we approach God and Christ. The man is coming to Jesus to try and help him acquire material wealth – perhaps it was in the form of property, money, or even family heirlooms. The man is looking to abuse the power of Christ, the prestige Jesus has acquired by the crowds following him, to gain materially for himself.
Dr. Justo Gonzalez, a well known New Testament scholar, says that “Throughout Christian history, the greatest challenge before the church has not be persecution … nor has it been disbelief. … The greatest challenge, both in the past and today, is what one could well term ‘Christopaganism,’ that is, a form of Christianity whose purpose it is to manipulate God.”[i] It is such perversion of the faith that led to the horrors of the Crusades, in which faithful people prayed, honestly seeking God’s help, to ensure victory over the ‘infidel.’ It is Christopaganism that encourages prayers for God’s help to win the lottery and bank millions. It is also this same misrepresentation that leads people to try and manipulate the Biblical text and the will of God to praise themselves for speaking out and acting belligerently toward persons of other races, sexual orientations, economic status, cultural identities, or any other distinguishable difference they deem to be of lesser value to society.
In our passage in Luke, the man comes to Jesus asking Christ to help him get some of the money or inheritance that was already secured by his brother. Jesus will have nothing of it. He first responds by saying, “Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you.” Simply, Jesus dismisses the man’s request.
But Jesus doesn’t stop by simply dismissing the man, he turns to the full crowd who was gathered around him and speaks and teaches. He’s going to use this man’s request, made in the public arena, as a teaching moment for all who were gathered in that space. Jesus says, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
In other words, he delivers a verbal slap on the wrist to the man who asked him to mediate, and he warns everyone else within ear shot to avoid the kind of material greed that brought this man to Jesus. He makes very clear by saying this that he, the incarnate God – the physical representation of God in the world – will not be a part of helping anyone achieve material or economic gain for personal benefit.
Following this public response, the text tells us that Jesus then turns and “told them a parable.” The response is moving from one of public shaming to one of intimate enlightenment. Jesus tells parables often, and more times than not, they are spoken directly to the disciples. In other words, while Jesus has no qualms speaking publicly on a macro level, when it comes time for deep discipleship, he often turns toward those who had already committed themselves to following Him. So, while the text doesn’t tell us specifically that he’s speaking to the 12 disciples, that is the perhaps the best interpretation of those to whom Jesus tells the parable.
The parable is one you may have heard before; it’s about a wealthy farmer who, because his crops are coming in so abundantly, decided to tear down his smaller barns and build bigger barns more capable of accommodating such a great harvest to come. In the parable, the farmer says, “I will do this … I will store my grain and my goods. … and then I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods for years to come; relax, eat, drink and be merry.”
The parable continues with God offering a response to the man: “God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Pause for a moment and think of how the disciples would have reacted to this man being called a ‘fool.’ I doubt that the disciples would have thought the man a fool, had Jesus not suggested this would be God’s creation. This farmer has a great harvest, he has abundance beyond need, and he clearly has the financial capability to tear down and build new barns with enough haste to have them ready for the fall’s harvest. More likely, both then and today, this man would be called ‘a great businessman.’
Yet, Jesus exposes him as a fool. He’s a fool because he made two false assumptions.[ii] First, if you listen to the man’s words, he assumes that everything he has is his own. He says he will store up, “my grain and my goods …” He treats his possessions as if they have no purpose for anyone other than himself. He indicates that his barns will be so filled that he will be able to sit back, relax, eat, drink and be merry. He’s going to remove himself from participating in the work of community by maintaining the full harvest entirely for himself.
His second false assumption is that he knew the timing of his death. God makes clear in the scriptural text that none of us know the hour or day we will join Christ in eternity. This man’s abundant storage would all be for not.
Jesus exposes this man’s false assumptions, calls him a fool, and says to the disciples, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.”
Perhaps the biggest problem for the farmer isn’t that he tore down the barns and built bigger ones. Perhaps the biggest problem isn’t that he had a harvest abundant enough to fill the larger barns. Perhaps the biggest fault for the famer is that “he misunderstands the world. He thinks that hard work and luck have earned him an exemption from human interconnectedness. He is wrong.”[iii]
Back in Genesis, in the story of our creation as recorded in the second chapter of Genesis, when God creates mankind, the Hebrew word for the man that is created is adamah. The word more literally means ground, or earth – the human is of the earth. Genesis 2 verse 7 clarifies this; it says that God created this man from the dust and the dirt of the earth. The man created, a man made from dirt and whose name literally means ground (or earth) is perhaps better known as mudguy. He’s literally a human formed from the mud of the earth.
So, stay with me, mudguy is standing there, is his true birthday suit, and we’re told that God breathes into his nostrils, and only after receiving the breath of God, that is, the breath of life, the man becomes a living being. Now, if that’s not a crazy enough start to human life, we have to take a closer look at the Hebrew text for what it means to be a living being.
The Hebrew word that is translated in our English text as being is the Hebrew word nephesh. It is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, but it not always translated as the word being. In fact, more times than not, it’s translated as the word soul. That shouldn’t be overly surprising. Our intrinsic being humans is often associated with our having a soul. But, there are a couple of times that the word nephesh is translated in the English text with the word throat. Now that’s odd. How are our being and our soul connected with us having, or perhaps being, a throat.
Stay with me … In ancient Jewish theological anatomy (we’re going deep right now) … In the ancient Jewish understanding regarding theological anatomy, the throat is the “metaphorical home of desire.”[iv] The anatomical location that was the source of our desire was not the heart, or the soul, but the throat. How so?
In this text, because God has breathed life into the mudguy, the mudguy becomes not just a living being, but more literally speaking, a living throat. What does a throat do? The throat is responsible, according to ancient Jewish theological anatomy, for being the vessel that breathes in the life of God and then breathes out the same life giving resource of God. So when we breathe in, we’re receiving life from God; when we breathe out, we are sharing life with God’s creation.[v]
So Jesus says, one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Our worth is not defined by how much we have. Jesus says, what defines you as a living being is not how much you receive – in actuality, we all receive the breath of life from God. Our invitation by God, even as early as the time of our Genesis when were created in the image of God, is to be part of God’s process of giving life to others. Our invitation by Christ is to life more fully into the being we were first created to be – one who takes the invitation of God by receiving life from God to go forth and share what God has provided us that others may also have life.
The last couple weeks we have talked about what it means to live Simply Free in this life. First, there’s a trust issue – we have to trust God. Second, there’s a worry issue – we have to stop worrying so much. And third, we have a sharing issue – we have to live into our created call to share that which God has provided.
From the first day of our creation as living human beings, our invitation by God has been to receive and then to share. Christ affirms this, saying our call is not to hoard and to accumulate, but to breath out and be a part of the life sharing process that defines the love and will of God.
And that’s our call as a church: to find ways that we, having received the life giving source of life by God, can respond by breathing out and sharing that life of Christ with the world.
Next week, we’re going to get together for our annual Harvest of Hope and celebrate some of the many ways God is already calling us to share life with others. We’re also going to celebrate some of the new ways we’re called to be part of the life giving source in our community.
Here’s a few ways that God is speaking to us and calling us to take the life I have provided you and use it to share life with others.
- We have a number of ways we’re being called to use our building to provide life giving resources to the community:
- Open Table – our Monday morning breakfast ministry.
- A new computer lab – using some 5-10 year old computers in the church to provide computer and internet time for the homeless and low-income members of our community.
- Open up the building to provide internet access for the students of our local schools. These students need a safe and trusted place to come and utilize their laptops. We would like to pair this with tutoring (reading, math, computer skills, etc.)
- Partner with Jefferson Houston beyond internet access for students:
- The school is a uniform school. The students who can’t afford uniforms have a stigma about them. We want to help provide uniforms for these students so they can worry less about their clothing, and worry more about their education.
- Children’s Ministry:
- We want to be more intentional about offering a place for our own children to grow in their faith, and to grow in love in this community.
These are just a few of the opportunities that are being laid by God in the midst of our community. None of these things are possible, without as a community, coming together and sharing with the community that which God has provided us.
Next Sunday, in the midst of the Harvest of Hope, you’re going to be asked to make three commitments to the church.
- Pray for the church – if we aren’t praying, we will never get where God is calling us to go.
- Give to the church financially – Help our church dream and vision, how many of these things God is laying before us can we make happen? They take a financial commitment.
- Serve the church with your time and talent – There are many ways you can serve within the life of the church. But there are also ways you can serve by engaging in the community around us.
So let us gather next Sunday to say to God, we are ready to commit to breath back out to the community – to share with the community – the same life giving resource found in the love of God that has been freely offered to each of us.