In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How obvious it is that a man’s life does not consist in his possessions, but how hard it is to believe. What do you daydream about? What would it take to make you happy? Are not your thoughts, your desires, focused mostly on possessions? Do not your daydreams consist of cars and houses, vacations and boats? Of storehouses to contain all the stuff you want to buy? Or do they run with more with the body? Do you daydream of not being sick, not being old, not being fat, of being a great athlete, or beautiful? But a man’s life does not consist in his health or in his countenance anymore than in his possessions. Is there anything left? Anything else you want? Yes. There is one more, sickest of all: you want honor and fame. You want to be recognized and loved. Your daydreams include speeches to the media, interviews on television, don’t they?
Take heed. Beware of covetousness. There is no appeasing sin. If you get what you think you want you will only want more. The three richest men on earth are not satisfied. They all want to be richer. The two who are not the richest of all want to be. The one who is the richest wants to out pace his competitors by greater and greater margins. The poor give more to the poor than the rich. The statistics are clear. The widow’s mite is not that unusual. Poor people are generous. Rich people are stingy. So also the poor almost never commit suicide. The rich do.
That is not to say that poverty is a virtue. It is simply that being poor gives life a sense of meaning. There is something to escape, a purpose. The prisoners who survived the concentration camps of World War II were not the healthiest or strongest, but those who had to live for. Some had pious motives such as the desire to see loved ones or finish a great work. Others just lived for revenge. Poverty gives purpose to life, whereas the rich have less to live for. They are more likely to see the futility of human achievement and effort, to despair because possessions and opportunity, luxury and fame, have all failed to bring them happiness or satisfaction. Pride leads to gluttony and gluttony leads to sloth and despair. A man’s life does not consist in his possessions. Learn this o men. Here is wisdom: a man’s life does not consist in his possessions.
In what does it consist then? Plato thought a man’s life consisted in virtue. The idea is that our purpose is to be virtuous, to be morally good. Our life consists in, or strives for, wisdom, justice, self-control, and courage. Those are Plato’s ideas of virtue. He is not far from the kingdom of God. But those virtues are all subject to abuse. Justice must be tempered by mercy or it is oppressive and destructive. Courage must strike the balance between recklessness and selfishness. Wisdom must resist the temptation to manipulate and an abundance of self-control easily leads to self-righteousness. Besides that there is the reality that all these virtues are on the human plane. They are what we do to men, and they are seen be men. Behind them all is lurking the Greek sense and desire for honor. Pride tempts them all. Plato was not far from the kingdom of God but he was not there. Our life does not consist in Plato’s ideals.
What Plato, sadly, did not know were the Theological virtues of St. Paul, faith, hope, and love, because he did not know the God of Abraham. A man’s life does not consist in possessions or in his virtues. A man’s life consists in God. “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven” and “serve God, not mammon” are more than accusations. They do not merely expose our fallen flesh and selfish desires. They also show us the way of Christ, the way of life. For Christ Our Lord did not seek the middle way. He was extreme and radical. He served God, not mammon. He waited for heaven. He loves His Father without limit. He does not question His Father’s will to forsake Him, but submits. He drains the Cup of Wrath of Anger of Judgment of Hell that He was given. He believes that His Father is good and loves Him, even when His Father condemns Him as sin. Out of love for the Father He loves the world and lays down His life without regret or grudge. He loves those whom He created and He would have them all back again. Thus does He reconcile all humanity to His Father. He pays the ransom to release us from the devil’s claws.
You cannot love God too much and love covers a multitude of sins. So also faith and hope. Our Lord Jesus Christ believed that He would rise, that His suffering would end, that He would join the congregation of the righteous in His Father’s court and there give testimony of the mercy, the goodness, that is His Father’s. You cannot hope or believe in Christ too much. It is not subject to abuse by overuse or extremism. We do not count the martyrs as fools who sold their lives too cheaply, but rather as heroes who loved God more than they loved themselves. We were created to believe in, hope for, and love the God who has and does believe in, hope for, and love us. This is where our life abides.
So thank God that we are not so poor we must steal, that we are not so hungry that we might make a bargain with the devil, and profane the Name of Christ. Thank God that He has provided for our physical needs, that He sends the rain and crops and even pleasant things, though we do not deserve any of them. The prayer “O God, make us not poor” is easy to pray and we should and we should thank God as it is answered. For we are fed, we are dry, we are warm. But so too we should thank God that we are not rich, that His mercy has spared us that affliction. Let us learn to pray: “O God, spare us from wealth. Spare us from excess, from pride, from gluttony, from sloth, lest we become full and deny you, thinking that we are the lord.” Mostly, daily, let us thank God that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word, that the Christ is known to us in His faith, hope, and love, that we w are His and He is ours.
Our thanks this day is not found mainly in a feast reveling the gifts of creation, of food and drink and family. Our thanks this day is found mainly in the gifts of redemption, in what our life consists. Let us give us thank unto the Lord our God by eating His Body and drinking His Blood, by having His forgiveness, His grace, His faith, His hope, His love poured into us. Our life consists in Christ. Thanks be to God: Our life is provided by and consists in Christ who loves us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen