“The Closed System of the Rich Fool” (Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11)

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 1, 2010

“The Closed System of the Rich Fool” (Luke 12:13-21; Colossians 3:1-11)

Do you have a closed system? Or are you open to the things that are above? Here’s what I mean: In our Gospel reading for today, we see a rich man who is operating with a “closed system,” as I’ll explain in a minute. By way of contrast, our Epistle reading instructs us to “seek the things that are above.” So which is it? How will we live our lives? “The Closed System of the Rich Fool”? Or the true life that comes to us from above?

First, the rich fool. Jesus tells the parable, and he introduces it with a caution: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The fellow Jesus is responding to does think his life consists in the abundance of his possessions, and so Jesus warns him against the sin of covetousness. Covetousness is that inner greed that hangs around in our heart, that desire for “stuff” and “things” and “keeping up with the Joneses.” We all have that tendency–be honest about it–whether we’re rich or poor. It’s that desire for more, always more. We’re never content, we’re never satisfied.

So Jesus tells this parable, and it’s a good one for us to hear also. It goes like this: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully”–oh, notice, it’s “the land” that produces plentifully, the land that God created, not the man himself that does it. But to continue: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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.’”

Here we see the closed system of the rich fool. It’s closed, in that he only sees on the level of his own little world. He thinks to himself, he even speaks to himself: “Self, take it easy, relax, and have a good time!” It’s a closed system this rich fool has. He does not look up, to see the God from whom all blessings flow. He does not see his ample goods for what they are, namely, gifts from God for him to manage. And he does not look around, to see all the people God has placed in his life that he might help with the blessings he has received. No, it’s a tight little world this rich man has created, a closed system, all revolving around him. “Me and My Stuff,” you might call it.

Easy for us to decry this rich fool, isn’t it? A little harder for us to see the “Me and My” in our own eye. But that is what Jesus would have us do: See how we close ourselves off from God. Recognize our own covetousness and repent of it.

How do we regard the money and the stuff we have? Do we acknowledge, do we recognize, that everything we have comes from God, that they are gifts from him? “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.” The very fact that we have been able to earn an income–this is God’s doing. Then there’s all the “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.” God’s providence, giving us everything we have. God’s preservation, continuing to take care of us, in body, soul, and possessions. God’s protection, guarding our life and our goods from those who would take them from us. Providence, preservation, protection–these all come from our good and merciful Father in heaven. “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

When we realize all this, we will pause and regret all the times we have taken these things for granted. Too often we have acted as though we live in a closed and self-serving system, all focused on “Me.” That is the way of the rich fool. And that’s what God calls the man, as we come toward the end of the parable: “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

What can a man give in exchange for his soul? Nothing, of course. Not all the wealth of Croesus could compensate for the loss of your soul in eternal damnation. You could build the biggest barns in the world to hoard all your riches, and on the dark night when your soul is required of you, those barns will help you none whatsoever. I heard a pastor say the other day that he’d never seen a U-Haul trailer attached to a hearse.

Do we have enough stuff? Do we have a roof over our head, clothes on our back, and food on the table? Your heavenly Father loves you and will take care of you, my dear Christian friends. Often he does that through other people, and so you might be just the person God will use to help somebody else. That’s how it goes in God’s family, the church. We’re all brothers and sisters here–and around the world, too. All the more reason to manage our resources wisely, for the glory of God, the good of our neighbor, and the spread of the gospel.

No, our system is not closed. It is open, open toward God, open to receive from him, open toward our neighbor, open to be God’s channel of blessing to others.

But the rich fool–and all fools, whatever their bank balance, who live their lives in a closed bubble, but whose bubble will burst when death comes calling–what does Jesus say about such a person, whose soul will be required of him? “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The question then arises: How does one become “rich toward God”? That is where Jesus is leading us, to see that we become rich in God’s sight only through him, through Christ. It is as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8: “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.” Yes, Christ, the eternal Son of God, left the glories of heaven and made himself nothing for our sake. He came down from heaven and entered our world of sin and came as a servant. He laid down his life, he shed his holy precious blood, to pay the price for all our sins, covetousness and greed and self-centeredness, our closing ourselves off from God and from one another. Thank God, Christ broke through our closed system and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers!

You see, when Jesus says, “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” he would have us ask the follow-up question, “In what then does our life consist?” Our life, your life, consists in the life that God gives us, life open to your heavenly Father, new life found and given in Christ. Paul says it so beautifully in our Epistle from Colossians: “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 who is your life”: That’s it! “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” That’s the new reality we live in, and that changes everything! It changes our standing before God: We are righteous now before God. It changes the way we live now in this world: Our grip on our stuff is loosened, and we see that there’s more to life than building bigger barns and filling them up. We can be free to use our money for God’s purposes–to support your own body and life and your family, to be sure, but also to be merciful to those in need and to advance the work of the church, here at home and around the globe. This is a much more open life we live as Christians.

And the fact that Christ is your life–this changes your entire outlook on the future. You can live with trust in your heavenly Father, who loves you and promises to take care of you, day by day. And you now have a hope for your eternal future–life that even the grave cannot take away. “You have been raised with Christ”! In Baptism you were joined to Christ and raised up with him to share in his resurrection life. Death cannot stop this. You have been raised, and you will be raised: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

“Seek the things that are above.” “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” There’s more to life than the closed system of the rich fool, all boxed in and turned in on himself. No, no closed system for us! Christ has taken care of that. He has opened up our field of vision, and he has opened the path of life before us. “Christ is your life.” “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Yes, your life, your true life, consists not in the abundance of your earthly possessions, but in the abundance of God’s grace in Christ. You are rich in him, “rich toward God,” and therefore free to use the gifts God gives you in new and creative ways. What a life God has given us!

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Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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