The Rich Idiot (A sermon on Luke 12:13-21)

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 

And 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.”  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.”
(Luke 12:13-21)

“Jesus is the Answer!”

When I first became an active Christian back in the early 80’s, that was a popular catch-cry amongst my peers. I’m sure I had a T-shirt with ‘Jesus is the answer’ imprinted on it. Indeed, the slogan became so popular that some others came out with a counter-slogan, with T-shirts, displaying the words, “what was the question?”

The popular pious response to that counter-slogan, of course, was “Jesus is the answer to all your questions”, but, of course, that is simply not true. I had a stand-up comedian convince me of that one night as a part of his routine. As he said, if Jesus were the answer to every question, imagine how boring game shows would become:

“Round two, hands on your buzzers. The first question is …

Bzzzz … Jesus?

That is correct. Next question 

Bzzzz … Jesus?”

Jesus is not the answer to all our questions, as illustrated in today’s Gospel reading:

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13) ‘Speak to the hand’, says Jesus. ‘Ask someone who cares!’ 

Ok. That’s not exactly what He said, but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

“Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14) is the precise response, but it amounts to the same thing. Jesus is radically uninterested in helping this man solve his problem, which is not what we are used to.

It wasn’t’ a trick question from what I can see. Indeed, it may well have been exactly the sort of question that you’d take to your local rabbi and expect him to sort out. This was a family issue, it was a justice issue and, yes, it was a money issue, and I know that money isn’t the most important thing in the world, but, as Zig Ziglar said, “money is not everything but it ranks right up there with oxygen”

When I was young, I never worried about money. I suspect most of us were like that. Why is it that when we don’t have money, we don’t seem to care much about it? We get older and we get credit cards and we get mortgages and some of us get stock portfolios, and then we hire accountants and brokers to keep us out of trouble,

I am ashamed to confess that in recent years I have spent many hours lying awake at night, worrying about money. I used to think that was other people and that I was too spiritual for any of that. Having come close to bankruptcy now on one too many occasions, I confess that it is me too.

Why was I so carefree when I had nothing, and yet have been so anxious when I’ve had relative plenty? The answer is straightforward enough (in my case, at any rate). When I was young, I always knew my dad had my back. He’s not there now.

I think that’s why most of us worry about money. I think it’s just fear.

I appreciate that for some people money is about power. It’s about personal and social significance. It’s about being a somebody and standing out from the pack.

When we look at some of these business people who earn enormous pay-packets, and companies that generate squilliions of dollars in profit, but just seem to want more and more, that’s not about security , is it? It’s something more pathological – a lust for power, a desire to be like God perhaps?

That’s not us, is it? At least it’s not most of us, most of the time, or is there a fine line between wanting security for the future and wanting to replace God?

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

G.K. Chesterton said “Now we could have quite a good debate over whether or not Jesus believed in fairies. That would be a matter of which we could have endless speculative discussion.  However, there is no debate to be had over whether or not Jesus believed that rich people were in big trouble.  The evidence in Scripture is just too great, there are too many stories.  Jesus said too much on the subject.”

It’s true, though we don’t like to admit it. Even the most fundamentalist of preachers who insist that we take everything literally when it comes to the Scriptures, somehow don’t take literally Jesus’ commands about money.

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out.” (Luke 12:33) Jesus didn’t mean that literally, of course, did He, of if He did mean it literally, He obviously wasn’t talking to me.

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ … ‘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? (Luke 12:16-20)

Death is such a sobering reality. It helps us put things in perspective. Indeed, the thing that amazes me, having now taken hundreds of funerals, is not how people find clarity at funerals and suddenly see life in perspective, but rather how quickly they seem to forget after the funeral and manage to go straight back to the treadmill!

Let me conclude by telling you one of my own funeral stories – a simple funeral I took in Dulwich Hill that has always stayed with me.

I can’t remember the name of the deceased now but what I do remember was that she was one of this country’s greatest circus performers. She had been the trapeze artist whose performance was the climax of every show in the big top of one of Australia’s great circuses.

And I spent time with the son of this amazing woman both before and after the funeral, and he told me how, as a boy, he could never watch his mum perform. Indeed, he said that she would always conclude her routine with a particularly dangerous manoeuvre (a triple-somersault with a double twist, or something like that), and that she’d always perform this stunt ‘old school’ (without a safety net)!

The son said that he’d always stand outside of the tent at that point and listen to the crowd. When he heard the drum roll and the crowd gasp, this was when his mum was making the leap, and he would hold his breath. When (an eternity later) he heard the crowd break into rapturous applause, he knew his mum was okay.

She only ever missed the jump once, he told me. She survived, but she never went back to the trapeze again after that.

Anyway, what stayed with me the most from the funeral of this great woman was that in the family reminiscences during the funeral itself, her amazing life on the trapeze barely got a mention! It’s as if the children barely remembered her incredible athletic accomplishments. All they could remember was what a wonderful mum she was!

That says it all for me! When we get to the end of life, all the things that obsess us most today – nobody’s going to remember any of them! That might not be entirely true, but for the most part, the things that we sweat and strain over today, along with all the professional accomplishments that we’ve achieved and the records we’ve set and the degrees we’ve earned – they may get a footnote in our eulogy, but I don’t think my friends and family are really going to care about any of those things very much, let alone about my net worth (if I have any).

Be assured that we all have the same net worth when we are dead. I don’t know the actual value, but dead bodies aren’t worth a lot.

We worry so much about things that really don’t matter, and the flip side of that is that we don’t have the resources – financial or emotional – to devote to the things that really do matter. The trick for me, I know, is simply to keep reminding myself of what I knew when I was young – that my dad has my back, because our Heavenly Father really does have our backs. 

Seek first the Kingdom of God, and everything else will fall into place.

First preached by Father Dave Smith, at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill on Sunday the 4th of August, 2019.

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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