Utility, or Dignity?

Luke 12:13-21 (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, Psalm 49:1-12)

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Everything is empty and meaningless, not intrinsically (because of themselves) but in the light of their own mortality. (At some point they will crumble to dust – unless they are plastic bottles in which case, they’re immortal! – or they shall die.) True, the worth of something can be roughly estimated when it is bright, shiny and new. The value of something can be guessed at when it works as advertised or specified. (This applies to things and to people!) But in the face of death, its true worth is revealed. Love is worth everything (“love never ends, says St. Paul; one’s life-savings are worthless (vanity).
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull 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, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16b-21).
On the surface, this parable seems straightforward: The man is busy making money, whilst unbeknownst to him is life is drawing to a close. Yet, verse 20 can also be translated as, “This night they (grain and your goods) are demanding your soul of you.” After all, the man is demolishing productive buildings in order to construct storage units! These units don’t help feed or employ folks; they simply store the rich guys “stuff” (as George Carlin would describe them). This seems to be the epitome of vanity in its various meanings.
This is an instance in which creature time (chronos, or tick tock time) is at odds with creator time (kairos, or God’s time). It is an instance in which creaturely contract (which is transactional) is at odds with the creator’s covenant (which is grace-filled).  It is an instance in which the creature measures utility; whereas God bestows dignity.

How human the rich man was: how human we are too! How easily we value the wrong things, cling to the wrong things, honor the wrong things. This wee list makes the point:

  • We pay actors and sportsmen more than firefighters and nurses. I’ve yet to need a football player: I’ve certainly needed a nurse! (Borrowed from Facebook.)
  • Our politicians seem to be almost universally wealthy, whereas our teachers purchase school supplies out of their own pocket. Wouldn’t it be great to see teachers awash in supplies, while politicians hold yard sales to cover their office supplies! (Borrowed from Facebook.)
  • The Church’s theology of giving says of our offerings – “We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us, O Lord – ourselves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love” (offertory prayer, LBW). Yet, in many a congregation folks withhold/reduce their offerings if they don’t like the new carpet, the gender of the new pastor, or a decision of the Council. (Borrowed from colleagues.)
Truly, “this is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with…. a chasing after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14).
Pastor Ken+