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The Rich Idiot (A Sermon on Luke 12:13-21)
A man in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who made me judge or judge you?” And he said to them, “Beware! Beware against all kinds of greed; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man brought forth abundantly. Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns, and I will build a bigger one, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! tonight your life will be required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose are they?’ The same is true of those who accumulate riches for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
“Jesus is the Answer!”
When I first became an active Christian in the early 80s, that was the popular cry among my peers. I’m sure I have a T-shirt ‘Jesus is the answer’ it is published. In fact, the slogan became so popular that some came out with a counter-slogan, with T-shirts, featuring the words, “what’s the question?”
The popular religious response to that counter-slogan, of course, is “Jesus is the answer to all your questions”, but, of course, that is not true. I had a stand-up comedian convince me the other night as part of his routine. As he said, if Jesus the the answer to each question, think about how boring game shows are:
“Second round, hands on your buzzers. The first question is…
That’s right. Next question
Jesus is not the answer to all our questions, as described in today’s Gospel reading:
“Master, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13) ‘Tell the hand’, said Jesus. ‘Ask someone who cares!’
it’s ok That’s not exactly what He said, but that’s the gist of it.
“Who appointed me to be your judge?” ( Luke 12:14 ) is the correct answer, but it amounts to the same thing. Jesus was not very interested in helping this man solve his problem, which is not what we are used to.
This is not a trick question from what I can see. In fact, this is probably exactly the kind of question you would ask your local rabbi and expect him to answer. It’s a family issue, it’s a justice issue and, yes, it’s a money issue, and I know money isn’t the most important thing in the world, but, as Zig Ziglar said, “Money is not everything, but it ranks with oxygen”
When I was young, I never worried about money. I suspect most of us are like that. Why is it that if we don’t have money, we don’t seem to have anything to do with it? We get old and we get credit cards and we get mortgages and some of us get stock portfolios, and then we hire accountants and brokers to keep us out of trouble,
I am ashamed to confess that in recent years I have spent many hours lying awake at night, worrying about money. I used to think OTHERS people and that I am too spiritual for any of that. Having now come close to bankruptcy on one too many occasions, I confess that I have too.
Why do I not worry when I have nothing, and yet worry so much when I have quite a lot? The answer is straightforward enough (in my case, anyway). When I was young, I always knew my dad had my back. He’s gone now.
I think that’s why most of us worry about money. I think this is it fear.
I appreciate that for some people money is about power. It is about personal and social meaning. It’s about being a a person and stood out from the pack.
When we look at some of these entrepreneurs who earn huge pay-packets, and companies that generate squillions of dollars in profit, but seem to want more, it’s not about security, is that so? It’s something more pathological – a lust for power, a desire to be like God perhaps?
That’s not us, is it? At least not most of us, usually, or is there a fine line between seeking future security and seeking to replace God?
“Beware! Beware of all kinds of covetousness; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” ( Luke 12:15 )
GK Chesterton said “Now we can have a good debate whether or not Jesus believed in fairies. That would be something we could have an endless discussion of speculation. The evidence of Scripture is overwhelming, there so many stories.
It’s true, even if we don’t like to admit it. Even the most fundamentalist of preachers who insist that we take everything literally when it comes to Scripture, Jesus’ commands about money are somehow not literal.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide for yourselves supplies that will not run out.” (Luke 12:33) Jesus did not mean that literally, of course, He, that if He meant it literally, He was obviously not talking to me.
A rich man’s land produces abundantly. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no place to store my produce?’… ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and I will build a bigger one, and there I will keep all my grains. and my things. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many things hidden for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your life is demanded of you. And the things you prepared, whose are they? ( Luke 12:16-20 )
Death is a sobering reality. It helps us put things in perspective. In fact, the thing that amazes me, having now seen hundreds of funerals, is not how people can find clarity in funerals and suddenly see life in perspective, but what they seem to forget easily after the funeral and manage to go straight back to the treadmill. !
Let me finish by telling you one of my own funeral stories – a simple funeral I took in Dulwich Hill that has always stayed with me.
I can’t remember the deceased’s name now but what I do remember is that he was one of the greatest circus performers in the country. He is the trapeze artist whose performance is the highlight of every show on the big top of one of Australia’s great circuses.
And I spent time with this wonderful woman’s son before and after the funeral, and he told me how, as a child, he couldn’t watch his mom perform. In fact, he said that he would always end his routine with a more dangerous maneuver (a triple-somersault with a double twist, or something like that), and that he would always perform this stunt . ‘old school’ (no safety net)!
The son said that he always stood outside the tent at that point and listened to the people. When he hears the drum roll and the crowd sighs, this is when his mom makes the jump, and he holds his breath. When (an eternity later) he heard the crowd break into loud applause, he knew his mom was okay.
He only missed the jump once, he told me. He survived, but he never returned to the trapeze after that.
However, what stuck with me the most from the funeral of this great woman was that in the family memories during the funeral itself, her amazing life on the trapeze was barely mentioned! It seems that the children hardly remember his amazing athletic achievements. All they will remember is what a good mother she was!
That says it all for me! When we come to the end of life, all the things that confuse us the most now – no one will remember any of them! That may not be entirely true, but for the most part, the things we sweat and toil over today, along with all the professional accomplishments we’ve achieved and the records we’ve set and the degrees we’ve earned – they Might get a footnote in our eulogy, but I don’t think my friends and family really care about any of that stuff, especially about my net worth (if I have one).
Trust that we all have the same value when we are dead. I don’t know the actual value, but dead bodies are not worth much.
We worry too much about things that don’t matter, and the flip side of that is that we don’t have the resources – financial or emotional – to devote to things that matter. The trick for me, I know, is to keep reminding myself of what I knew as a child – that my dad has my back, because our Heavenly Father really has our back.
Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all will be fulfilled.
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