July 31, 2016
“You can't take it with you.” We've all heard this saying many times. Our parable today finds Jesus making a point about a wealthy man who accumulated much and had to leave it all behind. But it seems not everyone believes you can't take it with you. A rich man discovered he had a terminal illness. He called together three men whom he trusted and gave them each $500,000. He said to them, “I know I can't take it with me, but I want to try. I want you each to promise you will put the $500,000 I gave you into my casket at my funeral...I want it buried with me just in case.
And so it was that after the funeral, the three men got together to discuss the situation. The first man, a doctor, confessed that he didn't put the money in the casket. He gave it to the hospital’s Foundation to build a new children's wing. The second, a priest also confessed, “I didn't put the money in the casket either. I gave it to the Little Sister of the Poor to build a new treatment center.” The third man, a lawyer, replied in disbelief. “I just want you to know I carried out his wishes. He was buried with my personal check for $500,000 in his casket!”
There was a very wealthy man who had amassed a great fortune and lived a life of luxury. He asked his wife one evening, “Honey, would you still love me if I didn't have all this money?' She replied, “Certainly I'd love you Sweetie. I'd miss you but I'd still love you.” How easy it is for us to misplace our values. Money doesn't guarantee a happy marriage or a happy life. We certainly understand this at a certain level. But on another level, we tend to envy people who are rich. We comment on the lucky people who win a lottery, we daydream about what we'd do with all that money. We think of the sense of security and relief from financial strain a financial windfall would give us. We think it would be good to be rich. Jesus suggested otherwise. And his teachings are not about the amount of money we have but about how we feel about the money and property we possess. Do we own our possessions or do our possession own us?
So let's look at some of the reasons the Lord spoke so often about the dangers of our possessions. I will list some specifics gleaned from today's gospel.
- Money itself is not evil. Jesus never indicted money itself. He had a great deal to say about the use of money. Six chapters ahead in Luke's gospel we'll read of another discussion with another rich man. Jesus tells him to sell all that he possesses and give it to the poor, and the young man became very sad for he was very rich. He was possessed by his possessions. Jesus saw that and showed it by asking him to give away his riches. That is not a call for every one of us to give away all that we have, but it is a call to make sure that our priorities are straight. The saying is often misquoted, “Money is the root of all evil”. Paul actually wrote “The love of money is the root of all evil”....and so we love the Lord first and foremost and seek to use our money to glorify God.
- Our possessions may give us a false sense of security. This was certainly the case in our parable today. The rich man: “And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'” He may have had goods laid up, but that was not true security. His security should have been in the provision of the Lord. It appears from the little Jesus shared that this man was neither appreciative of the soil, rain and nutrients that produced the great crop nor was he considering how he could help those less fortunate with his wealth. He didn’t need God, he didn't need prayer, he didn't need anyone. His security was in his ability to take care of himself and the wealth he built up. Or so he thought. Listen to this passage from Psalm 49: “People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves.” (12-13a) You can't take it with you...
- Guard against selfish ambition. Notice in the parable the ego of the rich man. The pronoun I is used by him 6 times. He talks about “my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods”. He claims “I will” four times. This ego, this self centered-ness is a strong force in our lives. It is a strong force in my life. We are reminded over and over in scripture that as Christians we no longer live for self alone. We live out love for God and love for our neighbor. That is not done by selfishly hoarding our goods. It is in the sharing of our gifts and talents and time and goods with others that love is lived out. Ambition is important. We need to make a living, we need to support our families, we need to take care of ourselves and not be dependent on others. But the rich man's selfishness went way beyond that. It was all about his comfort and pleasures and adding to his own indulgences. In her novel Ultimate Prizes Susan Howatch has the sister of the Archbishop chastise him for his greed, “You and your prizes! The only prize worth winning is love—and just remember that when you're a lonely old man trying to comfort yourself with your bank balance and your fading memories!” The prize we seek is love not riches, and we are to horde nothing.
- We are to include God in our planning. Last week I talked about how prayer is not just a time to tell God what to do but that it is about relationship building. God wants to be involved in every area of our lives. The plans of the rich fool were spoiled because he left God out of his plans and clearly God had other intentions. Like prayer, our planning for the future is to be about finding and following God's will. Too often we plan what we want and then ask God to bless our plans. We should pray first and then plan according to God's plan. The rich man considered only his own welfare and his plans came to naught. It is a warning to us to include God in every area of our lives.
- We do not know what tomorrow holds. We all make plans, we have to in order to get along in this life. But we need to be honest with ourselves. The rich man had plenty stored up, 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?'” He didn't have many years left; he didn't have many hours left. James in his epistle warns us all with these words, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4: 13-14) The rich fool never gave a thought to his mortality. And while we are not to go through life preoccupied with our mortality, we are to have an understanding that we have mortal bodies and immortal souls. We must be managing both parts of our beings, physical and spiritual. In his book All the Parables of the Bible, Dr Herbert Lockyer wrote of this as folly,“(Humans) sacrifice all legitimate pleasures and their deeper spiritual interests, to make money, and then die suddenly, leaving their hard-earned gains to be dissipated by indolent, pleasure-loving children.” (pg 269) Harsh words but true of the rich man. The things we have accumulated, whose will they be? You can't take it with you....
- We need to answer the question suggested by the final words of Jesus, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." Are we rich toward God? Lockyer points out, “Jesus spoke of this most successful farmer as a rich man, but actually he was a poor rich man... he was rich, increased with goods, having need of nothing, yet poor and miserable. As his riches increased, he set his heart upon them rather than the one who gave him the ability to accumulate wealth.” (pg 267) It is a warning to each of us to keep our focus where it ought to be, on eternal things. We live in this world, we do our jobs to the best of our ability, we accumulate wealth to care for ourselves and our families... that is the way of the world. But as Christians we are promised that this world is not all there is. And we have one foot in this world and one in the next. Don't lose sight of that. How we treat the things of this world is the result of how we view the things of the Lord. Paul in today’s reading wrote, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: evil desire, and greed.” Notice I just picked out two from his list...evil desire and greed. Not all our desires are evil but greed is included in the list of the seven deadly sins. Guard against greed as you seek to live for the Lord. Be rich toward God as you love and live out love.
Money itself is not evil. It is a tool we use in this world. We need to have the proper view of money as such; not our ultimate goal in life but a necessity used to care for our families, support institutions and causes we believe in and used to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
- In a similar vein, don't let money or possessions be your security. It is a false security as God's goodness has led to whatever we have.
- Remember that you are not the center of the universe, guard against selfishness, don't make everything about you but love God and love your neighbor.
- As you make plans, make God a part of planning. Pray for guidance, for wisdom, for vision.
- Live with an awareness that life is tenuous. We aren't promised tomorrow. Have an eternal view as part of your journey in this world.
Recognize what true wealth consists of—I found this list in my research and this will conclude the sermon with positive recognition of our riches which are not things that can be bought. We should be thankful to have a clear conscience cleansed by prayer and the forgiving grace of God. A committed will... to seek and live the will of God to the best of our understanding. A loving family; spouse, children, grandchildren but also our church family. Cherish the time we spend together at our brunch this morning, fishing on Wed., worshiping and praying together. True wealth is a closer relationship with Jesus. Jesus, whose grace frees us from sin and death; whose presence brings us comfort and peace even in times of trial and sorrow. This is true wealth, wealth which a certain rich man exchanged for overflowing barns. Let us not make the same mistake. Amen.
Hymn: Count Your Blessings 569 HLC