13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he 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.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But 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?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. 22He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”
Did you know that tiny houses are now quite the rage? Tune into the FYI channel, you can find Season 3 of Tiny House Nation – each episode about seemingly intelligent people who give up normal homes in favor of tiny, and I mean tiny, little houses – 192 square feet, 136 square feet, or 84 square feet. Some are stationary –converted storage sheds or renovated shipping containers! Others can be pulled behind the car or boat: homes built on trailers or on floating pontoons. One show featured an old school bus converted to Home Sweet Home. One couple added on to their kids’ treehouse and installed a little plumbing.
As you can imagine, efficiency is the key here. The living room usually doubles as kitchen, workspace, and bedroom and, if there is room, there’s a water closet sized for Tinkerbell.
Now, I get that there is something attractive, even romantic about living a Spartan existence – no possessions to weigh you down, nothing to maintain. You can clean house without leaving your one chair! You’re free to spend 95% of your time doing important stuff like writing books and composing symphonies. It’s Henry David’s Thoreau’s life on Walden Pond.
While this all sounds lovely, let’s get real! Cooking dinner on one burner and 10 inches of counter space? Climbing up a ladder every night to your 4’ high sleeping loft? A toilet seat that doubles as a desk chair? REALLY?? And what if you had a baby? Wanted a Christmas tree? Gained 5 pounds? These would all be deal-breakers!
While tiny houses are very affordable (under $20,000), most tiny house owners do it for the lark, the challenge! Perhaps a few do it out of responsibility or sympathy with the millions of people worldwide who live in tiny houses or no houses at all. They live in hovels, tent cities, cardboard boxes, squalid motels and tenements. They live in homeless shelters, cars, crowded orphanages, and sewers. Their tiny houses are not efficient. These folks are essentially homeless.
The universally-accepted definition of homeless is “lacking fixed, regular, and adequate night time residence.” By conservative estimate, 1,750,000 men, women, and children in this country are homeless. Globally, 100 million folks are homeless, and another 1.6 billion lack housing that would be considered even barely adequate.
Now, these stats make me feel awful. I have a nice house, an extra bedroom, a big garage. We have some savings. We can take a vacation. Is that wrong? What is Jesus saying in today’s parable? The farmer has worked hard, harvested a bumper crop, and needs somewhere to store it, and God calls him a fool. This parable makes people squirm – especially those fortunate to have a 401K or a cabin in the woods.
Now bear in mind that parables are not fully-developed comparisons. They are simple little stories with the singular purpose of conveying a lesson, a moral. This one – “The Rich Fool” — is about GREED – about not sharing; about stockpiling, about building bigger barns, thinking that your “stuff” will bring happiness and a life of leisure! God doesn’t criticize our farmer for having a productive farm, raising good crops, having an abundant yield. He criticizes him for thinking that, if he keeps it all for himself, he will never have to work again and never have to rely on God! That’s why he is foolish.
It begins to get dicey when we apply it to our own situation. Some of us have “extra barns” in the form of a bank account, a little stock, a nest egg. Are we supposed to give it away? If our currency was produce, it would sure be easier! Vegetables only last so long. Hoarding bananas wouldn’t work either. If our wealth was in tomatoes or squash, we wouldn’t hoard! Quick! Give it away before it spoils! But our currency is money (or plastic backed by money) — which may depreciate but doesn’t spoil. Money keeps well – for years, even generations– and we, like the foolish farmer, see it as an insurance policy equal even to God’s provision.
So, looking beyond a single parable, what does the Bible, taken as a whole, say about money?
I. First, it says that wealth isn’t a sign of God’s favor — nor is poverty a sign of God’s disapproval. In Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the rich man ended up in hell because of his hard-heartedness and the beggar, Lazarus, ended up in heaven (Luke 16:19-31). This was a reversal of what folks expected. In Jesus’ time, it was a common belief that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus railed against such a belief. Sadly, the attitude persists even now that people are poor — mostly as a result of their own wrong actions.
II. On the other hand, the Bible unequivocally states that wealth is a gift from God to be used in God’s service. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, it’s a gift but . . . I worked 40 years for these savings, I saved when other people spent, I denied myself and spent frugally . . . . I earned this wealth.” But are you responsible for the mind and body you were born with and that enables you to work? Did you choose the parents who reared you? Did you entirely finance and provide your own education? Did you land your job or career without any help? Did no one put the right people and opportunities in your path? Did you heal yourself of every illness and trouble? Christians do not believe that we “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” We have much to thank God for! The author of Ecclesiastes says, “Apart from God, who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him, God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy” (Ecclesiastes 2: 25-26).
God’s gift, then, are to be shared. Timothy’s epistle says: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? [Those who are rich] are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (6: 18).
In particular, the Law of Moses commands us to honor our parents – providing and caring for them all their days. And we are to raise up our children in the way in which they should go – educating, feeding, clothing, providing. In Leviticus, God instructed our ancestors to allow for the poor. – “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not be greedy. You shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien” (19: 9-10). And to God, we are to offer a tithe. “All tithes of the land, whether seed or fruit, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).
III. So, wealth is not a reward; it is a gift. But beware, the Bible says, great wealth is dangerous. There are reasons why: (1) First, pursuit of wealth is incompatible with devotion to God. God must always be the most important thing in our lives. “No one can serve two masters,” says Jesus, “For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13).
(2) Second, the craving for wealth and possessions can lead us into all kinds of temptation. We neglect our families when we spend every evening and weekend earning extra money. Worse, we may attempt to rationalize our greed by closing our minds and disconnecting our consciences. Dishonest dealings and greed can make a person cold, cynical and separated from God. We may take unfair advantage of our customers, employers, or employees. It may be stealing, fraud, inflating insurance claims, cheating on taxes, “pirating” music and movies, or nonpayment of debts. We end up like Mr. Scrouge — stingy, bitter and isolated. Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (NIV, Matthew 16:26)
(3) Third, wealth can blind us into thinking we do not need God. We feel protected, even invincible. “Soul,” says our foolish farmer, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’’ You’re set, protected, insured. // “Ha!” says God. “Money can’t buy you love – and neither can it buy you life. This night, you will die.” Christ says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NIV, Matthew 6:19-21)
The author of Proverbs sums it up pretty well: It isn’t wrong to accrue wealth, but it is wrong to hoard it. “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes wings to itself, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov 23:4-5). Do not be foolish. So, the moral of Christ’s parable is “Be generous!” Make wisdom and and compassion your goal. This is a far better storehouse than silos full of more grain or a portfolio full of shares.
“But where do I start?” you say. “There are more needs that I can possibly address!” Jesus says, “When the Son of Man comes, the righteous will ask him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’” 40And the Lord will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
You’re right, our gifts, even big ones, can’t fix everything. But they can fix something! They can put a floor in a hut, buy a night’s lodging for a homeless man, purchase mosquito netting for children’s beds, buy a bicycle or a wheelchair, or a prosthesis, or even move a family into a home – even if it’s a tiny home.
If you’ve got it, the Bible says, share it. For tomorrow you may die!
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE Today, I have a story about two people.
The first guy goes to the store and buys 31 pairs of socks. The second guy goes to the same store and does exactly the same thing: he buys 31 pairs of socks…the same colors and types as the first guy. They each go home.
I wonder if you see any difference between these two guys?
The difference is seen when they get home. The first guy opens the sock packages and carefully arranges the socks in neat little rows in his dresser drawers. He is so proud that he will have a new pair of socks to wear each day of the month!
But on the other hand, the second guy goes home, keeps the sock packages closed up, carefully sorts them into neat little bags, and then takes the bags to the homeless shelter where he gives the new socks to the many guests that are staying there. Each guest now has a new pair of socks to wear!
I wonder if you see any difference between these two guys now?
In our Bible story today, Jesus reminds us that our lives are not built on the things we HAVE. Our lives are built on how we USE the things we have. We can be greedy, storing and using things just for ourselves. Or we can be generous, sharing and using things for others. Jesus warns us that when we selfishly store up THINGS–like socks, or money, or toys, or any THING, we make THINGS more important to us than God. When we generously share our things, we are being rich toward God and showing that God is our treasure.
My sock story today is about two different guys: one who values things and uses them to care for only himself, and another guy who values God and uses things to care for God’s children around him. I wonder which guy you want to be?
Will you pray with me? (This is an echo prayer: the leader says a line and the children repeat it.)
for all of my blessings.
to share my things
so others may see
that You are my treasure.