Sermon Reflections and More!
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The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost                                    July 31, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Pr. Steve's Sermon: It's Not a Rhetorical Question
Pr. Steve's Sermon: It's Not a Rhetorical Question

Children's Sermon: Sharing Backpacks
Children's Sermon: Sharing Backpacks

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...  
"What were you thinking?!"  Have you ever been asked that?  Or perhaps, you've been the one asking that question.  You asked it to your kid, or your spouse, or even a co-worker.
"What were you thinking?" you may ask.  But you don't really expect a response, because questions like that are usually rhetorical questions.  And a rhetorical question is usually defined as "a question that you ask without expecting an answer. It might be one that doesn't have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you've asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for simply for effect." 
And often, a question like "what were you thinking" is a rhetorical question because the obvious answer is "you weren't really thinking - or at least not thinking very well!"
But sometimes, even questions that at first seem to be just rhetorical questions really do deserve an answer.  And I've often wondered whether the question asked to this foolish rich guy in Jesus' parable is really just a rhetorical question.
Jesus sets this story up with a guy who's so rich and successful that he has to pull down his barns and build bigger barns to hold all his stuff.  And then he tells himself, "Self, you've really got it made! Eat, drink and be merry!"  Yet that night God tells him his life is over.  And now, God asks, "the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"
"Who gets all your stuff now?"  It reads like a rhetorical question.  But maybe it's not.  And maybe Jesus includes it in the parable because it actually deserves an answer, not just from the character in the parable, but from each of us.
If you read the parable carefully, you'll note that Jesus doesn't say that the rich man has done anything immoral or dishonest to get all that he has.  He doesn't say that the rich man is bad for just for being rich.  And he doesn't set a standard for what "rich" means.
Instead, the problem with this rich guy is that he's totally centered on himself.  He sees what he has as having value only to himself.  He doesn't even say, "Soul, now you and your family and friends will be able to celebrate and have fun for many years."  It's just him.  He's never given thought to how his great wealth might have meaning or impact for his family and friends, for his community or to glorify and give thanks to God.
So whose will it be when he's gone?  It's a question a lot of people don't like to consider because that question isn't just rhetorical - it confronts each of us with our own mortality.  And many people don't like to do estate planning because it confronts them not only with their own mortality, but it asks them to consider that, like this guy in the parable, they may die earlier than they think.
But as any good financial or estate planner will tell you, avoiding answering the question "whose will it be" really isn't a solution.  If you don't decide, the State will.  And so "whose will it be" really isn't a rhetorical question, but a good stewardship question.
So when you're gone, "whose will it be?"  Will it belong to:
  • Your kids, your family or your friends?
  • Your church or other charities that make a difference in your community?
  • Institutions and organizations that have helped make you the person you are, like your college scholarship fund?
The question "whose will it be?" is really a question that demands an answer, because it asks each one of us to consider what we're going to do with our wealth when we're gone.
But it demands an answer for an even more important reason.  What we do with our wealth when we're gone is ultimately a reflection of what matters most to us while we're alive.  And so leaving our wealth is really just a final witness to what we feel the mission and purpose of our lives has really been all about.  And planning for the end makes us also ask what our wealth is all about right now.  What is the mission today of your time, your money and your energy?
See, this is the real problem with the guy in the parable. He has wealth.  But his wealth has no meaning and mission.  And since what you do with your wealth reflects the meaning and mission of your life, the problem with this guy is that he really hasn't considered how his life could have meaning and mission beyond himself.
That's the point Jesus is raising for his first hearers.  And it's the point he's raising for us.  He's not asking a rhetorical question, but actually calling us to see ourselves as people who are all greatly gifted by God.  And he's asking us to take those good gifts and consider how, beyond our own needs, those gifts, talents and opportunities can give our lives meaning and value by how we spend them to:
  • Care for those we love (our families, our friends, our neighbors...)
  • Invest in the lives of others in our world (even when we get no direct thanks or benefit...)
  • Give glory and thanks to God simply by using them to shower God's blessings on others we may never meet, and even on those who don't care about us (which is always what the Bible says God is about doing...)
And these are really important questions for us right now, because it's easy to read this parable and think, "Wow!  This guy was SO rich. If I'm ever that rich, I'll remember this lesson!"
But Jesus wanted everybody to realize that they were a lot richer than they thought.  And in our political discourse over the next couple of months, both parties will be telling us that we don't have it as good as we should, or as good our parents had it.
And some of that may be right.  But it's still better to be a struggling American than it is to be almost anybody else on the face of the earth. We all have a lot.  And what you do with it - and who you leave it to - is a reflection of the mission and purpose you feel God has given you.
And so Jesus told this parable to remind us that we're all people who are greatly blessed by God.  Jesus told this parable to call us to use whatever wealth we have - our money, our time and our very selves - for a mission and purpose beyond ourselves.  And Jesus told this parable most of all to remind us that we ourselves belong to God - and so what we do with ourselves and our resources is finally a reflection of our relationship with God.