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"Everything Is So Expensive"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 14, 2022
By Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Luke 12:15

Lord God, Heavenly Father, who has blessed our world with material possessions of all kinds, set our sights on things above that we may not come to think a man's real life depends in any way on the number of things he possesses. Help us to be rich toward Thee in all faith and good works, that we may find and have the real life, the life which is life indeed, upheld by the sure hope of eternal life with Thee, through our Lord Jesus Christ. In whose Name, we pray. Amen.

Some time ago, a few of us were sitting around in somebody's living room just talking. All of a sudden, the whole conversation turned to the high cost of living. It all started, I guess, when some woman remarked, "Everything is so expensive these days!"

Someone else, I think it was this woman's husband, wondered whether it is really true that things are more expensive now than they were formerly. What he said was, "There are a lot of things that are less expensive now than they used to be." Immediately he was greeted by a whole chorus of women's voices with the demand, "Name a few of them!"

Now that he was up against it and had to name a few, the man tried hard. He came up with one or two. Then the whole group went to work, breaking their heads in an attempt to find some commodity which had become consistently less expensive over the years. At first, I must admit, the men in the group were much more hopeful of building up a list of products and services which had become less expensive, but the women finally won out. We had to agree that the women probably were right, and we were wrong. By and large, things are getting more expensive all the time.

Of course, remarked one of the men, income has risen a great deal along with prices. That argument ran into trouble, too. The women talked about the problems they had in matching income with outgo in the family budget, putting food on the table, providing clothing for the children, paying the rent for the family home, not to speak about the rising cost of education, taxes, transportation, medical treatment, repairs for household equipment, and other items which are considered necessities of life in many parts of the world today. Here, some of the men chimed in too, pointing out that the pinch is growing tighter between what a man earns and what he needs to provide for his family. Finally, everybody in that room was pretty well convinced that it is true: just about everything is more expensive these days, and almost everything is getting more expensive all the time.

I am not an economist, but I do know what people are saying: "Things are getting more expensive all the time." I have no simple economic solution to a problem which is not confined to one country, because it is worldwide. I am here to speak for God, however, to people all over the world who feel the pinch between what they have and what they feel they must have to make the most of their lives, to enjoy life to the full.

Talking to people like ourselves, under constant pressure to keep up with the Joneses, to buy things they only half need, struggling to maintain the balance between their resources and their desire for what are sometimes called the "good things of life," Jesus Christ once said: "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

Jesus Christ had a great big heart for people in need, whatever their need was. But He did not confuse human need with human greed. Not for a moment did He imagine that something becomes a human necessity just because some human beings have come to regard them as necessary. Is a color television set or a fur coat, for example, a human necessity just because some people think it is necessary to maintain their standard of living? Maybe that's not the right way to ask the question. Let's get down to brass tacks: How many clocks, how many radio sets, how many television sets, how many pairs of shoes, how many changes of clothing does it take to meet the bare necessities, without which you cannot live happily and comfortably? The answer to that question will probably tell more about you than a whole book you might write about yourself.

It is one thing to state as a matter of fact, "Things are getting more and more expensive these days," but it is quite another thing to become unhappy and miserable because your list of things does not measure up to somebody else's, or because it is not up to what you think it ought to be. For people who complain in that frame of mind against God and against man that things are too terribly expensive, our Lord had a rather hard word: "Take heed," He said, "and beware of all covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Be on your guard against covetousness in any form or shape. A man's real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.

That is a hard word for people living in what a well-known European theologian has called a "civilization of things." Bluntly stated, this is a hard word for the world of the 20th century. People who have everything want more, if for no other reason than to tickle their fancy. People who have little or nothing imagine happiness is to become like the people who have everything. Communism has traded on this mistaken notion. Imagining that the possession of material things is everything, that a man's life does indeed consist only in the abundance of the things he possesses, Communists all over the world are promising people a new world in which everybody will have everything—or at least everything that everybody else has got. That is absolutely the only promise Communism has to offer, aside from the futility of the promise itself which is evident to everyone who knows what is going on in the countries where the Communists have gained control. One thing becomes clear: Communism hasn't the faintest notion of what man is or of what life is all about. The same thing must be said of all those people in our world who think that a man's life consists in the abundance of the things he possesses: they haven't got the faintest notion of what man is or of what life is all about.

St. John tells us that Jesus Christ knew what was in man and He was totally aware of what life is all about. Indeed, in Him was life and the life was the light of men. As the Son of God, our Lord respected the material creation of God; He used material things wherever it suited Him. His love, however, was for people. Out of love for people, in spite of their willful transgression of the will of His Father and their rebellious refusal to act as sons and daughters of the living God, He willingly became a Man. He gave His life that all men everywhere might be forgiven everything they have done amiss—that they might enjoy life again to the full, that they might make the most of their lives as respectful and obedient sons and daughters of their Heavenly Father by faith in the atoning Son of God and Savior of the world.

Knowing what is in man and what life is all about, Jesus Christ has something to say to people loaded down with things but continually asking, "Give us more things, still more things, and we shall have a full and ample life." Here is what He has to say: "Take note, and be on your guard against covetousness in any shape or form. For man's real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions."

Even our complete secularists are beginning to see that this is true. One of the most prominent secular philosophers in the world today has branded the idea that the important thing in a man's life is the size of his income and that the sure road to happiness is for him to find means to increase his income as an insulting libel upon human nature and a probable untruth. It is an insult to man to think that money is everything or the things money can buy. It is an insult to the working man to tell him that he would become a happy man if he could only become like, say, his employer. His employer would tell him otherwise, if for no other reason than that the employer himself is convinced he would be happy if only he became like someone else. This is the way of a world dedicated to the proposition that a man's life does consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.

Such a world is driven on by covetousness, a desire for things and more things. Once covetousness takes hold, it never lets go. Instead, it continues to grow and grow until it becomes a monster, yielding to no control and demanding only to be satisfied.

It is a sad thing to say of our world, but it is true! This is a world of covetousness, where people are driven on in a ceaseless search for more and more things, as if things could ever satisfy the deepest needs of a man or give him the feeling that he is really living.

Jesus Christ knew what real life is. This is what life is all about. It is like a father not so much giving all kind of things to make his son happy, but giving himself so that his son might become a man, a real man, through the gift of a father's love. God knew all about that. Parents suffer with their children and suffer for their children. No parent ever suffered the way God suffered when His Son died for all of us—for all of us who have such mistaken notions about ourselves and our Father in heaven, giving ourselves to all kinds of pursuits except those which will meet with our Heavenly Father's approval, showing disrespect and being disobedient when all our Heavenly Father asks of us is that we be His dutiful sons and daughters. For us, people like that, the Son of God died. He knew what real life is, what life is all about.

What does it take to get us to listen when the apostle of Jesus Christ tells us: "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?"? What does it take to get us to listen when the Son of God Himself speaks: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the things that have to do with life will be added to you"?

All too often the familiar statement, "Everything is so expensive these days," discloses only the tension, worry, jealousy, and boredom that are so much a part of life where people come to think that the possessions of things is all important in life and the measure of a man is the number of the things that he possesses. The cross of Christ cuts through all of that stupidity. Christ died for you, and you are worthwhile, just for yourself. It does not make any difference to God how many things you possess. Why should it make any difference to you?

There is nothing wrong with working hard and making money in the employment of the gifts God has given you. But don't set your heart on things, on the things your money can buy. That set of heart is covetousness, and it is not worth the candle which you burn at both ends. Stay away from covetousness in every shape and form, said Christ, for a man's real life in no way depends upon the number of his possessions.

With everything that is in you, work hard at being the man or woman, boy or girl God wants you to be. That's real life, depending in no way on the number of your possessions. Pray hard that God will make you a man or woman, boy or girl capable of really living, enjoying life, life full of the fruits of righteousness. That's real life, depending in no way on the number of your possessions. Stay away from covetousness, which is worse than cancer, because it eats at the spirit and destroys the real life God wants you to have—real life with complete confidence in Him. This is what Jesus wanted us to know. Everything will turn out all right just because He loves you. He loves you, all right. He really does. He wants to be a Father to you. In His Son Jesus Christ, He gave Himself for you, and He gives Himself to you today. In Jesus Christ He gives Himself to you today.

Have confidence in God. Jesus Christ died for you, and Jesus Christ lives for you. He rose from the dead to be your living Lord. We watches over you and looks out for you. By faith in Christ then, put your worries aside. By faith in Christ, let the tensions go by the board. By faith in Christ, get rid of the boredom and lay hold of the excitement that comes from being really alive. By faith in Christ, enjoy real life, without that constant covetousness which makes life a living hell for so many people. By faith in Christ, know once and for all what this means: a man's real life in no ways depends upon the number of his possessions. A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Amen.

Reflections for August 14, 2022

Title: Everything Is So Expensive

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to Joining us now Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Mike Zeigler.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Today I'm visiting again with Dr. David Schmitt, a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Dr. Schmitt teaches courses on how Christians relate to the culture around them as well as helping future pastors with the art and craft of preaching, one of my preaching professors. Thanks for being here, Dr. Schmitt.

David Schmitt: Thank you for inviting me.

Mike Zeigler: David, the sermon we just heard was recorded over 50 years ago, and as the saying goes, there's nothing new under the sun; everything's so expensive. And Dr. Hoffmann, we hear him speaking into the culture of his time, not just against it, but into it and, ultimately, for it in Jesus. What did you notice about how he was speaking into the concerns of his time?

David Schmitt: Well, in our preaching classes, we often talk about surface symptoms and deeper diagnosis. So it's easy to latch onto surface symptoms and to talk about them and to try to address them. But if you don't do the deeper diagnosis, you're really not doing what is needed in the moment. So, if the kitchen is filling with smoke, and you open the windows and you turn on a fan, that's great; you're getting rid of the smoke. But if you don't deal with the fire on this stove, you're still going to have a problem. And so I thought what he did was, he did a great job of moving from surface symptoms to deeper diagnosis, that the surface symptoms are that everything is so expensive.

And if we were going to address surface symptoms, we would say, oh, we need to do something with the interest rates, and we need to do something with the supply chain. We need to raise wages so that people can afford these expensive things or get the prices down. And so we spend all of our time working with the surface symptoms. And his deeper diagnosis is, why are you so concerned about how expensive things are? Do you really need all the things that you think you need? And that moves us from simply thinking about how expensive things are to thinking about covetousness, thinking about greed, and thinking about our relationships with things rather than people. And so I thought he did a really good job of taking us from the surface symptoms of a problem and then moving deeper so that we reflect a little bit more personally and spiritually on the problem of the time.

Mike Zeigler: And I'm thinking now, not just as a preacher but as a conversationalist with other people. How do you make that transition from surface to deeper issue without feeling like you're changing the subject? You know, we were talking about one thing and now all of a sudden we're talking about this. How do you help walk people through that transition?

David Schmitt: I think I would do it by a personal witness, that I would make it the way I'm thinking about these things, how this causes me to realize that maybe I don't need that new car. Maybe I don't need that new kayak or whatever it is I'm going to buy, right? So that you're actually offering a personal witness. So it isn't so much accusatory.

Mike Zeigler: Accusing someone.

David Schmitt: Right. As much as it is offering a different viewpoint. And that different viewpoint obviously is going to come out of your faith. And so it's not telling people, well, the church says your problem is that you're covetous and that's the reason we've got this issue with the expensiveness of things. But I would rather work with my own experience of expensive things. And you know what—it does cause me to rethink my priorities, right? You do this all the time. You do this great in personal conversation, by the way.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you.

David Schmitt: So yeah, you take a bad situation and you stop and you reflect, and you reflect personally, and then you ask yourself, how is this causing me to see things differently?

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. And I found when people do that in conversations with me, it's very disarming. I don't feel like I'm being accused, I feel like I'm being invited to reflect on the things that are very important.

Right. And you're being invited to reflect in a personal way. The person you're talking to is not making a judgment about you. The person you're talking to is actually sharing their own life experience. And because you value them, you value their life experience, and then you begin thinking, well, maybe that's true for me as well. And so I think it's a very good technique for talking with others, particularly about issues of the Law.

Mike Zeigler: And I'm thinking about how this, again, would help us engage in conversations today because we are all in some senses, as the baptized, as followers of Jesus, called to speak into the cultural realities of our day. This isn't just the task of preachers; it's the task of the church. So as we do that, one thing I noticed with Dr. Hoffmann is that he spends a lot of time simply reflecting on what he's heard. I love his line. He says, "I'm no economist, but I know what people are saying." So he's modeling this careful attentive listening.

David Schmitt: Right. And that's the first step, right? Is that if you're off the mark on the listening, then what you say in terms of the deeper diagnosis is going to be off, too, and so being aware of and compassionate for the situation about things being so expensive. And that's kind of like Bob Kolb always says, "You should ask the question is 'Why do you want to know?'" Right? So if somebody's complaining about things are so expensive, you might want to know why this is such a concern for them. And that's another way to get to the same thing—is to move to a deeper diagnosis from the surface symptom.

I think one thing it does, particularly with this movement from surface symptom to deeper diagnosis, is the deeper diagnosis changes the way we see things. So we start out being concerned about the expensiveness of things, and then all of the sudden we start realizing that we have a problem with greed. And that Christ is not concerned about how many things we have as much as he is concerned that we are His, and that we know we are His, and we live as if we are His, and it is His world and His kingdom and we live comforted with that.

So you've got this altered reality. And the reason I think that's important is that in our culture I think people want Jesus as an add-on. They want to add Him to the life they already have. The problem is that Jesus, isn't an add-on, He's a life changer. So when you try to add Him on, He's going to change everything. And so there's this confrontation with the reality that the kingdom of God changes the way I live in the world. And it's my confession of that, as I talk about how thinking a little bit more deeply I see this other thing about myself and I realize how God has come and called me to a different way of life. It brings people to the reality that you can't just add Jesus on into your life, that He's going to change things.

Mike Zeigler: So we're not just talking about listening to somebody's problems and then saying, "Jesus can solve that problem." But the deeper dive helps you understand the problem in a different way.

David Schmitt: And which then helps you understand the solution, if you would want to say. It helps you understand the work of Christ in a different way as well. And the thing I like about the deeper diagnosis method is that it helps you realize that your conversation can start anywhere. You can just start it anywhere. What somebody says on the elevator, as he was saying, "I've heard people say ..." You hear some people talking. And this is the beginning of a conversation. So often when we think about witnessing, we feel like, well, I've got to start getting them talking about God. Well, you're going to wait a long time until people do that.

And instead, I can pick up with whatever we're talking about and move to a deeper reality. So we're talking about concern for the environment, and I can begin thinking about creation and the goodness of creation and our stewardship of gifts and care for creation and why I would be even concerned about that. How did I get here and what is my role here? And how does that relate to the one who made all of this? It's just kind of take a comment and then move deeper, and then ultimately come to the One who changes how you live in this world.

Mike Zeigler: I really love how you say that: "The conversation can start anywhere." That just opens up the possibilities of—

David Schmitt: And it doesn't always have to be negative.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah.

David Schmitt: Right? Because I could have a conversation with a mother who's concerned about baby formula, and she's concerned about her child and her love for the child. This is something I can commend. Just as she has such deep love for her child's physical health, so too, we want to have deep love for our spiritual health.

Mike Zeigler: So the Gospel can be a "Yes, and—"

David Schmitt: Right.

Mike Zeigler: Doesn't have to always be a "No, but—"

David Schmitt: Right. Yeah. It's just so that I move you from this First Article love and work into the Second Article reality.

Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for being with us, David.

David Schmitt: Okay.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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