Jesus Made People (Luke 12:13-21)
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Last week I visited my parents’ church, the church where I spent my high school years. I saw a lot of people I knew, but it has changed over 25 years. Most of the people I saw were unfamiliar. Many knew me, but I did not recognize them. Or, I forget their names. Time marches on for people and for churches.
I sat in on the class my dad teaches. Candy and I were the first ones there and then Jerry arrived. I did not know Jerry while in high school. My only relationship with him is one that has formed on those occasions when we chit-chat while I am in town visiting.
Jerry is retired, I think.
What does retirement mean? Free time? Aches and pains. Grand children? Rising bills to be paid on a shrinking income?
Candy, Jerry, and I made small talk until others arrived. “Jerry,” someone asked, “are you still volunteering at the rescue mission?”
Aha. Is this what retirement means? Roanoke has facilities downtown, a non-profit, the Roanoke Rescue Mission. Mothers who have fled abusive husbands, people of all ages who live on the streets enslaved by addictions, and others who are without home for any number of reasons – they all gather at the Rescue mission for a bed and a hot meal.
For Jerry, retirement means giving his time away – giving it to the Rescue Mission that, in the name of Jesus, serves the needs of the Homeless. “Jerry,” one of his Sunday school friends asked, “what do you do at the rescue mission.”
“Transport,” he said. “I drive people to doctor’s appointments; job interviews; Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; appointments with probation officers; anything you can think of. I drive them.”
I wonder if Jerry envisioned himself retired, back in his hometown of Roanoke after years away, taxiing homeless people around? I wonder if he imagined he would leave Roanoke? Or, when he left, did he believe he’d be back? What was Jerry’s vision for his life?
What’s your vision for your life?
Consider the guy who works on computers. After wild-living in his 20’s he earned a 2-year degree in computer repair and now at 32, he’s finally got a good job and a great wife. They’re nearly done paying off the debts he ran up in his rougher days. They have a 3-year-old and a baby on the way. Ask him, “What’s your vision for life?” He says he hopes that by the time he’s 40, when their children will be in school and the bad debt nearly gone, then his wife can go back to work full-time. At that point, they’ll be able to stop renting, buy a house, and starting saving for retirement.
That would not be a bad life, not bad at all. I have no criticism of it. I only hope to expand that story and any story we might write on our own because Jesus calls us to a bigger vision, one that is more significant, lasting, and purposeful. There are things – experience, possessions, relationships – that people want, and they envision these wants as the life they will have in the future if they work hard enough. There’s nothing wrong with that. God calls us to more.
The central verse of Luke 12 is verse 15. Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” The life of a disciple is different; possessions exist to serve the purposes of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, homeless people find homes, hungry people find bread, disciples of Jesus who have time volunteer to drive those who don’t have cars to the places they need to go. In the Kingdom of God, disciples live out God’s story by giving of themselves.
Jesus tells the parable of the barn builder in the midst of a drama in which he’s living out a grand story – the story of the salvation of the world. Jesus wants you and me to be players in the story too. He wants us to step beyond the routine cares of life and into the kingdom of God. Life in the kingdom, life with God – that’s the bigger story.
In Luke 12, we read that the crowds gathered by the thousands to hear Jesus, so much so, that they were trampling one another (v.1). His fame had achieved rock-star levels. John Lennon was wrong – he and the Beatles were never bigger than Jesus Christ. They trampled over each other to hear him teach.
To that throng, hungry for a word of salvation, Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but, whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9). He had, at this point, had enough confrontations with authorities and Pharisees, that people knew to speak for Jesus, to acknowledge him, was to take a side. Many wanted to stay anonymous in the crowd, but Jesus said that would not do. If someone was taken into custody and charged with being a follower of Jesus, they should admit it gladly, no matter the cost. If someone out of fear of the consequences denied Jesus, he would deny knowing them at the judgment.
Of course we know he gave Peter a second chance. Jesus was a giver of multiple chances. Still he wanted everyone to know something was at stake and everyone has to choose. There is no hiding anonymously in the crowd, then or now. There is no private faith. He calls us to boldly stand and declare our loyalty.
He also calls us to make the day-to-day stuff of life secondary. Jesus wants our faith to be what we live for. Houses, careers, relationships – all those things are carried out in service of and defined by our Christianity. We aren’t professors, janitors, teachers, bankers, doctors who happen to be Christians. We are passionately devoted followers of Jesus who reject small, safe little lives and instead step courageously onto the disciple path. We clean houses, teach students, handle investments, operate on patients, and live as husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and all of it is done in such a way that it is an expression of Jesus in our lives.
Jesus is teaching this captivated crowd, calling them to a world-changing faith. He says,
“11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how* you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’
Then someone in the crowd stands up and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (v.13). What? Has this guy heard anything? Jesus just talked about being arrested and dragged before authorities to testify to the truth knowing one could die. Everything he says here plays out in the book of Acts. The Apostle James was beheaded living a bigger story, answering the call to a bigger vision. The Apostles were imprisoned – Peter and John, Paul and Silas; the bigger vision is a risk-taking vision, a countercultural vision, a see-from-God’s-not-man’s-perspective.
It’s a wonder Jesus even answered the man, but he did because many then and now have such small vision. He paused in the midst of his speech with its audacious claims and sweeping ideas to address something small because often we choose small lives and reject the grand life God calls us to. We just want our share of the inheritance and then, leave us alone. We don’t want to testify before courts and kings, neighbors and people in the public. We don’t want to make a big deal of our faith. We just want to be unassuming and we don’t want the Spirit of God imposing anything on our lives.
This will not in discipleship. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus – in everything. Discipleship requires that Jesus be lord of every part of life.
Jesus promises us abundant life, a life only realized when we experience the joy of walking in step with God and living in love relationships with one another. Jesus would not give the man a verdict in the inheritance dispute. Instead, he gave a story.
‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
The man in the parable worked for what he had. Jesus did not paint the picture of a criminal. He was a success. He worked hard, earned a lot, saved what he earned, and planned to retire in ease and enjoy his old age. It’s not what he did that was wrong. It was his failure to (1) acknowledge God in his success, and (2) he failed to understand his wealth in relationship to other people. This is not a rejection of retirement accounts or saving money or wise handling of finances. It is a declaration that the Jesus-made life is bigger than retirement. Jesus is not a part of our retirement or our careers or our parenting or our pleasures. Our pleasures, our parenting, our careers, and our retirement are part of our life in Christ. In all those things we serve the Lord. In all those things we live out our discipleship.
The man in the story said “I” a lot. What should I do? For I have no place to story my crops. In all the “I’s” and “my’s” the man never saw anyone else. His vision was so small, his story was limited; there was only room for one person – himself. His was a type of idolatry with himself as the object of worship. He made his own destiny the end all and be all; his own happiness was the standard by which he lived. He was a self-made man. There is no place for the self-made man in the kingdom of Heaven. Only Jesus-made men and Jesus-made women are admitted.
Jesus-made people are gentler than they are tough, but tough when they need to be, just not a Rambo-type of toughness. Jesus-made people sacrifice themselves; they don’t smack down the enemy, they love the enemy. Jesus made people don’t go out of their way to rub elbows with big wigs and superstars; Jesus-made people are on the street with the addict, driving him to his appointments helping him turn his life around and doing because they are following Jesus and Jesus led them to this work of mercy.
Are we living Jesus-made lives? The parable could have played out differently. Are we living the grand story he would write for us? Are we answering the call to a bigger vision? Listen to the parable if it were told of a rich man who was also a passionate, devoted Christ-follower. Jesus might say,
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I see there are many in the land who are hungry, even starving. God has blessed me with health and has blessed the land with great produce. I will do this: I will pull out half of my stores of wheat and oats and other grains. I will load it into wagons and drive throughout the country. In each town, I’ll go to the synagogue and then invite all the hungry of the land – Jew and Gentile alike. Everyone will be fed. Then, I will come home and see what is left. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; are there more people you can help? Are there more you can feed? ” 20But God said to him, “My child. You have done your part. This very night your life on earth is over and you are being called home. Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master, for you have stored up 21much treasure in Heaven.’
Do you suppose the guy who asked Jesus to arbitrate in the inheritance dispute got the message? Luke doesn’t tell us. Luke’s real concern is do we get what Jesus is saying?
Imagine the computer tech, the guy we discussed earlier. Imagine him as a disciple doing what disciples do – living a Jesus-made life. First, turning his life over to Jesus was a key in his recovery and his victory over addiction. Now, with a Christian wife, they go forward together. They raise their children to love Jesus. They do their jobs with excellence and build their marriage on Christ. They will buy that dream home, and it will be a place where his old friends, from the party life, can come for short stays and piece their life back together. They will together set as their part in the grand story of the Kingdom a role of encouragers as they help people leave addiction behind and walk forward into the disciple life.
Pastor and author John Piper has the best illustration for living the big vision verses accepting a small, godless, insignificant life. He tells about a husband and wife. They are retirees. Like the barn builder, they enjoyed prosperity and were able to retire with financial means. They then bought an RV and traveled throughout the country. They especially liked coastal towns. In visiting the ocean often, they built up a collection of sea-shells. And when they die and meet God, God will say to them, “I gave you 20 years of healthy retirement, 20 years unencumbered with other responsibilities. What did you do with what I gave you? Who did you help? How did you work to make the world a better place?” And they will say, “Look God. Look at all the pretty sea shells.”
Not Jerry, the guy from my Dad’s Sunday school class. I would guess when he was 20 “volunteer at the Roanoke Rescue Mission” would not have been one of his life’s top five ambitions. But you should have seen the twinkle in his eye and the color fill his face when someone asked, “Jerry, what do you do at the rescue mission?”
That same animation came over the Apostle Thomas when he met the resurrected Jesus face-to-face and declared, “My Lord and my God!” In that moment, when we realize following Jesus may not be the life for ourselves but is in fact immeasurably more than we could have hope or imagined, in that moment we know the Jesus-made life. And we would live know other. We know God will fill our barns as we follow the path he sets before us.