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Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

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 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 up- on 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.”

Wisdom and IQ

While thinking about our Old Testament reading, I came up with this question, is there a difference between intelligence and wisdom?  According to the website peddia.com, “smart and wise are two positive adjectives that refer to the intelligence and good judgment of a person.  Although both these adjectives are somewhat similar in meaning, you might have noticed a difference in usage.  Smart is often used as an informal word, and it can refer to people of all age categories.  Wise is more commonly used with mature and experienced people. 

Wise refers to knowledge, good judgement, experience, sensibility as well as wisdom whereas, smart mainly refers to quick-witted intelligence. This is the main difference between smart and wise.”  The difference is a person can be smart but that doesn’t mean they have the wisdom that generally comes with age and experience.  One can also be very wise and yet not score well on an intelligence test.

With that in mind, I then did some research on intelligence, and what I found was interesting.  While there is no “standard” intelligence quotient (IQ) test, the scoring tends to be similar across the various versions.  A score of 100 on an IQ test is considered average, and anything 140 or above is considered genius territory.  Studies have shown that the majority of IQ test-takers, will score in the middle between 85 and 115.  Therefore, any score below 85 is considered below average, while a high-average IQ score is 116 or more.  It’s only 15.7 of the population world wide, that will have an high-average or above IQ score. 

Just to give you some reference, I’ve been told that someone applying for a Doctoral program at a major University or Seminary would need to have an IQ score of 125 or higher before being accepted.  Obviously, that puts people working on, or those who have been awarded a Doctoral degree in the superior category for intelligence.  It’s also worth noting that while there’s no absolute score limit, the highest IQ ever recorded is 238.  This score goes to Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman.  Anything above this is an estimated IQ. 

Now if you happen to fall into the group of folks whose IQ is 160 or higher, people like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking who scored 160, then you would be part of a group of folks that consist of just .003% of the world’s population.  However, these very smart men are not the smartest.  Consider Sir Isaac Newton – 200, Leonardo da Vinci – 220, Nikola Tesla – 310.  In 1988, when Adragon De Mello graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in computational mathematics at the age of 11, he was the youngest college graduate in the United States.  He was reported to have a projected IQ of 400.  These of course are the more notable examples.  Again, considering our First Reading, I was curious to see if anyone ever estimated king Solomon’s IQ.

King Solomon understood the need for both intelligence and wisdom even before he was endowed with great genius.  So after the prayer we find in 1 Kings 3, Solomon awoke with this great gift along with great wealth, peace, and the prospect of a long life (vs. 6-9).  Now instead of simply concentrating on physics and the mysteries of the universe, he chose to also pursue philosophy and the behavioral sciences as well, because Solomon found it challenging and useful to plumb the depths of the mind.  Also, Solomon was determined to understand people, so that he could rule intelligently and wisely with the gifts God had given him.  We know that he ruled well, because the Scriptures describe him as being a genius of geniuses.  

Some may question if God did indeed bless Solomon, but the bible even gives examples of the mysteries Solomon was able to solve with his newfound genius.  First, we find the famous case in which he adjudicated between two women, each of whom claimed that the same infant was hers, not the other’s (1 Kings ch.3).  There is no question that he went on to use his vast wisdom (1 Kings ch.5) in cases of judgment besides that of the two women, and the text has no need to list them, since that’s not its function.

Second, the Israelites were well-known for being a people of outspoken opinion, this can be read in Deuteronomy 1:12.  Each Israelite king was expected to be the leading judge of his generation, as the young Solomon stated explicitly in 1 Kings (3:7-9).  That’s why he asked God for wisdom, which God granted (1 Kings ch.5).  The fact that he led his people in a praiseworthy manner may be inferred from their prosperity and contentment during his era (1 Kings 4:20).  During his lifetime, there weren’t any complaints.  It was only after his death, that the people requested that taxes be lowered; the tax had served its purpose with all of Solomon’s large-scale projects now complete.

Third, through his vast God-given wisdom, he spoke and taught about God’s creations, influenced many nations, at least temporarily, to recognize the wisdom of God.  This was similar to the practice of Abraham (Genesis 21:33) and is what’s meant by “And he [Solomon] spoke of the trees, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on the wall; and he spoke of the animals, the birds, the insects, and the fishes.  And people came from all nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 5:13-14). 

Finally, King Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem, whose foundations are still visible.  This was a massive project which required skillful handling, extensive coordination with the neighboring nations, and firm, yet proper, supervision of tens of thousands of builders.  The bottom line is, God gave Solomon the intellectual ability and the wisdom to skillfully lead the Hebrew nation through a great time of prosperity and growth.  The problem was, Solomon drifted away from leading his nation in serving God and allowed the worship of idols to creep in.  Therefore, one has to wonder if he took his eyes off God and instead became focused on the stuff of this life.

Did Solomon over time began to think that his wisdom and knowledge was self-achieved?  Did he, as I like to say, “get the big head”?  Did he allow conceit to overcome humility?  Did he suddenly look at all God had given him and decide that it was procured by his skill and business savvy?  This may be why Jesus spent so much time warning against the dangers of wealth and the accumulation of worldly goods.  Is it possible that Jesus was thinking about Solomon’s fall from grace when he answered the bystander in the crowd?  Maybe this is why He told the parable of the rich man.

Apparently, Jesus wasn’t crazy about the idea of helping people squabble over their possessions.  However, Jesus did have important things to say on the topic of greed, selfishness, and idolatry.  Jesus quickly warned those gathered that day, that greed could be their downfall.  “Guard against all kinds of greed,” He implored them (Luke 12:15).  He gave a similar warning to the Scribes and Pharisees.  In Matthew 23:25 Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

The Matthew passage is part of a larger sermon in which Jesus pronounced seven woes on the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  A significant portion of those woes dealt with possessions, wealth, and/or physical treasures.  When people got hung up over material things, alarm bells seemed to go off in Jesus’ mind.  His reference to the cup and dish was directed at laws of ritual cleansing.  The hypocritical religious types were eager to make sure the outside was spotless.  Jesus, however, drew a distinction between the clean surface and the filth that lay within.

That filth, in Jesus’ mind, was their “greed and self-indulgence.”  They were careful to give an outward appearance of holiness while harboring avarice and self-indulgence inside.   Jesus obviously, didn’t want that kind of attitude to manifest itself in the two who were disputing the family inheritance.  It mattered less to Jesus to whom the inheritance belonged than that their hearts were free of greed.  The inheritance would be fleeting.  Their greed, on the other hand, could destroy them.

Jesus pointedly tells them that, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).  It’s a statement that’s reminiscent of the scripture passage that says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  This passage is found in Deuteronomy 8:3 and is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4.  It seems, that at every turn, Jesus downplayed the importance of material things when contrasted with the things of the heart and of God’s kingdom.

As is usually the situation, Jesus didn’t leave it as a simple admonition.  He added a parable to drive the point home.  In this case, it’s the story we’ve come to know as the Parable of the Rich Fool.  Our fool in the story is evidently a farmer and apparently, he was quite good at it.  From the statement about his barns, He’s had at least one or more good years crop-wise.  Because of his success, he decided the prudent thing to do is tear down his barns and, in their place, build larger ones.  

His success was such that his attitude became, “Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”  From a purely capitalistic point of view, I think most Americans would appreciate this guy’s attitude.  Work hard, save up, and sit back to enjoy the fruit of your labors.  It seems, however, that Jesus isn’t your typical American.  Obviously, Jesus sees life through a different lens.  The rich man’s end is not what we’re hoping for at all.  Jesus calls our thrifty, prudent friend, a “fool.”

By conventional wisdom, we probably ask, how can that be?  As a businessman, he did everything right.  Based on what we find in this story, the farmer invested well, managed his resources properly, and benefited from his honest labor.  Because of his diligence, he reaped far beyond his capacity to enjoy it all in one year.  He wisely planned to build larger barns to hold the excess, and he organized for the future.  Any financial planner would be proud.  But as the parable concludes, we see that God had a different point of view.

Why was this guy a fool in God’s eyes?  The simple answer was, “This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).  And there you have it.  As I’ve mentioned before, none of us are promised tomorrow.  All our plans for easy retirements and vacations in the sun can be laid waste in an instant.  In the end, who gets it all?  Not us, that’s for sure.  There are two old sayings, “There are no pockets in a burial shroud.”  And “there are no U-Hauls hitched to the hearse.”  In the end, we can’t take anything with us.  The truth is, the capitalist in us doesn’t really like this story.  By conventional wisdom, this isn’t fair.

Now we must acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with saving for the future.  There’s nothing wrong with being prudent with our wealth.  It’s not even wrong to enjoy life in moderation.  The key comes in the conclusion of this story.  Jesus says, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  This is the heart of the matter.  Parables are generally told to drive home one particular tenet.  The idea behind this one had nothing to do with the man’s shrewdness.  It had everything to do with how he used his wealth.  His own pocket was his only target.  Storing things up for his own benefit was his primary concern.  Jesus obviously took issue with that focus.

Jesus indicates that the man should have been focused on becoming “rich toward God.”  Instead of worrying about filling bigger barns, he should have been concerned for the things, and the people, for which God is concerned.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  It’s apparent where this guy’s heart was.  Remember in the parable of the goats and the sheep?  Those on the left asked, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?  Then the King will answer, Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me” (Matthew 25:31-46).  Time and time again, God denounced those who were so focused on themselves, that they failed to see their neighbor in need.  The bottom line is, we need to develop a heart for the things of the Lord.  

If our concern is only for ourselves, we will fall short in this life.  If our concern includes others, we not only fulfill God’s law of loving others as we love ourselves, chances are we’ll also be blessed ourselves.  If, after I’ve been diligent with all God has blessed me with, I have some extra money and I use it to help others, am I poorer because of how I spent that extra money or, have I just invested in the kingdom of God?  Our answer to questions like this will say a lot about where we stand with our wealth and possessions.  We’ve all seen the bumper sticker that said, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”  

It’s not the wealth that’s the problem, it’s the heart condition of the wealthy.  While it’s no crime to be rich, Jesus had some rather stringent things to say about it.  Remember what Jesus said in Mark 10: “It is much harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (vs. 25).  That statement is found in all three of the synoptic gospels, so it must be important for us to understand.

Jesus also said, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort” (Luke 6:24).  I really don’t like the sound of that.  It more than implies those who are considered affluent may have already received our reward and that we shouldn’t expect anything further.  Think about that in terms of the kingdom to come.  Am I saying then that we have to give everything away and live like paupers?  The answer is no.  However, we must remember and be very careful, because Jesus is talking about attitude and focus.  Jesus was clear, one cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).

We can work hard and be rewarded for our careful management.  The question is, what are we going to do with what God has given us?  How are we going to manage what we have?  The reason it’s so hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven is because of the attitudes that so often accompany their riches.  We get possessive.  We begin to hoard what we’ve collected.  We become overprotective of the things we’ve amassed.  Instead of recognizing that God has entrusted the things we have for service in His kingdom, we instead think, “It’s our stuff, and no one better try to separate us from it.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus said, “Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.”  The improper attitude is, “This is my stuff!”  In contrast, the attitude of God’s followers should be, everything we have is on loan from God.  We’re merely the trustees.  God reminds us in Psalm 50:10 that “every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”  We can either recognize that fact, or we can become cheapskates, misers, and hoarders; mistakenly thinking that it’s all ours to do whatever we please.

We are compelled by God’s word and Spirit to be good stewards of whatever we’ve received.  Since we have been blessed with more in terms of physical riches, we have a greater opportunity to be givers from that area of life.  Attitude is everything.  The rich fool didn’t see himself as a steward of what God had given.  Instead, he saw himself as the sole owner and proprietor.  He was planning to do whatever he pleased, and that was that.  That night his soul was required of him.

Anytime we think that we deserve everything we possess, we too become rich fools.  In reality, we’re only fooling ourselves when we think we actually possess anything.  We’re stewards of God’s good gifts.  We’re trustees of His blessings to us.  Someday, we will return all our stuff to God.  We can either invest it wisely in the work of his kingdom, or we can make a valiant (but vain) attempt to hoard it all for ourselves.  There is no substitute for being rich toward God.  It’s a way of life, not a notion for the moment.  Being rich or poor toward God is all about our attitude. 

The storehouse is not ours.  It belongs to God Almighty.  If we attempt to live life merely in the abundance of our possessions, we will live shallow, sad lives indeed.  If we live with dollar signs in our eyes, we will become the biggest fools of all.  If fighting over an inheritance is our main concern, we’re headed down the wrong path.  Remember what Jesus said to those on the right: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36).


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