Luke 12: 13-21
Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 5th August, 2007 (In Chinese, translated by Ken Sun)
Today’s passage poses especially interesting to me, because the message is so simple and so timeless.
Think about it. Do you remember when you were last in a history class?
I remember my history class quite well, I must say. I took History of Christianity this past spring in school. It covered the time of the Reformation, which took place in the 16th century all the way until the 19th century. While I recognized that the events which took place happened as they were recorded, it was hard for me to imagine myself in that place. In other words, even though we read memoirs of real, live, people who lived in a relatively recent time period, I still felt disconnected from the text and the events. I couldn’t really identify myself in their life, nor could I find any connection between their lives and mine.
Yet, when I read this passage, I could immediately take away relevance from this passage.Of course, this happens frequently with the teachings of Jesus. While we can read other parts of the Bible and other stories in the Bible and find relevance, we still read most of the Bible with the understanding that it took place many thousands of years ago. However, the teachings of Jesus defied that time barrier. Most of what he says are so universal that no matter who is reading it, wherever and whenever they’re reading it, it can still be easily applied to their lives.
So the question for us today is to determine what exactly it is that we’re supposed to gather from this passage and this parable. Money has always caused problems for people and it is likely that they always will. This is the subject of today’s passage.
Our passage started off with a man coming to Jesus for advice. Frankly, this is something that happens all the time. If you had someone as wise as Jesus, I bet you’d be asking for his advice on plenty of things. So this man comes to inquire about inheritance. He is pretty bitter, because his brother seems to have refused to share the inheritance that their father left behind. Rather than getting involved in a family dispute, Jesus offered some words of wisdom
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
What does this mean?
Well, there’s the obvious answer. Do not be greedy. Don’t just wish for money all the time. Let go of your bitterness and forget about that inheritance.There’s even an implicit command to go out and to focus on other, more important things.
Ouch. That is some hard advice to follow, especially nowadays, in this capitalist society in which we live. Our lives today, whether in America or in Taiwan, are all about wealth, money and possessions, perhaps even greed. We have, at our disposal, many choices in life. This is not only in terms of products that are available, but also jobs, careers, and futures.
In America, our culture has become increasingly materialistic. For example, there is a TV show called Big Spender on the A&E channel. The premise of this show is that a man comes to the rescue of a person or a family who has trouble with their finances. This man comes and tells the people he is helping to stop spending money that they do not have, to cut up their credit cards, return the things they can, sell that which they do not need, stop eating out, and live on a budget.
But Americans aren’t the only people who are interested in material things. I have heard that this is happening in Taiwan as well. I heard that awhile ago, there was a situation where people were passing out a name-brand bag in order to encourage people to bring their own bags to the stores and save on plastic. The idea, while environmentally responsible, caused quite a ruckus, because people were fighting to get their hands on these bags—not because they were interested in participating in saving the environment, but because they wanted that designer bag.
What is so special about a bag?
Advertisers would have you believe that your life is missing something good if you don’t have what is currently cool. Your life is a failure if you cannot own things, because it is possessions that make you happy. It may sound like a silly idea when I’m just saying it here in my sermon, but people are really taking the message to heart. We see that, increasingly, we are finding refuge from our lives in material possessions. Not only do we see ourselves collecting a large number of things, but we also see other people with loads of things.
Money is something to be desired, because it is what will give us purchasing power. And when we buy things, we become happy. In English, we call it retail therapy. It means that when we are sad or unhappy, we simply go out (or go online) and buy ourselves something new. When we have that item, we become happy again. But then, something else may happen, and we just go right back to being unfulfilled, and the cycle of buying in order to make ourselves feel better just starts over again. In the end, what we have done is precisely like this rich man in the parable.
We have accumulated enough stuff that we need to build a brand new barn in order to contain it all! And like the rich man, we shall say to ourselves, “And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'”
Is this what we should be doing? Is this fulfillment?
Not according to Jesus. Instead, he says, “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 for themselves but are not rich toward God." (Luke 12: 13-21)
We see here that what Jesus is remind the rich man, and by extension, us, is that when we die, we take nothing with us. When we come face to face with God and with Jesus, we will end up empty-handed, with nothing to show God; nothing to demonstrate that we took the gift of life seriously. Moreover, if we look at today’s responsive hymn, we see that the Psalmist is remind us that there is no reason to accumulate so much wealth, because it cannot leave this earth and yet, we, as mortals, will eventually die. No matter how much money we save up in our life, it cannot come close to the price that God requires of us. Indeed, God may not even require of us money at all.
In today’s climate, politically, environmentally, and socially, we often hear of tragedies. In Taiwan, we may live each day in political uncertainty and, perhaps, fear. There are hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan. There are politicians offering dissenting perspectives, some of them may bring danger to our country and our lives. It is easy to see our own mortality in this kind of environment.In this kind of environment, some of us have stopped saving so that we could live in the moment. To enjoy our lives as best as we can, without worrying about what will happen in the future. While on the surface, this may seem like the perfect answer—live for today, forget about tomorrow, this wasn’t what Jesus had in mind when he told us that parable either. After all, Jesus made it clear that we must be rich toward God.
When I was little, I read a story of the ant and the grasshopper. I’m sure that all of you know it too. It’s quite a famous story.It’s a story about a lazy grass hopper who made fun of the hardworking ants but in the end, had to come to the ants to beg for sustenance in order to survive the harsh winter. The moral of the story, of course, is that we need to prepare ourselves when the going is good, in order to make ends meet during the leaner times. Like the ants, we must learn to gather things that will get us through the lean times. This means that we must become rich toward God.
However, this concept is something that is hard to determine and harder to accomplish. We can probably not encompass everything that we need to do to become rich toward God, but we certainly have a solid ground with which to start off. It is also important to note that what I’m saying is not that having material possessions is bad. Rather, I want to emphasize that it is the attitude with which we hold our things that makes the difference.
Our possessions cannot fill the void within our hearts. Nothing can do that except for God, and one of the ways that God achieves this is to give us the gift of purpose. Each of us has missions that are given by God that will serve to give us not only meaning and fulfillment in this life, but will build up riches toward God.
Thus, the lesson that we need to take away today is that neither money nor objects can take us toward God. We should not be miserly nor should we be frivolous. Above all, we must not be greedy. While we all need material things in this world in order to live comfortably, we must not go overboard with the things we have that we have to build ourselves a new barn to keep it in. On the flip side of this, it means that we must always be willing to share our good fortunes with others. We must be generous to God and to others.
Let us live every day being reminded to accumulate our wealth toward the richness of God so that we may live not only more purposefully on earth, but enjoy the fruits of our labor in heaven.