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Sermon for Sunday 4 August 2019

First Reading          Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26

2Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

12I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

18I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Psalm                                                  Psalm 100

1Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. 2Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. 3Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name. 4For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

Second Reading                          Colossians 3:1-11

1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Gospel                                                    Luke 12:13-21

13Someone in the crowd said to {Jesus}, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”


Now before you roll your eyes and say to yourself, “oh no, another sermon on the evils of money,” let me share a story with you.  A sixth-grade teacher posed the following problem to one of her math classes: “A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars.  One-fifth is to go to his wife, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his nephew, and the rest is to go to charity.  Now, what does each get?”  After a very long silence in the classroom, one little fellow raised his hand.  With complete sincerity in his voice, he answered, “A lawyer.”  He’s probably right.  Let’s face it, when it comes to money, most of us take the subject quite seriously.

It’s estimated that 40% of the marriages that fail are the result of conflict over finances.  Colleges report that students today are forsaking the study of Liberal Arts for courses in accounting, engineering, and business.  Newspapers are devoting entire sections to the subject of money.  People who just a few years ago were financially illiterate are now following, with interest, rates on Certificates of Deposit, Money Market accounts, etc.  And something I encourage every couple I council before marriage to do, is to sit down with a financial planner early in their marriage and map out a strategy for achieving their financial goals.  This is good advice no matter where you’re at in life.  But for the purpose of today’s sermon, the question that we must always ask is, is money a tool or an obsession?  The reality is, some people can become concerned about money to the point of desperation.  Paul addresses this in our second reading when he warned that we need to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” including “covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Tony Robbins in his book Money Master the Game tells about a man named Adolf Merckle.  In 2007 Merckle was the 94th richest man in the world which made him the wealthest man in Germany, with a net worth of $12 billion.  He owned the largest pharmaceutical company in Europe.  He also had interests in manufacturing and construction.  He took great pride in his accomplishments.  But then he made a big mistake.  In 2008 he decided to make a bet in the stock market.  He was so certain that stock in Volkswagen was going to go down, he decided to short the company.  Just one problem: Porsche made a move to buy Volkswagen, and the stock price shot up, not down.  Almost overnight, Merckle lost nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.  To make matters worse, he desperately needed some cash to pay off a huge loan.  Again, this was in 2008.  

Some of you will remember that 2008 saw the worst global economic disaster since the Great Depression.  Banks weren’t loaning money to anyone—even billionaires.  “When he realized he’d lost a total of $3 billion and was no longer the richest man in Germany . . . [Merckle] wrote a suicide note and walked in front of a speeding train.  In a tragic irony, his family discovered only a few days later that the loans he sought had come through, and his companies were saved.”  Think about that, he was still a very wealthy man, but his obsession with wealth cost him his life.

The reality is, all of us are concerned, for one reason or another, about money.  Money is, after all, how we pay for the things we need and want in this world.  Money is simply a universally accepted tool of barter.  We get paid with money and we pay for goods and services with money.  Almost completely gone are the days of barter.  Thankfully, around here, family and friends still swap favors instead of passing back and forth the same few dollars.  The point is, money is an important part of our lives and Jesus was well aware of this.  It was no different 2,000+ years ago.  

This is why Jesus had so much to say on the subject.  Money can easily go from being a necessary tool to a thing of obsession and even abuse.  Indeed, Jesus noted that we will control our money, or it will control us when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money (Matt. 6:24).  It will either be a blessing to us or a curse.  Sadly, money can divide and destroy families.  I see this all the time after the death of the last parent.

Our lesson for today begins with someone in the crowd saying to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Now before I go any further, I want to ask you a question.  How much money would it take to completely change your life?  I’m talking about the amount you would need to be independently wealthy; the amount you would need to have the “things” you’ve always wanted and be able to fully enjoy them understanding the cost of keeping and maintaining them?  $50,000.00, $100,000.00, 1 million dollars?  Understanding that most inheritances, when divided, are far less than these amounts, what are you willing to sacrifice to obtain the money.  Are you willing to sacrifice family, friends, spouses?  What is the value you place on these relationships?  Folks, I’ve seen families ripped apart over a few thousand dollars that within a few weeks, if not days, is gone.  As your pastor, I urge you to really think about this when the subject of inheritance invades your life.

I know most of you are past the receiving an inheritance stage in life.  But, all of us will leave something for someone else to inherit.  Please…consider, plan and consult experts, if you haven’t already done so, and think about those you leave behind.  Is what you plan to do, good for the family, or will it rip them apart.  I implore you, you know your family best, be honest and plan well.  This includes, wills, living wills, insurance information and powers of attorney.  Plan while you can. 

And please, do both the family and me a favor.  Now to some this might sound a bit morbid, but please let your family know what your final wishes are.  Write this information down; your family and I will thank you.  This is another area that causes tension between siblings and other family members.  Enough on that subject for now.  If you have any questions, please ask, I’m happy to help in any way I can.

In our gospel lesson for today Jesus replied to the man in the crowd, “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 then he told a story about a rich man whose land produced so much that he didn’t know what to do with the surplus.  As we read this passage, many of us think to ourselves, I’d love to have a problem like that.  The man resolved his problem this way, “I will pull down my barns,” he said, “and build larger ones; and there I will store all of my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink be merry.”

Jesus concluded the story by saying, ‘Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  What I find interesting in this story is that God calls the man a fool—not a sinner, not a reprobate—but a fool?  Now we need to be very careful here.

Scholars assure us that parables are designed to make a single point.  I, for one, don’t completely agree with this statement; for me, this can oversimplify the lessons Jesus taught.  For example, the term “fool” suggests all sorts of things.  First, the term fool doesn’t just apply to the rich man in this parable, but to many others I know.  A statement like this of course bears explaining.  For one, God may have called him a fool because he paid too high a price physically, emotionally and spiritually for his great wealth.  Now before we go any further, I need to explain a difference here. 

To those who are familiar with the Bible, and I hope all of you say, “that’s me”, when we hear the word fool, we immediately become concerned, because Jesus warned strongly against using this word in Matthew chapter 5.  In verses 21-22 Jesus warned, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  The Greek word used here in this warning is mOros which means stupid or dull.  The word we translate as fool here in this Luke passage in the Greek is aphron, which is translated as a person without reason.  While seemingly close there is a difference. 

The first, mOros is considered a derogatory term; it’s a term of judgement.  The word aphron is a critique of one’s actions.  As Christians we need to be careful not to judge people, this is God’s job.  We are however, called to examine the actions of others and approve or condemn those actions based on the teachings of the Bible.  A more popular way of saying this is, were to love the sinner but hate the sin.  God calls the man a fool because he was thinking only of one thing, leisure, or only of himself.

 Think about it, what good is a bank full of money if your health is gone, if the people you love turn their back on you, or worse yet, if you’re not right with God?  That could certainly be one reason God would call him a fool.  People have been known to sacrifice everything, their health, their marriage, their relationships with their children, their respect and reputation in the community—people have been known to create all kinds of havoc in their lives in the race to grab the almighty dollar.  This man was, it appears, meeting his maker far sooner than he had expected.  It’s obvious that he thought he had many years left.  Maybe he simply worked himself to an early grave.

Eric Butterworth, in his book Unity of All Life, tells a somewhat complicated but very revealing story about two men.  It’s a fictitious story, but if you will follow me, I think the story will appeal to you.  The first man chronicled was very wealthy but in poor health.  The other was quite robust health-wise, but very poor financially.  The two men were envious of one another.  The wealthy man would have given anything for a healthy body.  The poor man would have given anything to be rich.

There was a world-famous surgeon who could give them both what they longed for.  He had perfected a technique for doing brain transplants and these two men were the perfect candidates.  The wealthy man gave the poor man all of his wealth for the poor man’s robust body by just swapping their brains.  The operation was a complete success.  Now the formerly poor man was surrounded by wealth, but he didn’t know how to use it.  He squandered it on both foolish pleasure and bad investments.  Soon he was poor again.

However, the sickly body that he had received in the brain transplant became healthy again because he wasn’t burdened with stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, the formerly wealthy man with his new robust body began to accumulate wealth again because he knew the principles for making money and he exercised discipline in his spending.  Soon he was wealthy again, but the stress and anxiety that he subjected himself to in making that money took its toll on his body.  Soon he was racked with aches and pains.  The point of the story is, both men ended up right back where they started—one wealthy with a sickly body; the other financially impoverished but with excellent health.  This story hits closer to home than we’d like to admit. 

Maybe the rich man in our parable was so obsessed with making money that he sacrificed his health or something equally as important to obtain it.  That would make him foolish, wouldn’t it?  That’s one possibility.  The second possibility is that maybe the rich man had put off living until it was too late.

There’s a little trilogy that is appropriate here.  It goes like this:  making a living, making a killing, then making a life.  This is the way many people perceive the progression that life must take.  At first, we’re satisfied with just making a living.  But as our income rises, so do our perceived needs.  We need a bigger house, a more luxurious SUV, a better school for the children.  We need hundreds of TV channels to choose from and a Roku and Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts for streaming material online—all in glorious High Definition.  And, of course, we also need a rigorous exercise program in order to improve our health: this is to offset all the sitting we do in front the multi-channel TV.  It’s a vicious cycle.  The more we have, the more we seem to need.  

The more we have, the more it costs to maintain it.  So, we need to increase the financial goals we once set for ourselves.  We want the kind of life “so worldly, so welcome” as the MasterCard commercials used to say.  So, this means that it’s no longer enough to just make a living.  We need to make a killing.  

Someday when the children are grown, and the mortgage is paid, and all of our goals have been reached, we’ll think about making a life.  But what if it’s too late when we finally get around to making a life?  Wouldn’t you consider that to be foolish?  Isn’t it odd that if you have time, you probably don’t have the money to enjoy life?  And if you have money, you’re probably too busy to have the time.  There must be a balance.  There’s more to life than accumulating wealth.  Jesus warned in another place, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).

Pastor Samuel Zumwalt tells about a woman friend of his who happens to be a recovering alcoholic.  They went with a group on a mission trip to Honduras.  This trip changed this woman’s whole perspective on life.  She said to Zumwalt, “I’ve always felt poor since I lost my four-bedroom house in a divorce.  Then I came to Honduras and saw how the victims of Hurricane Mitch were thrilled to have these two-room houses that we’re building there.”  She said, “I came home to my 900-square-foot condominium and saw that I live in a palace compared to them.”  She said, “I’m rich, and I never knew it until I went to Honduras.”

“She didn’t get rich by frugality,” says Pastor Zumwalt.  “She didn’t get rich by having a second job.  She didn’t get rich by winning the lottery.  She got rich by visiting the Third World and seeing her life through new eyes.  She was already grateful for her sobriety.  Now she had new reasons to be grateful for being wealthy all along.”  Our rich friend surveys all that he has, and he says to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid away for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry . . .”  It makes me wonder if he had put off living waiting for a tomorrow that never came.  That would indeed be foolish. Here all these goods were laid up and somebody else got to enjoy them.  And there’s a third possibility.  Maybe God called him foolish because he never understood how to get the most joy from his wealth.

Stop and think for a moment; what could you do with your money that would give you the grandest feeling you have ever had?  For example, how much would it mean to you personally to save one child’s life today?  And no, I’m not getting ready to push a new giving opportunity.  You folks are wonderfully generous and support the various mission works we have chosen.  But just for contemplation, how much would it be worth to save one child’s life—five dollars, a hundred, a thousand?  Suppose you could put a few dollars in the offering plate knowing that somewhere in the world you had saved one little child’s life?  Wouldn’t that make this one of the greatest days in your whole life?

I believe if we would just think about the good we could do with our financial resources, we would do more for those who need it most—not out of guilt but out of gladness.  We must admit, we have so much, while others have so little.  There is a tremendous need in this world.  Again, I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty—just rethink how we use the gifts God has given us.  The truth is, at some point, all the stuff we have can become more of a burden than a blessing if we’re not careful.  This statement is backed up by research by the way.  But to know that we’ve made a real difference in someone else’s life—that could bring unimaginable joy.

That may be the third reason God called the man foolish.  He may have never understood how his wealth could bring him the most joy.  There’s also a fourth possibility here.  It seems to be the one that Jesus had in mind.  The rich man may have been foolish because he didn’t take into consideration his accountability to God.  This seems to be the main point Jesus was making with this parable.  

Consider Jesus’ concluding remarks: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  The truth is, many people today are agnostics.  For them the term Christian really has no meaning other than they’re not Muslim or Jewish.  Sure, they believe in the existence of God, but it makes no real difference in the way they live their lives.  They have no sense of their own personal accountability to God.  So, what does Jesus mean here when He says be “rich toward God?”  Many of us don’t really understand this statement.

Sure, we say we believe that salvation is only by grace through faith and not by works.  Yet we have a difficult time when it comes to personal accountability.  Why I’m not sure, the scriptures are very clear.  One day we will stand before God and give an accounting of how we used all our resources; our time, talents and treasures (2 Cor. 5:10).  This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Doesn’t it make sense that the One who granted us the gift of life, who gave us our talents, abilities and opportunities should also hold us accountable for how those resources were used?  Seriously, wouldn’t it be foolish to assume otherwise? 

God called the rich man a fool, a man without reason.  Maybe the man paid too high a price for his wealth.  Perhaps he put off living until it was too late.  It could be that this poor rich man never understood that money can never bring true joy until we use it to glorify God and help a neighbor in need.  Or maybe, he simply never realized that he was ultimately accountable to God for everything in his life—including how he used his financial resources.  Perhaps this is the reason God didn’t call the man sinful or a reprobate, but a fool.  Maybe the story Jesus is telling isn’t so much a matter of being sinful, but of being foolish. 

Johannes Tauler, a 14th century preacher, tells of meeting a beggar.  “God give you a good day, my friend.” he said.  The beggar answered, “I thank God I never had a bad one.”  Then Tauler said, “God give you a happy life, my friend.”  “I thank God,” said the beggar, “I am never unhappy.”  Tauler asked, “What do you mean?”  “Well,” said the beggar, “When the weather is fine, I thank God; when it rains, I thank God; when I have plenty, I thank God; when I am hungry, I thank God.  And since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases Him, pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?”  We can learn a lesson here. 

This beggar is truly a wise and happy man.  Solomon is right, “for apart from [God] who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases him, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.”  All else is “is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:25-26).


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