When Life Ebbs Away – A Sermon On Luke 12:13-21

Proper 13C – Luke 12:13-21

“This very night your life is being demanded of you.”

What is demanding and taking your life today? 

That’s the question I want to begin with. It’s the question that runs through what I am about to say to you. And I hope it’s the question you will take with you when you leave here today. It is a central question not just in today’s gospel (Luke 12:13-21) but in each of our lives. 

What is demanding and taking your life today? 

Let me be clear about what I am asking. I’m not asking about your physical health or illnesses. And I’m not asking about the end of our lives, when or how we might die. I’m asking about something bigger and more important than that. I’m talking about the way our life can ebb away from us.

Ebbing Tide by Des Colhoun, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever felt like your life was ebbing away, receding, diminishing? Have you ever felt like the tide of your life was going out?

Sometimes we experience that ebbing away in our relationships with our spouse, our children, a friend, even God. Sometimes we experience it as the absence of meaning, purpose, or direction in our life. Sometimes we feel it in regard to ourselves when we are not living the life we want to live or being the person we want or know ourselves to truly be. Sometimes we experience it as an absence of enthusiasm and vitality, and we’re just going through the motions. Life is on autopilot.  Sometimes it’s feeling like we’re trapped in the life we’ve created for ourselves. We might finally have what we want only to find we don’t really want what we have. Sometimes there’s nothing really wrong or bad about our life but there’s a restlessness and sense that something is missing. Sometimes it feels like we are the rat in a race for nothing more than another piece of cheese. 

A few weeks ago a young man said to me, “I’m starting to add color back to my life.” He had recognized that his life was ebbing away. In what ways might your life be ebbing away today? 

I think that’s what is happening to the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable. He is storing up and storing up and storing up without any attention to or awareness of what really gives life, and his life is ebbing away.

The great danger and tragedy of an ebbing away life is that it reaches a tipping point, a point beyond which we cannot right the ship, a point at which our life is demanded and taken. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you,” God says to the rich farmer. 

Some will hear or read these words as God demanding the man’s life. But that’s not what the text says. It simply says, “Your life is being demanded of you.” So here’s what I wonder. What if God is not the one making a demand on the man? What if the demanding of the man’s life is neither God’s judgment nor punishment? What if God is simply naming what happens when we store up and store up and store up without any attention to or awareness of what really gives life?

What if – and this is a key one – what if the stored up grain and goods are demanding the man’s life?  

Here’s why I ask that. The Greek words that have been translated as “is being demanded” can also and more literally be translated as “they are demanding.” “You fool! This very night they are demanding your life from you.” The grains and goods he has stored up are demanding his life. 

What we store up eventually demands and takes our life. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be anger, grudges, resentment. It could be guilt or regrets. It could be pride or arrogance. It could be a need for approval, attention, or recognition. It could be perfectionism, the need to be right, the need to have the final word. It could be criticism, condemnation, or judgment of others or ourselves. It could be fear, worry, anxiety. It could be money, possessions, wealth. It could be power, position, or control. It could be success, reputation, or winning. 

The list goes on and on. What else would you add to this list? Whatever we store up for ourselves eventually demands and takes our life – emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. Think about a time your stored up anger or resentment and the way it began to eat away at your life. Think about a time when you stored up judgment or condemnation of yourself or another and how it eventually stole your life. Think about the way stored up fear or worry takes away your life.

If our life is ebbing away maybe it’s time to look at what we are storing up. And it’s not only about us as individuals. I am afraid our life as a nation is ebbing away – more mass shootings, tribalism, white supremacy, lack of decency in our conversations, deepening divisions and ongoing accusations. What are we as a nation storing up?  

We were not created to live storing up lives or to be storing up people. That simply is not the way or teaching of Jesus. And when you pray say, “Give us each day our daily bread.” Not bread for a week, a month, or a lifetime, but bread for a day. In the wilderness the Israelites were to gather only enough manna for one day. They were not to store up for the next day. (Exodus 16:13-21)

Storing up is about more than just quantity. It is a way of being, a way of living only for ourselves, a way of distancing and cutting off from others. When we store up, life becomes all about us. Listen to the man’s conversation with himself. Eleven times he uses the words I or my. There is no mention of or care or concern for anyone but himself. His storing up has blinded him to what really matters and what life really consists of. 

Life does not consist of what we store up. The things of life that hold the deepest meaning, value, and purpose – love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, justice – cannot be stored up. They can only be given away. That’s what we see in the life of Jesus. No one and no thing demanded or took his life. It was not a stored up life. It was a life given to others, for others. 

So, back to where I began. What is demanding and taking your life today?

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