What is a Life of Abundance?
This week I took some time to go to the Wood County Fair to watch the judging of cattle and pigs. Several of the youth from this congregation were involved in those
projects. The experience took me back to my own days in 4-H when I showed dairy cattle.And I remember getting a case of the butterflies so badly prior to entering the ring that I would be sick to my stomach!
I give all of these youth credit for taking on the responsibility of 4-H projects. There is a lot of hard work, sweat, and pressure involved from the beginning of the process to the end. And in the end, it is exciting to win the top spots and it can be disappointing when we finish lower than expected. I remember and witnessed the same range of emotions this week as if it were yesterday.
Looking back, we can appreciate how important those competitions were in our childhood. They were forming and learning opportunities and IF you would have asked me back then what a life of abundance consisted of, I probably would have said a case full of showmanship and grand champion trophies. Yet in the bigger picture a trophy case is a hollow example of a life of abundance.
Believe it or not, the judging competition at the fair fits nicely into today’s Gospel text where there is a request for Jesus to settle a family dispute. While you may not see the connection at first, I think it will become obvious as we work through the text.
Someone in the crowd said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” The request opens some insight to the situation at hand. It was a cultural tradition of the time that the oldest son would receive a double portion of inheritance compared to each of the following heirs. So in this request, it is obvious that the question is coming from a younger sibling who feels that they have not received their fair share.
After Jesus explains that it is not his role to be an arbitrator in this case, he gives a radical response to this cheated sibling and the crowd. He said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the 2abundance of his possessions." WHOA! Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Let’s just give that a moment to sink in. (Pause)
What does Jesus mean when he says that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions? Can you hear the people asking…What about the trophies shining in the fancy display case? What about the ribbons? Did you notice that the grand champion steer is mine? Have you seen the expensive truck that I drive, the beautiful house that I own, or that brand new combine in my field? Are you aware of everything I do for the community? Look at my estate and see how much I am worth!
In a sense, aren’t there times when we continue to see ourselves in the show ring, attempting to receive approval as we affirm ourselves through our actions and possessions? The judge that we are trying to impress might be family, friends, classmates or co-workers, neighbors, and/or society as a whole! But Jesus says, “Take heed, your worth is not defined by possessions.” That statement flies in the face of all that we know! Think about how much of our life is focused on being accepted and affirmed by others?
So Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a rich fool. And it starts, ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” WHO produced abundantly? The LAND produced abundantly. Sometimes we might like to take credit for the results of our activities.
Now read verses 17 and 18. He thought to himself…this is not a conversation with anyone else but himself. Who is the rich man concerned with? HIMSELF. He needs to build larger barns to store all his grain and goods. What is the assumption from that statement? He wants to keep everything for himself! And in verse 19, he again says to HIMSELF, that he has an abundance of possessions that will last for years. So what will he do? Relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Life is good, he has everything he needs, life is all about HIM, and everything he has proves how important he is, just ask him!
And Jesus’ parable goes on to say, “God said to him, ‘You Fool! This night your life will be taken and then what happens with all of your possessions? Whose will they be? What does ‘ownership’ of possessions mean? In the end, whatever has been accumulated can’t go with us. So our things are given as an inheritance to someone else who can’t take the stuff with them either.
As we consider this parable, here are some questions to think about. How does this story affect our understanding of accumulated possessions? Is it bad to relax, eat, drink, and be merry? Do we consider our possessions and activities important to our personal worth?
The underlying theme in today’s text is greed and how it seeds idolatry toward things other than God. This radical message from Jesus basically says that when we have things stored away, they are useless. We are blessed by God when we are giving things away! We experience joy when we are sharing our abundant possessions with those who have less.
There is also a lack of trust in God in our greed. We believe we need more, and desire more than God will provide. We typically think that we know best what we need. The question that is often asked is, “Do we believe in God?” But the more accurate question is “Do we trust God?” Just because we believe IN something does not mean we trust it.
The sibling that came to Jesus wanting his fair share is told that his worth as a person is not dependent on the inheritance that he ‘deserves’. Instead, an abundance of possessions can create complacency, when we are more concerned about our own conveniences over the needs of others. Our life of abundance is the love, gratitude, and grace found in a heart committed to Christ. It is the inner joy and peace that we feel when we are giving generously to others. Giving away not JUST possessions, but also compassion, love, and forgiveness. That is where we experience true freedom.
Jesus isn’t judging our every move to determine whether we are worthy of His acceptance. The good news is that Jesus gives all of us a blue ribbon in love and forgiveness while defining our immeasurable personal value as loved children of God. Nothing in all of creation is more valuable than that. Amen.