Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Owned by what we own. . .
This Gospel challenges every common wisdom and flies in the face of American values. We live in an age when fairness and equity are the minimal expectation of the law, the marketplace, and happiness. What could be more right than a man asking Jesus the wise and just to intervene for the sake of fairness? What is more just that an equitable distribution of the estate? But Jesus claims it is all foolishness and vanity. How so, we cry? Does not justice demand it? No, Jesus says, A man’s life does not consist in his possessions (many or few).
Every day we deal with things – work, home, children, community; and looking for equity. We daydream about a $400M lottery, we shop on line and in stores, and we pay bill after bill after bill. How can Jesus say that things, the lack of them or the want of them do not define us? That is the point. Jesus says they do. We do not own our things. They own us.
We are possessed by our possessions. Our lives are driven by what we have and the selfish desire to keep it from the government and everyone else who wants to take it from us. Our lives are left in discontentment and sorrow by our envy of those who have what we want. Our lives are lived out not in reality but in the dream world of what might be if only we have the money, time, and freedom to do what we really want to do.
We have turned American religion into a servant of our desires and expect the preacher to tell us how to enjoy our lives more, how to get more happiness from what we have, and how to obtain the things we do not yet own but desire. We don’t own our things; they own us. And the pursuit of our things has not left us satisfied but even more discontent and unhappy.
The problem is not the things. We are the problem. We were created not to possess but to be possessed by God, to be owned by Him who made us for Himself. We were not created to explore our own desires but to live under God, content as His creatures, to do His will. As you remember, this did not last long. A slithering Satan put questions in our mind and before we knew it we had rejected the Lord and sought to be our own gods to own things and use them for our own purposes – even each other.
The sin left us the walking dead – constrained by our fears so that we were not secure and consumed by our wants so that we were not happy. And we could do nothing to fix it all. But the Lord intervened to reclaim His lost creation even at the cost of Jesus’ own suffering and death upon the cross. We were redeemed by Christ to belong to Christ. We were bought with a price and we are not our own. We belong to Him.
The Lord bestowed upon us His Spirit so He might create in us new and clean hearts, content as creatures again. For the fruits of the Spirit are not just love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. No, the fruit of the Spirit is also learning to be content to belong to God and to live the lives of holiness as God alone directs.
There are two great lies. One is self-sufficiency. You cannot do whatever you want or fix what is wrong or prepare for every what if. You need the Lord to guide you, to be your strength, to repair the wrong of sin and death, and to teach your heart to be content. The other is envy. No matter how many our things, they cannot satisfy our longing or bring contentment to our hearts. What we have is constantly valued against those who have more and against the fear of losing what we have. We do not possess our things. They possess us.
Christ offers another path. The path of faith. We do not need to be owned by our things or our cares or our fears or even by envy. We belong to the Lord. He has purchased and won us with the holy sufferings and life-giving death of Jesus. He has cleansed us in the waters of baptism where we surrendered all vestiges of our dead life to be raised up in Christ with a real and eternal future. Now we come to find our completion in Christ, to enjoy the contentment and peace of His mercy, and to live as He guides – not owned by our things or our fears but possessed by Christ and prepared for the eternal future we have in Him.
The goal of Christian freedom is not our own self-expression or the pursuit of our own desires but learning to love holiness, to seek righteousness, and to live under God in His Kingdom forevermore, as Luther reminds us in the Catechism. Our things are not our undoing but our desire to be our own and pursue our own dreams and desires. Our redemption in Christ is not to provide us the freedom to do as we please but to restore us to the blessed state of our creation in which we learned peace and contentment from living as God's own, doing His bidding. Through forgiveness we are daily reclaimed for this holy vocation until at last what God has begun in us is brought to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.