Read Luke 12:13-21
Don’t we all want to be rich? Don’t we all long for that bumper crop, windfall profits, or winning lottery ticket?
There are two topics which the politically correct preachers know to stay away from. Some may have Bibles annotated with steer clear of these, or soften before use highlighted in the margins. These are of course, evangelism—people get nervous when you tell them that they are supposed to share this good news of salvation with others. Some worry about sharing their faith with a complete stranger. Others are more worried about talking with friends and coworkers.
The second-steer clear topic is telling people what to do with their money. We like our money and our stuff and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with it. Jesus didn’t get the memo about steering clear of this topic.
The selected scripture follows Jesus teaching his disciples within a very large crowd. Jesus has warned his disciples and the crowd against hypocrisy. He has told them to fear only God. He has told his disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are testifying, that the Holy Spirit will provide the necessary words.
In the midst of this crowd is a disgruntled young man. His father has obviously died, probably recently and he wants his share of the estate. By the question he hurls at Jesus, we can assume that this has not been done yet. Perhaps the older brother is keeping the estate intact and acting in his father’s stead providing for his mother and younger siblings. Perhaps he is just slow to take care of business. Perhaps he is just not being fair.
In any case, this young man does not seem too interested in what Jesus has to teach about how to live or about the kingdom of God; he wants his problem solved, and he wants Jesus to solve it for him, and as he is inserting his question into this situation, we might presume that he wants it solved now.
Jesus replies with something of a rebuke, asking who made me the judge of this matter. He doesn’t ask for the facts, set a hearing date, or even refer the case to another authority. Instead, Jesus warns not just the young man, but all against all kinds of greed.
He says that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
In 2010, we might say, your life is not your stuff.
But in 2010, the world, especially the good ole USA would say, “Oh yes it is.”
If you don’t have an IPad, IPhone, new car, designer clothes, or a gold ring through your nose, then who are you?
Our world says, you are your stuff.
The young man who wanted his inheritance was surely wrapped up in getting his stuff. Stuffitis may have existed at this time. People probably called their stuff their things or belongings, so thingitis or belongingitis might be the early forms of this disease.
Jesus does teach with a story. This is the story of a rich man. Let’s stop there. This man doesn’t become rich because of one bumper crop. He is rich. He doesn’t have a barn, he has barns—plural, many, several barns. He begins with a man who is not struggling in the world. Surely he has put some effort into his wealth, but he is rich at the beginning of this story.
Then he has a good crop and he is faced with a problem. He has no place to store his crop. In the taxonomy of problems, this is what we call a good problem to have. His barns are full and he has more to come. What to do?
I think most of us could come up with some plausible options.
· He could sell the crop.
· He could be generous and give the crop away.
· He could build more storage units.
It would seem like selling the crop would be the best business strategy, but a savvy farmer might hold onto the crop to a time when it fetched a higher price. Everyone is selling at harvest time. Why not sit on the grain for a few months and see what the prices rises to in the off season. It is a shrewd strategy if you can afford to wait, and obviously, the rich man could afford to wait—or so he thought.
Of course it might also be good business strategy to sell the crop and put the money on deposit with the bankers. Perhaps the return on investment is a little less, but it would solve the storage problem.
Giving the crop away would have found the rich man to be still rich, but he did not select this course either. Perhaps it was not a habit in his life. Maybe this thought never crossed his mind.
So that leaves building more storage units—or storage capacity. Most of us probably would not have come up with the idea of tearing down the existing structures and building new ones in their place. That’s not the way we do things. When our house gets full of stuff, we enclose the carport and make it a garage. When the garage gets full, we put a storage shed outback. When the storage shed gets full, we rent one. When the rented unit gets full, we kick a kid out of the house so we can use that room for our stuff.
Maybe in Hollywood or downtown Los Angeles or New York City you would tear down a structure to put up a new one because land is at a premium; but that would not seem to be the case in the agrarian world of this story.
So why would the rich man tear down what he had and build new barns?
Perhaps his actions project his attitude.
The man was thinking that he had plenty of grain and goods. Why not just kick back and enjoy it. Why not flaunt it. There is a little arrogance in building new barns in place of old ones. Extravagance and greed seem like the opposite ends of an affluent economy, but they do seem to coexist quite well together.
Now we can beat up on the rich man all day, but there is nothing in the text to suggest that he came by his wealth in an unsavory manner. He probably had been a hard working man with a good head on his shoulders, knew a good deal when he saw it, steered clear of ventures not likely to prosper. In this story, we might suspect that his crop was planted on good soil and received adequate rainfall and he came by his abundance by good, honest business smarts and effort.
There is nothing wrong or evil about having a bumper crop.
There is nothing wrong with storing grain, or even storing stuff.
There is nothing wrong with building barns or even tearing down existing structures to build new ones.
Likewise, there is nothing wrong with money.
There is nothing wrong with stuff.
There is nothing wrong with new cars and trucks.
There is nothing wrong with new homes or closing in a carport to make a new room.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to wear nice clothing.
There is nothing wrong with being rich.
So why does Jesus say to this man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you.”
Does that mean that we have to die poor?
He goes on to say that then who will get what you have prepared for yourself. This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.
How can we be rich towards God?
The number one answer is the tithe. This says, God the first fruits of all I receive are yours. You don’t come after taxes, after the bills, after the car payment, or after the kids get new shoes. You come first in my life and yes in my pocketbook, checkbook, paycheck, wheat check, royalty check, social security check. God, you are first.
Many would say, when I am rich enough, then I will tithe. When I have just a little more, I will tithe. Because of grace, I don’t need to tithe. God says give out of what you have, not what you don’t have. God says he will return great blessings for honoring him with the tithe. He says, go ahead and test me—see if I won’t shower you with blessings.
The next is meeting the needs that we can. Sometimes we do this with money. Sometimes we do this with our stuff. Sometimes it is our time. Often, it needs to be all of these. We are rich towards God by being rich towards his people—towards this whole creation of humankind.
We like to say that I own my stuff; it doesn’t own me.
Are we sure?
We like to think that we manage our time well.
Are we sure?
We like to think that we do the best we can with our money.
Are we sure?
What are the metrics for knowing these things? How about, “Are we rich towards God?”
Jesus grew up in an Eastern culture that was accustomed to extensive use of hyperbole, but when he said do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, he was not exaggerating. This is a direct statement that we can take literally.
When he said store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal, he was again being very direct.
This is same message delivered via the parable of the rich fool or the story of bigger barns.
Were our lives to end today, what would the ledger say about our richness towards God? I am not talking about the tithe—that which we all should give. I am talking about truly giving to God. How? You may already be doing some of these.
· The meal that we buy for someone.
· The school supplies for the kids.
· The food offerings that keep the pantry full.
· Helping a stranger stranded on a road.
· Teaching a class.
· Driving the van.
· Cooking for others.
· Feeding others.
· Helping someone make a budget
· Giving someone a job.
· Coaching a team.
· Speaking to a group.
· Being a shoulder to cry on.
· Being an encourager.
· Just sitting quietly with someone without looking at our watch every 10 minutes.
· The things we do for others expecting nothing in return.
What do we do with our time, our stuff, and our money? We are not defined by our money or our stuff, but we may be known in eternity by what we did with what we had.
The rich man was a fool because he believed he could be happy, content, and care free by storing up treasures in this world.
Not too many months ago, many of us embarked upon a journey called One Month to Live. We explored how we would live if our lives would end in 30 days. Many considered all the things that we might want to do before we left this earth, and we used skydiving, mountain climbing, and bull riding as our metaphors for whatever it was we wanted to do before we died. Most of us realized that living life to the full was about fully living it doing the things that God wanted us to do. Abundance was not what we had accumulated, but what we gave.
God tells us to enjoy all those things that many people seem to crave, but only after we have sought his kingdom.
The young man seeking to enlist Jesus as arbitrator in his family’s affairs was saying, give me what is mine!
Jesus tells us to give God what we want to be ours for eternity. He says to be on guard against all kinds of greed; yet paradoxically, the more we give away, the more we are preparing—the more we lay away--for our eternity. If you want something to be yours, then give it to God, and do so richly.
So should we all take a vow of poverty?
Do we live void of anything other than basic sustenance?
I don’t think so, with the possible exception of those who may have a Spiritual Gift of poverty. We should live abundantly now and abundantly in eternity. We should live as rich people—people who are rich towards God.
It is not about how much or how little we have. In whatever we have, are we rich towards God?
Jesus offers a rhetorical question after God says that your life will be demanded of you this very night. , he says, “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Our earthly minds would run through a normal cycle of possessions succession. First son, wife, other siblings, brothers or sisters may be in different orders based upon the century, customs, and laws in force. But that’s not really the answer to the question.
Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
When I die, I will get what I have prepared for myself.
They say, you can’t take it with you; but that doesn’t mean that you can’t send it on ahead of you.
Jesus is telling us to use the things that we have in this world purposefully. Don’t serve greed, serve God. Be rich towards God.
Some may be thinking back to the times of Joseph in Egypt when he directed the building of barns and storehouses on a massive scale. If he had a better marketing department, there would be Barns R Us and Storehouses Galore outlets all over the country. He didn’t do this for his own prosperity or glory; he did this purposefully knowing that after seven prosperous years would follow seven years of famine. Joseph lived with purpose and lived richly towards God by caring for an entire nation, including his own that would seek refuge and grow in this land.
The rich man in the parable wanted to retire from being purposeful. He just wanted to eat, drink, and be merry. His desire was to be the ultimate consumer.
Let us all ask ourselves a simple question. What is your vision of retirement?
It’s a fair question. What do you want your retirement to look like?
Many will describe not working, travel, relaxing, not working, spending time with family, not working, and having all of our bills paid, of course.
And how much of a nest egg will that take?
Some people fall into the trap of living to build that nest egg. That is the focus of their lives, and along the way they missed out on living the abundant life we are called to and the missed out on being rich towards God.
It’s called a scarcity mentality. There might not be enough for everyone, so I better get what I can get and hold onto it.
I am not telling you to empty out your 401Ks or Roth IRAs. We should be good stewards of the money, gifts, talents, possessions, and everything that God has blessed us with. We should put something away for a rainy day or when we stop working for a paycheck, but we should not wait until the end of our lives to be rich towards God.
You want a good economic model for tough times. Imagine if you had done this when you first started earning money.
Life Savings (aka retirement): 10%
Purposeful Living: 80%
How many of you began calculating what you would have to live on at age 65. On average for a modest wage earner, it’s just over a quarter million with a terrible economy and interest rates and closer to a million if the interest rates are a bit healthier.
But the real security here is not in what you sock away in savings, but in living purposefully with the other 80%. Living for God with what we have to live on.
You might think, but I am not the rich man in the story. I have bills to pay.
I need a place to live. Yes you do.
I need a car. Yes you do.
I need to pay my utilities in my home. Yes you do.
I need a phone. Yes you do.
I need food. Yes you do.
The question is what are you going to do living in your heated and air conditioned home? What are you going to do with your automatic transmission, tinted windows car? What are you going to do with the calories you ingest?
Are you going to eat, drink, and be merry and satisfy you every want or live richly towards God?
God wants you to have a roof over your head, running water, a car that works, and food for your family not so we can be self-satisfied, self-absorbed, and self-centered; but so we can be rich—rich towards God by loving, serving, and helping others in this world.
We should tithe, then give where we see needs beyond the tithe, then live our lives rich towards God.
Seems like everyone wants to be rich and we can be. With whatever we have, we can all be rich towards God.