Rich toward God


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 4 August 2019

Readings were Psalm 107:1-9, 43 and Luke 12: 13-21

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What do you think of this teaching of Jesus, in the Parable of the Rich Fool? I once heard this read in a worship service, and the reader concluded by saying:

This is the Word of the Lord …unfortunately!

Last Sunday we heard Jesus teaching about prayer. Jesus taught an actual prayer (that we call The Lord’s Prayer), that starts “Our Father…” His teaching this way shows us that we can expect our prayers to be heard, not because of our own effort we put into the words we use, but because of the relationship we have with God. Because of what Jesus has done, we are adopted children of God. For this reason, we can have confidence that God hears our prayer.

We hear Jesus teaching again in today’s Gospel reading. What is today’s teaching by Jesus about…? Would you say he’s teaching about…Conflict resolution…? Asset management…? Warning against greediness…? Selfishness…? That you ought to give more money…?

Please do not think that my sermon today is intended to make you give more. That’s not my message to you today. It might seem like it, especially as we are in the midst of a major fundraising campaign to strengthen our church. No, we are hearing this Gospel passage today because it is in the common lectionary. So, God has given us this passage today!

We Ministers can be hesitant to preach about money. But I’m not wanting to shy away from preaching about money (and I’ll say why in a moment). But …I am NOT preaching about money in order to make you give more. (Of course, God may well have a message for you that I do not intend – in which case, all I can say is ‘Look out!’)

The reason I’m not wanting to avoid talking about money, is because Jesus didn’t avoid talking about money. In fact, did you know that Jesus talked about money a lot? Out of his 30 parables, 11 of them involved money.

Maybe it’s because Jesus taught so much about money that the man approached Jesus to adjudicate the gripe he had with his brother about the family inheritance. However, Jesus refuses to be used in the way the man wanted, and instead responds (addressing all those who are listening):

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable…

The way this is presented to us we should be looking for how Jesus’ parable tells us something about human greed, and the relationship between our life and our possessions. (Did I say this sermon might get uncomfortable…?)

In Jesus’ parable, the man benefits without any adequate acknowledgement of the source of what he has gained. And this is a problem. At no point does this rich man credit God for the provision of his wealth.

Furthermore, he never acknowledges that his wealth should have some purpose other than satisfying his own desires. When he dies, he loses his wealth, and he does not know God.

This is a warning not to end up a rich fool – a total loser. A ‘fool’ we must understand in the biblical context is someone whose practices deny God. And this is the main deficiency of the wealthy farmer – his failure to acknowledge God in his decisions.

Curiously, Jesus portrays the farmer engaging in self-talk: “What should I do…? I will do this…” In Luke’s Gospel, those who engage in soliloquy are consistently portrayed negatively.[1] This highlights the self-centred isolation of this farmer who makes decisions without reference or relationship to God.

Jesus warns us not to end up a fool, having stored up treasures for ourselves “but are not rich towards God.” (v21). In this way, we see then how Jesus’ teaching about money and possessions is highly theocentric – focused on God and our relationship with God. Jesus wants us to see God as God truly is, because if we do, we will see the meaning of our life and the purposes we live for in a radically new way. If we can see the riches God shares with us, won’t we live with a similar sense of abundance and generosity?

How is it we live in a similar way to the wealthy farmer…? Listen again to the words Jesus uses to introduce the parable:

Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (v15)

The Greek can more accurately be translated ‘you do not exist in your things’. Our full existence cannot be orientated toward possessions (and the pseudo-security of possessions). Jesus invites us to see our existence as orientated toward life from and in God.

There is an ominous factor hanging over this parable… mortality. When the wealthy farmer dies, he loses his wealth and he does not know God. Jesus invites us to consider our existence as more that what Life Insurance actuaries calculate as ‘three score and ten’.[2]

Jesus invites us to see our lives as more about salvation; our ultimate existence in God’s provision.

How can Jesus invite us to see our lives as more? Because he has died to give us a life that endures. Life in the eternal presence of God; alive in the embracing of unquenchable divine love. If we entrust our existence to God, we will have an appropriate relationship to our possessions. We will trust in God, and not seek our security, meaning and hope in our things. Someone once said

The most important things in life are not things at all.

If we trust God our relationship with money and possessions will look different. Our giving will not just be a duty. For generosity is about the heart – everything we are and do. Jesus knows that our attitude towards money is a window into our hearts.

Jesus’ own heart is pure. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says:

9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Jesus, who was rich beyond our imaginations gave it up out of love for us. Jesus became poor, so that we will enjoy all of God’s provision. That we will experience life the way it’s meant to be.

We sometimes sing a song with words that express this truth about our existence:

Let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich”
Let the blind say, “I can see”
It’s what the Lord has done in me

So…  what now? My friends, we are not to store up for ourselves, but to empty barns. Jesus says

Those who lose their life will find it. (Luke 17:33)

What are your ‘barns’…?

Jesus warns us not to store stuff for ourselves but be ‘rich toward God’. Jesus was entitled to glory and reward, and he got ashes. When our hearts are melted and we have recognised our emptiness, we are able to receive what God has ready to give us in Jesus Christ.

The old-school preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said:

The one way you know that Jesus Christ is precious to you is that nothing else is.

Friends I will pray words of a song as a prayer dedicating our lives to the purposes Jesus lived and died and lives for.If you want to dedicate yourself to Jesus, you can add your ‘Amen’ at the end.

Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into your hands

For it’s only in your will that I am free
For it’s only in your will that I am free

Amen.

 

[1] For example, Luke 5:21-22 and Luke 9:46-47

[2] This actually comes from Psalm 90:10 (KJV)

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