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Sunday August 2, 1998 ~ Ninth Sunday After Pentecost ~ Luke 12:13-21


Then What?

Focus Text: "...this very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" [12:20]


A reporter asked a young Wall Street broker on the fast track what his chief goal was in life. "To make my first million dollars by the time I am 28," was the answer. "Then what?" the reporter continued. "Well, I suppose I would like to become a multi-millionaire." The news man pressed on. "Then what?" Beginning to get a bit irritated, the broker said, "I want to have a family and enough money to retire at 40 and travel around the world."

Do you see the next question coming? "Then what?" Exasperated, the would be multi-millionaire said, "Well, like everyone else, I guess someday I will die!" The young man's last answer begs the question -- "Then what?"

Like the rich man in Jesus' story, the difficulty with the young broker was not that he desired to have possessions -- it was that his desire for possession had him. Jesus' warning is strong. "Watch closely! Be on your guard! When your desire for things gets its claws into your life, it can lead you down a very dangerous road!" In other words, desire for material things may grow into greed which can distort and then destroy the meaning of your life.

***

Have you ever had the experience of having so much money you didn't know what to do with it? I have, and I want to tell you it can totally wreck your peace of mind and dominate your thoughts and behavior. I was just about 10 years old when I did a shameful and stupid thing. Shameful, because I went sneaking into my mom's purse and stole a dollar early one morning before school -and- stupid, because the dollar bill was all she had in her purse. My plan was to head for Nuggent's drug store and soda fountain after school and spend like crazy.

It was really fun at first. I bought two candy bars and finished them quickly. "Boy, this is living," I thought. But, there were still 90 cents in my pocket. (Dates me huh?) Back inside Nuggent's, I bought a pack of gum and another candy bar. Sitting in front of the store eating my third candy bar, I began to fear I would never be able to get rid of all my ill-gotten money before heading home. My tummy started feeling a little queasy and the 80 cents left in my pocket was beginning to be a bit oppressive. Let's see... a comic book at 10 cents and a small balsa wood airplane took me down to 60 cents. Now I'm getting scared -- I needed to get some "big ticket" items quickly. All I could think about was how to get rid of this money and there was no way to spend it fast enough. Then a solution appeared out of the blue. Angus Burke came walking down the sidewalk. Normally I wouldn't give Angus the time of day, but I was glad to see him, "Hey Angus, how would you like a chocolate sundae with nuts and whipped cream?" Angus looks at me with suspicion, but who can pass on a deal like this? After we polished off the sundaes, I was down to two nickels and feeling pretty sick. Angus wanted to discuss what we might do the next day after school, but I was done with Angus. "Use 'em and loose 'em" was my game. When money dominates your life, people come second.

Out on the sidewalk, once again feeling nauseated and worried because I was late getting home, I spotted my father coming down the sidewalk. He walked up to me, patted my right trouser pocket causing the nickels to "clink" and asked, "Did you earn some money?" He took my hand and we headed home as I silently promised God that I would never do be so greedy and dishonest again -- if only my father (the earthly one) would not do great bodily harm to me when we got home!

So, I've been there folks. Had so much money I couldn't spend it fast enough and it wrecked my day!

***

As we look closely at our scripture, it is important to point out that Jesus does not say, "Beware of material things." People have frequently misquoted scripture by saying, "Money is the root of all evil" -- when in fact it is actually, [what?]... "{The LOVE of} money is the root of all evil." Jesus also does not say that being wealthy is wrong. True, Matthew, Mark and Luke all report Jesus' words, "It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God..." But, he does not say it is wrong to be rich. It is greed that is the culprit. Greed can turn the blessings of wealth into the burden of desire for more. Jesus' warning can properly be expressed as, "Be careful... very careful... that your possessions do not possess you. Life is not about things!" The danger is "possession fixation" not possessions.

There are three essential points in our scripture. The danger of possessions is that when greed brings material things to a dominant position in our living, our attachment to things is: [1] Destructive of Relationships, [2] Destructive of Life's Meaning and [3] Destructive of the Soul.

1. Possession Fixation is Destructive of Relationships

Jesus is speaking to a crowd when a man interrupts with a question from out in left field. Jesus had just gone through a conflict with the scribes and Pharisees and is now speaking to his followers about the conflicts they will face and the peace they can have in their faith no matter what happens externally. "Don't fear those who can kill the body, but can't harm your soul!"

Out of the blue, this man in the crowd says, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." (Huh? What's this have to do with anything?)

As a matter of fact, Jesus takes the opportunity to use this man's "possession fixation" to talk about something that can harm the soul. The man's family relationships are obviously in turmoil because of material possessions.

If you've seen it once, you've seen it a thousand times. Right? Families in turmoil over possessions. A parent dies and the children are in conflict. Worse yet, a parent dies without a will! A lawyer I know has a saying he uses with older parents, "If you hate your children and want them to hate each other, leave this earth without leaving a will!"

Jesus declines to settle the dispute between this man and his brother and instead issues a warning. Greed is an opiate that will dull your sense of what life is about. Possessions will become more important than people. In other words, "possession fixation" is destructive of relationships. The man who interrupts Jesus' teaching is unaware of his inappropriate intrusion. He is in the grip of an "urgent personal agenda". He can not connect appropriately with his outer world because of the urgency of his inner world.

Have you seen any of the reports over the past couple of years on the effects of gambling addiction. One Dateline NBC report focused on the vulnerability of women to video poker machines located in places women are likely to frequent. One woman put her family into bankruptcy and lost her husband and two children. Another left her 10 month old infant in a car for seven hours and the child died. Men who had lost their homes through gambling debts allowed a reporter into one of their closed 12 step meetings. The stories were heartbreaking tales of how families were destroyed by an addiction fueled by greed.

2. Possession Fixation is Destructive of Life's Meaning

Did you hear the Pepsi slogan a while back? "Drink Pepsi. Get Stuff!" It was an appeal aimed at younger folks to drink lots of Pepsi and gain points which could be turned in for CD players, jackets and other items.

Translated into modern terms the man in Jesus parable has a slogan that goes something like, "Get stuff and more stuff and party 'till you drop." Sorry if this seems flip, but look around. Watch the commercials and infomercials and you will discover that this is not an uncommon attitude. Have you ever watched an episode of Robin Leach's "Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous?"

If we are open to relating Jesus' parable to our own time, and our own culture, we can not help but come very close to the conclusion that the culture we live in is gripped by "possession fixation". And that is destructive of life's meaning. Indeed it can be life threatening. How many children have been shot for their Starter Jackets or Air Jordan Nikes? If greed suddenly disappeared from the human heart, what would happen to the crime statistics over the next year?

What's your take on this? Do you feel that our culture is caught up in "possession fixation?" Your perception of the severity of this fixation might very well depend upon which generation you belong to! Here's a quick test -- how many of you know what it means to "darn" a pair of socks? [You can expand on this!]

Jesus' parable is a distinct warning that greed can lead to a point where life's meaning is reduced to material things. The driving force of living becomes a search for "more" -- a search for "things". Greed, in fact, breaks the commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and thus the statement in Colossians, "Greed... which is idolatry." (Col.3:5)

3. Possession Fixation is Destructive of the Soul

Now hang on to your hats. I have some incredibly important news. Two people who are here with us today will have passed away by the time we meet for worship again next week! [Pause here for a moment]

If -- I repeat If -- I could say such a thing and it were true -- would it bring about some serious thought about the meaning of your life? Of course, I do not have this kind of information -- but, if you were faced with the news that you did not have long to live -- would your first thoughts have to do with your possessions?

Orville Kelley, founder of Make Today Count, was faced with the news that he had terminal cancer. After struggling with anger, denial and depression, one single thought dominated his being until the day he died. "Make Today Count" Orville Kelley affirmed that the news he received became a "life sentence" instead of a "death sentence". He lived, loved and made his days count like never before... and he helped thousands of others do the same.

The man in the story Jesus tells gets the shock of his life when Almighty God in person says, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you..." Can you imagine? Just when he needed spiritual substance he had nothing but material stuff! There is a measuring stick here. The depth of the man's spiritual life was inversely proportional to the importance he placed on material things. He was rich in earthly belongings but bankrupt in eternal blessings!

"Now -- all the things you have accumulated for yourself," the voice of God rings out, "Whose will they be now?" There could be no clearer pronouncement of the old line, "You can't take it with you." [I once had a stewardship chairman who could never resist telling his favorite quote whenever the subject of material things came up. "It is true that you can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead!"]

Jesus' final words in this story are a strong call to self examination for the crowd which had gathered. His words translate to this. "This is the way it is for people who grab all they can for themselves but have no room for God in their lives."

The critical question that comes out of our scripture today is this: You achieve everything you have envisioned for your life -- then what? Is it possibly time for a "tune up" of your spiritual navigation system?

[Apply It]

Jesus' story provides a kind of a mirror in which we can stop and examine our inner lives. It is a mirror that helps us look at our priorities.
1. Off the top of your head, what are the three most important things in your life? (Quickly -- you want your first impressions)
2. Did any of your possessions make your list?
3. Does this tell you anything?
4. How does the allocation of your time and energy line up with your answers?!


Notes on The Text

v. 13 The Rabbi was frequently called upon to settle disputes between family members. The judiciary was the religious community.

v.14 The NRSV "Friend" is actually "anthropos" - "man". Friend perhaps in the sense of "Sir... who made me..." Reading the wider context shows that this fellow's question has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on as Jesus teaches a large crowd on some critical spiritual issues. His interruption betrays an unhealthy attachment to material possessions.

v.15 "Take Care" = "discern clearly" From a root word meaning to stare at. The idea is to focus with intensity so as to discern the reality of the situation. Greed = "pleonexia" at root: desiring more -- eager for gain. Greed can only nourish greed and the self becomes more wrapped up in the desire -- fixed on more.

vv.19-20 The word translated "soul" and "life" are the same word -- "psuche" (soul, life, spirit -- from the root meaning "to breathe" -- voluntarily, but gently -- different from pneuma -- forcible respiration) The sense of this dialogue is "life" -- as in "what is my life, existence, soul, being all about?"

Fool = you "aphrone" - lit. "Without a mind or cognitive facilities". "You mindless one!" The word is not used lightly, but in the sense of one who lives life without the knowledge of God as a basis for living.

v.21 Cf. Matthew 6:19 and 25


Alternate Sermon Ideas

"The Old Testament God -- Is a God of Unbelievable Patience and Love!"
Hosea 11:1-11

How many times have you heard a stereotypical comment along the line of, "The God of the Old Testament was a God of Vengeance and War, but the God of the New Testament is a God of love."

You might consider using this text and the whole message of the prophet Hosea to show how it is that the God of the Old Testament is, in fact, a God of the most amazing patience and love.

1. Tell a bit of the story of the marriage of Hosea and Gomer. (Explain the fact that prophetic actions in the Old Testament were frequently dramatic and symbolic).

2. Not only does Hosea love Gomer -- and God love Israel, but that love goes way beyond what most people today would put up with!

3. In this scripture, God is not a God of wrath, vengeance and punishment -- indeed this is a God who holds even deserved judgement in abeyance. (vv.8-9)

4. Point out the many times in Judges when Israel abandoned God and then cried out to God and God responded to their cries every time.

In other words... there is a consistency to the biblical notion that God is a God of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Way beyond the limits of human understanding! This is a God whose love is "from everlasting to everlasting" and "whose mercy endures forever!"


"How To Become A New Person" ~ Colossians 3:1-11

The Colossians passage presents an opportunity to present the issue of becoming a "new person" as a process and not a magical "snap job." [You might also use II Corinthians 5:17... "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation..."] While the idea of "instantaneous" conversion and elimination of the "old self" is appealing -- it can be misleading.

Becoming a new person in Christ is not a magical instantaneous of being "zapped", but instead a process which requires discipline, learning and growth. Focus on the verbs in this text:

vv. 1-2 "Seek" and "set" That is work on developing this new "mind-set"
vv.5-7 Now focus on "put to death" and "get rid of" Obviously this is not a "weekend project", but a process that will take discipline and learning. BUT... how?
v.10 The new self is "being renewed in knowledge" ... Use Romans 12:1-2 here to encourage renewal of the "mind". The knowledge we need is the input God gives through the scripture.
v.11 The final thrust of this passage is that authentic renewal that leads to becoming a "new person" also leads to becoming a new, prejudice free community.


Prayers and Readings

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 107)

L: O let us give thanks to the Lord,
P: For the love of God will never end.
L: Let we who love God be unashamed to declare it,
P: Because God has answered our cries for help.
L: The Lord our God has met our every need,
P: We will therefore proclaim the love of the Lord!

A Prayer of Dedication

We worship you, O Lord with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, with all of our spirits and with all our strength. We offer these gifts as a token of our desire to belong fully to you. Free us, we pray, from the obsession of possession and fill our hearts with the true treasure of your eternal kingdom. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

O Lord God of mercy and great compassion, your love has encouraged us to come to you with honesty and truth. We confess that we can not free ourselves from the grip of desire for earthly things without the work of your Holy Spirit in our lives. Along with the gifts we bring today, we pray that you would receive and renew our hearts for the building of your kingdom. In the name of Jesus our Redeemer we pray. Amen.