Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
He Who Dies with Jesus Wins
Pentecost X/August 5, 2007
Ecc. 2/Col. 3/St. Luke 12
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Altenburg, Missouri
Invocation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. There's a saying that in recent years has shown up on bumper stickers, t-shirts and the like. It goes like this. "He who dies with most toys wins." If there was ever anyone on earth who had lots of "toys," it was King Solomon. He was king over all Israel during its golden age. His father, King David had doubled the size of the kingdom, and then Solomon had conquered even more land, adding a third again to the size of the nation. Israel's, and Solomon's wealth, was not just in land, though. In I Kings 10:14-15 we learn that as king, Solomon received about 25 tons of gold every year in tribute from other kings and rulers. In modern terms that's about $530 million dollars. Add to that the taxes and levies on merchants, traders and various other folks and have yourself a lot of money. And with the money, come the toys. With all this money [I Kings 10:16-23] King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred bekas of gold went into each shield. He also made three hundred small shields of hammered gold, with three minas of gold in each shield. The king put them in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. Then the king made a great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps, and its back had a rounded top. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. All King Solomon's goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon's days. The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons. King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.
2. It would seem natural think that Solomon was enamored of all his wealth, and undoubtedly throughout portions of his life, he was. But as he neared the end of his life, he was able to take a step back and use his God-given wisdom to cut through all the glitter of the gold and see things as they really were. [Ecclesiastes 2:18-26]
I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after he wind.
In Solomon's mind the most valuable things in life are wisdom, knowledge, and happiness. Intangible things. Stuff you can't put in a closet or garage or bank account.
3. We've heard all this before, and yet, our sinful nature unceasingly drives us toward material wealth. We fill our closets and garages, we pile up money in bank accounts, hoping to be little kings and queens over our own domain. We consult wealth advisors and stock brokers, ever mindful of ways to increase our own earthly treasure; seeking ways to pile up money and assets in a futile effort to avoid the inevitable. [Ecclesiastes 2:21] For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. At the end of life it is true—you can't take it with you. All our effort to gather more and greater wealth doesn't matter when we die. He who dies with the most toys doesn't win after all. In the words of King Solomon, this too is meaningless.
4. Throughout the Bible, we see this repeated over and over.
[Hebrews 13:5] Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
[I Timothy 6:9-10] People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
In our Epistle reading for today we hear St. Paul. [Col. 3:5] Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
And in our Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ says this: [St. Luke 12:15] Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
The person who dies with the most toys, does not win.
5. But there is a way to "win." Instead of saying, "He who dies with the most toys wins," a truly Biblical saying is this. "Whoever dies with Jesus wins." St. Paul, again in Colossians, puts it this way. [Col. 3:3] For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Dying in Christ is all that matters. And St. Paul isn't just talking about the end of your earthly life. He's talking about something more, something greater. Something we witnessed here in our worship today. Holy Baptism. In the gracious sacrament, we die. Our sinful desire for more and more wealth and material possessions dies. Yes, this sin tries daily to rear it's ugly head within us, but daily, through contrition and repentance, our sin is drowned again with all evil desires, and in holiness and righteousness, we rise anew to live before God forever. Through confession and holy absolution, the forgiveness of holy baptism is daily made real in our own lives, and we focus on the only treasure that really matters: faith in Christ. Through confession and absolution, we rise from the waters of our baptism every day, renewed, and newly enriched with the blessings of forgiveness of our sins, life that never ends, and salvation from the evil foe. In Holy Baptism, we die with Jesus, and we win.
6. Today, in our presence, Trevor has undergone this entire ordeal. He has been killed by the waters of holy baptism. His life is now bound up with Christ, and it is Christ who now lives in him. Christ's life is his life. Christ's glory is his glory. Christ's perfection is perfection. The Old Sinner in Trevor will try to raise his ugly head, but he can be sure, through this holy word and water, God will daily put to death all the sins that St. Paul warns us against: Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed which is idolatry. What is true for Trevor is true for all who believe and are baptized. It's true for him, it's true for you, it's true for me.
7. Still, you may be thinking, "But what about my bank account? What about that new car I'm thinking about buying? Is simply having these things sinful?" Like, Solomon, we must take a step back and use our own God-given wisdom to cut through all the glitter of our own golden possessions and see things as they really are. We must face the fact that he who dies focused on his toys dies eternally. When we concentrate on what really matters, we hear Jesus, and Jesus doesn't ask you to live a life of abject poverty. In our gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of the man who plans to build bigger barns to hold all his riches. He thinks only about his earthly treasure, not his heavenly treasure. [St. Luke 12:20-21] But God said to him, "You fool! this very night your life will be demanded from you. then who will get what you have prepared for yourself." This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Wealth and treasure is not the sin. Greed, and a loss of focus on Christ who is our heavenly treasure—now that's the sin. He who dies with the most toys does not win. to win, you must die with Jesus. Winning means living in our God-given faith and trusting that the most important thing in life is not something we can put in a closet, a garage, or a bank account. Winning means putting your faith in the most important thing: Our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. The only way to win; the only way to live our lives in faith in Christ, is to live in our baptism. Through Holy Baptism; through a life of confession and absolution lived under the cross of Christ, we are daily drowned and killed by the Law of God. And daily, through Christ's gospel word of forgiveness, we arise again to live our lives dead to self and alive in Christ. Whether rich or poor, when you're in Christ you have all the riches of heaven. In Christ, we have forgiveness of our greed. In Christ we have our conqueror over our evil impulses to hoard and save and collect. In Christ, we have our earthly life. In Christ, we have our eternal life. In Christ we have our glory. He who dies with Jesus wins.
9. With this victory in Christ, we do the right thing with our wealth and material possessions. We spread them around. Jesus says to his disciples as he sends them out to preach, teach and heal [St. Matthew 10:8] "Freely you have received, freely give." Like the disciples, trusting that everything we have comes from Christ, we go out into the world and freely share our faith, and our possessions with those in need. We carry out the words of Proverbs 21:26b, where it says, "the righteous give without sparing. In all that we do; in every way we share our earthly gifts, we fulfill Christ's promise [Acts 20:35] that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." Alive in Christ, victorious in Christ, we do exactly what Christ would have us do with all that we have.
10. Because Christ has claimed us in holy baptism we can confess with St. Paul throughout our lives: [Galatians 2:20a] I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Because Christ has claimed us in holy baptism, we can make St. Paul's dying words to St. Timothy our own confession at the end of our life: [2 Timothy 4:6-8] For I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
11. Because Christ has made us his own through holy baptism, we can truly say, "I have died with Jesus, in Holy Baptism. And as I take my last breath on earth, I will die with Jesus once more. And because I have died with Jesus I have won." Because he who dies with Jesus wins. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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