Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9,43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
As my teammates & I stood at the top of Mt. Rainier last Saturday morning, our lead guide looked at us & smiled. We’d reached our goal, the summit of Mt. Rainier. But then he said: Congratulations–you’re half-way there! He was right. Over the past two days we’d climbed 9000’ vertical feet. Now, even though we were exhausted, we had to descend in one day 9000 vertical ft. to Paradise Visitor Center, where we’d begun our journey.
Thankfully, we returned safely. But at the end of the journey, I didn’t feel a sense of triumph. I didn’t feel like I had conquered the mountain. Instead, I was filled with a sense of awe at the majesty of God’s creation & my own smallness. I realized that I really had done nothing. I simply trained, showed up & followed directions. It was the weather, excellent climbing conditions–& most of all–outstanding guides & great teammates that made it all possible.
As I reflect on my life in general, I see the same thing. I have done nothing. I have simply shown up on earth, & that was not my doing, either. All that I have & all that I am is pure grace. When I lose sight of this I lose my way.
Jesus makes the point in his story about a rich man. As we hear the story we meet a man talking to himself, planning for the future. There is no indication that he experiences his life as gift. Instead, he believes that what he has is something that he has gained by his own power. He feels entitled to it & his goal is to protect what he has.
And yet, listen to how Jesus begins the story: The land of a rich man produced abundantly. Did you catch that? He didn’t say, “A rich man produced abundantly.” The land produced abundantly.
Over the past year or so I’ve noticed when I walk through our house that there is absolutely nothing that I have produced. Not the house, not the furniture, not the appliances. All that I have was produced by others. Other people might have the skill to produce some of these things—for example, a wooden chair. But then the question is, who first crafted the parts of the chair, & before that, who cut the trees? Finally, we ask, who made the trees grow, who caused the cells to divide within the trees?
It’s an important point for people of faith because, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, we are constantly tempted to believe that what we have is the result of our smarts, our skill, our strength, & our hard work—or worst of all, our own goodness. It’s common to hear people speak of being a “self- made” man or woman, or “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” But in the Bible we find that God has something to say about that. Remember the story of Job, how he had many possessions but lost them all? As Job wonders how such a thing could happen, God gives him a lecture:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…
Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you?…Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?…
Yes, Jesus says, we are tempted to believe that what we have is the result of our own effort, & that we are entitled to it, & must do whatever it takes to protect it. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, he says.
Last Sunday there was a quote in the paper by one of this season’s political candidates. On his website, he lists people he considers his heroes: Among them, Jesus Christ. And yet, he was quoted as saying, We’ve got to get rid of this ‘protecting the weak’…If we keep the weak alive all the time, it eats up the strong. Here’s a Christian who, like the rich man in Jesus’ story, has lost his way.
It’s become common in our country to hear loud voices claiming the right to protect their power & their treasure. But as God had harsh words even for a good man like Job, so God has harsh words for the man in Jesus’ story: You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?
So–what do we do? As citizens of a nation that is constantly tempted toward the choices of the man in Jesus’ story, what do we do?
Many of you know Dianne Johnson . Dianne is an Associate in Ministry at Lord of Life Lutheran in Renton. Recently she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tomorrow she goes in for surgery.
Dianne has been keeping a public journal of her experience online. Listen to what she has to say, & as you do, compare her attitude with that of the man in Jesus’ story. She writes:
One big lesson I’ve learned this year is to try and live each day in and of itself. American culture has us planning and looking to the future most of the time. When something in our life makes the future unsure it can…create a lot of anxiety.
When I’ve taken teams to Tanzania one comment almost always comes up when we return home: How can the people there seem to be filled with joy when the circumstances that surround them seem so difficult? I’m now thinking that they have learned to live each day as it is and have surrounded themselves with people that they care about.
It was suggested to me in June by a friend to just think about today – leave the worries for tomorrow for that day. I don’t know about you but I found that it’s really difficult to move from this future thinking way of life to living the most for today.
The first tool I was given was also a suggestion from this friend: Each day think of 5 things that you are thankful or grateful for. Sounds simple enough but what difference would that make?
During the week of my diagnosis there was a day that I really was overwhelmed and then I remembered this idea. I started thinking and within a couple of minutes I had five things I was grateful for. It changed my attitude almost instantly as I realized not everything was bad in my life!
The other interesting thing I’ve found is that the things I list are almost always about people in my life. When in Tanzania I love the way their society is built around relationships instead of productivity.
In her time of crisis, Dianne is re-discovering what is important in life. She’s learning again that the secret to a joyful life is not in stuff or planning too carefully for the future. Instead, joy is found through a spirit of gratitude, grounded in the people whom God has placed in her life.
Compare this with the man in Jesus’ story. He has everything, & yet he is all alone—which means, he has nothing.
In a small way, I re-discovered that simple lesson on Mt. Rainier last weekend. All I had was the people around me. The mountain didn’t care. The weather didn’t care. There were dangers all around. But even though we were mostly strangers we were bound to one another as if our lives depended on it. And our lives did depend on it!
All that we have & all that we are is not our own doing but God’s pure gift of grace. And the fruit of that attitude is a spirit of gratitude, joy, thanksgiving & praise.