(The Moravian Congregation in Bajo Canampa, Peru)
Finding a Mission Rooted in Love
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Luke 12:13-21
Why is Jesus complaining about this farmer? By the standards our society would use to measure, he is a success. He has managed his crops remarkably well, so well that his old barn is no longer big enough to hold the harvest. As a result, he must do what all successful folks do, build bigger and better. Is that not how we measure success? If you must build bigger, that is a sign that your stock is rising; you’re adding on employees, making more money, and moving up the ladder! So, why is Jesus complaining? It turns out that in the kingdom of God, growth in wealth and property are signs of success. Let’s dig a bit deeper.
One telling characteristic is that when the successful farmer talks in this parable, he talks only to himself. The only person he refers to is himself: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” “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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry'” (Luke 12:17-19). Where is God in this equation? Where are his loved ones?
Let’s just say up front that Jesus is not telling us to avoid saving for retirement or future needs. Jesus does not suggest we can’t enjoy what God has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus enjoyed the company of people and life. Jesus tells several parables about banquets full of guests, and it is not the banquet itself that is in the wrong. Instead, it is the guest list, or it is the refusal of folks to respond properly to the invitation. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding banquet. So, it is not that Jesus does not want us to share fellowship and joy around a good meal. But in this parable, Jesus is making it clear where our priorities need to be.
The bottom line is determining how attaining success and spending our money impacts our relationships with God and others. Does success come by compromising our values? Is success achieved by ignoring the more important matters of God’s kingdom? Does having to build more buildings come at the cost of neglecting the important relationships in life? Are we spending more time completing our to-do list than we are in sitting at Jesus’ feet? Perhaps you will recall that in the assigned Gospel lesson for July 17, Jesus reminds a busy, task-oriented Martha that her sister Mary has chosen the better way by taking the time to sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42).
Let’s be honest here; we want to be in charge of our lives, time, money, and stuff. The truth is that we do not belong to ourselves; we belong to God and to God’s kingdom here on earth. All that we have is a gift of God, and we are but caretakers of our possessions for the time God has given us on this earth.
I recently read that a wise pastor once said, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.'” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.
What we treasure most indeed is where we will place our time, energy, and passion. Not long ago, we also heard Jesus teach from the Hebrew scriptures that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus then added that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. No other commandments are greater than these. Today’s parable gives us a good look at how these great commandments play out in our lives and how they define our mission in life.