The Struggle of Giving the Finite Infinite Value

Jul 31, 2022

Sermon 7-31-22
8th Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us: “…sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.” This truth is well-known among us, and yet we struggle to accept it. Try as we might to manage our lives, much is ultimately not in our hands. And the more we turn inward, greedy to protect and control, the less true contentment we find.
     This is the point Jesus makes when, as he is teaching about faithfulness under persecution, he is interrupted by a man who is concerned about his inheritance and wants a ruling on the matter from Jesus. His rudeness aside, this type of inquiry would not have been unusual, rabbis often resolved such disputes. But Jesus discerned that the real issue for this man was greed, and perhaps the desire to control. So, Jesus uses the interruption as a teachable moment that speaks to us all.
     His parable is about a rich man who on the surface is a wise and responsible person. He is a successful farmer whose land has produced so abundantly that he does not have enough storage space in his barns. So, he plans to replace them with bigger ones to store all his grain and goods. Then, he will have enough set aside for the future and looks forward his retirement. That sounds acceptable to us, I would guess.
     Yet, instead of calling him wise, Jesus labels this man as a fool. That’s not because of the crop or the barns, but because he appears to live only for himself, and because he believes he can secure his life with abundant possessions.
     Did you notice in the parable that the rich man only refers to himself? “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 goods.” (vs. 17-18)
     That’s a problem, as Elisabeth Johnson notes in her commentary: “The rich man’s land produced abundantly, yet he expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. He has more grain and goods in storage than he could ever hope to use yet seems to have no thought of sharing it with others, and no thought of what God might require of him. He is blind to the fact that his life is not his own to secure, that his life belongs to God, and that God can demand it back at any time. The rich man learns the hard way what the writer of Ecclesiastes realized – quite simply, that you can’t take it with you.” (1)
     No amount of wealth and possessions can secure our lives. Now, there’s no doubt that money and “stuff” can make our lives easier and increase not only our sense of well-being, but our actual well-being. That is one reason it is so difficult to put them in their proper perspective. Even so, what we posses cannot completely protect us from diseases, accidents, war and other forms of violence; they cannot keep relationships happy and healthy.
     Our possessions cannot secure our relationship with God, which is a gift of grace to be nurtured and responded to with gratitude. It is difficult for us to grasp that our lives and our possessions are not our own. They belong to God, and we are stewards of them for the time that makes up our lives. That’s a challenge for us because we want to be in charge of our lives and our stuff. This teaching of Jesus is about giving finite things infinite value, which is a common problem in our world and in our lives.
     Although we know material abundance is not enough, we struggle in a culture that insists just the opposite is true. How often are we told that money and the stuff it buys gives value to our lives? I recently came across an article from 2016 titled, “Eight Empty Promises in this Year’s Super Bowl Ads” by Joshua Becker. Among the promises were:
  1. An automobile can make you a better parent. (Hyundai)
  2. A television can prevent you from missing out on life. (CBS)
  3. A candy bar can give you unparalleled confidence. (Butterfinger)
  4. A body spray will help you discover your most powerful uniqueness. (AXE)
  5. An App can get you a mortgage (and all the stuff you’ve always wanted). (Quicken Loans)
  6. A watch can make you stronger. (Fitbit)
  7. Watching football can improve intimacy with your spouse. (Super Bowl Bablies)
  8.  A fast food cheeseburger is delicious and healthy. (Jack in the Box) (3)
     While the focus of this list is not necessarily material abundance, it is that things can make our lives, and us, better. Yet, quoting Dr. David Lose, are these things “really sufficient to provide the meaning, significance and joy that we seek? Can they grant us confidence that we are worthy of love and honor and in right relationship with God and others?” Only when we realize that the gifts of ultimate worth, dignity, meaning and relationship are given only by God can we put wealth (things) it is proper perspective. (2)
     This is a vital point in our quest for devoted discipleship. Did you notice in the parable that when the man focused on his own accumulation of wealth and goods, he isolated himself from others, which is the opposite of the focus of discipleship. As Pastor JoAnn Taylor notes, the Kingdom of God is about community, living and working together, staying connected with God and with our family in Christ. It is about being rich toward God. (4)
      In recent weeks we have focused on placing value on the same things God values. The Good Samaritan reminded us to love God and others with our whole selves, to identify those with needs as neighbors and to be a neighbor to them. When Jesus visited Mary and Martha, we heard Jesus tell Martha that Mary had chosen the “better part” as she devoted herself to hearing him. Last week the disciples sought that “better part” through prayer, and we were reminded that as the Holy Spirit stirs in our lives, God answers our prayers.
     Today we Jesus makes it clear that our wealth and possessions cannot secure the eternal. When we value the infinite rather than then finite, we are rich … rich toward God.
  1. “Commentary on Luke 12:13-21” by Elisabeth Johnson,
  2. “Commentary on Luke 12:13-21” by David Lose,
  3. “Eight Empty Promises in this Year’s Super Bowl Ads” by Joshua Becker,
  4. “The Poverty of Greed” by JoAnn Taylor,