Sermon: 2nd Order Change

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

It is the season of updating our will, checking our life insurance, and doing some future planning. I don’t really live in the future. Some of you know this about me. I’m a horrible planner.

This stuff has been on my mind this week. Now, is it any wonder that as I read the passage from the Gospel this week that my focus immediately moves to that kind of thing? The passage is not about building barns … no, it’s about how Christians aren’t supposed to take out life insurance policies, save for their retirement, or prepare for the future … because, God’s got it, right?

I think that this interpretation of the story only reveals the lenses we wear (the ones I am wearing) as we read it.

I actually think the story is about love and its obstacles.

It’s about love and trust. And, it’s about love and trust and arranging a life insurance annuity with your financial planner.

Before we dig into this passage too deeply I want to discuss the idea of change for a moment. Reading the parables of Jesus are prompt us toward growth. Let’s think for a moment about how this change, this growth, occurs.

There are two levels of “change”.

First order change takes place on the surface of our lives and can look like a really big deal. We can physically change our appearance, change spouses, change religions, change friends, loyalties, countries and so forth but on the inside our lives are essentially unchanged. Maybe we should say that our “persons” are essentially unchanged. The externals of life, the way we look and the things we do and the people we associate with may change. Inside nothing has changed.

For example, the Bible teaches us that we can change everything on the outside but our inner orientation toward God and the world around us can remain the same. One can fake kindness. (don’t we all do this from time to time?) While we act generously, kindly and self sacrificial it is possible that we are just as angry or fearful as always. We’re different only on the outside but not in who or what we essentially are.

Second order change takes into consideration the depths of who we are as people and as communities. When we undergo this kind of change, or transformation, something inside of us is different.

It’s like conversion. It changes everything but on the surface of life it might look like nothing much has changed at all. In fact, second order change just might be conversion.

Second order change bears fruit but it’s not necessarily the kind of fruit that everybody sees or appreciates. It is what we can rightly call transformation. It’s what is at the heart of the idea of spiritual formation.

Let’s look at our passage again. After reading the passage and seeking to obedient to God we might:

1) cancel our life insurance policies

2) cash out our 401K’s and give the money to the church

3) cash out our IRA’s and invest in Krueggerand gift baskets for your pastor

First order change looks at what we have to do to be operating in obedience to Christ following his lead as closely as possible in appearance if not in essence. When we approach it this way we sometimes miss the point that Jesus is trying to make; rather, the point that he is making that we are missing.

Approaching this passage with the attitude of second order change we might instead ask ourselves questions such as:

1) who’s talking to whom

2) what are they saying … what do they mean by what they are saying

3) to the original hearers and to us

Second order change produces changed behavior but it produces that kind of changed behavior by changing what’s going on inside of the person. In the case of today’s passage it raises issues such as:

1) what am I afraid of?

2) is trusting God a possibility for me?

3) what would my life look like if the future wasn’t such a bugaboo for me?


“When we are afraid we don’t love well.” – Samir Selmonovic

 I think this story is about love and trust and the fact that we can’t love when we are chronically afraid.

 It’s true that some people when facing great fears act in ways that are perfectly Christ-like, giving up their lives for the person next to them whether that person be a loved one or friend or even, on rarer occasions, enemies. But this is fear that is faced and overwhelmed with trust—a trust in God, or at least a trust in something or someone greater than.

However, when fear is chronic and un-faced it becomes something that literally drains the love right out of us. Un-faced fears are overwhelming.

Love is difficult at best, if not impossible, when we are overcome by chronic fear.

Let’s ask those questions of ourselves once again.

1) what am I afraid of?

2) is trusting God a possibility for me?

Colossians 3:1-4 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears,then you also will appear with him in glory.

 “Merciful and ever-living Father,
 you have called us into fellowship with your beloved Son.
 May our hearts be open to holy affection
 and our minds readied to receive and cherish your truth.
 We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
 who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
 one God, forever and ever. Amen.”

So how do we overcome the fear that keeps us from loving well? Perhaps it happens when we are loved ourselves. Loved not for what we can do or how well we behave our how much we earn in God’s eyes, or our own, but loved simply for who we are.

“May our hearts be open to holy affection.”

Can we let God care for us this way? Is it possible to take a few minutes and cease all our striving for the sake of allowing our hearts to be open to the holy affection that can only come from God. Perhaps it comes to us directly through the unmediated and mystical presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Perhaps it comes to us through the people in our families or our friends. Perhaps it comes to us, as I pray it will, through the presence of the people in our life known as the church.

May God make us a people ready to receive and give holy affection thus transforming our lives from the inside out. Amen.



2 thoughts on “Sermon: 2nd Order Change

  1. Hey, I see you just started posting your sermons here, Paul. Thanks for doing that. I really miss Saturday nights there.

  2. Saturday nights miss you!

    If I do a real manuscript for my sermon, which I’m trying to do more, I’ll post it here. It may be time to do the whole podcast thing again. We shall see.

    Have a good trip!

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