A Fool By Any Other Name?

August 1, 2010 (10 Sunday after Pentecost)

Luke 12:13–21


Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


When I was in 5th grade I had a teacher who decided that our class needed to increase our social graces by learning poetry and elocution. In particular she had us learn two short stanzas about roses. “A rose is a rose is a rose.” And the second was: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Being a typical 5th grade boy I wasn’t interested flowery language or poetry. I was interested in sports and fishing and outdoor activities. As soon we were released to recess those two stanzas were combined into one single playground poem. “A skunk is a skunk is a skunk, it don’t matter what you called it, it still stunk!”  All was fine and well until the teacher asked the class to make up our own poems. 5 of us boys wrote out the now infamous playground poem: A skunk is a skunk is a skunk. And so during class the teacher began to call each of us forward 1 by 1.  This was one of the toughest teachers I had ever had. I knew she was out to get me. 1 by 1 we came forward and my last name fell last in the group of 5.  She asked each boy who wrote this poem? And each of them denied writing it and pointed their fingers at yours truly. And finally it was my turn. She asked me, “Who wrote this poem?” I hung my head low knowing I had been set up. I took a deep breath and silently uttered, “It was me”. She smiled and said, “You get an A the rest of you have earned an F.”

A rose is a rose is a rose.  “A skunk is a skunk is a skunk, it don’t matter what you called it, it still stunk!”   And a fool is a fool is a fool regardless of what he calls himself.

A fool as defined by Scripture is an unbeliever. Psalm 14:1 says The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.  This of course is in direct opposition to the first Commandment, You shall have no other gods.

Jesus says in our text: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

The Small Catechism says: The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods.  What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

When we think of idolatry, we often think of worshipping false gods bowing before their images or statues.  The Old Testament is full of examples of people who worshipped all sorts of things and God condemns them all.  The worship of creatures or inanimate objects such as golden calves or the statue of Baal is idolatry.  Most people in our modern western culture - even the unbelievers - say that gross idolatry is foolish and absurd.

The kind of idolatry we’re more likely to fall into is refined idolatry - the worship of money, popularity, power, fame, security, and you name it.  For instance, when we put our security, our family or our recreation above God, we are committing refined idolatry.  When we allow TV to come between us and our Bible reading time, we are committing refined idolatry.  When we forsake prayer and worship to pursue some other activity, no matter how worthwhile it may seem we are committing refined idolatry.  We may not be bringing out bulls to sacrifice to a false god or the golden idols to bow before, but be assured we are making the same deadly mistake - we are worshipping idols.

Refined idolatry worships the created rather than the creator.  It takes the good gifts of God and makes them into a god taking His place.  Refined idolatry is most powerful when it convinces us that this world is all that there is or that somehow we are to be the gods to taking care of it!  Since this world is all there is, it forces us to place our trust in the things of this world and get the most out of it while we are here.  Refined idolatry encourages all kinds of mottoes: “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”.  “You only go around once in life so grab all that you can get”.  Perhaps the most depressing all mottos is this, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins."

Refined idolatry is tricky.  Most of the time, people who commit refined idolatry don't even know they’ve committed any kind of idolatry.  Most people who worship popularity and fame would never say they worship these things. People who place nature, the plants, trees and animals, above all else would never admit they worship nature.  Never the less, what else can it be when these things are treated more importantly than what God's Word says and what His Sacraments provide?

We often don't realize we are even committing refined idolatry.  We often forget that whatever has the top priority in our lives is, in fact, our god.  Luther says in the Large Catechism: “Trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.  If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God”.

The Proper’s for today invite us to set aside refined idolatry and fix our hearts and minds on the things of heaven.  Our hymn today begins with the words, "What is the world to me with all its vaunted pleasure when You and You alone, Lord Jesus are my treasure”.  Every stanza compares the emptiness of this world with the fullness of God.  The Introit says, Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life." In the collect for this day we prayed, "Give us wisdom to recognize the treasures You have stored up for us in heaven."  The Old Testament lesson tells us of the emptiness of refined idolatry.  It says, "All is vanity and a striving after wind."  The epistle tells us to "Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth."  Finally, the Gospel relates the story of the Rich Fool who placed his confidence in the bumper crop stored in his barns instead of in the God who gave him those crops.

Perhaps the most common form of refined idolatry is the worship of money.  Jesus often taught about wealth and the destruction it can bring when mishandled.  Jesus said, Matthew 6:19-20: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal”.  St. Paul to writes in 1st Timothy 6:10: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."  The parable of the Rich Fool is most severe account because not only does the man never get to enjoy his earthly wealth, but he receives eternal punishment as well: "Fool! This night your soul is required of you."

The problem is not that the man was rich, but that the man was a rich fool.  A fool is a fool is a fool. Jesus had many disciples who were wealthy.  The Magi from the east who came to worship Jesus as a toddler had the means to offer Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb to Jesus had the means to construct a tomb for himself in the coveted real estate near Jerusalem.  Lydia, one of the early disciples in Philippi and Mary the mother of Mark the Gospel writer were wealthy patrons of the church.  Wealth isn’t the problem.  The problem is letting wealth become a substitute for God.  It’s making wealth the source of our security and comfort.  It’s forgetting that wealth, like everything else, is a gift from God and not a god in its own right.  The sin is not in the money, but in the attitude towards the money.

Jesus speaks His parable to all of us even if we’re not wealthy.  Jesus said, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  Jesus warns us whether we live with lack or with abundance, the love of money can destroy our souls.  This means that rich and poor alike can be made fools because of money.  The rich can become slaves to money and possessions.  The poor can be slaves to the money and other things that they want and covet.  People in all classes can see money and objects as a means of salvation from their problems.

Our Old Testament reading today is in the book of Ecclesiastes.  Most of Ecclesiastes is dedicated to describing the emptiness of life "under the sun," that is, a life lived as if this earth was all that there is.  Solomon carefully documents his experiments with every life style possible.  He tried wine, women, and song.  He tried hard work.  He tried hard play.  He tried travel.  He tried education.  If you can think of it, he tried it.  In the end he concluded, that if this life is all there is; then everything is vanity and chasing after the wind.  Without God, there is no meaning to life.

With God there is meaning, there is worth, there is salvation, but the treasure of Heaven is not like the treasure of this earth.  God revealed himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ and Jesus has his own system of wealth.  Although He is the creator and owner of all things, He lived among us as a poor person.  Although He has all authority in heaven and on earth, He lived under the authority of the law.  Although He has all power, He made Himself helpless and submitted to the punishment we deserved as He suffered and died on the cross for us.  Although forgiveness, life, and salvation are worth more than we could ever pay, Jesus offers them to us as a free gift.  Although Jesus deserves our unending service, it is He who desires to serve us.  It’s Jesus who makes us rich toward God.

Jesus closes the sad parable in today's Gospel with these words, "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."  These are words of condemnation.  If we spend our lives getting ahead so that God and faith are nothing but a nuisance, the end result is eternal damnation. We are fools to live without Jesus. But the reverse of these words is also true and gives us great hope. 

When the Holy Spirit plants the gift of faith within us, we will see that the treasures of this earth are nothing in contrast to God’s true treasure.  In Jesus we will inherit everything God has to offer.  We shall hear the blessed words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the very foundation of the world."  For in Jesus all your sins have been forgiven and you have been made a child of God. For Jesus sake and in Jesus name, Amen and amen!           

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your and minds in Chri