31st July 2016
Luke chapter 12 verses 16 – 21
with Maggie Cogan – Reader
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord Amen
“So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God”
When I retired from teaching – to begin my training- The thing that I was most worried about was the fact that my salary – as head of RE – would cease. How was I going to manage without that monthly amount entering into my bank account – the silly thing is – I have never really missed it – where I thought I would miss the money – I haven’t. My training was where my heart and God had sent me—- and the prospect of extra material things went right out of the window.
In today’s passage from the gospel of Luke—- we find Jesus in the middle of a long journey. The trip from Nazareth to Jerusalem only takes about three days to walk, but Luke spends nearly ten chapters getting Jesus and his disciples from point A to point B, as they travel to the place where Jesus will ultimately die for the sins of the world.
This has not been a speedy trip, by any means. Jesus has been stopping along the way to teach his disciples about the Kingdom of God. Because the locals also gathered to hear what Jesus had to say—- many of his teachings have taken the form of parables. These short stories featured familiar, everyday characters and common events that cut right to the heart of what Jesus wanted his disciples to learn. Over and over again, throughout the gospel of Luke —Jesus told stories— like these— to point out that the Kingdom of God is not what we humans might expect.
The Kingdom of God flips our understanding of power upside down, and our values right side up. We heard about this a couple of weeks ago, in the story of Martha and her sister Mary. But this parable is not a “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s” kind of parable. Jesus is more concerned with attitudes of the heart than the difference between tithes and taxes
In verse 15 of our gospel reading it says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus says this to the man who asked Him to arbitrate between him and his brother.
In ancient times, the firstborn was guaranteed a double portion of the family inheritance. More than likely—- the brother who was addressing Jesus was not the firstborn and was asking for an equal share of the inheritance. Jesus refuses to arbitrate their dispute and gets to the heart of the matter: Greed! Jesus warns this person—- and all within earshot—– that our lives are not to be about gathering wealth. Life is so much more than the “abundance of possessions.”
Sometimes we may think that money and wealth—- should not be discussed in church— that we should use this time for more important, more spiritual subjects. We may even remember the incident where Jesus chased the money changers from the temple, overturning their tables of coins.
Yet Jesus often preached on the subject of money. He told the parables about the treasure hidden in a field, the pearl of great price—– the tenants who would not pay their rent—– the talents or sums of money that were loaned to three servants—– the parable of two men who were forgiven great debts, one great and one small.
He told the parable of the lost coin, the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance, and this parable of the rich fool. One time Jesus was concerned enough to send a disciple to pay his taxes with a coin that was provided in a fish’s mouth. At worship he pointed out the woman who gave her last two coins for an offering. He also said, “No man can serve two masters. You cannot love both God and money.”
In fact, of the 40 or so parables of Jesus recorded in the Bible, just under half of them refer to proper use of money and riches. You can see that Jesus really did have much to say about money. He taught us that all riches really belong to God and warned us about the consequences about not being rich toward God.
In our gospel reading -Jesus proceeds to tell the man the Parable of the rich man. This person was materially blessed by God; his land “produced abundantly”. As God continued to bless the man—- instead of using his increase to further the will of God, all he was interested in was managing his increase and accumulating his growing wealth. So the man builds larger barns in place of the existing ones and starts planning an early retirement. Unbeknownst to him, this was his last night on earth. Jesus then closes the story by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
What does it mean to be rich toward God? We can learn several truths here about money and property.
Being Rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all good things, including life and salvation. We live in a society that pays little attention to spiritual truth. It values property— income—- status—- social standing, and material wealth. Everywhere— advertising confronts us suggesting what we really need— can be bought in a shop or online.
All the emphasis today is on what we drink, drive, and wear on our body. No one seems to care about what’s going to happen when they die. Being rich toward God is to know that we are the beloved children of God.
Being rich toward God means we measure our own worth by whom we are—– not by what we own. A person’s wealth tells us nothing about who they are on the inside. It doesn’t matter to God what we are worth. He considers a person to be wealthy when they are at peace with him, when they have the certainty that nothing can separate them from his love. Christians are rich toward God when they depend on him to supply their every need, when they are certain of God’s unconditional love.
We are rich toward God when the thing we value most in this life is what Jesus gave us on the cross. We know that we are totally undeserving of what he did for us. There Jesus made us acceptable to God— and gave us a life of peace and joy that will never end.
Being rich toward God is the gift of finding the joy of using the good things God gives us—- to be a blessing to others. We find examples of this throughout the Bible. When Noah and his family stepped out of the ark after being saved from the great flood, the first thing they did was to offer a sacrifice to God. When God blessed Abraham in his battle against the wicked kings, the first thing he did was give a tenth of everything he had to Melchizedek, God’s priest, because he was so thankful.
When the Apostle Paul came to visit the poor congregations in Macedonia in northern Greece, they collected a tremendous mission offering for those in need.
Being rich to God means using what we have right now not for selfish purposes, but to serve him.
God has given us the wonderful opportunity to know who we belong to, and it isn’t to the monthly bills—- or the lifestyles of our friends and relatives. We belong to Jesus. He paid our debt to God. He forgives our past wrongs, our divided hearts. He told us to cast all our cares upon him. He shows us the right use of all the things he gives us—- that is to serve him.
To give to God’s purposes and to share with others is to believe that God will supply all of our needs. And the family that comes together around Gods purposes—- is the family that has peace and joy in serving Jesus.
The man in the parable built the barns, got himself all set, and said to himself, “It’s time to relax, eat, drink and be merry.” Financial planners would say he was wise, but God called him a fool—– for that very night he died. What did it gain him?
Being rich toward God is being ready to leave everything behind at a moment’s notice. We don’t know how long we have to live. We’d like to live to see our children grow up, but we have no promise of that. What we strive to leave behind is a legacy of faith—– that people will remember that we trusted in God for everything. There are great riches stored up for us in heaven.
What matters most in life is not how rich we are for our own purposes, but how rich we are toward God. In the person of Jesus– God gives us all the riches of heaven. God is trying to teach us– this is true— that we may demonstrate it in our lives.
As we approach the Holy table today, as we offer up our worship and praise and thanks to the God who saves us— may we strive to strive less – may we hope to hope more. May we love without reservation—- less concerned with ourselves and more dependent on God to provide for us— to care for us— to be rich towards us in grace and mercy- may we be rich toward God.