Sunday, August 4, 2019
Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
A sixth-grade teacher posed a problem in her arithmetic class: A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-fifth is to go to his wife, one-fifth is to go to his son, one-sixth to his nephew, and the rest to charity. Now, what does each get? After a very long silence in the classroom, little Johnny raised his hand. With complete sincerity in his voice, he answered, A lawyer. He’s probably right. Most of us are serious when it comes to money.
Did you know that 40% of the marriages that fail are over finances? Colleges report that students today are leaving the study of Liberal Arts and taking courses in accounting, engineering, and business. Newspapers are devoting entire sections to the subject of money. People who just a few years ago were financially illiterate are now following with interest, no pun intended, rates on Certificates of Deposit, Money Market accounts, etc. Young couples are being urged to sit down with a financial planner early in their marriage and map out a strategy for achieving their financial goals. Of course, some people are concerned about money almost to the point of desperation.
In 2007 Adolf Merckle was the 94th richest man in the world. He was the richest man in Germany, with a net worth of $12 billion. He owned the largest pharmaceutical company in Europe. He also had interests in manufacturing and construction. He took pride in his accomplishments. But then he made a big mistake.
In 2008 he decided to bet on the stock market. He was so certain that stock in Volkswagen was going down, he decided to sell his stock. Just one problem: Porsche made a move to buy Volkswagen, and the stock price shot up, not down. Almost overnight, he lost nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.
To make matters worse, he desperately needed some cash to pay off a huge loan. But this was in 2008. And that year just happened to be the worst global economic disaster since the Great Depression. Banks weren’t loaning money to anyone, even billionaires.
When he realized he was no longer the richest man in Germany. He wrote a suicide note and walked in front of a train. That’s right. He killed himself. Ironically, a few days later, the loans he’d applied for had come through, and his companies were saved. He was still a very wealthy man, but his obsession with wealth cost him his life.
All of us are concerned for one reason or another about money. Jesus knew that. That’s why He had so much to say on the subject. Money is an important part of our lives. Jesus told us that we’ll control our money, or it’ll control us. It’ll either be a blessing to us or a curse.
Our lesson for today begins with someone in the crowd saying to Jesus, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. That’s interesting, don’t you think? Instead of going to a lawyer he went to Jesus for advice.
Jesus replied, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Then he said to them, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.
And then he told a story about a rich man whose land produced so much that he didn’t know what to do with the surplus. Most of us would like to have a problem like that, wouldn’t we? The man said, I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all of my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; time to party.
You know the end of the story. That night God came to him and called him a “fool.” Isn’t it interesting that God should call him a fool, not a sinner, but a fool? We have to be very careful here. Scholars always tell us that parables are designed to make only one point. But the term “fool” suggests all sorts of things to me. Probably not all of them relate to this rich man, but they do relate to some people I know. Let’s think of some reasons God may have called him a fool.
First of all, because he paid too high a price physically, emotionally and spiritually for his great wealth. What good is a bank full of money if your health is gone, if the people you love turn their back on you, if you’re not right with God? That could certainly be one reason God would call him a fool. People have been known to sacrifice their health, their marriage, their relationships with their children, their respect and reputation in the community, people have created all kinds of damage in the race to grab the almighty dollar.
This man was, at the least, meeting his maker far sooner than he had expected. It’s obvious that he thought he had many years left. Maybe, as we sometimes say, he worked himself to an early grave.
There’s so much of real life in it. Maybe the rich man in our parable was so obsessed with making money that he sacrificed his health or something equally as important to obtain it. That would make him foolish, wouldn’t it? That’s one possibility. Maybe he paid too high a price physically, emotionally and spiritually for his great wealth.
There’s a second possibility. Maybe the rich man had put off living until it was too late. Many people perceive the progression that life as making a living, making a killing, then making a life. At first we’re satisfied with just making a living. But as our income rises, so do our perceived needs. We need a bigger house, a bigger car, a better school for the children. We must have hundreds of channels on our television and a Roku and Netflix and Amazon Prime for streaming material online, all in glorious High Definition. And, of course, we must have a membership in the local health club. The more we have, the more we seem to need. So, we have to increase the financial goals we set for ourselves.
That means that it’s not enough to make a living. We need to make a killing. Someday when the children are grown, and the mortgage is paid, and all of our goals have been reached, we will think about making a life. But what if it’s too late when we finally get around to making a life? Wouldn’t that be sad? Wouldn’t that be foolish?
Our rich friend looks at all that he has and he says to his soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid away for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry. It makes me wonder if he had put off living waiting for a tomorrow that never came. That would indeed be foolish. Here all these goods were laid up and somebody else would enjoy them.
There’s a third possibility, of course. Maybe God called him foolish because he never understood how to get the most joy from his wealth. What could you do with your money that would give you the greatest feeling you’ve ever had? Bear with me for a moment. I sincerely believe that you and I could get more joy from life if we learned to take missions more seriously.
How much would it mean to you personally to save one child’s life this morning? Now, I’m not getting you ready for a special offering. But for Heaven’s sake, just think about it for a moment. How much would it be worth to save one child’s life, five dollars, a hundred, a thousand? Suppose you could take some bills out of your wallet and put them into the offering plate and know that somewhere in the world you had saved one little child’s life? Wouldn’t that make this one of the greatest days in your whole life? I believe if we would just think about the good, we could do with our financial resources, we would do more for those who need it most, not out of guilt but out of gladness.
We have so much. Others have so little. There’s so much need in this world. Again, my desire isn’t to make you feel guilty, just a little foolish. The more luxuries that we have, the less they bring us happiness. But to know that we have made a real difference in somebody’s life, that could bring unimaginable joy. That may be the third reason God called him foolish. He may have never understood how his wealth could bring him the most joy.
There’s a fourth possibility. It seems to be the one that Jesus had in mind. The rich man may have been foolish because he didn’t take into consideration his accountability to God. This seems to be the point that Jesus was making with this parable. Consider his concluding remarks: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Many people today are what I would call functional atheists. That is, they may believe in the existence of God, but it makes no real difference in the way they live their lives. They have no sense of their own personal accountability to God.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” Lutherans seem to let this be the most misunderstood part of our faith. We believe that salvation is only by grace and not by works. We quote that whenever we encounter another religious doctrine. We have a difficult time when it comes to personal accountability. Yet the scriptures are very clear. One day we will stand before God and give an accounting of how we used all our resources, including our financial resources. That shouldn’t surprise us. Doesn’t it make sense that God who granted us the great gift of life, who gave us talent and abilities and opportunities should hold us accountable to how we use them? Wouldn’t it be foolish to assume otherwise?
God called the rich man a fool. Maybe he paid too high a price for his wealth. Perhaps he put off living until it was too late. It could be that this poor rich man never understood that money can never bring us joy until we use it to show love for another. Or it may be that he simply never realized that ultimately, he was accountable for everything in his life, including how he used his money. Could you and I possibly be making the same mistakes? Perhaps it isn’t so much a matter of being sinful. Perhaps we’re just being foolish.
A beggar once said, when the weather is fine, I thank God; when it rains, I thank God; when I have plenty, I thank God; when I am hungry, I thank God. And since God’s will is my will, and whatever pleases Him, pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?
Now there’s a wise and happy man. He understands the place of money in his life. How about each of us? Would you say you’re wise or foolish?