Text: Luke 12:13-21
This sermon is focused on the stewardship of money. Rev. Christopherson raises great questions and delivers great insight into the idea that Jesus was delivering of being a steward of the wealth that we are given.
This is one of a four sermon series focused on developing a picture of a biblical steward. The series is titled, "Making the Most of All We've Been Given." The stewardship topics are time, money, lives and creation.
Making the Most of Our Money
May 4, 2008 Luke 12:13-21
Pastor Vern Christopherson
After my dad died, the eight children in my family got together to divide up the family inheritance. My brother, Henrik, got a set of hand-carved Norwegian fisherman--a family heirloom. I got a box full of my dad's old sermon notes. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. I hadn't found those sermons all that interesting the first time around. I certainly wasn't planning on going through them again. And so there was a slight twinge of jealously on my part because my brother had landed the big prize.
Anything like that ever happen to you? It's an old and familiar story which shows up in today's gospel. Jesus is teaching in Galilee. People are coming to hear him by the thousands. Luke says they are trampling on each other in an effort to get close. Someone in the crowd speaks up: "Teacher, tell my brother to give me my fair share of the inheritance."
In case you didn't know, the Old Testament has a number of inheritance laws covering pretty much everything from Norwegian fishermen to sermon notes. The man in the crowd might have a legitimate gripe, but we probably need to take his request with a grain of salt. After all, there's a fine line between wanting what's fair and simply wanting too much.
Jesus refuses to take the bait. "Who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" he says. The word Jesus uses literally means divider. Clearly Jesus is not in the business of breaking up families. So, instead of getting mixed up in a sticky family dispute, Jesus issues a warning. "Take care!" he says, "Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
Think that's a warning we still need today? Probably more than ever. Did you know there are now 30,000 self-storage facilities in our country? Because our closets are full, we spend $12 billion a year creating room for all our extra possessions. Did you know there's a phenomenon called "re-stuffing" going on in our culture? Re-stuffing happens when people, in the process of cleaning out closets and drawers, are stimulated to go out and buy new stuff. Did you know that last night's winning Power Ball ticket for $180 million was purchased by someone in Minnesota? But you don't care about those sorts of things, do you?
I recently heard a story on NPR saying that burglaries are on the decline in our country. Why? In the words of one burglar, "There's no money in it. Everybody already has everything." Says the burglar, "Everybody I know already has a digital camera, an iPod knockoff, and pirated DVDs shipped in from China. And forget about last year's video games and old laptops. People want new stuff."
Jesus drives home his point about greed by telling a parable. There's a certain rich man who is a farmer. His land produces a bumper crop. When he discovers that his barns aren't big enough, he gets the bright idea of tearing them down and building bigger ones. As he sees it, bigger and better is the only way to go.
He sounds ambitious. So what's the problem? It's not necessarily a problem for this guy to be rich. Riches in the Bible are often neutral. They can even be looked upon as a sign of God's blessing. No, the problem is that he thinks his money is enough to bring security and happiness to his soul. He sits back in his Lazy-Boy, grabs the remote, and says to himself, "I have ample goods laid up for years. I'm going to relax., eat, drink, and be merry." He might as well have added, "This is all about me."
Notice the language that the rich man uses: my harvest, my barns, my grain, my goods. He's like a two-year-old hanging on to a toy for dear life. It's mine. Finally God decides to lower the boom, "You fool. This very night your soul is demanded of you. And your great big barns, whose will they be?"
Now, I don't know about you, but this parable makes me nervous. I've got a lot of stuff; my closets are full. It also makes me nervous when God shows up--this is the only parable where that happens. It must be serious.
What's Jesus trying to tell us? Maybe he's simply warning us about greed. Our itch for bigger and better can certainly get us in trouble; we've got the credit card bills to prove it. But I think it's more than that. I think Jesus is trying to get through to us that our greed can be a form of idolatry. We are spiritual beings with spiritual hungers. We hunger for meaning, for love, for beauty, for joy, for purpose, for God. But too often we try to satisfy our deep-down spiritual hungers with physical stuff. And it just doesn't work. We only end up wanting more.
The rich man isn't a fool because he wants a pleasant retirement. He's a fool because he believes that the storage of grain--a life of ease, an impressive 401k--solves the problem of human existence. In short, he worships at the shrine of the bulging barn.
Materialism has always been one of God's main rivals. If I take out my wallet and look inside, I find a couple of twenties, a receipt for gas, an insurance card, a driver's license, a couple of credit cards. But this little piece of leather symbolizes more than that, doesn't it? This is our version of bulging barns. This is our temple of the 21st century. All too often we are led to believe that our happiness is directly tied up with what's inside. But then Jesus comes along and says, "Don't be a fool! You want to be happy? Try being rich toward God."
I'm not exactly sure what Jesus means by that, but I have a hunch that being rich toward God means being less concerned about a set of Norwegian fishermen and more concerned about a relationship with my brother. It means worshipping at an altar where we can satisfy our deepest hungers. It means holding on to our stuff a little less tightly. It means asking God to make us more generous, because generosity is the best antidote to materialism we can get.
The Christians in Macedonia were rich toward God. We heard about them in our lesson for today (2 Cor 8:1-7). The Apostle Paul had asked them if they wanted to contribute to the offering he was collecting for the Christians in Jerusalem. These Christians were suffering a severe famine; they were starving to death. The Macedonians had very little money to spare, but they wanted to help. Paul writes, "Their abundant joy and extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity." How did they do that? Paul gives us a hint: "They gave themselves first to the Lord." They dedicated their lives to putting God first. By the time Paul collected his offering, they begged for the privilege of participating. Giving was not something they had to do; it was something they wanted to do.
So, are you rich toward God? It's one of the greatest challenges we face in a materialistic culture. At the heart of it, we are called to put God first, to worship at an altar where we can satisfy our deepest hungers, to hold onto our stuff a little less tightly, to be generous with all we've been given.
We are in the middle of our capital campaign, Faithful Living, Generous Giving. To be perfectly honest, some days this campaign has felt more like a "have to" than a "want to." Granted, this is the third time around for us. We're going through an uncertain economic time that is making us anxious. Many of us already are stretched thin. In the midst of these challenges, it's easy to wonder: Can we do this?
At the annual meeting in January, we set our priorities for the campaign. That hasn't kept questions from coming up: Why don't we try paying the mortgage out of our general budget? Why do we need a mission component? Why not just focus on paying down the principle? Why spend the money on outside help? Why not find another way to pay for the parking lot? Isn't $160,000 a lot to spend on an organ?
Please hear me: these are good questions. I think it's important to have healthy and robust dialog about our priorities. But here's the truth: when all is said and done, we're not going to agree about everything in this campaign. We're going to have honest differences of opinion.
Some of you might be wondering if you can contribute to a campaign when there are priorities you don't approve of. That's a decision you'll have to wrestle with, but I would ask you to think twice about it. After all, we're a family. It's not just about you or me. It's about all of us together. We're trying to accomplish something in mission. We're trying to raise up disciples of Jesus. We're trying to build strong households of faith in this generation and the next.
Nobody ever said paying for a $4.1 million building project was going to be easy. No, this is a process. As a process, this is our chance to work together. This is our chance to pray together. This is our chance to make sacrifices together. This is our chance to grow in our giving to the goal of tithing. This is our chance to give ourselves first to the Lord. This is our chance to be rich toward God. In the end, I would hope that we could be like the Macedonians, and see this as something we want to do and not as something we have to do.
Somebody once said: Contentment is not having what you want; it's wanting what you have. I like that. We probably need to be reminded of that often. It's so easy to get carried away with stuff, whether it be a family heirloom or a bulging barn or a 401k. It's so easy to forget that everything we have ultimately belongs to God. We are merely stewards. Our job is to take care of things, to make the most of all we've been given.
Are you looking for a little contentment? Why not try putting God first? Try worshipping at an altar where your deepest needs are met. Try holding on to things a little less tightly. Try giving a little more generously. Try being rich toward God.
As Jesus sees it, an opportunity to be rich toward God beats a set of hand-carved Norwegian fishermen any day. Amen.
Other sermons in the series:
Making the Most of our Time
Making the Most of our Planet
Making the Most of our Self
Rev. Vern Christopherson is Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration in Bloomington, MN and a Doctor of Mininstry student at Luther Seminary.