Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures from themselves but are not rich towards God.”
Someone interrupted Jesus one day, “Lord, tell my brother to divide up the family inheritance.”
The man probably has just cause for his request, even though the conventions of the day dictated that the eldest son would receive the inheritance. But, don’t we agree it would be a good thing for Jesus to make everything fair?
Jesus replies, “Hey, what’s the deal? Who made me a judge over all you people?”
Apparently, Jesus has more important things to deal with than the incidental patching up of a intra-family dispute over finances.
But then Jesus does what Jesus does best – he tells a story.
There was a man who had it all. At first, he used the excess cash to fill his house with all sorts of trinkets and wares that served only one purpose: showing others how wealthy he was. It started with some paintings, until he ran out of wall space. Next he redid his wardrobe, until his closet was full. And then he bought an extra luxury car, until he realized there wasn’t enough room in the garage.
What was he to do?
And then the man had a vision! Why not tear it all down, and build an even bigger house to fit even more stuff inside?
So that’s what he did.
And it came to pass, after months of deconstruction and reconstruction, of differing architectural bids and various contractors, he looked at all he had and he said to himself, “You’ve done well old boy! Time to eat, drink, and be merry!”
Suddenly a booming voice from the heavens shatters all the new glass in the windows: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you spent your life obsessing over, whose will they be?”
Jesus sure could tell a story.
And yet, I don’t know if this story has “worked.”
And by “worked” I mean, I don’t know if we’ve changed all that much in response to this particular parable.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus talked about money and possessions more than any other subject. And for good reason: we’re just as obsessed with what we have now as we were back then. Even a couple hundred years ago John Wesley was addressing wealth with the early Methodists: “In seeking happiness from riches, you are only striving to drink out of empty cups.”
There’s a great irony with Jesus’ parable of the rich fool: We all know that it’s true, and yet we live as if it isn’t.
It’s a bonafide fact that we can’t take anything with us when we die, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying. ($10,000 caskets…)
Everything in the world, and even the church at times, runs on avarice. Extreme greed for wealth and material goods. It’s the lie we were fed as children, and it’s the lie that we give to our children. It’s reinforced with every magazine cover, every instagram post, and every commercial we encounter.
Happiness is yours, if you can afford it!
And it’s all one big lie.
The world will tell us over and over and over again that we are defined by our bank accounts, and the clothes we wear, and the cars we drive. But in the kingdom of God it’s through poverty, not wealth, that God saves us.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though fully God, did not regard divinity as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, being born in human likeness, and was obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Why does God do this? Because we need all the help we can get.
Whether we’re rich or poor or somewhere in between, all of us are sin-sin with our insatiable desire for more.
And not just more, but more, more more!
We clutch at all that is around us rather than opening our hands to ever being open to anything else.
We’d rather receive than give.
We lay awake at night worrying about one thing and one thing only: money.
And then Jesus has the nerve to tell us this parable!
Notice: the man in Jesus’ story does with his avarice what we all do: We congratulate ourselves on all we have accomplished.
The wealthy man sees only himself: “He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
He’s living in a monologue.
And yet, all of the things we have in this life, all of the things we think we’ve earned or deserved, every one of them is actually a gift. We are products of what is done for us more than by what we do for ourselves.
Jesus sets up the man as the paradigm for everything we think is good, and right, and true in this life. He’s fiscally responsible after all. He’s earned his good fortune. And yet, the man is only a master of a life that is completely and radically out of his control – the rich man is nothing more than the captain of a ship that has been taking on water since it left the dock.
The man lives only for himself, talks only to himself, sees only himself, until the Lord knocks him to the ground for being a fool.
He is foolish because no matter how much he talks to himself, and congratulates himself, and rejoices in himself, he neglects to recognize that his crops, or his stock portfolio, or whatever the good thing is was always first a gift.
And gifts require givers.
The land that our food comes from, the institutions that give us the space and knowledge to grow, the families that provide our basic needs, the friends that support us in times of pain and grief, on and on and on.
And yet, we are far more possessed by what we think we possess. Our possessions possess us!
We keep acquiring more and more hoping we can control our lives or, at the very least, to make it appear like we have our lives together.
We spend most of our lives in pursuit of wealth, material and immaterial, only to come in the end to the greatest poverty of all: death.
Jesus’ parable ends with that frightening final note, one that lingers long after the Lord calls us fools: no matter how much we make, no matter how much we accumulate, we all die in the end.
John Ortberg tells this great story about how for years he and his grandmother played monopoly. She taught him the ins and the outs of the game, differing strategies, and she always always won. Until one day, after countless games, he finally beat her. And as he celebrated is victory, dancing across the living room, she said, “Don’t forget, when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.”
All the money, property, houses, hotels, they never really belonged to him. They were in the box before he started and they returned when he finished.
A challenging aspect of Christianity is our profound willingness to stare death in the face. It’s why we have crosses in our sanctuaries. We know, better than most, that time is now fleeting the moments are passing, passing from you and from me. And when the bells tolls for us, what will happen to all our stuff?
And yet, again, the “our” in “our” stuff betrays the Christian understanding that all of it, the money, possessions, talents, they are not “ours.” They are given to us by God who trust us to be good stewards of the gifts we’re given.
This church is a product of your stewardship, and the stewardship of those who came before us. Our sanctuary windows are marked with the names of those long gone who believed in God’s working in the world that they returned to God the gift they were given.
Even today, your gifts are what makes this church possible. The gifts of your time, showing up for worship and prayer and study and service. The gifts of your talents that you share with God and with one another. And, of course, the gifts of your finances.
Giving is normative in discipleship. It’s how we live into God’s mission of transforming the world.
But it’s also how we keep the lights on, and keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s how we are able to welcome and provide space for so many outside groups. It’s how we pay the salaries to support the livelihood of our staff and their families. It’s how we live into the strange and even foolish (at least according to the world) Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because, in the end, the parables are stories Jesus tells about himself and Jesus is the one who doesn’t store up his life on earth and, instead, freely gives it for you and me. Rather than clinging to his own life, Jesus mounts the hard wood of the cross for people undeserving, us.
This parables stings, and it frightens, perfect for the month of October, even better for stewardship! But it is Good News!
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, not our money or lack of it, not our possessions or our minimalism, not our goodness or our badness, not our lives and not even our deaths.
We might not see it, or even believe it, but there is greater wealth in the salvation of Christ than in every bank account in the world.
And it’s ours for free.
We can’t earn it.
We don’t deserve it.
It’s not cheap, nor is it expensive.
It’s free for you and me and every fool the world will ever see.
Wesley said, “In seeking happiness from riches, you are only striving to drink out of empty cups.” Thankfully, we worship the God who never stops giving. Which is why the psalmist can sing, “our cups runneth over.” The only question is, what are we going to do with what we’ve been given?