A NEW IDENTITY
Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11
Well, the big news this week, I guess, was the $295 million dollar Powerball jackpot won by 13 coworkers in a Columbus, Ohio suburb. I found this article which was released by the Associated Press and appeared in Friday's Washington Post and which I thought was quite revealing.
"What Sandy Jarrell wants most is a Harley, just like her husband's. And now what Sandy wants, Sandy can have."
I guess they'll need a bigger house... and a bigger garage... to store all the stuff they can buy with that money. Talk about building bigger barns!
Well, maybe that sounds a little petty on my part... after all... wouldn't we all like to win the Powerball lottery sometime? Haven't you wished for a million dollars... to do with just as you please? I know I have from time to time!
The article also tells about another gentleman who works with the "Lucky Thirteen" as they now call themselves.
"When asked whether co-workers who didn't play were sorry, Jarrell replied: ‘There's probably a few of them.'
I wonder how long it will be before jealousy and disagreement will rear their ugly heads?
If we are honest with ourselves... we all have to admit we think that being rich would sure be nice. But would it? I suspect that it would greatly exaggerate all the desires of the flesh that Paul talks about in Colossians. The Bible tells us that the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. At the very least it would certainly bring our "earthly nature" to the forefront... and we would most certainly be faced with more temptations than we could ever imagine. Becoming suddenly rich would catapult us into a new... and very different... kind of life... a life that in some ways becomes a prison.
The peril of accumulating wealth is illustrated by Dr. R. R. Brown, a genial octogenarian. He told about a man who confided to his pastor,
"When I had $50,000 I was happy, but now that I have $500,000 I am miserable."
When we are poor... we have nothing to base our security on except God. When we are rich... we tend to forget that God is our only true source of security... in this world... and the next.
In our story today, Jesus warns about the dangers of placing our trust in the wrong place. The rich man who built additional barns to store up his great wealth... and then sat back to enjoy himself... died unexpectedly in the night... and he was ill prepared for eternity with God.
Have you heard the story about a man who died and went to heaven?
"He had been richly blessed in life. He had a warm personality and a special gift of gab that naturally influenced people. He was a brilliant story teller... and the life of every party. He also had great physical energy but rather than use his energies in service for God, he went traveling... enjoyed sport competition... and an endless round of meaningless activity. To top it all off... it seemed as though he had the Midas touch — everything he did turned to money. But instead of using his wealth to support the spread of the gospel through Christian charity and mission endeavors, he lavished everything on himself.
Jesus tells us:
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
The world tells us that wealth... and many possessions... are greatly to be desired and honored... and our human nature... our bodies of flesh... find it very difficult to ignore what the world promises. We measure ourselves by the world's standards... and those who are not successful... those who are not beautiful... those who are not thin... those who don't have a car... those who don't have an education... those who don't have a job... are failures. All too often we tend to think that they have gotten what they deserve... and our compassion wears thin.
And where does that leave us when we ourselves are failures by the world's standards. You know it does happen sometimes... and maybe that's the reason we find ourselves so jealously protecting what we think we are... and what we think we own... in order to keep up with the world's standards.
But Paul talks about a different kind of standard... when he reminds us that:
"For you died... and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
This is the real reality of our lives... we are hidden in Christ. That means that God no longer sees us as we are... he sees us in Christ... who lived a perfect life. We no longer need to feel anxious about our security... it's not in our hands... it's not measured by the world's standards... it is secure in Jesus Christ.
When he was a monk, Martin Luther's life of spiritual pride and ambition was brought low by anxiety until he experienced the justifying grace of God. Then he saw... not only that God's work in Christ forgives and sets aside the sin that we try so desperately to cover or ignore... he also found a new identity.
You see... faith does not permit us to view ourselves from our own perspective... or from the world's perspective... but from the perspective of God's act and decision in the Cross of Christ.
When we understand... and truly experience... that our soul is already secure, we do not have to suffer the anxiety that makes us hoard our goods. As Luther experienced... faith must include a sense of identity with Christ... an acceptance of our acceptance by God... and a willingness to let grace... and not sin... define who we are. Amen.
A Sermon Preached on August 2, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA
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