Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wise Planning Versus Greedy Dreams - Luke 12:15-21

Luke 12:15-21

And Jesus said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 
Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  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.”

I came across an interesting fact the other day.  I checked it out to be sure that it is true, and it is.

The word “homosexual” is not mentioned a single time in the Bible, in either the King James Version or the translation we use here at Grace, the New Revised Standard Version.

The word “abortion” does not appear either.  Not once.

We are concerned with both of those issues as hot topics in our society today.

One of my concerns is that I like to eat – and I admit, too much.  But the word “glutton” only shows up about a half dozen times.

Sex – 26 times.

But money?  It shows up 125 times.  Especially in the Gospels.  Jesus in particular was always talking about money.

Money, money, money.

And why not?  Money is a major part of our life.

Money is not the most important thing in life, but when you need it, there are few substitutes.  As Zig Zegler said many times in his motivational seminars, “Money can buy a house, but it can’t buy a home.  It can buy a companion, but it won’t buy a true friendship.”

In this world, if you want to live in a home, you need money – or parents who have money.

And if you want to eat, you need money.

If you want to go to the doctor, you need money.  If you want to BECOME a doctor, you need money.

Money is a tool, and we have to know how to use that tool.  And sadly, many do not.  And while money can enrich our lives, money can also destroy our lives. 

Many live under an enormous burden of debt.  People often make mistakes in the management of money.  Folks often get scammed out of our money.

Others make good choices, but outside forces come into play and we see our investments and pensions diminish as they have in recent past.

It is good that the Bible speaks so often about money, and that Jesus in particular dealt with this topic.

Which brings us to this morning’s Scripture text…

Jesus tells a parable in which there was a man who had the good fortune of owning property that produced a good and abundant crop.  The man’s land produced so much, he had no place to store his crops.  Then he came to this solution.  He would replace the old bars with new and improved barns.  He looked forward to the day when he would be able to have all of his goods laid up for many years, and then relax, eat, drink and be merry.

Whoa!  Let’s think about this.

Almost every one of us is doing just this very thing.

We call that planning for retirement.

In fact, a wise person will do this very thing.

Joseph in the Old Testament book of Genesis was an advisor to the Pharoah, and knowing that there would be 7 good, productive years, followed by 7 years of famine, laid out a plan of action.  Store up grain through the 7 good years in order to get through the famine.  It was a plan that was ordained by God.

Planning for the future, and for retirement – what is wrong with this?

This is a farmer in this parable, and a good one at that.

He does not show any signs of mistreating his workers.

He does not show any evidence of committing any criminal act in the accumulation of his wealth. 

Sun, soil and rain all combine with his talents, skills, experience and hard labor to fill those barns so he can some day retire.

So what is wrong with what he is doing?

Is it good for a Christian to save for retirement?

Bottom line – absolutely.

And not just for retirement, but saving for college, saving for a new car, or even saving for a trip to Disney. 

It is always dangerous to look at only one passage of Scripture and to think we have a handle on the whole truth of Scripture.  It has long been affirmed in the Presbyterian Church that the best interpreter of Scripture is more Scripture.

So what else does the Bible say about saving money for the future?

Proverbs 21:20 (Living Bible) tells us, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.”

Proverbs 22:3 (Living Bible) says “A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

Proverbs 6:6-8 (Living Bible) tells us to look around at nature at the ants and other wild animals.  It says, “they have no king to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.”

There is nothing at all wrong with saving for retirement, or for a new car or for a home or anything else that one might need. 

In fact, Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians said in the Bible that one of the reasons for saving money was so that one could have more to share with those in need. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

There is a multitude of passages from the Bible that instruct us to be wise with our money and to save for the future.  It is better for you to plan for a secure retirement than it is for you to become a burden on your family, church or community and depend on others to take care of what you should be planning for.

So, getting back to Luke, it looks on the surface like Jesus is condemning this person in the parable who wants to save his goods until he can look back and say, I have laid up things for many years, and now I can relax, eat, drink and be merry.”

But no, the subject of this parable is not saving money for a rainy day, for a car, for college, or for retirement.

The subject is not about what you store in the bank or in your investment account or in your “barns.” 

The subject is about what you store in your heart.

It is an issue of wise planning versus foolish greed.

This is not a parable against financial planning.  This is a parable against greed.

It is one of those spiritual dangers we face.

God expects us to handle money wisely. 

But the better we are at handling our money, the more tempting it is to fall into a greedy mindset.

Greed is that selfish desire for more and more, beyond what is necessary.  Greed is a thirst that can never be quenched. 

Sam Polk wrote an amazing piece in the New York Times on January 18, 2014.  The article was titled “For the Love of Money.” 

He started his article by saying this:  “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted.”

The article is quite long and detailed and describes how he became addicted to greed.

Toward the end he says this:  “Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups — including Clutterers Anonymous and On-Line Gamers Anonymous — exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no Wealth Addicts Anonymous.” 

No Greed Anonymous. 

“Why not? Because our culture supports and even lauds the addiction.

In the 1987 film “Wall Street” Michael Douglas in portraying the character Gordon Gekko says “greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

And that statement is true from a human point of view.

Colossians 3:2 tells us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

We are called to be better than our human sinfulness.

Greed has been thoroughly condemned in the Bible time and again.  In fact, whenever there is a list of sins in the New Testament, greed will be right there beside lust, envy and anger.  In Mark 7, for example:  “sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

And yet, with all of these warnings against greed, this remains a widespread problem in the church.  This craving to hoard puts our stuff, our property, our things, as well as our money above our love for God.  Greed makes “stuff” the god whom we worship. 

Greed distracts us away from the things that are truly meaningful in this life.

Jesus introduced this parable in Luke by saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Life consists of opportunities to love.  To be with family and friends.

Greed steals those opportunities away.

Life consists of opportunities to serve others and to be generous with those in need.

Greed steals those opportunities away.

So, what now?

We are called to manage our money well and to plan for the future, but to walk that fine line so that we do not fall into greed.

Just how does one really resist and fight greed?

It begins with the Gospel and our acceptance of Christ.

We have to move beyond our own self-interest and toward surrender to Christ as Lord of our lives. 

We have to accept where God has us in life, which is a way of saying we must learn to be content, no matter where we are or how much we have, or how little we may have, in the bank.

The Word of God tells us in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, (1 Timothy 6:6-12

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, people of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Contentment is clearly a biblical key to individual dealing with greed. 

St. Paul had it down pat. 

He said in the New Testament letter to the Phillipians (4:12-13),

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.