13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! (Watch out!) Be on your guard against all kinds of greed/covetousness; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
One of my favorite comedians is a guy named Jim Gaffigan(don’t worry, friends, he’s clean, he mostly just talks about food). He starts off one of his acts, in front of a typical secular audience by saying, “I want everyone to feel comfortable tonight, that’s why I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.” Pretty good, right?
I was trying to think what the church member or Christian equivalent of that joke would be … and friends, I think I figured it out. Here it goes. “I do want everyone to feel comfortable this morning, that’s why I’d like to talk to you about … money.”
That’s right, this morning we are going to talk about money.
This morning we continue on in our summer sermon series on the parables, and today we’re going to look at what’s called The Parable of the Rich Fool, and this one is all about money, or more broadly, how we steward all that God has entrusted us with.
Now for what it’s worth, this is the first time that I have spoken about money at any real length since I first arrived 10+ months ago and it’s not a sermon I will give all that often, and so if by any chance this is your first Sunday worshipping with us, well how’s this for a fun roll of the dice?
Anyway, all kidding aside, here’s the bottom line. The reason why it’s important for us to talk about money and stewardship is because the bible talks about it. We need to talk about it because the bible has a lot to say about it.
You see, Jesus himself talked a lot about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. One out of ten verses in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money and in total, the Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, yet more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Any way you crunch the numbers, it is clear that money matters to Jesus.
Now, why that is, is hard to say. Jesus doesn’t directly say why. But here’s a guess –
(And by the way, this will be a pretty long preamble before we get to our actual parable this morning, but hang tight, we’ll get there, I promise.)
As for why the bible has so much to say about money, we don’t fully know, but here’s a guess -
And this comes from Christian financial advisor, Ron Blue. Where he says that money works in two distinct ways.
First, is that money is like a window. That is money, and the way we steward it, reveals the deepest desires of our heart. How we think about and spend our money often reflects the things that we find our meaning and purpose in.
If a stranger were to ask you, “What do you love, value, cherish?”, your first thought might be, “Hey, how about we get to know each other a little first?” Besides, you might have no clue how to answer that question. But yet here’s the thing, there’s a very good chance that the answer is right there on your credit card statement or budget. Where your money goes is often a reflection of what our hearts wants most. And that be kind of scary.
But yet, at the same time, here’s the beautiful thing about money. Money is not only a window, but it’s also a door. Money not only reveals what the heart wants, but it’s also one of the means in which Jesus can get to our hearts. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Think about that. That means that our hearts go where our money goes, and so trusting Jesus when it comes to stewarding our money is one of the ways Jesus makes our hearts right too. In addition, money, when rightly stewarded, is one of the ways in which we can bring Jesus healing to our community and see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
This, I think, is why the bible talks so much about money. Yes, it may be a window that reveals our hearts, but it’s also a door a way in which Jesus can change our hearts too.
Now, a couple more things before we dive into our parable this morning. And that is, something I know about you and something I want you to know about me.
I know that this is a generous church. I’ve known that from the very first day Callie and I got here when a couple dozen of you helped us move in. So many of you have given faithfully, cheerfully and sacrificially over these years and for that we want to say thank you. As for this year, 2019, we’re in a good place for where we are in the summer calendar and with four months in the fiscal year to go. Thank you for all that you have given to the mission and ministry here at First Pres.
And friends, I’ve also seen your generosity outside of this church too. One of the most encouraging things I’ve seen here in Dillon is that when I go to Barrett Hospital to visit people or to the HS gym for basketball game, I see your names, a list of people who have donated to great causes here in our town. I just think that’s so beautiful.
You are a generous church when it comes to stewarding your time, talents and treasures and for that I am so grateful.
And secondly, here’s something I need you to know about me. I am no expert when it comes to money and Lord knows, I have made plenty of mistakes with it and I’ve been stingier at times than I’d like to admit. And so I need you to know that I have a lot to learn on this subject and that I am trying to preach this to myself as much as I am to you.
So there you go. Something I know about you and something I need you to know about me.
Third: stewardship is more than treasure.
Alright, let’s get to our story for today. Our parable today comes in response to a question that is asked of Jesus, where a man says,
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
And so Jesus responds first by essentially saying, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my job” but then seems to also sense that this man’s greed is what’s driving his question. He’s sensing that this man cares a little too much about his inheritance and about money in general -
And so he tells the audience a parable -
And here’s how the parable begins …
It says, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.”
And so the question before this man will be, “What does he do with an abundant crop?” He was already rich to begin with, and now he’s been blessed with more crops than he knows what to do with. So what will he do?
But yet, before we see what he decides, I want you to see something. This might be one of the most important parts of the parable. Notice what it says in this first line.
It says, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” It does not say, “A rich man produced an abundant crop.” No, it says, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.” It is Jesus’s subtle way of saying that everything we have is a gift from a good and gracious God. Every time we are blessed with abundance, we ought to trace it back to a good and gracious God. Now, I’m not dismissing the value and dignity of a hard day’s work. Not at all. But yet, do we have the eyes to see that the land that he has given where crops can grow, the minds that he has given us to learn and grow and dream and create, the strength he has given us to do physical labor, it’s all a gift from a good and gracious God. Friends, everything we have belongs to God. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Him.
This is essential when it comes to giving. If we see what we have as only and exclusively a product of our own efforts, then we will most likely be very reluctant to give, because we’ll see what we have as something that we deserve and something that others don’t. But yet, if we see it as a gift from God, then we can joyfully and freely give because we ourselves received it as a gift.
Alright, let’s continue on in our story. The land of a rich man produced abundantly and now he has more than he knows what to do with. So he’s got a decision to make. Should he share it and give some away or should he keep it for himself? He thinks to himself …
‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
So to recap, what does he do with the excess? He decides to keep it. He plans for retirement. And so the man has every intention to live lavishly, quit his day job once and for all and ride into the sunset.
And for all that, God looks at the rich man and says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you!”
Now, this all begs the question, “Is Jesus and is the bible anti-retirement?” I am sure some of you are wondering about this very question. Because at first glance we see a man who has an abundance and saves it so that he can be secure until the day he dies. And so you might be thinking, “Wait, is the bible fundamentally opposed to the idea of retirement?
And in short, I believe the answer is no. I don’t think the bible is against retirement per se, or against wise financial planning or savings accounts or 401K’s, although to be clear I do believe that retirement should look remarkably different for a follower of Jesus than someone who is not, but that’s another sermon entirely.
All that to say, I don’t think the bible is against retirement.
But even still, based on the strong words that God has for him, there’s clearly something wrong with how this man thinks about what he’s been given and how he stewards it.
One key problem is that it’s clear that this man uses his wealth for himself only and is totally blind or selfish to the possibility to sharing it with anyone else. Even the way he talks and thinks reveals his self centeredness when it comes to money. He says, “I” six times. He even starts talking in the third person at one point, and calls himself, “Soul.” Who talks like this? This man for whatever reason when he sees his wealth only sees himself.
Friends, some of you have been blessed by God with the ability to make lots of money. While others are following the money, it feels like money is following you. For those of you who have been blessed with a lot of money, hear this: Whatever God gives to his people, he plans to give through them to others who need what they have. You have been blessed to be a blessing.
And so that’s at least one problem this man has when it comes to his wealth. When he sees his wealth, he only sees himself.
But here’s another, and maybe bigger problem this man has, and that is he sees his wealth as simply a means by which he can comfortably make it to his death bed. A means by which he can survive and thrive throughout retirement. He clearly does not see his wealth and abundance as a means by which he can bring positive change and good to those around him. Now again, to reiterate, accumulating wealth for the sake of retirement is not a bad thing to pursue, it just should not be the only thing. Even worse, if money is simply a means to retirement, it may be rooted in the false belief that this world is all there is, that heaven is not real, that eternity is an illusion and that while were here on earth, we’ve got to make the most of it and squeeze out every last drop.
This man sees his wealth in light of his earthly life, in light of retirement, but friends, God wants us to think much more long term. He wants us to see our wealth in light of eternity.
So there, are at least two things that are problematic about how this man thinks about and stewards his wealth.
Now with all that said, this story leaves us with an unanswered question. You see, on one hand, we know by looking at this passage that hoarding our every penny is foolish and poor stewardship, but yet we also know by looking at scripture in its entirety that saving our money and practicing good financial planning is a wise endeavor.
So this passage leaves us with a question that I’m sure you’re all asking,just how much should I give? Or to use the language of the parable, “Just how much should I give away, and how much do I put in the barn?”
And to answer those question, we have to talk about the biblical practice of tithing. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the concept of tithing, that is, giving 10% to the local church. And I think that is a really helpful barometer. The tithe is a concept we first see in the Old Testament and then later honored by Jesus in the New Testament.
And I think tithing is a good and healthy practice to commit to. But yet, I’m also of the opinion, that a strict “everyone should give 10% always” doesn’t always get at the complexities of life and the nature of human heart.
For example, for a family of four living on the poverty line, giving 10% is incredibly costly. And yet for someone who is incredibly wealthy, giving 10% can feel like almost nothing.
So with that in mind, here are two diagnostic questions that I have found helpful praying over and thinking through when trying to discern how just much to give:
1) Do I give to the point that it requires real sacrifice on my part?
I think that’s part of this rich man’s problem. He’s eliminated any possibility of having to sacrifice anything until the day he dies. He’s going to, as he puts it, “relax, eat, drink and be merry” for the rest of his life. But yet, sacrifice is an essential part of the Christian life. Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, that in order to follow him, we must “Deny ourselves and take up our cross.
And so, when it comes to giving, we ought to give to the point that it demands real sacrifice on our part.
You see, for many people, and many Christians too, giving is the last thing they set aside and therefore the way they live impacts how much they give. That is, people live their lives, spend money where they want to, and if there’s any left at the end of the money, okay, fine, sure, that can go towards giving.
However, the bible’s teaching is just the opposite. The bible talks about giving being the first thing we set aside. So rather than the way we live impacting how much we give, instead we ought to give to the point that how much we give ought to impact the way that we live. By going about it this way, all sorts of hard decisions, tough conversations and sacrifices will naturally follow.
So for example, when Callie and I are sitting down to look at the budget, we want our giving to push us towards questions such as, “Alright, honey, there’s only so much money left - will we put it towards the new piece of furnitureor our upcoming vacation?” It’s questions like that that help us discern how much to give.
And the point in all of this isn’t sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake, or three easy steps to ensuring that you’ll be miserable for the rest of your life. Rather, it’s just the opposite. Jesus is looking out for us. Jesus calls us to sacrifice when it comes to our money because he wants to see our money go towards things of real and eternal value, and to things that will bring us lasting joy rather than temporary happiness. And additionally, he wants to protect our hearts from giving towards those things that won’t.
You see, for some ridiculous reason, I thought that having the financial means to buy a home would bring me contentment forever and for a while there I thought that day would never come because the Seattle real estate market lost its absolute mind. But guess what, now that I own a home, here’s what I’ve learned - the target just keeps moving! There’s always a desire a more. And so by giving, so by giving to the point of real sacrifice, we experience the joy of having less, we begin to cherish those things we do have, most importantly, we remember that real and lasting contentment is found in Christ alone.
So that’s the first question – Do I give to the point that it requires real sacrifice on my part?
And here’s the second and probably more important of the two:
2) Do I give to the point that it increases my faith in Christ?
I think this is the other main problem behind this rich fool’s actions and that is, when it comes to his plan of storing up all his crops, he in a sense has systematically eliminated any need for God to provide until the day he dies. If there’s a drought, who cares? He’s got all he needs. If there’s a flood, so what? He’s got more than enough. He has no need for God anymore.
But yet, when it comes to giving, God wants us to give to the point that it brings us to a place where it increases and stretches our faith, where we’re giving to the point that we’ve got no choice but to trust that God will provide, where it brings us to place, where as we put money in the offering plate, we think to ourselves, “I don’t know about this, this feels like too much, God I’m trusting that you will provide for me.”
A woman at my previous church who’s name is Linda once shared with me her own story of giving and here’s what she shared:
“In the mid 1980s, I wanted to give something to the church. I was a stay-at-home mom, I wanted to give, but money was tight and I needed to ask my husband, who was not a Christian, for the money. The answer was always "no." Years later after we divorced and I had a paying job, I started to give a small amount to the church. Money was still tight, and by being frugal I was making ends meet.“
Linda went on to share that at that time BelPres she went to a class on stewardship where she heard about a woman who shared with her father that she was in a financial crunch, and he asked his daughter, "Are you tithing?" She told him there wasn't enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries. His response was that if she tithed at the beginning of the month, God would provide everything that was needed. So, reluctantly she began to tithe and found God to be faithful. As Linda heard this story it all began to sink in and she felt a desire to tithe.
Linda went on to say, “I can't tell you exactly when I started to tithe, but I was on a journey to start and I did. God has provided so abundantly beyond what I could ask or imagine. After tithing for many years I began to give beyond a tithe. I just kept upping the amount I would give monthly. God has continued to provide. I was able to pay off my house mortgage, able to purchase a new car, and have savings and investments to provide for my children and grandchildren.
Her giving pushed her towards greater and greater faith in Jesus, and in doing so, she had the joy of seeing God provide.
So there you go. Two diagnostic questions to think through.
Lastly, as for how you go about stewarding the rest of your money, friends, the bible says that’s up to you. Above all, remember this. Every dollar in your bank account is an opportunity to bring glory to God. So would that next dollar be best used for needs here at the church? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe it would be best spent on the more expensive house because it allows you to practice hospitality. Or maybe it would be best spent hiring a babysitter so that you can go out on a date night with your spouse or disciple a younger Christian? You are absolutely free in Christ to decide. Every dollar is an opportunity to bring glory to God.
My favorite recent example comes from a family my wife and I know well from our days in the Seattle area. The two of them have a couple young kids and like all kids, they love bouncy houses. And so they started researching where they could find or rent a bouncy house. And they figured out that they could purchase one on Amazon for $1000. And they started to do the math and realized it would be a good investment.
They’ve been using it a ton, their kids love it, they even rent it out to family and friends from time to time for a couple hundred bucks. You guys, my friends are making a killing off this bouncy house! Sorry … that’s actually going against the point I’m trying to make here. Some of you thinking, “Wow, honey, maybe we should get a bouncy house too.”
Anyway, this couple recently started this thing called Bouncy Fridays, where they set up the bouncy house in the backyard, invite anyone and everyone over, church friends, school friends, neighbors, you name it, have a big potluck. Their home has been a place where parents can connect, it’s been a place of community and hospitality for young families as kids bounce on bouncy houses for the glory of God.
So, what do you think? Is that a good use of $1000? I think it is.
Friends, with every dollar in your bank account you and I have an opportunity to bring glory to God.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up and to do that we have to talk about the greatest giver of all time, that is, God himself. You see, in a way, the greatest, fullest expression of God’s love is that he gave.
I’m sure you remember the most well known, most recited, most famous bible verse of all time.
“For God so loved the world that he kept …
“For God so loved the world that he took …
“For God so loved the world that he accumulated, invested, diversified his stock portfolio and wisely saved for retirement …
No, no, no. Wait a second. That’s not it.
“For God so loved the world that he gave”
“For God so loved the world that he gavehis one and only Son …
Jesus himself, who was with God from the beginning, who had insurmountable riches, who had a first class seat up in heaven, who had the complimentary adult beverages, free DVD player and warm towels and who came down to this earth who was born into a poor family, who was a vagabond throughout his entire life, God himself coming down to this earth, trading his first class seat for a seat in coach, next to the crying babies and smelly bathrooms, so that whoever believes him shall not perish but will have everlasting life.
Friends, when we give, we remind ourselves that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions.
Friends, when we give, experience the joy of having less and remind ourselves that true contentment is found in Christ alone.
Friends, when we give, we show the world that our faith and hope isn’t in our money, but in our good and gracious God.
Friends, when we give, we bring Jesus’s healing and change people lives in our neighborhoods, our schools, our hospitals, the town of Dillon and beyond.
Friends when we give, we as the people of God rehearse the story of God. We reflect the heart of God. A God who, true to his very nature, gave.
Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”