Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Good Life revealed

Luke 12:13-21, the gospel lesson appointed for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, contains an unmistakable lesson:  hoarding one's goods/wealth is foolish and unfaithful.  Needless to say, this is something all of us are prone to, and therefore the title given to the rich farmer is one we all have earned to some degree - Fool!  We need to hear this warning regularly, and heed it.

(The following questions are an attempt to unearth some of the theological issues for Law/Gospel preachers.  A more complete explanation of this genre of preaching can be found in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1. How does the Word function in the text?  Verse 15 gives the function of this text:  "Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed."  Jesus is giving us a warning.  Is this a gospel word?  No.  Is this a word of law?  Yes.  This word functions to expose our need to be saved by Christ from the clutches of greed.  This word is saying, "You need Jesus to save you from greed."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of gospel here, no word which declares what God has done for us in Christ.  When preaching this text, other biblical passages will be needed to declare that "the good life" comes through Christ.  (e.g. Jn. 10:10:  "I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.")

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is very important for us to identify with the person in the crowd who asked the question, and to whom Jesus' answer was directed.  If we preachers think that we are not prone to greed we are gravely mistaken.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the Word functioning to invite us to live in response to God's word.  It might well be argued that this is the primary function of this text.  That assumes, however, that we know that "the good life" is found only by following Christ.  If we know that, then this text is all about using our abundance to feed the poor, which is a call to obedience.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  We can imagine a number of couplets which might lead to a sermon:  fools/wise folk, dead/alive, covetous/content.

6.  Exegetical Work:  David Buttrick, in his homiletic guide, Speaking Parables, points out something that maybe unknown to moderns:  "'Treasure in heaven' is a familiar Jewish euphemism for charity; it is not a term for some sort of world-renouncing spirituality.  In God's economy, what we give away is 'treasure in heaven.'" (p. 191)  Augustine seems to agree with this when he says, "The bellies of the poor [are] much safer storerooms than [our] barns."  A discussion of the Greek term for greed in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (pleoneskia) is also enlightening.  Pleoneskia is a "grasping beyond what is ordained for man."  This grasping "destroys relationship with one's neighbors and incenses God."  "Material covetousness is a special threat to the new life of the Christian. It brings him [or her] under an ungodly and demonic spell which completely separates him [or her] from God through serving an alien power." (TDNT, Vol. VI, 266ff)

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Ron Starenko, using the model for the 2013 Year C Gospel, shows how effectively this model can be used.  He calls his analysis, "God's Fools."  In the diagnosis of the problem, we see that greed has outward signs: lack of giving to the poor, storing up everything for ourselves.  This greed then poisons our hearts, causing us to trust our wealth for life rather than Christ.  This in turn, leads us away from God.  The good news is that Jesus became God's fool, laying aside his riches to become one with us and die for us.  Because of the "foolishness" of Jesus we are saved and our hearts are turned towards Christ, the true source of life.  When our hearts are no longer seeking security in wealth, we are then free to give away our abundance.  See the complete story at - text study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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