Luke 12:13-34

Many of you have heard it said that good preaching is meant to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, or something like that. The phrase actually originated in 1902 when a reporter said that newspapers were meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In 1987, Martin Marty said it about religion, and since then it’s been said about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and Christianity. The author of the Gospel of Luke is a master at this. There are countless passages that bring a great deal of comfort to anxious, fearful, hurting people, and then usually right with those are the passages that can bring unease and discomfort to those who have a lot. Today’s passage is a prime example.

Jesus is preaching to crowds that have grown into the thousands. The crowds are so big that Luke says they are trampling on one another. But Luke also specifies that Jesus begins speaking first to his disciples. He’s telling them that things that have been hidden in darkness are going to be brought to light, and that they shouldn’t be afraid of those who are persecuting them, because they are of such value to God, who sees what is happening. He talks about the importance of being true to God and to the Holy Spirit, and to trust that the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say when they are brought before the authorities. This is serious business.

And then someone in the crowd asks him to “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” It’s such a sudden shift. This man has been missing the really important words being spoken, because he has come with one agenda in mind – to get Jesus to get him more of the family inheritance. It’s a little bit like the Mary and Martha story we talked about a couple of weeks ago. Martha was so focused on doing what she thought was right, that she was missing the fact that the Messiah was in her living room and she had a chance to learn from him. This man likely has heard nothing else that Jesus has said, because he is focused on getting his money. Both of them tell Jesus to fix their siblings.

Several questions come to mind for me with this man. I assume he is the younger brother, because in those days the oldest brother was supposed to get a double share of the inheritance, meaning if there were just two of them, the older one would get two thirds of the money. Girls were supposed to get married off and therefore had no need to inherit. But I wonder, are the parents still alive? Is this man asking for half of the money? Is his brother unwilling to give him anything? I can get distracted by the details of this story. But Jesus doesn’t. He says, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And then he tells the people to be careful of greed, for “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

And then he tells them this parable about a rich man whose land produced an amazingly abundant crop. At first the man sounds a little anxious about this good fortune. Listen to what he says: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But it turns out that he won’t get that chance, because he dies before he can accomplish all this. And Jesus says that is the way it goes for people who “store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.”

Well, we could stop here, and those of us who are comfortable don’t have to feel too afflicted. We can see the problems with this man. He is SO self-centered. It’s all about me and mine and I. He never stops to ask how his abundance might be used to bless others as well. He doesn’t bring God into the conversation, even to thank God for the land that has produced such an amazing crop. He alone will solve the problem, and he alone will enjoy the proceeds.

There are in fact places in the Bible that encourage us to store up things when times are abundant, so there will be enough to carry us over, when things aren’t as easy. Joseph, who was appointed to interpret dreams to the king, advised the king to do just that, knowing that a famine would be coming. In that case, having stored up the extra for years, the entire community was saved. People in the Bible did celebrate and party when the harvest was abundant. But they celebrated the God who had provided for them, and worked together to care for one another.

So we can say that we are not like that man, because we do care about others, and we do give thanks to God for all that we have. It’s okay to have possessions. We just aren’t supposed to be so focused on them that we forget about others. We aren’t supposed to take all the credit for having good things, but remember that all that we have ultimately comes from God, who cares about us, and will take care of us. God doesn’t want us to worry about that.

But then Jesus gets to meddling! It starts with comfort again. “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasures to give you the kingdom.” That’s great. That’s wonderful. God wants us to have everything. But then Jesus goes on. “Sell your possessions and give alms.” Uh oh. Does he say we have to sell everything? Well, not here, but he does to one rich young man who asks him about the kingdom. Is he back to talking just to the Disciples, or is this meant for everyone? The disciples have left their homes and their families to physically follow him. They can’t be distracted by worrying about things back at home. They have to let it all go, so that they can focus on what Jesus is teaching them. This is one reason the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t allow priests to marry. They won’t have to be distracted by all that goes on with having a spouse and children. They can focus more fully on God.

So again, we come back to the issue of being distracted by things. The really good news is that we don’t have to earn our way into the Kingdom of God. It’s been given to us, and we can start living it out right now when we genuinely care for one another, and give thanks to God, recognizing that all that we have comes from God. We live it out when we share from our abundance, not just with money, but with time and talent too. The problem is when we become so focused on getting more for ourselves, that we forget to even notice all that we have been given, and all that yet might be ours in a non material sense, when we live with a focus on others.

Many of you have heard about one of the swimmers in this Olympics. Her name is Yusra Mardini, and she is swimming for the first ever Olympic Refugee Team. She is 18 years old, and left Syria when life there became unbearable. She and her sister boarded a dingy meant to hold 6 people, and there were 20 on board, headed for a better life. But less than half an hour after leaving Turkey, the motor failed and the boat began to sink. She and her sister and two others got into the water and pushed the boat towards Greece. The other two gave up eventually, but she and her sister continued to push and swim for 3 ½ hours in the cold water, saving the lives of everyone on board. In an interview with Yusra, she was asked what belongings she has. She picked up a small, lightly packed backpack and said “This is mine. This is what I have.” The interviewer said, “That’s all you have?” And she said “Yes, this is all I have.”

But she has something much more. She found her way to a swimming coach in Germany, and onto this first – ever Olympic refugee team. What she has, and what she wants to give now, is hope. She is aware that there are many who are in similar situations, and she know they are counting on her to show them that things can in fact get better. She doesn’t want to let them down.

It’s not about how much stuff we have. It’s about how we use it. It’s about how we go about taking our blessings, giving thanks to God for them, and finding a way to make them continue to be a blessing for others. May God help us all not to get distracted, but to keep focused on the really important things – the love of God and one another. Amen

Learning to Live as a Disciple–Possessions

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