Sermon August 4th, 2013 True Riches Luke 12:13-21
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (N.I.V.)
I’m going to do something different this morning. As I did my preparation for this week’s sermon, I checked my files to see when I had last preached on this text. It turns out that I’ve only preached on this text once before – and that was when I was a vicar. At that time, I was serving two rural congregations in Alberta – one was in Duchess, 10 miles north of Brooks, and the other at Iddesleigh, 36 miles to the northeast. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to read you the sermon I preached 33 years ago, on August 10th, 1980. I’m going to read it word for word. I haven’t changed anything in it. So, sit back and relax. Imagine that you’re sitting in that little church at Duchess. It’s a small, white rural church building. There’s space for no more than 50 people in the sanctuary. And a 30-year-old young man, your new vicar, stands at the pulpit to preach his second sermon for you folks. He’s fresh from the Lutheran seminary in Saskatoon. His wife Kathleen is expecting their first child in December. I pray today, as I prayed back then, that God would bless these words, and send His Holy Spirit to enable His people to hear these words, to understand them, and to put them into practice.
We live in a society where people are often judged by the quantity of material goods that they possess. We are bombarded with ads many times each day; ads which tell us what we must have order to be happy, accepted, and successful. There is always something new and improved to buy: something else to work and strive for. What all this means is simply; possessions bring happiness and security. After a while it gets to be like being on a treadmill. We run faster and faster just to stay in the same place. If only I had that new car or that dishwasher. How different life would be then! The problem is that as soon as I have these new things for a while, the novelty wears off; the excitement is gone. But there's always something else to buy, something else to dream about. If only I could take that tour of Europe, then I could say that I have really lived! How easy it is for us to be blinded by all this; dazzled by all the material wealth around us. Everybody else wants all these things, why not me too?
Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and his abundant crops in response to a request which someone in the crowd made while he was speaking. The man asked Jesus to help mediate a dispute over an inheritance. But Jesus knew instantly that the reason behind this request was the young man's own greed. He had his eyes on that money and that was the most important thing to him. Jesus was a rabbi with the authority to make this dispute right and then he would have his share! Jesus was concerned about this young man's attitude towards physical, material things and told a parable which must have brought this man's real motives out into the light of day for all to see. It is said that the Word of God is
"living and active and sharper than any two‑edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
Jesus knew this man's covetousness and the parable struck this man as a dagger in the heart. He must have thought, how does he know that this is the way I feel? He knew deep down that what Jesus said was true and that he was the one to whom the parable was primarily addressed. What he did as a result of this we do not know. But we do know that his encounter with Jesus that day gave him plenty of food for thought. It speaks just as clearly to us today as it did nearly 2,000 years ago. Let's see what we can learn from this incident.
First of all, let me say that the Bible nowhere says that the mere possession of material goods is wrong. Many godly people in Scripture were rich. Abraham, for instance, had great heads of cattle. Many of Israel's Old Testament kings were rich men. This fact, by itself, was not condemned by the Bible writers. The man in the parable we are looking at had an abundance of good things. His land was productive and brought forth a series of exceptional crops. There is nothing in the story to lead us to believe that he came into his riches by dishonest means. It seems that he had worked hard and his efforts had been blessed with success. People who knew him respected him for his hard work and honesty. So what is the problem? Outwardly, nothing. Inwardly, Jesus was pointing out a fatal flaw in his attitude. Instead of seeing these riches as a gift from a loving God, he saw them as merely the fruits of his own labor and ingenuity. Nothing more. Nothing less.
These riches were his "social security," his "retirement fund," if you will. They would support him into old age and, in the meantime, would allow him to live a life of ease. He could eat, drink, and be merry. He had no one to thank but himself for his good fortune. He was set. He could live high off the hog for the rest of his days. He was secure, comfortable; what more could he ask for? His future was bright. What a lucky man! How many people today would do anything to be in such a position? The man's problem however was obvious to Jesus. There was no place for God in his life and in his thinking. The source of his success, he thought, was in his own effort. God had nothing to do with it! He had never sat down with a prayer of thanksgiving to God, thanking him for his many blessings. How many times do we fall into this same trap and forget to thank God for what he has done on our behalf?
Perhaps you remember the story of the ten lepers who came to Jesus for healing. After they received their healing, nine of them grieved Christ by failing to return. Only one of the ten loved Jesus enough to return, humbly thanking him for this miracle of loving concern. The rest were too busy enjoying their new‑found freedom and health to bother returning. We, too, receive blessings, daily, from our Lord. We, too, often grieve him by failing to , say "thank you, Lord." How do you feel as a person or as a parent when you give things to someone and receive not so much as a word of thanks for your troubles? God constantly supplies us with all that we need for this life. But we so often act as if our successes were due entirely to our own endeavors. How long would we last if God failed to supply oxygen for us to breathe? How long could we live if the sun stopped shining? Truly' we live each day only by the grace and love of God. I know that I too need to be reminded to thank God once in a while for his goodness. He is the source of all that we possess. The rich man forgot this.
All of us are looking for some kind of security in this life. We want something we can depend on to protect us, to provide us with food and shelter, fellowship with friends, to satisfy our various needs. This is a perfectly normal desire; a God‑given desire, in fact. The rich man was no exception. He looked to his riches for security in the years to come. And he had no reason to doubt that they would provide that security. He placed his trust in them. In the parable, though, when he most needed security and something to trust, his possessions vanished into thin air. The support that he expected was gone. His vast possessions were useless to him now. He had failed to do things God's way and now he had to pay the consequences.
God wants us to trust him, not our material possessions. Those, even today, who build their lives around material things find that their lives come crashing down around them at the first sign of trouble. Those who place their ultimate trust in God are like the ones in ,the New Testament who build their house on the Rock. Then when the storms of life come, as they surely will, their house is able to withstand the winds and the water. Those who trust in mere physical things are like those who build their house on the sand. When the storms come, their house in undermined and it is eventually destroyed. The rich man had built his house on the sand and found out the hard way that it provided no security for him at all when he needed it.
Jesus' words in Matthew 6 provide the key to the understanding of the rich man's plight. There he says:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.
The rich man's possessions were his treasure. There is no doubt that this was where his heart was too. His allegiance and trust were laid on temporal, earthly things. And when it came time to depart this life, the support which they had given him in the past, vanished like snow before a warm spring sun.
During the great crash of 1929 many successful businessmen were reduced to poor men overnight. What was the result? A great number of them committed suicide. What they trusted in had been taken from them and as far as they were concerned, there was nothing left to live for. They, too, had built their house on the sand. Do you remember how Jesus sent out his disciples on their first missionary journey with a shortage of supplies? He wanted them to learn – first hand – that their physical needs would be supplied as they went about ministering in his name. At the end of the journey, Jesus asked them if they lacked anything on the way. They had to answer "nothing, Lord!"
Another time Jesus tested a rich young man's commitment by telling him "sell all that you have and give it to the poor." What Jesus really wanted to know was what the young man trusted most. Was it his riches or was it Jesus? The rich young man revealed his answer by going away very sad because he was very rich and felt that he had a great deal to lose by doing what Jesus asked of him. He had failed the test. Job was another individual who knew what it was like to be tested by God. Job was a rich and respected man whom God allowed to be struck by Satan with disease and calamity. At the end of this long, hard, road Job had learned a lesson in humility and trust in God. As a result God restored to him even more than he had at first. Perhaps this is what Jesus had planned for the rich young man in the New Testament if he had shown that he was truly willing to forsake all and follow Christ. Even if he hadn't restored all his riches, the young man would not have missed them. Christ would have supplied all his needs regardless.
The Word of God shows us that God's standard regarding worldly possessions is different from the world's standard. The worldly person depends either on himself, his possessions, or his friends. There is nothing else. The Christian, on the other hand, places his trust in his Creator, knowing that God is just as interested in our welfare as we are. The things on which the worldly person depends will fail, sooner or later. But Cod will never fail the Christian. The world's standard says that a man's life consists in the things that he possesses. God's standard on the other hand says that a man's life consists of a right relationship with him. Out of this, all of our physical necessities will flow.
God's way of doing things may not make sense to us. Our way would be to get ourselves comfortable, get our needs met, and then spend time doing God's will for our lives. God's way is to turn this upside down. And God's way works! Jesus says,
"Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you."
In other words,
"Place me first in your life and you won't have to worry about your physical needs, I will provide all that you need."
God, our Creator, knows exactly what we need and will provide for us. When Jesus was in heaven with his father before he came to earth as the baby in theBethlehemstable, he was as rich as anyone could be. He lacked nothing and never had. But when he came to earth, when he took up human flesh for us, he gave all of that up. He was willing to trade the praises of angel choirs for the curses of earthly men. He suffered from the heat, from hunger, from temptation. He had given up his riches for us. But some of those he called to do the same for his sake, refused to do so. They thought they were losing everything. Jesus, in fact, was offering them everything St. Paul puts it this way:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich."
Jesus was not asking people to do anything that he was not willing to do himself. The man with the abundant crops was rich physically but he was a poor man when it came to spiritual things. He was really a HOLLOW MAN. He looked fine on the outside, but on the inside he was empty and desolate. Appearances can be very deceiving. How often have you heard someone say that somewhere the Bible says that
"money is the root of all evil"?
The Bible says no such thing! What it does say is that
"the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."
Money has a perfectly valid role to play in society. But when it begins to take highest priority in our lives, trouble is inevitable. Perhaps we could safely rephrase this and say that "selfishness is the root of all evil."
In the parable of the seeds, St. Luke states that one of the reasons why the seed of the Word fails to grow in a Christian's life is because it is choked by the concerns of this world, including riches. It all boils down to a matter of priorities. What or Who takes first place in your life? What or Who do you trust the most? When the crunch comes, where do you look for help? The rich man in our text thought he had everything well planned for many years to come, but God had other plans! This parable speaks directly to you and to me. It warns us gently that our allegiance and commitment is to go first and foremost to our Heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. What's most important in life is not all of those things which the ads say we need; the most important thing is a right relationship with God. God knows better than we do what we really need. He has promised us an abundant, full life, if we will only submit to his gracious will for our lives. It is my prayer that we will all take him up on his offer and find out that what he says in most certainly true.
And now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus. AMEN.