Sermon for Pentecost 11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The common thread running through all of our scripture lessons today is the use of wealth. We all think about being wealthy. Studies show that most people really truly believe that if they just made 10% more than they do now, they would be truly happy.
But, what if you got a raise that doubled your salary? What would you do if tomorrow you won the lottery? Ponder that for a moment.
We all wonder what it would be like to be outrageously wealthy. What would it be like to live like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Oprah…
It is fun to think about, isn’t it? Would you travel? Pay off your debts? Build a bigger house? Buy a new car, or several? Build a bigger garage to store everything?
Or, maybe you would save it for your retirement? Invest it wisely so it would draw interest and provide income for the rest of your life?
Maybe you thought about ways to help your kids. Maybe you would put money aside for your grandchildren and their education?
Did the idea of tithing pop into anyone’s brain? Hopefully, it did for you. It doesn’t for most people.
When people are surveyed about what they would do with a big increase in wealth, they answer practically. They say things like, “I would pay off my debts. Then I would make sure my retirement and my children’s education are funded. After that, I might buy something nice or go somewhere fun.”
That’s what people say they would do. What people actually do is very different. They get bigger houses, fancy cars, and more gadgets. They take nice vacations and speculate on bad investments. They give away a smaller percentage of their money to charity, than they did before they got wealthy.
They end up with more debt than ever, which creates even more stress in their lives. The number of lottery winners who end up declaring bankruptcy is legendary.
They end up gaining nothing that makes them happy, or more loving, or more joyful. They do not become more generous.
This is no problem for us, since we are not likely to come into a big pile of money. But we are still tempted to think, “All I need is just a little bit more, and I can sit back, relax, and be truly happy.”
Luke tells us that a man comes up and asks Jesus to settle a family dispute. It was not uncommon to ask a rabbi to settle a dispute. Just a couple of weeks ago, Martha asked Jesus to settle the issue between her and her sister Mary over the housework. Settling family disputes was part of the rabbi’s job description.
This man has an issue with his brother over their inheritance. There is nothing like money to cause family arguments. When I was helping families at Madonna make discharge plans, there were sometimes arguments among the grown children about what would be best for their mom or dad. The arguments always came down to money – who would get it at the end. It was very sad.
Jesus decided to answer the man’s request by telling a story, a parable. The story goes something like this. Once upon a time there was a rich farmer. One year the rich farmer had an amazing harvest. It was a bumper crop! It was so big that his barns wouldn’t even hold all of it. It was a banner year.
So the rich man starts talking through the situation, with himself. He says to himself, “What should I do? I have no place to store all my crops.” He thinks to himself for a minute, then he starts talking to himself again, “I know, I will tear down these barns and build even bigger barns. Then I will have plenty of storage space for the grain and all my other goods.” Because bigger is always better, right? Bigger garages for more cars, bigger houses, bigger bank accounts…
And then the man says to himself, “I will have so much stored up that I won’t have to work anymore. I can eat, drink, and be merry.”
You notice that the rich man is only talking to himself, not to anyone else. There isn’t another person in the conversation to offer an opinion. So God, who hears our secret thoughts, responded to him directly. God calls him a fool. God says, “Hey rich guy, you forgot something. Remember that old saying? You can’t take it with you! This is what happens when you are storing up riches for yourself and are not rich toward God.”
Jesus’ parable reminds me of another story, a fable this time. Once upon a time there was a very rich man. He was nearing the end of his life. The angel of death came for him, and he decided to strike up a deal with the angel. He asked the angel if he could bring something to heaven with him. The angel consulted with the archangels and they decided to agree to his request.
The angel of death would come back tomorrow. The rich man would be allowed to bring only one suitcase, but he could fill it with whatever he wanted. So the rich man went to the bank and converted all his money, everything he had, into gold bars and filled his suitcase with the bricks.
When he arrived at the pearly gates he had the suitcase in his hand. St. Peter said this was very irregular, but the angel verified that the man had asked special permission. Peter said, “Open it up and let’s see what you brought.” Peter looked at the gold bricks and shook his head. “Well, I guess it’s OK, but for the life of me, I don’t know what you want with a bunch of street paving stones.”
Money is like bricks. The brick itself is neither good nor bad. It can be used for evil, to harm or kill. Or it can be used for good – to build a hospital, a school, a church, a home. Money itself is neither good nor bad. What matters is what you do with it.
Let’s go back to the rich man in Jesus’ parable. Did you notice who he only talked to himself. He only thought of himself.
God called him a fool. He’s a fool, because wise people know, that the resources of our world are limited. Wise people know that one person’s hoarding takes away from the needs of others. Wise people use wealth for the common good.
The rich man has an even greater problem than being a fool. He believes that accumulating wealth is the source of his long term security. Money has become his idol. His love of money has caused him to violate the two great commandments – to love the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself.
A couple of minutes ago, I asked you to ponder what it would be like to be wealthy. Now, I ask you to ponder what it would be like – if you trusted that you already have everything you need, you already have everything you need, and that you always will?
How would you change your lives? What would you spend less time doing? What would you spend more time doing?
The truth is that we do have everything we need and we always will. God gives us our daily bread. We can eat and drink. God gives us family and friends and neighbors to love. We can be merry. Even when we die, we know that God gives us life, both in this world, and the next. Amen.