Going Deeper 8-4-2019

I choose a section from two of our readings to serve as the basis for this morning’s message.  First, from Ecclesiastes, these happy thoughts: “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?  For 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.”    And from our Gospel text, these words, "Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."   Thus far our texts.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
You know, this is a very interesting set of readings for a pastor to preach on less than 48 hours after his mother’s funeral.  First, you have Ecclesiastes, a book within the section of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature.”  And what is at the heart of the wisdom proclaimed in the book of Ecclesiastes?  Life is hard, then you die.
The writer of Ecclesiastes claims to have done it all… gained great wealth and great knowledge, lived it up and lived simply, enjoyed power and popularity and prosperity, and continuously pondered the meaning of it all.  Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say he pondered what seemed to him to be the lack of meaning for it all.  You live, you learn, you work, you play, you gather stuff, you do stuff… and then you die, and everyone forgets about you.  And then, to top it all off, someone else gets all your stuff! 
There are a few expressions within the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes which are a bit more positive, including the verse right after where our reading ended: There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  And at the very end of the book we find these words: The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.  But overall, the writer of Ecclesiastes deals a lot less with the meaning of life and more with the ‘stuff’ of life.
Jesus also deals with the ‘stuff’ of life in our Gospel reading… only the parable He shares deals with the literal ‘stuff’ in our lives.  “One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."   I am going to challenge with this question: Do you really believe what Jesus is teaching here?  Do you believe that “One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions"?  
Of all of the things Jesus taught, this might be one of the most challenging things for those of us raised in this incredibly materialistic culture to accept as truth.  
Elisabeth Johnson, professor at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Cameroon, wrote this about the meaning of Jesus’ parable: “Many who hear this parable, especially in a North American context, may wonder: Why is the rich farmer called a fool?” One could easily argue that the rich man is a wise and responsible person.  He has a thriving farming business.  His land has produced so abundantly that he does not have enough storage space in his barns.  So he plans to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his grain and goods.  Then he will have ample savings set aside for the future and will be all set to enjoy his golden years.
Isn’t this what we are encouraged to strive for?  Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future?  The rich farmer would probably be a good financial advisor.  He seems to have things figured out.  He has worked hard and saved wisely.  Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor, right?
Not exactly.  There is one very important thing the rich man has not planned for-- his reckoning with God.  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?” (Luke 12:20)
The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself, and because he believes that he can secure his life with his abundant possessions… The rich man’s land has produced abundantly, yet he expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who’ve 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.”
As I was growing up, my family always had enough when it came to material blessings… eventually more than enough.  And I am not going to stand here and pretend that those materials things did not matter at all, that they did not in some ways contribute to the overall happy and healthy life my mom and our family lived.  We started in a small but decent house, then moved to a much bigger one on a wonderful piece of property, where we enjoyed many, many family gatherings around lots of food and drink and fun and games. We also enjoyed simple but wonderful family camping trips.  We really didn’t lack for much of anything.
But as I have processed—and continue to process—all these memories and feelings of both gratitude and deep grief, I am struck by what really mattered the most throughout all of these years— and it wasn’t really the stuff we had or the things we did.  Those were great, but what mattered most of all was faith that was at the heart of it all.  Thanks to the aggressive—and sometimes overly aggressive—insistence of my dad, and the quiet but consistent support and example set by my mom, family, faith, and church involvement were always front and center.
Don’t get me wrong… things were far from perfect.  Like every family, dysfunction has—and continues to be—present in our family.  Being committed to faith and to church doesn’t mean we escape all of those trying and painful realities.  But what it does—and this is the point of this message—faith and church involvement and family devotions, and everything else my parents did to nurture faith, provided the foundation for everything.
Our folks tried to set our minds more on things above than things that are on earth.  Because of that, I simply cannot relate to the mindset of the writer of Ecclesiastes.  With faith and family providing the foundation, my mom’s life was not at all lived in vain.  What a great legacy for me, and all of us, to learn from.  More than anything else, seek to be rich toward God and others. 
I urge us all to not get caught up in the pursuit of stuff, or to get so busy with all of the other things in life that we neglect what truly matters the most: the nurturing of our own faith and our children and grand-children’s faith.  Keep grace and love and faith front and center, because in the end all that really matters is how much we loved, and how much we’ve been loved.  Amen.