Should We Buy a New ATV?

Reflections on Luke 12:13-21, the Gospel reading for the 8th Sunday of Pentecost.

Almost every day on the farm we are faced with quite consequential decisions. Today it is about our ATV. Most days we use it several times for all sorts of jobs. But now it is squeaky after 17 years of hard use. Now it is very lopsided after a good friend had a hard encounter with it and the machine shed. Now we are afraid it won’t make it through another winter.

But both my wife and I are up in years; so a different kind of calculus comes to mind. Is this a wise investment? How much longer will we have the sheep to tend, or the dogs? How much longer will we live.

In this coming Sunday’s Gospel reading, Luke relates a “parable” of Jesus about how God positively mocks a farmer about making a dire calculus. This man has had a surprisingly good harvest that his barn cannot contain. So he has an interior monolog with his own soul and says he will have to build a bigger barn that will allow him to store so much that he will then enjoy years of leisure and pleasure.

That’s when God interrupts and says to him, in effect, you have left me and my calculus out of your equation. Today they will be calling in your chips. Today they will demand your life!

Who the “they” are in the rather creepy Greek third-person-plural verb for “demand” that our English translations avoid by making it passive? We are left to speculate about that. Are these the angels or demons of death?

But then Jesus adds his own stark and demanding conclusion: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

With this in mind I am shocked to have to admit that, really, all my life I have had to make similar consequential decisions. And often I have figured wrongly. Shall I strive for this? Shall I invest my time in this? Shall I buy this?

Here Jesus is challenging me to consider always not self, but God.

Perhaps the most haunting of all of the teachings of Jesus, recorded by Luke, that relate to these sorts of decisions, comes in chapter 14.

27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

There is virtue and even stark necessity for planning and critical decision making—for saying to your soul, “Soul, what shall we do to see the job through—to make this a meaningful life?” It is vital to get set and to set a good foundation and to build on it, and to finish the job. Most decisions are much more consequential than we realize. And, the real way to see life through to the finish—the real way to have a full life—is not to accumulate, but to give. The real way to be rich it to be rich toward God. And the real way to be rich toward God is to look around and see what others around you need, and to give to them.

What can help me make the right decision about our squeaky, lopsided ATV? According to Luke, Jesus goes on and on about us and our possessions. He says it’s worry and fear of the future that trips us up—that distracts us from the calculus that counts—about our relationship with God and with the people who need us. It’s this Kingdom—this invisible network—this wholeness of humanity that counts. The good Father knows we need stuff. But it’s the Kingdom that really counts. And, here’s the thing that frees us to do good calculus:

          “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

How much of the stuff that surrounds me and clutters the machine shed and the basement of my house, and the corners of my soul? All of it is a rather embarrassing and shameful testimony of how bad I am at this calculus—how many bad decisions I’ve made.

Good Lord help me get rich toward you!

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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