Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sermon on Psalm 65 and Luke 12:13-21, for Thanksgiving, "Reaping a Richness Toward God"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The parable of the rich fool and Psalm 65 portray two contrasting views of people who have an abundance of possessions, or who take in an abundant harvest. Jesus warns the young man to whom He tells the parable, that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. Life is not measured by how much we have. Rather, as Jesus teaches, what matters is that we be found rich toward God. Since Thanksgiving is also harvest-themed, let’s consider and reflect today how we might reap or bring in a harvest of richness toward God.

In the parable of the rich fool, we’re told that “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” It’s significant that it was the land, and not especially his hard labor that produced the rich crop. This is a subtle reminder that God had provided his bounty, which is always at God’s own pleasure. Farmers know best that they aren’t in control of the rain or the sun, or the seasons or the pestilences, that might threaten or nourish their crops. They do all that they can do, and then they have to leave the rest up to God. And sometimes even the best crops are destroyed by natural disasters. But the farmer in our parable never learned those lessons. He didn’t receive the blessings of an unusually large harvest as a gift from God’s hand, for which he should be thankful. Rather he started a conversation that began and ended with himself, and made plans for that bounty that started and ended with himself. And when he met his unexpected end, he found that his full storehouses were no comfort when he was found poor toward God. His poverty was not external—he had an abundance of possessions—but His poverty was internal. He was not rich toward God.

Now contrast David in Psalm 65. He opens by saying that praise is rightfully owed to God, and that we pay our vows to Him. Vows in the Old Testament were different expressions of thanks and trust in God. It could be a public act of worship or praise, together with a thank offering; to either ask God’s blessing for something, or to give thanks for God’s fulfilled promises. It was a visible show of joy and trust in God (TLSB, 908). David says that this is the right way to respond to God, and then he names several reasons for praising God. Because He answers prayer, because He forgives us when our sins mount up against us, because God meets us with His presence in the courts of His house, and satisfies us with His goodness.

Then David pours out a beautiful psalm of praise to God for His mighty deeds, and how from the heights of the mountains to the roaring of the seas, He shows His power and strength. And pretty soon the whole of creation is joining in with David’s Psalm of praise to God. In verse 8 the morning and evening shout for joy—one might think of the beauty of each unique sunrise and sunset, as it shouts for joy to the Lord. Verse 9 and following picture the rain like a vertical river, the “river of God” that comes down from heaven and waters the earth to make the grain grow, filling the fields, softening the ground to make it fertile for all plants and vegetables. An abundant harvest, fields filled with crops are a sign of God’s blessing, and the hills and pastures are clothed with joy. In verse 11, the meadows and valleys clothed with flocks and grain shout and sing together for joy. All of creation sings a thankful hymn to God for blessing the earth with so much.

And the rich fool was deaf to this beautiful hymn that his land was singing. When he reaped the abundant harvest, he missed all the joy, he missed the song of thanksgiving, because his thoughts were tied up with himself and how this was his opportunity to sit back, eat, drink, and be merry. But David’s attitude was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. His song of praise and thanksgiving rightfully began with thanking God for who He is. For God’s access to us in prayer, in His holy house, and in His mercy in dealing so graciously with our sins. And this gave David the ears to hear and join in creation’s glad song of thanksgiving and praise to God for all the earthly blessings that came also. Seeing the hand of God, the Giver, made all the difference of bringing in a harvest of richness toward God—of storing up the heavenly treasure of knowing God rightly.

Our lives can fluctuate through years of plenty, and years of want, just like the seasons of harvest may change from year to year. But if we hear Jesus’ warning that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, we will know better than to mistake material prosperity for richness toward God. And conversely, we’ll know better than to mistake material hardship for poverty toward God. Maybe this has been a year of blessing for you, and maybe it has been a year of hardship. But reaping true richness toward God is not merely a matter of our external circumstances. Rather, we learn that in richness or in poverty, in sickness or in health, God calls us to a right relationship with Him. This is where we find richness toward God, regardless of our external circumstances.

To be rich toward God is to store up treasures in heaven, by receiving the most important gifts God has to give. The gifts of His kingdom and His righteousness. These are the gifts that make for a harvest of richness toward God. These are the blessings that we can reap toward God, and become spiritually rich. And these blessings pour down freely and abundantly from the hand of God. These blessings don’t fluctuate with the seasons or the weather, or external wealth or poverty. But the blessings of God’s kingdom are stable and reliable as His own promises. And they can come to us rain or shine, in our gloom or in our joy, and in our hardship or our plenty. And when God promises, He cannot lie. When we turn to Him, He promises salvation (Is. 45:22). It’s not our hard work or effort, but the goodness of God’s gifts that overflow to the blessing of this spiritual harvest, the gifts of God’s kingdom.

The blessings that David sung about in Psalm 65 come home to us in Christ Jesus. Through Him we have full access to God our Father in prayer. Scripture tells us that we can draw near to God’s throne of grace because of what Jesus’ sacrifice and intercession for us. Jesus has opened the way for us. He also is the One who atoned for our transgressions or sins. When David’s and our sins rise against us, there is no other remedy, but the blood of Jesus that covers over all our sins. These realities make the life of the believer a joyful one—they draw us into the house of the Lord, into God’s presence, with desire and with gladness—not fear or dread. The reality that Jesus has repaired our relationship with God makes the believer tune into and join in with creation’s song of praise. We hear and see the mountain heights of Maui and the vast Pacific Ocean as a little glimpse of God’s power. We hear and see the beauty of the sunset and dawn give praise to God. We experience the rain showers as a faithful sign of God’s blessing to earth. And we see grocery aisles overflowing with food and plenty, and Thanksgiving tables spread with love and generosity, as also signs of God’s blessings to us. Join in those glad hymns of praises, and sing back to Him the wonders of all that He has done, for great is His power and name! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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