12th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 17) LSB #851
Text – Hebrews 13:16
Do not neglect to do good & to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns & build larger ones, & there I will store all my grain & my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18-19 ESV) A month ago, that was part of the Gospel reading, & it perfectly illustrates the world’s way of defining the good life!
A humorous & more contemporary version of the theme comes from a hit television show of the 1960s:
Come & listen to my story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground come a bubblin crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Well the first thing you know ol Jed’s a millionaire,
The kinfolk said “Jed move away from there”
Said “Californy is the place you ought to be”
So they loaded up the truck & they moved to Beverly
Hills, that is. Swimmin pools, movie stars.
Human nature relishes the idea of living the good life. After all, it is what God created us for – to enjoy the good life in the Garden of Eden. The Fall into sin destroyed our ability to live well. It drastically corrupted even our ability to appreciate the good life when we’re blessed with it. Either we take it for granted or we live anxiously in fear of when the blessing will end.
The moment Adam & Eve rejected God’s wisdom they knew their plan had gone horribly wrong. It’s when all of life’s problems began. The good life, as they knew it, was
gone. Death & dying had taken its place. Frustration, disappointment & tragic suffering became the norm. In Genesis 5, Moses records the number of years lived by Adam & seven of his descendants, each sentence ending with the words, “…& he died.” We’re so acclimated to the fact of death that maybe the obvious needs to be stated: “Death is not living the good life.”
And sadly, death is not our only problem. In our efforts to regain the good life, the corruption of sin causes us to go about it in all the wrong ways. For one, it’s now commonplace for people, us included, to associate the good life with money. God’s Spirit warned us of that exact problem as He guided Timothy to write, “For the love of money is a root of all the evils…”
Then, he closes the verse by writing, “…& some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith & pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) The Beverly Hillbillies show was a comedy. The story of the Rich Man is a parable. Both teach us something about human nature & what’s important in life.
At Christian Book Distributors, for $22.49, you can buy a Digital Video Bible study based on the Beverly Hillbillies television series. Written by Steve Skelton, it features classic episodes with relevant scripture verses to use as modern parables on the teaching of Jesus.
Just about every episode was built on a simple moral principle, like cheating is wrong, honesty is good, it’s not right to judge people. Participants discuss the theme & respond to such questions as: Did the money change the Clampets? & When is wealth a blessing? Interesting or not, what’s clear is that TV shows of yesterday often reinforced God’s wisdom.
Television in our day is far more likely to celebrate the vices of our culture than the virtues. Living the good life, as often portrayed, has nothing in common with the Biblical book of Hebrews. Hopefully, this sermon helps you to understand what the book of Hebrews & you do have in common: “Do not neglect to do good & to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” What can easily be missed, as the text from Hebrews is read, is that it’s referencing what people typically call the worship service. Another translation brings that out a bit more clearly: “Do not forget the practice of well-doing & the common offering, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.”
For OT believers, all you had to do was mention sacrifices & they’d immediately clue in that the topic is a worship service. In our day, you only have to mention an offering & then people get the point. However, their offerings were rather different than ours. In addition to money they also gave wine & bread which would be used for Holy Communion.
But beyond that, meat, bread & wine were given to be shared with those who had no firstfruits or firstborn animals or tithes to offer. That would include servants, immigrants, orphans & widows. The phrase, “Do not neglect to do good,” most likely refers both to the gifts of mercy for the impoverished & to the acts of mercy that accompanied their distribution.
By the offering of gifts & the provision of care for the needy, they serve God as the holy priesthood in a way that is pleasing to Him. From a human point of view the Worship Service is to be enacted in two dimensions, thanksgiving to God through Jesus & charity to people in poverty as an offering to God through Him.
In other words, God’s design for ‘living the good life’ is not about living in the lap of luxury. Rather, it’s about doing good – by sharing what you have been blessed with. What God found so offensive about the Rich Man who built the larger barns, is that he was keeping all his blessings for himself: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years…” (Luke 12:19 ESV)
Someone living the life God has called them to, & given to them, doesn’t live in that way. The Rich Fool thought he was living the good life when in fact he was dying even before God demanded his soul of him. On the other hand, the Beverly Hillbillies did not change the way they lived to the constant chagrin of all the wealthy millionaires around them. Money is a powerful temptation to all human beings, & ‘living the good life’ is generally thought of as enjoying the luxuries of this world. Jesus wants us to know that sacrificing a portion of what we have received from Him is the true life.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus gave us a picture of what it looks like when we have that true life:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return & you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, & you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)
The Fall into sin destroyed our ability to ‘live the good life’ & has, ever since, corrupted all of created life. That doesn’t mean we should never relax or enjoy the blessings God gives to us, but it does mean that our knee-jerk definition of ‘the good life’ is an inherently selfish one. Compassion for others & making sacrifices to help them is a sign of the true ‘good life.’
That life is not something we manufacture or create by willpower or perseverance. It’s a gift of God, given to us here in His house, during the Divine Service. Going for the gusto is not how we attain the good life. It’s something we receive in humility, like the forgiveness of our sins, as a blessing motivated by Christ’s love for us.
Swimmin pools, movie stars & black gold are not the stuff of life. Jesus Christ is. The first ten chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews are a grand exposition of the person & work of Christ, with emphasis on His work as our Great High Priest.
Toward the end of that section, 10:19-25, the writer appeals to his readers to approach the throne of grace boldly & to cling tenaciously to their confession of faith. He tells them to love one another & to join each other frequently in worship because the Day of Judgement is approaching. That is the good life which Jesus offers to us. If we trust Him, we have that already today & it never ends. In heaven we will have the best life ever. There, we’ll never take it for granted & we’ll never live anxiously in fear of when the blessing will end. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your heart & your mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet