Our text for the sermon in church this morning was Luke 12:13-21 (“The Parable of the Rich Fool”). One of the verses in this passage has me thinking this evening. In verse 21, after condemning as folly a life of hoarding possessions, Jesus offers a typically elusive phrase: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” So what does it mean to be “rich toward God?”
I continue to make my way through Eric Metaxas’s fine biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor/theologian who courageously resisted the evil of Nazi Germany. In a letter from a cell in Tegel Prison to his fiance Maria von Wedemeyer, Bonhoeffer says these words about whether or not it is appropriate to be thinking of things like love and weddings in the midst of the hardship and misery of wartime Germany:
When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that “houses and field [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,” it was a token of confidence in the future that requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to that world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a “yes” to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.
Perhaps part of what it means to be “rich toward God” is to love and affirm what God loves and affirms, whether that is the goodness of human love or the vision of a world where all have enough. And perhaps being “rich toward God” may look a bit different in different contexts. For an imprisoned pastor in 1943, it meant courageously affirming the goodness of God’s world even when surrounded by and the victim of so much evil. For affluent twenty-first century westerners prone to endless “barn building,” being rich toward God” undoubtedly involves rethinking our patterns of consumption, giving sacrificially to the poor, and fixing our gaze beyond immediate pleasures. The two contexts seem laughably unworthy of comparison, but presumably “richness toward God” can be pursued at all times and places and in response to all kinds of pressures.
Maybe part of what it means to be “rich toward God” is simply to have the courage to stand, with both legs, wherever God has placed us in his world, affirming the good that exists and pointing always, in word and deed, toward the better that is promised.