Sermon from 1 August.

Colossians 3:1-11

Luke 12:13-21

Jesus’ parables can be richly complex, but they’re rarely ambiguous. There are usually clear good and bad characters, wise and foolish individuals. The parables work like a lighted mirror, showing how we look in God’s light, and that light often puts things into sharp relief. It can reveal sin and brokenness at the core of our concerns, or it can show the holiness of what we thought was mundane. There’s no question about the man in the parable today: God calls him a fool. He stupidly wasted his life on money, right?

So there was a man. He found a good job and worked hard at it. He put in nights and weekends to get ahead, and any bonuses went to the kids’ college fund. He faithfully put 8% into his 401k, and he knew the “magic number” he needed for retirement. He pinched today’s lifestyle to make it tomorrow. And he did it. He reached “enough.” He made plans for his retirement party, and then he would fly to see his kid graduate from college. He left for work that morning with his bags packed at home for the flight. And he hit a deer on the highway and was killed.

Is that story different? We talk about it differently, most of the time. The first man (who lived long ago, in Luke’s gospel) was a fool. He got what was coming. The second man – this was tragic. He was right on the cusp of “the good life.” He had worked hard, delayed his gratification, and… boom. Yes, there’s something tragic to it. There’s something tragic to both stories. Something tragic to life, really, that as hard as we work, our plans don’t always seem to matter. But there’s something deeper about life, too. Jesus talks about a “true life” that is who we are when the money and even the living run out.

And God asks, “who will get all these things you kept for yourself?” There’s no indication that the rich man in Luke didn’t have an heir. His barns would have had designated beneficiaries like our 401k or insurance. It was as good as written down who would get “these things.” Let’s even say, for fairness, that each man had given and willed 10% to his faith community, so they’ve fulfilled that obligation. It’s just, all that work – where did it go? What was it for? Who or what was served by this work?

Jesus doesn’t split hairs. He tells us that this parable is about greed. Paul calls greed “a form of idolatry,” one among a long list. Money is one of those desires that our culture calls insatiable, one f many good gifts that become idols in human hands. I think Jesus is too concerned about people to suggest that we don’t save for retirement, but he cautions us to “guard yourselves from greed.” God wants to surround us with the good things of life, but God knows that these good things can become gods to us.

This is when I call you to repent and be saved, right? I’ve told you about sin, put the fear of hell in you, and now I can ask for your member card and 10%. But I’m caught by this tender passage from Hosea that we used for our Prayer of Church today. This passage tells us about God’s care as our loving parent. God’s words are set within a lament that we’ve turned away: “my people refuse to return to me, so they’ll go down to Egypt again.” War and destruction result from the people’s sin, not because God is wrathful, but because our sin leads to violence. God weeps here: “How can I abandon you? My heart won’t let me. My love too strong!” God promises to roar like a lion at our enemies, to gather her people like cubs back into her nurturing presence.

As much as God allows us to wander, as painfully as Jesus weeps at our incredible ability to reject truth and love, God is still present. He reveals falsehood, renders injustice self-defeating, and roars at the enemies of life. God roars in our defense, and all that isn’t God melts away, exposed as the sham it always was. Then we acknowledge God and return to her arms, or maybe she carries us home by the scruff of our neck.

Then it doesn’t matter what our “net worth” was. The lie of money’s idolatry is that it’s not the way to keep score. We may regret how we lived and spent our time, or we may not. We may need to repent and be forgiven, or we may not. As important as that is (and I’m very happy to share that repentance and self-examination with you if that’s helpful), it’s not the point.

The point is the life we share with God, with each other in God’s name. The point is how we use the money, security, and physical gifts we’ve been given. Did we live for ourselves or in service to others? Did we take the time to trust in God’s abundant love? Did we allow God to be God, allow Jesus to show us the reality of life? Did we allow love to make us new people? May it be so.