Sunday, October 14, 2018
Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.
A poor farm boy from Iowa named Oscar came up with a scheme in 1913 to cheat people out of their life savings. He contacted everyone in the United States with the last name of Drake. He told them he’d made an astonishing discovery: due to a bureaucratic bungle, the estate of the famous British sea captain and pirate Sir Francis Drake had never been paid out to his heirs. It had just been sitting there for over 300 years, gathering interest. So, by now it was worth an eye‑popping four trillion dollars, enough money to buy all of England, Scotland, Ireland, and that little king making country of Wales! Oscar invited people named Drake from all over North America to invest in his crusade to take the British government to court to retrieve that money. He promised that everyone would make at least $500 for every dollar invested.
You wouldn’t believe how many people fell for that scam. Not just thousands, but tens of thousands. Housewives sent Oscar their grocery money. Kids sent him their allowance. Retirees sent him their life savings. Some ministers even sent him the church offerings! This farm boy from Iowa who came up with this scam was able to move to England, become a duke, and live like a king in a mansion with maids, cooks, butlers, gardeners, and drivers.
Even after the FBI checked out his story and announced that it was a total lie, because Sir Francis Drake’s wife had inherited and received her husband’s estate back in 1597, people kept sending Oscar their money. Even after Oscar was arrested, tried, and sent to Leavenworth, people kept sending him their cash. They didn’t stop until after he died, in prison, and his scam went on for over 30 years.
Are people crazy? Are they greedy? Are they that desperate? You might say; Well, that was back in a simpler time when people were naïve. Oh? Have you ever received an e-mail from the wife of a certain Nigerian prince? That scam is still emptying the pockets of thousands of people each year. A cartoon came across the Internet recently. It showed a room full of money. The caption read like this: “A Nigerian man dies, and authorities find $27 billion in his apartment. He had been trying to give it away for 15 years, but no one would return his e-mails.” That’s hilarious. People can still be very foolish when it comes to money.
Which brings us to a very well-known story from the ministry of Jesus. A man ran up to Jesus one day and fell on his knees in front of Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call Me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Is there anyone here today who truly believes that all your problems will be solved if you just had a little more money? O.K., how about lots more money? One guy said, “I’m planning to retire and live off my savings. What I’ll do the second day, I have no idea.” Maybe that’s your situation.
Of course, it’s no fun to be short of cash. Did you ever see the commercial on TV where a man is sitting in the chair at a tattoo parlor expressing his love to his girl Donna by getting her name tattooed on his arm? Part way through the procedure he asks how much it will cost. “$50,” says the tattoo artist. The man pulls out his wallet and says, “Oh, I only have $41.” The camera cuts to the couple outside on the sidewalk, Donna is storming off and the guy is yelling after her, “I’ll get it fixed.” The camera zooms in on the tattoo which reads, “I love Don.”
We know that more money won’t solve all our problems, but it also can be uncomfortable to run out of money at an inconvenient time. Some of us may be having a difficult time financially. We don’t want to minimize the difficulty with that.
Still, we need to confront the fact that Jesus warned time and time again against the danger of materialism, of loving money more than God. He says later that a rich man will have a hard time getting into heaven. On another occasion he talked about a rich man who built barns to hold his surplus crops and then died in the night. Jesus called him a fool because he had not laid up treasure in heaven.
Remember the story of the man who woke up one day in hell because the man had great wealth and he ignored the needs of a beggar who lay at his gates. On another occasion Jesus told His disciples not to be anxious about what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on. We aren’t to worry about these. We’re to trust in God, not in our bank account. Jesus warned time and time again about reliance on money.
Notice, He didn’t say that it’s impossible for a rich man to get into heaven. There are many wealthy figures in the Old and New Testaments who were good people and who weren’t condemned. But again, to be fair to our religion and fair to our responsibilities, we need to be reminded from time to time of the dangers of the quest for wealth. What are some of those dangers?
For one thing, the drive for wealth can be dangerous if it causes you to neglect people you love. Am I making anyone uncomfortable yet? It could be your spouse. It could be your children. It could be your aging parents. It’s not my intent to make anyone feel guilty about the hard choices you make concerning your responsibilities to your employer and your responsibilities to the people you love. It’s simply to say that some families have a real problem finding a work/life balance.
The drive for wealth can be dangerous if it causes you to get your values out of whack.
Of course, as we often say, this is a free country and you can spend your money any way you please, but not every expenditure is a wise one and some people do very foolish things with their money.
Each year thousands of people visit the Hearst Castle on the west coast, the home of the fabulously wealthy William Randolph Hearst. He accumulated 3,500-year-old Egyptian statues, medieval Flemish tapestries, and centuries-old hand-carved ceilings, and some of the greatest works of art of all time, most of which came from Sweden. He built a house of 72,000 square feet to put his stuff in. He acquired property for his house: 265,000 acres. He collected stuff for eighty-eight years. Then you know what he did? He died. He died. You know how much William Randolph Hearst left behind? That’s right . . . all of it.
Jesus said in one of His parables, a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I’ll store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, I have plenty of grain laid up for many years. I’ll take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, you fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? Jesus concluded, this is how it will be, whoever stores up things for themselves is not rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).
Do you take Jesus seriously or not? It’s a serious question. Now you and I will never be as wealthy as William Randolph Hearst, but the same principles apply to the use of our financial resources as it did to him. Are we neglecting people that we love because of our chase of the almighty dollar? Are we using the resources that God has given us wisely? Are we generous with those who are not as fortunate as we are? Are we laying up treasure in heaven as well as on earth? These are sensible questions we need to ask regardless of our income.
Why is this all so important? It’s because money has a way of distancing us from God. It’s an unusual person who can balance possession of great wealth with the call to follow Jesus.
A man ran up to Jesus one day and fell on his knees in front of him. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus looked at him and said. One thing you lack, go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me. At this the man went away sad, because he had great wealth. This is a sad story. This man’s money had become more important to him than following Jesus. How about you? How about me? Do we need to examine ourselves and ask if material wealth has become too important in our lives so that it affects our relationships with others, or that it’s affecting our happiness in our lives, and most important of all, is it creating a distance between ourselves and God?