Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes, I’m not a huge fan of how our lectionary, the list of readings we have for each Sunday, sets everything up. There are times readings are chopped down, so all you get are a few scattered verses here and there, like our Old Testament reading this morning. Sometimes, a reading will have four or five verses—a very short reading; but sometimes, a reading will be a chapter long—thirty or forty verses in length. Other times, it will be going along, working its way week-to-week through a book in the Bible and all of a sudden, it’ll jump ahead a chapter or two without warning, like our Gospel reading this morning. Last week we were at the beginning of chapter 11; today, we’re part of the way into chapter 12. If you don’t have the big picture in mind, it can be incredibly jarring to jump from the Old Testament to a Psalm or an Epistle to the Gospel. I try to give you a bit of context before each reading—what to listen for as you’re hearing each reading. But sometimes, I think a little more would be helpful.
Recently, Anna and I have been working our way through the TV show, “Cheers.” And this last week, they had a two-part episode at the end of a season that had a feature many shows use and I think would benefit us with our readings. At the beginning of the second episode, before they got into the show, one of the characters came on and said, “Previously on Cheers…” He then went through the highlights of the previous episode, catching you up on the main plot points of what came before, so that you’d be ready to pick up the story halfway through.
I think we could use that with our Gospel reading this morning. We’re jumping into Luke’s Gospel and watching an episode of Jesus talking to a guy in the crowd. Without the backstory of this Gospel, without the bigger narrative in mind, it can sound like Jesus is just a big jerk. “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Woah, woah, woah, Jesus. What’s the big deal? He was just asking for a little help! No need to jump down this guy’s throat. But we react that way only because we’ve forgotten what’s happened previously on Luke’s Gospel.
If we had that feature here, it might go something like this: Previously on Luke’s Gospel… and you’d get a flashback to Luke 4, where Jesus describes from the book of Isaiah what He was on earth to do, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then it might jump forward to Luke 6, Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, and you’d hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep. But woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full. Woe to you who laugh.” Maybe they would flash up scenes of Jesus sending out the 12 and then the 72 with nothing but the Gospel, trusting that God’s Word alone would be enough to sustain them. Perhaps we’d get a picture of Mary and Martha with Jesus saying, “One thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the good portion.” We might hear Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer, encouraging them to bring anything and everything to their heavenly Father, who can’t wait to give them His good gifts of His Word and forgiveness and even the Holy Spirit Himself. And then we’d hear what comes right before today’s reading, Jesus saying, “do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do… Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Previously on Luke’s Gospel, you’d hear what Jesus came to do: He came both to proclaim the Gospel and to enact it, both in His life and in His death. You’d hear in His teaching that material things don’t matter all that much, especially when compared to the spiritual reality that He came to reveal to us. And you would hear Jesus’ recent emphasis on prayer, asking yes, for the little things like health and family and earthly life. But mostly, He emphasized praying for what matters eternally: forgiveness and salvation and the Spirit of God.
And then you’d jump into today’s episode. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s like he hasn’t been paying attention at all! Jesus didn’t come to be an estate lawyer; He came to live and preach the Gospel. Jesus consistently shows that money and possessions are not all that important, but this man shouts out that it’s all he cares about. Jesus tells us that God stands at the ready to give us whatever we ask for, out of His abundance of love and grace and Spirit, and the guy asks only for the money and property that is due him. And it’s heartbreaking to see.
So Jesus rebukes him with a question and tells a parable. But before He tells this story, He tells you what it’s all about, what lesson He wants you to take away: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” If Jesus has anything to say about our consumerist, materialist culture, it’s this. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Life is not about stuff. It’s not about having it, getting it, or keeping it. And why not? As Jesus’ parable demonstrates, no matter how much you have, it’s not yours to keep. Life will end and “your” stuff will go to someone else. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
But if life isn’t about stuff, what is it about? What is it that truly matters? What will last from now into eternity without interruption, without decay, without chance of theft? While Jesus doesn’t answer that here, the rest of the Gospels do give us a clear picture. In John chapter 14, Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” I am the life. Jesus alone truly matters. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “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.” He came to give you life when you deserve only death. Because of Jesus, you have died to this world’s way of living and your new life is hidden with Christ in God.
In today’s epistle reading, Paul says the same thing Jesus has been saying. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Christ is your life.
Sure, your kid may get into the most prestigious schools and go on to play professional sports and support you into old age, but if he doesn’t have Jesus, then all is lost. Yeah, you may have a great work-home balance, get promoted to your dream job, and make all the money you could ever need, but if you don’t have Jesus, you have nothing. Sure, maybe you’re retired now, can travel all you want, and don’t have to work another day in your life, but without Christ, your life is meaningless, vanity, striving after the wind. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Life is not about stuff. It’s about Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell