You may have seen a very large RV traveling down the highway. In the driver’s seat is a senior citizen, and emblazoned on the back of that RV is a bumper sticker declaring that this now retired couple is spending their children’s inheritance. Now, they have every right to spend their money any way they please, and the kids have no legal means of stopping them from doing this, but this declaration seems rather bold, maybe even brazen! They have decided to spend the inheritance before it gets passed on to the next generation.
Warren Buffett, as you may have heard, has decided that the bulk of his fortune won’t go to his children, but rather to charity. It’s not that the kids won’t get anything, but most of the inheritance is going to be shared by a much broader group of people.
Jesus once told a parable about inheritances. In this parable a son demands his share of the inheritance now. Why wait until Dad is dead to enjoy the benefits of the inheritance. Now, this is also a rather brazen demand. The son is basically telling his father to drop dead. There’s another part to this story that we rarely hear. In that day the estate went to the eldest son, who then decided if anyone else would get a share. So, this younger son was asking for something that didn’t belong to him. But the father gives him what he asks for and the son goes out and spends it all on drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Before too long it’s all gone and he finds himself on the streets, eating the left overs from the slopped hogs. You know the rest of the story. He decides to go home and see if Dad will hire him on. He knows he has no claim to sonship or the inheritance, because that’s all gone. In the end, however, there is a word of grace that restores this prodigal back to his place in the family.
In Ephesians 1 we also hear a word about an inheritance.
I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. (Eph. 1:18-19a CEB).
This is a prayer that our eyes would be opened so that we would see the “richness of God’s glorious inheritance.” The promise is that we get to share in this inheritance, which by rights goes to the eldest son, whom the scriptures declare to be Jesus the Christ. The promise here is that we have been called to share in this inheritance. That means we can spend the inheritance – hopefully wisely!
Back in the 1980s a Danish movie came out entitled Babette’s Feast. I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve heard the story, and it has stuck with me – though I had to go online to reacquaint myself with the details. Maybe you know this story about two sisters who are living in a small Danish village. They’re the daughters of a pastor, and while both had opportunities to leave the village, both women spurned their suitors and returned to their village, living together without ever marrying. As they reached old age, a French woman who has fled political turmoil in France comes to the door and offers her services as housekeeper in exchange for a place to live. She serves in this capacity for fourteen years, until word comes that she has won the lottery, which would bring her 10,000 francs. That’s enough money for her to return home and live fairly well the rest of her life.
Instead of using the money to return home, she decides to throw a feast for the two sisters and the village’s small congregation on the 100th birthday of the founding pastor. The sisters agree, though as the meal is being planned and the food begins to arrive they become uncomfortable with the extravagance of it all. Although they agree to the meal, they decide as a group to say nothing about it, lest they seem to be indulging themselves in luxury. There is one other guest at the table – a Swedish general who had once sought the hand of one of the sisters. Unlike the other guests, he feels free to speak admiringly of the food, explaining each course, and declaring that he’d not had a meal like this since he had dined years before at the famed Café Anglais in Paris.
Although no one says anything about the food, something wonderful begins to happen in the community. They not only seem to be enjoying the food, but they’re lifted up spiritually. As they eat, they begin to forget about old wrongs, and old loves are rekindled. Indeed, something mystical and redemptive begins to settle in on the group.
After the meal is finished, Babette tells the sisters that she was the chef at this famed restaurant. While they assume that Babette will return home now that she has these lottery winnings, Babette tells them that there’s nothing left of these winnings. She had spent all 10,000 francs on the dinner, for such was the cost of a meal for twelve at Café Anglais. In gratitude for the welcome these two sisters had provided her, she had given of herself to them with great extravagance, spending all that she had to bless them and their congregation. It is a story of sacrifice and blessing, but it is also a story of Thanksgiving.
This is, of course, the story of Jesus as it is shared throughout the New Testament. In Philippians 2 we’re told that while Jesus shared equality with God, he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant, going so far as to die on a cross. Here in Ephesians 1 we hear a word about an inheritance, which is shared with all those who are destined to receive it. They are marked by a seal, which is the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as a pledge of this inheritance that Christ as the elder brother has chosen to share with the body of Christ.
We are invited to share in the riches of this inheritance, which has been been witnessed to in the power of God that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God, far above all authority on earth.
Don’t you think that the folks who brag about spending their children’s inheritance may have more in common with the prodigal than with Babette, whose act of self-sacrifice brought blessings to others? Now this was her choice, but she didn’t regret it. And the message of the gospel is that in the interests of the reign of God, the Son became a human being, so as to share our lives that we might experience the blessings of God. That is, so that we might share in the inheritance of God.
As we hear the message of Jesus’ willingness to share the inheritance with us, so that we might experience the full redemption that comes from being part of the body of Christ, we stand on the eve of Thanksgiving. On the Day of Thanksgiving we are invited to offer up expressions of gratitude, both in word and deed, for the blessings of God’s gifts to humanity. In the words of one of my favorite songs from Godspell: we sing:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above
So thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love . . .
This song reminds us that while we may plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, it is God who feeds and waters the seed so that it brings forth life. For this we give thanks.
Babette, like Jesus and the widow, gave all of herself for others, and she did this as a sign of thanksgiving. As we gather in the harvest of commitments made in support of the ongoing ministry of this church, the request made here isn’t that we give all our money to the church, but rather that we give ourselves fully to Christ, who shares with us the riches of God’s inheritance. Even as we bring in this harvest, as saints charged with giving generously, we are also invited to spend this inheritance for the glory of God. We do this in order to see the reign of God made visible on earth as in heaven, even as relationships are restored, justice is established, and beauty is rediscovered.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Christ the King Sunday
November 20, 2011