Saturday, August 3, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 8, Luke 12:13-21, Now you have it, now you don’t

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Money can’t buy you happiness, but it beats poverty.
A pastor friend of mine and I were talking to each other about his daughter and my sister’s college friend.
This friend was from a very wealthy family.
They were rich enough that she and her mother would go cruising every summer, simply going from one ship to another all summer long.
Not only that, but they’d bring one of the girls friends along as a “personal secretary”, an opportunity that both my sister and this pastor’s daughter had enjoyed.
That afternoon, Darryl and I were talking about this and we remarked that money doesn’t buy you happiness, and we really wouldn’t want to be all that rich, and so on and so forth.
Then Darryl turned to me and said, “But if we are honest, we may say we don’t want to be rich, but in truth, we’d all like to give it a try for a while.”
Today’s lessons are not the most uplifting passages of scripture.
Quite frankly, if someone spoke like this today we might put them on an antidepressant. 
And the scripture passages are fairly negative toward wealth.
From Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
Then in Psalm 49 we read:
For we see that the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish and leave their wealth to those who come after them. Their graves shall be their homes forever, their dwelling places from generation to generation, though they had named lands after themselves.
In Colossians we are warned to “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.”
And finally, in the Gospel we hear the parable of the rich man who built larger barns to store his great wealth, only to die an untimely death:
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! 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.”
When we read the Bible, there are two contrasting messages regarding wealth.
In the Old Testament, wealth was considered a sign of God’s special blessing. 
There were three signs that God’s favor was shining down upon you.  First, if you had plenty of children.  Second, if your flocks flourished.  And thirdly, if the crops were bountiful.
And all three of these things were the measure of one’s wealth, and God’s favor.
But then when we turn to the prophetic writings, and the New Testament, all of a sudden there are all sorts of warnings and judgments rendered regarding wealth.
Greed is idolatry. 
Greed is to desire more of something than you need.
Karla and I are at the point in our lives that we are thinking about retirement and the future.
The number one question that almost everyone asks as they approach their retirement years is what???
Have we saved enough to be financially secure throughout the remainder of our lives?
We want to have enough money so that we can be confident that we will never run out, no matter how long we live. 
The thing is, though, that there is a fine line between “wanting enough so that you’ll never run out” and “desiring more that you need”.  Right?
Desiring more than you need is greed and idolatry.
Wanting enough so that you don’t run out is considered being responsible. 
Again, it’s a fine line between the two.
In Timothy Paul writes:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
And then in Hebrews it is written:
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."
These two verses get to the heart of the matter.
What really is at stake is a matter of faith.
To put our trust in money and to seek security from the balance in our bank account is to turn away from faith in God and the security only God offers.
Be content with what you have, for "I will never leave you or forsake you."
Be content with what you have, for "I will never leave you or forsake you."
I can say all this, but I remain concerned about the future.
I would like to build larger barns, as the man in Jesus’ parable did.
I’d like to feel secure.
That’s the bottom line for me.
I’d like to feel secure.

One of the things I grieve as time passes by is the loss of a collective memory of our history.
Specifically, my parents and grandparents lived through and remembered the Great Depression.
The collective memory of them was “we may not have had much during that time, but we had enough”.  “There was always love, and food on the table.”
Do we have faith in God, sufficient to feel secure, trusting only in him even when our own resources might fail us?
That, you see, is the issue with money.
It will one day fail us.
This happens in two ways.
First, one thing we know, if we pay attention, is that the economic prosperity we are currently enjoying will one day give way to a recession.  It’s an inevitable part of the economic cycle.
One of the things I am humored by is the way politicians like to take credit for a good economy and blame others for a bad economy. 
My belief is that the economy will have its ups and downs regardless who is in charge and it’s all just a matter of time.
And so today, I might have plenty in my retirement account, but who knows what I’ll have tomorrow.  Easy come, easy go.
Take my house, for example.  By some estimates it has appreciated by about 40% in the 7 years I’ve owned it.  That’s real good.
But the housing market could collapse tomorrow, and its value could tank.
But you know what?  It’s still the same house.
Back to the point:  Investments fail us at times because of the ups and downs of the market, and the risks inherent in them. 
Jesus could have made the point that the rich man who built larger barns could have woken up the next morning to a devastating fire and lost everything.  Many have.
But the point Jesus does make, is that no matter how much we have in this life, we leave this world the same way we enter it, naked and without a penny to our name. 
When we look toward our own deaths and our security then, no amount of money will help us. 
“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Underlying this is what I believe is the most profound question of faith.
Faith is to trust in someone else.  Not ourselves.
We live so much of our lives trusting only in ourselves that sometimes it is a challenge to trust someone else.
I really learned this lesson when I had heart surgery.
I couldn’t help myself.
I couldn’t do anything.
I simply had to trust, first of all, in the medical team to care for me, and most importantly to trust in God that whatever happened I’d be ok.
But in that moment I was out of control.  I needed to trust another.
Remember the story of manna in the wilderness?
That was one of the most important lessons God tried to teach the people during that time.
If you remember they were instructed to gather only as much as they needed for that day.  If they gathered more, it would rot.
What God wanted them to learn was that he would take care of them tomorrow, just as he had today.
That’s the faith question.
God has provided me with what I needed every day of my life, thus far, can I trust in him to continue to provide for me in the future?
To have faith is to believe God when he says "I will never leave you or forsake you."

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