First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
2:18I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because 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 also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Psalm: Psalm 49:1-12
1Hear this, | all you peoples;
give ear, all you who dwell in the world,
2you of high degree and low,
rich and poor together.
3My mouth shall speak of wisdom,
and my heart shall meditate on understanding.
4I will incline my ear to a proverb
and set forth my riddle upon the harp.
5Why should I be afraid in evil days,
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
6the wickedness of those who put their trust in their own prowess,
and boast of their great riches?
7One can never redeem another,
or give to God the ransom for another’s life;
8for the ransom of a life is so great
that there would never be enough to pay it,
9in order to live forever and ever
and never see the grave.
10For we see that the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish and leave their wealth to those who come after them.
11Their graves shall be their homes forever, their dwelling places from generation to generation,
though they had named lands after themselves.
12Even though honored, they cannot live forever;
they are like the beasts that perish.
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-11
1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
CHILDREN’S SERMON: The Fox and the Grapes
A Fox one day spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine trained along the branches of a tree. The grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the Fox’s mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them. The Fox had to jump for them.
The first time he jumped he missed it by a long way. So he walked off a short distance and took a running leap at it, only to fall short once more. Again and again he tried, but in vain. He sat down and looked at the grapes in disgust.
“What a fool I am,” he said. “Here I am wearing myself out to get a bunch of sour grapes that are not worth gaping for.” And off he walked very, very scornfully.
Let us pray: Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today’s text raises another question for Jesus. It is the cry for justice. Make my brother share the inheritance! People are coming with their problems and with their questions to Jesus. Three men wanted to be disciples for our text a couple weeks ago. They wanted to follow “but…” Jesus told them to focus on the voice of God, not the other distractions that kept them from obeying. We then looked at Mary and Martha who actually welcomed Jesus. Martha wants Jesus to make Mary help her but Mary had chosen that which could not be taken from her, sitting at Jesus’ feet. Luke so far has shared encounters with Jesus as people asked questions and Jesus answered the seekers, gave a parable and then the principle.
- What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus told of The Good Samaritan. Go and do likewise.
- Teach us to pray! Jesus gave us The Lord’s Prayer. Ask, search and knock.
Today’s person seeks for justice – make my brother share the inheritance with me. Make life fair and just. Jesus tells a parable of a rich man who plans to build larger stores for his anticipated blessings. Death knocks on his door. Again we are encouraged to focus on relationship with God.
Let’s dig in to this week’s text. Perhaps it is a bit poetic that the Old Testament reading starts our thinking today in Ecclesiastes as Solomon, the wisest man, laments, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!”
IT’S NOT FAIR!
We know this cry. Life is not fair and we want justice. Ukrainians are victims of war. They cry on our news broadcasts every night, “Help!” We seem unable to stop the march of war. The January 6 reports have been going on for weeks, trying to make a case for injustice and the survey results seem to show little change in our opinion. We suspect another strain of Coved must be around the corner and are warned to vaccinate because innocent people will die. We can go on and on. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Our man, like the fox, sees a bunch of juicy grapes but they are just out of his reach.
Our text opens as the person approaches Jesus as “teacher.” Jesus responds, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” I have always pondered Jesus’ response. He seems to be dismissing the seeker. Let’s think about it for a moment as I think Jesus’ response is significant.
First, this person addresses Jesus as authority, teacher, and Jesus responds as “friend”. Could it be that the incarnation, God taking on flesh in Jesus, is not about judgment and is not about bringing justice to our life now. Life is unfair. Believing in Jesus is not about our faith bringing health, wealth, and prosperity for us in this earthly life. Faith may not be about getting that bunch of grapes. The fox’s wants do not create reality. That does not mean Jesus is not God but Jesus’ is focused on the bigger picture, bringing salvation, eternal justice for all creation.
Are your feelings a bit hurt? Mine are a little. I want God to be there for me to make my life right and make my life make sense. I am not voting for martyrdom or a painful death or rebellious children. It makes me think of our family rule that you had to be able to see over the steering wheel of the car before we would allow them to drive on the dirt roads or in the game parks of Kenya. We knew they were not ready for that responsibility but that did not stop the kids from begging. They wanted the grapes. The man wants his fair share and Jesus does not arbitrate but gives a parable.
Secondly, I ponder if justice is something that can be taught and brought about by law. Would the man have been truly satisfied if the courts had given him money? I heard on a pod caste this morning, “Law reveals, it does not resolve.” Paul wails in Corinthians, “The good I want to do, I don’t.” And so it is not me but sin that is working in my flesh! The injustice, the unfairness of the situation, is revealed as our man looks at his brother’s richness and perceives his own poverty but the problem is not the law but the sin, the greed in his heart. Sin cannot be resolved by new laws that tilt the scales of justice more in my favor. Sin can only be dealt with on the cross.
Perhaps we need to think about those injustices that the Evil One loves to whisper about in our ears. The whisper always draws us into comparison and somehow the “other” always seems to have been dealt the better hand of cards. The grapes always look juicy. The other’s ethnicity has it easier. Their finances must be in better shape than mine. Dare we think their spouse is better than mine? All these temptations swirl in our minds from time to time and we start singing the “woe is me” song. Please do not forget that Jesus addresses this man as “friend.” Last week we were encouraged to approach God as “Our Father.” And yet again we hear Jesus addressing our concerns as “friend.” Again I hear the message that we are in this together. God is not the fixer and we the recipient as his serfs. We are his children and partners. Some days it feels like a dubious honor and may feel unjust but let’s read on.
As our friend, Jesus affirms that life is indeed unfair but that is not the fault of the law that sets the rules but that law reveals the greed of our hearts. Real justice is not about our things but our hearts.
Jesus tells a parable to make his point clear. A rich farmer is greatly blessed so decides to build bigger barns for storage. God calls him a fool and says death will visit that night and then what is the value of the blessing?
Danger, danger. Did I see you point to the person in the other pew as the “rich farmer”? We dare not dismiss this story as applying to the “other guy.” Jesus is speaking to the offended person in front of him. I would maintain that man is that rich farmer and does not even realize it as he begs for more that he is not yet ready to care for. If he got that inheritance, he would have to build new barns! I do not want us to slip pass this. As a congregation share for one minute some of the blessings God has showered on Bethany and on your life. Turn to your neighbor and say, “I have been blessed with …..”
The cry of injustice focuses on the other person and forgets our own blessings and the forgiveness for the times we have failed. I want to make very clear that as we look at this, we also live in the news reports of the deaths of innocent people in mass shootings. Please do not think that this text today justifies violence, murder and abuse. Life is unfair and sometimes the pain of it feels like more than we can bare. The pain of the death of a child for whatever reason, the random violence of war, or the family chaos in refugee situations or disease and accidents, all are not the will of God. Sin is horrible and must be dealt with. Better laws does not get to the root of injustice, it only reveals its ugliness. The life we do not have always looks like a juicy bunch of grapes just outside our reach.
Danger, danger again. The farmer is a fool also because he takes credits for the blessings of the harvest. The word “mine” seems to be written across this parable. The farmer does not consider sharing his wealth with a tithe, with his family or with the poor. The saying, “We are blessed to be a blessing,” seems appropriate here. God blessed that farmer and God blesses us. The sun rises on us all. The problem is not the wealth but our ability to acknowledge its source and its purpose.
The enemy is not the wealth but the greed that eats at our hearts. You’ve heard the story of a wealthy man asked how much more money he would need to be satisfied, “Just one more dollar.” Financial greed is perhaps easy to focus on because it is easy to sing sour grapes like the fox when we do not achieve the wealth we thought of as youth. My kids thought they would be millionaires by age 25…well 30… just joking! Greed can drive us to go from lover to lover, from addiction to addiction. The question is, “When is enough, enough?” That is a different question than the realization of who gives the wealth and the question of how to use it. The fool does not realize that life is not measured by possessions or popularity or passions. Wealth is measured by our relationship to God and that is available to all.
Life is unfair. The unfairness reveals the conditions of our heart. Life is a gift to be used to bless others. Life on earth is temporary. God is watching. We are not unseen. He is involved in our lives all the time and he observed the man in the parable as that man pats himself on his own back about his wealth and planned expansion. God steps in. “But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ” Unlike the fox who turns his back on the juicy grapes and calls them sour and not worth having, the rich man dreams of new barns because he is confident the grapes are going to be his. He learns the hard way that he cannot control his life.
Life is unfair. Bad things happen to good people who have worked hard and planned carefully. Stock markets crash, accidents happen, wars break out and none of these curves in life are the fault of the people who get caught in them. The fox jumped and jumped but could not get those grapes. Perhaps it was not his fault! There is no indication in our parable that God is punishing the man for his mistaken ideas. Jesus is making the point yet again that we need to focus on that of eternal value, our relationship with God, and realize that the temporal things of life pass away.
Ultimately justice is not achieved by law but by the cross. None of us deserve the blessings nor the problems in our lives. Life is a gift. Death is the equalizer in the parable. Without his possessions, the man is forced to face his dependence on God. We have several stories like this in the Bible. Job without his wealth, family and health, laments with his friends. His good deeds have not guaranteed the life he wanted. Paul on the road to Damascus, so zealous for God’s reputation is suddenly struck blind and confronted with a living Jesus. Paul was going down the wrong road of life. Jesus concludes this encounter, 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Life is unfair. Justice cannot be achieved through arbitration or judgments of the law. Life is not about our possessions but about our relationships. Those grapes are not sour but juicy and worth jumping for but ultimately God gives us the strength and the perseverance.
Paul reminds us in Colossians, our New Testament reading, “2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. . 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
We conclude with the question, “Where are your treasures laid up this morning?” We have come full circle. Life is unfair. We can plan and plot but often life takes a twist. We are not in control of our lives, God is. God is going to bring justice for all, not the law. May we store up treasures in heaven and be rich in our relationship with God.
The people of God said, “Amen!”