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November 11, 2018

“Wise Financial Advice”

 

The three sections in today’s passage are critical of materialism and the amassing of wealth. One of them has to do with a battle over the inheritance after the death of a family member. The second has to do with amassing things. The third has to do with what is important to us. All three of these stories can be constructive as we consider how and what to give of our time, talent and treasure to the ministry of the church in the coming year. First the story of the man who wanted Jesus to help in the inheritance struggle between himself and his brother.

 

Most of you are aware that my mother passed away back in May. After her death, my sister and I talked about her remaining possessions, trying to decide who wanted what. My wants were pretty few - a couple of wooden statues - one of Jesus and one of the apostle Paul, which I now have in my office; and a couple of Celtic crosses, one of which I have around my neck this morning. I was fine with my sis taking anything else she wanted, which included some antique Victorian era furniture. I don’t have any room for that kind of furniture in my home anyway. Truthfully, it really didn’t matter that much even if I didn’t get the things I was interested in. Whether I have anything that belonged to mom or not, it doesn’t change the fact that she is gone. The will my mom had was spelled out pretty clearly. I received some funds, and after working with an attorney who was savvy on property issues, we made sure my sister got the home she was living in, and I gave some cash to relatives - no haggling over inheritance, no need for Jesus to step in, thanks be to God.

 

 

 

That apparently is not the case in today’s passage, where we hear of a bitter sounding dispute over an inheritance between two warring family members. From the man in the crowd’s perspective, here was a knowledgeable rabbi who knew about God’s law, and therefore could help him with his dispute. So he asked Jesus to fairly divide the property left after his father’s death between himself and his brother.

Jesus responds, “Man who gave me the right to judge or to divide the property between you two?” For those of you who’ve ever been through battles over inheritances, you can understand Jesus’ reluctance to step in. Yet Jesus understood the deeper issue here - It wasn’t about fairness over who gets what in the dividing up of property and finances - The one brother’s motivation apparently was greed or covetousness. To covet means to desire that which belongs to another. We don’t know what it is the other brother coveted. Perhaps there was some sort of will that spelled things out, and he didn’t get what he wanted…we don’t really know. What we do know is that Jesus warns him-(IMAGE-LK. 12:15)“Listen- Beware of all covetousness and greed - for your life, that is, what life is really all about does not consist of how many possessions you own, or how much money you have.”

 

Then Jesus shares a parable, which points out that saving for a comfortable retirement, doesn’t guarantee happiness or even survival into the golden years. This parable is often called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool”.

 

If there is a universal human belief, it is that having more things makes life better. The stock market is built upon such assumptions, as is our national and global economy. We may not say out loud that we believe a person’s life consists in what he or she possesses, but we certainly support the system that enables us to live in a consumer, possession-driven society. If we aren’t careful, Jesus warns, we will get caught up in striving to grab all we can as if the actual goal of life is to accumulate wealth and possessions. Jesus cuts across the grain to that way of thinking and claims that the sum of possessions does not make one’s life any better.

The rich man was a model of a successful self‑made small businessman. Let’s take a closer look at him and his life. It should be noted that this story does not imply that the man’s gain is in any way dishonest. The man’s fields simply produce a bumper crop, and his plan to save the excess is in line with Joseph’s example in Genesis 41:36, where he encourages Pharaoh to store grain for helping feed Egypt during a time of extended famine.

 

Also, consider that he is not said to be depriving anyone; he simply wants to store up an overly abundant crop for the future, which means he doesn’t have to worry as much about getting the next crop in the ground. Therefore, he sees an opportunity to kick back-to eat, drink and be merry. Time for some well-deserved vacation - usually considered a good thing. The issue in this story is not so much that the man is wealthy, or that he isn’t planning ahead, but that he is foolish. He believes his possessions, his abundant crops and wealth provide him security. God says to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you."

 

Why does God call him a fool? The rich man’s folly is compounded by the way he misuses scripture to justify his clueless self‑satisfaction. He quotes Qoheleth, also known as "the Teacher" the writer of Ecclesiastes, who "commends enjoyment" of this life and urges readers to “eat, drink and enjoy themselves." (Eccl. 8:15) However, Qoheleth’s advice is prefaced by the sober reminder that earthly life is "vanity" and is followed by the equally sober reminder that life is all too brief. The man’s foolishness in part consists in his mistaken assumption that true happiness and security consists in nothing more than amassing property and indulging his senses. It is his utter self‑absorption and his lack of concern for anyone but himself that earn God’s condemnation.

 

 

It is interesting to note that while the man and God are mentioned, no other person besides the rich man himself is mentioned. We can surmise, therefore, that he lived in his own world for himself, with himself, and by himself.

 

He focused upon himself, and apparently had no notion of God. Unfortunately for him, he focused only on the material reality of life, a foolish notion, and paid no attention to the spiritual reality, which, in the long run, was a much wiser investment for his future. The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said the rich man was a fool "because he failed to realize his dependence on others."

 

King points out that "his soliloquy contains approximately sixty words, yet "I" and "my" occur twelve times. The man has forgotten about "we" and "ours." Covetousness and greed narrows one’s focus to one’s self and blinds us to the reality of others who are in need.

 

Dr. King also said the rich man was a fool "because he failed to realize his dependence on God." He has come to believe that he was entirely responsible for the bounty of the earth. Biblical stewardship teaches us that everything we have, everything we are comes from and belongs to God. Crops, finances, food, and home - all are to be used as best we are able for God’s glory, not for our own personal gain. The scriptural theme for this year’s stewardship letter, Psalm 24:1 reminds us that all we have and all we are comes from God, and we are therefore dependent upon God’s efforts rather than our own. For all of these reasons, the rich farmer was foolish in his plans to store up grain and indulge. Jesus completes this section by reminding us that we are to be rich in faith with God, rather than being rich in material goods.

 

 

Turning away from grave warnings about greed and covetousness, here Jesus calls for us to be freed from our possessions, from our silos of stored grain and give away those possessions in acts of generosity. Almsgiving was, along with prayer and fasting, the foundation of Jewish piety, and Jesus encourages the Christian community to continue its Godly responsibility to help the needy. This brings us to the last section for today, which begins with a teaching to trust that God knows our needs. Jesus goes on to suggest that a wise investment, one that does not fail is to focus on treasures in heaven, rather than our earthly possessions, which are stolen, eaten by moths, or worn away by time. For where our heart is- that is what our love, our joy is, will be where our treasure is.

 

I share this teaching with you while realizing it certainly applies to my own life as well, and at times I struggle with where my heart is. For example, some of you are aware that I love playing and collecting old video games. I am a big fan of the Colecovision system, which came out in 1982 and lasted only 3.5 years due to the video game crash of 1986.

It was one of the first things I bought for myself when I began working at Sears in December of 1980, and I really loved playing the games on it. Over the decades, I sold my old Colecovision and all the games I had, moving onto other game systems. But I loved the memories I had of playing that system back in the day, with my parents occasionally joining in or watching.

 

Well, about 5 years ago, not long after my father died, my wife found that she could purchase an old Colecovision game system on eBay. She made all my Father’s Day dreams come true that year, and I was quickly taken back to my teenage years. In time, I learned I could actually find old games on-line and began buying them, first a few at a time. But eventually, I got a bit carried away. I now have close to 100 different games for this old system. Finally, Paula needed to have a bit of an intervention with me, as I just kept collecting more and more Colecovision cartridges. She helped me see that my heart was in the wrong place. Truly, what good does it do for me to store up Colecovision games, to sit down play video games and be merry? I’m much better now, but for a while, my heart and treasure seemed to be all about an old video game system that brought back a nostalgic time in my life, which in time will be worn down and not work anymore.

 

I would encourage us all to heed Jesus’ financial advice. Consider where our hearts are focused, and see if perhaps someone needs to intervene. Focus on supporting heavenly treasures in the world-(IMAGE_HEIFER/ PRES. CAT.)Consider buying Christmas presents from Heifer International for others, or using the Presbyterian Gift catalog. Giving someone a flock of chicks on behalf of another turns us away from giving earthly possessions, makes the world a better place and helps us have our hearts focused upon the needs of others. Support worthy local organizations like the Maslow Project, the Food Bank, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, or some other local organization. Let the wisdom of Christ guide your heart and treasure to spread God’s justice.

 

 

And, as you consider pledging to the ministry of the church here for 2019, you can consider supporting some of the heavenly treasures which are abundant here. By supporting our annual budget, you help pay for our staff. We have the heavenly treasure of a church staff that is there in time of crisis, in time of sorrow, in time of need. Our office administrator Susan not only prints the bulletin, counts the offerings each week, produces all printed materials for the church, answers your questions - She also helps others in need, distributing our Deacon funds to help others keep their lights and heat on, or to keep them from being evicted if they cannot pay their rent. She gives out bus tokens, and Wendy’s food cards for those who are hungry.

 

The budget supports missionaries in the Congo and helps our members be able to travel in mission to India, Jordan, Bangladesh, and Jamaica. We have the heavenly treasure of this facility, used for God’s glory in so many ways to worship a loving God, to study and fellowship together. We have AA and Al-anon meetings here every day of the week except for Sunday. On this past Thursday morning, one of the AA folks stopped me and just wanted to thank us for letting AA be there so long so that he could heal and regain his spiritual path. Later tonight, we’ll be using this facility in service for the unhoused at the Winter Shelter, to help people get off the street and reclaim their lives. In addition, our facility is used for three different OLLI classes - an improv group, a watercolor painting class, and a knitting class. Then there are other groups who use our place - a flute choir, a ukulele children’s choir, an opera company and the Women with Wings chorus. In the past year being blessed through your financial support fixing those portions in need of fixing, our community has a place to gather and is strengthened. All of these treasures are supported by our budget, and cannot be done without your financial support.

 

Jesus ends his section with the well-known phrase -“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If our treasure is focused upon ourselves, like the brother seeking his father’s inheritance, like the rich farmer, or like me and my Colecovision, then our hearts will be there. Yet if our treasure is focused upon the needs of God and the kingdom, our hearts will be there. Jesus’ image of treasure lets us consider what is important and valuable to us in life. I once heard someone say of these teachings, "it is not a matter of how many possessions we have, but of how much those possessions have us." God be with us, as we support the work of Jesus Christ through supporting organizations that bring the light of God to shine, including the ministries of this congregation, freeing ourselves from covetousness and greed, using our possessions and our wealth for God’s glory.

Alleluia! Amen.

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