Stewardship Resource

offline Affluenza - 2002 Eternal Treasures: The Great Delusion

Sermon  Sermon
  • Author: Mike Foss is the Senior Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, MN
  • Updated: 07/09/2008
  • Copyright: Mike Foss

In this sermon, Pastor Foss tackles the challenge of materialism (Afluenza): 

"The great delusion we live with is that we really can buy happiness. So, let's listen to those who had incredible wealth in the past. W. H. Vanderbilt said, "The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it." John D. Rockefeller put it this way, "I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness." Andrew Carnegie said, "Millionaires seldom smile." (Alcorn,The Treasure Principle, p. 50) And when we look at those who have come into sudden wealth-lottery winners, for example-we discover that their lives are more miserable after the windfall than before. The happiest billionaire I know is a man who has decided to "die broke" by giving away his entire estate while he is still alive. His joy is now in giving to great causes for Christian ministry."


This is the third of four sermons on the theme, 2002 Eternal Treasures.



Text: Luke 12: 13-21 
Theme: Eternal Treasures: The Great Delusion 


Preached by Pastor Milke Foss

The PBS television program was entitled "Affluenza." The program addressed what it calls "the modern-day plague of materialism." Some of the claims made on the show are startling. The average American shops six hours a week while spending forty minutes playing with their children. By age twenty, on average, we will have seen 20 million commercials. Recently, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college. In 90 percent of divorce cases, arguments about money play a prominent role. (Alcorn,The Treasure Principle, p. 50)

Jesus calls you and me to health and wellness. That is one of the reasons why he spends so much time speaking about the issue of wealth. Our Lord never speaks against our need to provide for ourselves and our families in this world. Jesus speaks most frequently about the seduction of money. The disease of "affluenza" is the product of succumbing to the seduction of money and the things it buys. We are infected with "affluenza" when the time we spend getting things so far out-paces the time we give to our children. We suffer from the disease called materialism when those 20 million commercials define more of our lives than the deepest values we hold. After nearly thirty years of ministry, I can tell you that money is one of the two greatest issues that plague Americans in this time. When we are sick, what is normally true about our bodies and, consequently, our lives is no longer operating. In this sense, we can see why the PBS producers spoke of the "plague of materialism." When materialism-the valuing of things more than others-overtakes us, that which is normal and true is distorted. And, like all diseases, it feeds on itself-the more we get, the more we think we need. An important distinction needs to be made here. Materialism and capitalism are not the same thing. One is an economic system or form. The other is an abuse, of ourselves and others, no matter what economic system is functioning.

The antidote for "affluenza" is an eternal perspective. In the Gospel of Luke we see how Jesus addresses a request with a parable. The request is that he would instruct a man's brother to share the inheritance. The parable is about a farmer inflicted with the disease of "affluenza." It is not the farmer's success that is at issue in the parable. What is at issue is the farmer's disregard of eternity. The farmer acts as if he will never die, accumulates more and bigger things, and then, his life is forfeit. The last words of Jesus make this clear: "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?'" (vs. 20) The trust of things is the issue.

But how does the parable fit with the request? The request devalues a relationship between brothers because of an inheritance. Jesus tells us that life is so much more than things: "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possession." (vs. 15) In my years of caring for people in the position of the farmer of the parable, those dying, I have yet to hear one say to me that they wished they'd worked more and gotten more wealth. I have heard some express concern for providing for their loved ones.but never the getting and keeping of things. Giving is the only antidote to the disease before us today.

The great delusion we live with is that we really can buy happiness. So, let's listen to those who had incredible wealth in the past. W. H. Vanderbilt said, "The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it." John D. Rockefeller put it this way, "I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness." Andrew Carnegie said, "Millionaires seldom smile." (Alcorn,The Treasure Principle, p. 50) And when we look at those who have come into sudden wealth-lottery winners, for example-we discover that their lives are more miserable after the windfall than before. The happiest billionaire I know is a man who has decided to "die broke" by giving away his entire estate while he is still alive. His joy is now in giving to great causes for Christian ministry.

Most of us here know the great delusion is just that-a fantasy. What, then, are the roadblocks to getting well? First, there is the denial of just going along. In our society it is hard to be different. When we look at the changes we think we ought to make, we also see the energy it will take and judge it to be too much. Second, we confuse providing well with getting more. These are not the same. Meeting our basic needs and living well is lost as we strive to get more and more, and most of us know it. Third, we fail to see that God intends wealth to be an investment. God invests our creativity, drive and abilities in this world so that two goals are achieved. The first is that you and your family are taken care of. The second is that you will invest your life and a portion of your wealth so that others are taken care of. It's all that simple. That's why the Bible teaches tithing.

The prophet Malachi, immediately after receiving the promise of the Messiah and his forerunner, speaks of tithing. We read, "Will anyone rob God? Yet, you are robbing me! But you say, 'How are we robbing you?' In your tithes and offerings. Bring the full tithe (10%) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." (Malachi 3:8-10) The tithe is 10 percent of our take-home pay. God doesn't demand all that we have. God demands a tithe: as an expression of our willingness to trust in God's provision for us and our obedience in being God's investments in this world. The amazing thing is that when we discover that the tithe is equitable for all and that God will bless us through our willingness to give, most of us end up giving much more! Although God owns everything we have, which we have only on loan, God instructs us to start by returning 10 percent to God-and, according to this text, most of it ought to come to God through the church. God knows that the antidote to the disease of "affluenza," the way over the roadblocks to our health and wellness, is to give.

So, let's get started. In 1Thessalonians 5 we read, "But you, beloved, are not in darkness.for you are all children of light and children of the day." (vs. 4) In the light of God's eternal truth, let's get started. In the light of what we see clearly when we expose the great delusion to the light of day, let's get started. In the light of God's promise to pour out blessings from heaven, a promise fulfilled in Jesus' death and resurrection, let's get started.

We start by putting first things first. First, look at your paycheck or the money you receive from your investments. Then, take 10 percent of those figures-that is your tithe. Next, make a commitment to move to the tithe as soon as you can. When my wife and I first looked at our giving and made the commitment to tithe, it took us three or four years to get there. If you can't do it all at once, make a strong start by increasing your giving by a percentage that makes it clear to you what your goal is and that you have every intention of getting there. Then, make your gift the first fruits. Give your offering off the top-make the first bill you pay your return on God's investment in you.

Then, share your commitment. If you are married, we assume this is a commitment you will make as a couple. If you have children, I urge you to tell them about your commitment and why you have made it. If you are single, I urge you to tell one other person whom you trust that you have made this commitment. Next week, we will offer you an opportunity to make this commitment as part of your commitment to discipleship. Come prepared to make it; if you can't come, send it in. But, remember, we don't want to look at them. If you are not here, I am asking you to send them in as a public act of your commitment, but put your commitment in a self-addressed envelope and address it to  the Stewardship Team. When we send the commitments back, you will get yours as well. This is between you and God.

"Pastor Mike," he said, "I can't tell you how much your teaching on the tithe has meant to me and my family. And when you told us you weren't going to look at our pledge, it all made sense. It is between us and God. And we have grown. God has provided for us beyond our dreams, and we know we can be living investments of his. It just feels so good. And there is always enough for what we need.and then some." Jesus Christ wants you to provide for your well-being. Part of that well-being is a commitment to living in the promise of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians-to be children of the light. Will you do it? Amen.

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