Proper 13C: Col. 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
What does it mean to be rich toward God? In today's gospel passage there is a clear indication that being rich toward God is choosing to humble ourselves. Being rich toward God is choosing to elevate God over and above all else in our lives so that we may receive his blessings. The more we read and study Scripture, the more we learn the way to being rich toward God is to readjust how we see.
A couple of weeks ago my Wednesday Word mentioned One Thousand Gifts, a book by Ann Voskamp that detailed her journey through learning to give thanks in all things. This process changed how she saw Scripture, how she saw the world, and how she saw her relationship with God. In addition to this change of vision, she also touched on the importance of emptying, or humbling, ourselves in order to be filled by God.
As we go back through Luke we can see episodes of emptying gratitude.
Mary emptied herself in order to become the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Zechariah, father of John, gave thanks to God for the fulfillment of prophecy. Shepherds gave thanks and praise to God for the infant Jesus, as did Simeon. Jesus humbled himself in the wilderness by not using his power for personal glory, which was a hallmark of his ministry. Simon Peter humbled himself when Jesus asked him to fish on the other side of the boat. Later on in Luke, Jesus will heal ten lepers, but only one returns to give thanks.
Humbling ourselves to serve is following in Christ's footsteps and helps make ourselves rich toward God, because God holds a special place for those in need. Giving thanks to God is making ourselves rich toward God because it opens us up to seeing the presence of God and the goodness of God in all things. Choosing to do these things draws us closer to God.
This choosing is what the author of Colossians is calling us to do. “Seek the things that are above” is a choice we make. Put to death earthly things: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. Get rid of anger, malice, wrath, slander, and abusive language. All of these things are inwardly focused. They are ultimately about satisfying selfish desires. They are about tearing others down so that I may rise above. It is our hidden self, the self of thanks and praise, the self of service, that is being renewed in the image of our creator.
Today's parable focuses on this inward behavior.
A rich man's land produced over abundantly, giving him more crops than he could handle. So what did he do? He tore down his existing barns to build bigger ones in order to store the extra. The man was only focused on himself. Not only did he not give thanks for the extra crops, but he probably never gave thanks for that which made him rich in the first place.
The man in the parable didn't humble himself. He never looked to serve others. He never considered how, with his abundance, he might help those in need. When the overflow of crops appeared, his first thought wasn't that God is using him to help alleviate hunger, his first thought was that he now didn't have enough space for it all. This is the difference between a theology of scarcity and a theology of abundance.
In Luke's gospel, Jesus agrees with the lawyer who said that the way to eternal life was to love God with all you are and all you have, and to love your neighbor as yourself. As Jesus said in Matthew, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Loving God and loving our neighbor requires us to see and live with a theology of abundance, as opposed to a theology of scarcity. When God created the world, it was good and abundantly provided for everyone and every thing. But then we were deceived and we could only see what we didn't, or couldn't, have. When 5000 people showed up to hear Jesus and then stayed until supper time, the disciples only saw three small loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus saw much more and, because of his theology of abundance, all were fed. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and Levite only see how the injured man would negatively impact them; while the Samaritan emptied himself to serve someone in need and gave thanks for resources he had to do so.
When we live with a theology of abundance, with thanks, and with humble service, we begin to live and see into the richness of God. The Son of God humbled himself and became human. Jesus didn't use his power for self-promotion or to rule over others. He came not be be served, but to serve. And in all he did he gave thanks. This is the life we are to emulate. This is the life that makes us rich toward God.
Our society, however, tells us otherwise. Our society is constantly telling us that we are inadequate and how we need to improve and be better. Some preachers continually push a prosperity gospel that ultimately focuses on acquiring our desires. Some churches and groups claiming the Christian name are literally hell-bent on establishing themselves as rulers over society. It's all about getting as much as you can, controlling those whom you can, and being inwardly focused.
But that is not the message of the gospel of Christ. The message of the gospel of Christ says to feed, clothe, shelter, and cure those in need. The gospel message asks us to give thanks in all things. The gospel message calls for us to be servants, not masters. The gospel message constantly asks us, “How much is too much?”
Sheryl Crow may have said it best: It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you have.
The gospel of Christ asks us to reorganize our priorities, loving God first and loving our neighbor as our self. The message of the gospel asks us to change our vision to one of thankfulness, gratitude, and self-emptying service. The paradox of the gospel is that in humility there is power, in emptying there is fullness, and in giving there is receiving.
Following Christ is a choice we make every day. Every day we are asked to put to death that which is earthly. Every day we are asked to live in the image of our creator. Every day we are asked to see the world with eyes of thankful abundance. Every day we are asked how we might serve. Every day we are asked how we might empty ourselves and be filled with the Spirit of God. These things don't just come, we have to choose to pursue them.
As we participate in this service of Holy Eucharist, this holy thanksgiving, as we offer our sacrifices of thanks and praise, will we commit to doing this on a daily basis? Will we choose to see with eyes of gratitude? Will we choose to serve others, not weighing the merits of doing so, but doing so because Jesus served us? Will we choose to live into the abundance of God as opposed to the fear of scarcity?
To paraphrase Jesus from a couple of weeks ago, may we choose the better part.