Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 15, 2018
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2016 Community Service & Picnic

Luke 12:13-21

 It was common in first century Jewish culture for people to ask rabbis to settle personal disputes.  In this case, the dispute was over an inheritance.  Old Testament Law mandated the rules of inheritance:  The eldest son, who would be the one dividing up the estate, received twice as much as any other son.  So this must be the younger son.  Maybe he thinks his older brother is cheating him and giving him less than his fair share.  Or maybe he thinks that for some reason he should be receiving half the estate, not 1/3.  All I know is I’m glad we don’t do this anymore because I’m the younger brother!

 Jesus refuses to get involved.  Maybe there is a real issue of injustice here.  Maybe the older brother is cheating the younger.  But Jesus is not going to get involved because his time is short, and he’s not going to allow himself to be distracted from his God-given purpose, which was not to settle a family squabble.    

 Instead of getting involved, Jesus points to the more important issue:  Life is not measured by what we own.  That is especially true when life is considered from the perspective of eternity.  

 I think we’d all agree with that statement:  Life is not measured by what we own.  We’d all give lip service to the truth of that.  But do our actions affirm it?  Do we live like we believe it?  

 Let’s just be honest:  The temptation to find security and happiness and meaning in wealth may be the most widespread temptation in the world.  Very few people are really free from this temptation.  We basically all want “the good life.”  We may define it differently, but we pretty much all want it.  And it’s not easy to escape this temptation, especially in our society.  We are bombarded daily with messages that tell us that if we want to be happy, secure, and fulfilled, we need to have more money and more stuff.  It is not easy to drown out all that noise.  There are many things that tempt me, but I know the one constant is that I am tempted to find happiness in things I don’t need.  

 To illustrate the lure of wealth, Jesus tells us a parable about a rich fool.  In the first century world, less than 1% of people lived in the wealthy class, less than 1% enjoyed a life of leisure.  We still talk about the 1% at the top today.  He is doing so well that he can’t even store all the produce of his fields.  So he sets out to build bigger barns.    

 Once he’s done, he’ll be able to take it easy:  “I’ll sit back and relax.  I’ll be set for life.  I’ll have it all.  Then I can just eat, drink, and be merry.”  His words are reminiscent of Isaiah 22, where the wealthy people of Jerusalem give no thought to God but instead say, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Except that this man seems to forget he’s going to die!

 His sin is not that he has wealth or that he plans for the future.  There are plenty of passages in the wisdom literature of the Bible speaking of the need to think ahead.  His sin is his attitude toward the wealth he has.  

 There is an attitude of greed.  There is no thought of generosity here.  No notion of sharing out of his abundance.  No thought of helping others with all that he has acquired.  It’s all for him.  Greed kills compassion and generosity.  Greed is incompatible with faithful obedience to a generous God.  We can’t say we have faith in a generous God if our attitude toward wealth is always to acquire more and never to share out of our abundance.  

 There is a preoccupation with wealth and possessions.  This man can’t see anything beyond himself and his possessions.  Until God speaks, there is nothing else in the story except him and his possessions.  There is no mention of community or friends or even family.  It’s all “Me, me, me,” and “mine, mine, mine,” materialism taken to the extreme.

 The rich man is short-sighted.  He can’t see beyond himself and he can’t see beyond this earthly life.  There is no thought about eternity.  He is rich on earth but gives no thought about a rich relationship with God.

 I read a short story one time about an old, wise man and a young, ambitious man.  The old man asked the young one, “What are your plans?”  And he answered, “I’m going to get an education and learn a trade.”  “And then?”  “I’ll get a job and make my fortune.”  “And then?”  “I’ll retire and take life easy.”  “And then?”  “Well, I suppose someday I’ll die.”  “And then?”  This rich fool never even thought about dying, let alone “And then?”  

 There is the folly of self-sufficiency.  He says, “I need nothing.”  Notice how many times he uses the words I, my, myself.  He lives in a universe bounded by himself.  There is no room for God, let alone neighbors or the needy.  But there is no such thing as a self-sufficient man.  To be human is to be dependent on God.  

 There is the folly of hedonism.  The greatest good he can imagine is his own pleasure.  Fine food, fine wine, and relaxation are the best things he can imagine.  This might hit a little close to home, but does it sound all that different from the average American plan for retirement?  A nice home and enough money to eat out and travel wherever we want?  

 But his greatest folly is he practical atheism.  He is living like there is no God.  Maybe he would say, “I believe in God.”  But his actions and his attitudes take no account of God at all.  

 I think it’s easy for us to dismiss this guy because he is such an exaggerated character.  I think Jesus does that on purpose.  The hyperbole serves a function.  It lowers our defenses for a moment.  We hear the story and we think, “Well, I’m glad I’m nothing like that guy!”  Until we start to think about it for a little while, and then we realize we’re not that different.  To one degree or another, we are all like that rich fool.  We all want the good life.  We all hope wealth will make us feel secure.  And we’re all likely to forget about God when it comes to the use of money.  

 There is something more valuable than wealth.  Relationships are more valuable.  I think that’s why Jesus is upset with this man who comes to him seeking Jesus to force his brother to divide the estate.  What would that do to his relationship with his brother?  How many relationships are destroyed because of disagreements over money and possessions?  Is the relationship not worth more?  

 And of all relationships, the one that matters the most, the one that carries the most value is our relationship with God.  Storing up earthly wealth without a rich relationship with God is foolish.  

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