************ Sermon on Luke 12:15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 4, 2002
Topic: GreedWow, I thought, when I first received this letter. I can do this. I am honest and trustworthy and meet all the criteria. Visions of everything I could do with my share of $22 million danced through my head.
Title: Money from Nigeria
In the last six months I received two e-mails from a Mr. Abubakar in Nigeria. He claimed to be the personal friend to the son of the late dictator of Nigeria. He wrote that I was recommended to him as an honest and reliable person to whom he can entrust a sum of money.
He explained that the son of the late dictator was using him to send $22 million ill-gotten dollars out of the country. For my help they would give me 20% of the total.
He was confident I would not keep all of the money like someone in Germany did a year ago.
He asked me to send him my address, fax and phone number, and bank account number. He assured me of confidentiality.
He hoped to hear from me immediately.
Of course, I didn't actually write back to Mr. Abubakar. Nor did I give him my bank account number. Because it sounded too good to be true. And, you don't get something for nothing. But, I have to confess I was tempted by greed.
In looking at greed we continue our study this evening of what the medieval church identified as the seven deadly sins. The seven deadly sins are those predispositions or attitudes that we have as sinners that lead us to sin, destructive behavior, and eventually eternal hell fire. Of course, as people forgiven by the blood of Christ and made new by the Spirit of Christ we are able – imperfectly, mind you – to deny our sinful self and display instead the fruit of the Spirit.
I A Greedy Person
A In our Scripture reading someone in the crowd surrounding Jesus said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Everyone listening to Jesus understands what has happened. A father has died and now his sons are arguing about their inheritance. It is shameful when children fight with each other about the parting gift of their parents. Now, according to custom and law in Palestine the proportion of inheritance was fixed – the eldest son always receives double what any of the other sons receives. In other words, there is absolutely no reason for argument or disagreement on the part of the two brothers.
Psalm 133:1 reflects on how "good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity." This is normal, what is expected, between blood brothers and brothers in the Lord too. However, in this case, there obviously is no unity. Jesus pinpoints greed as being the reason for the disunity. One of the sons wants more than he is entitled to by custom or by law.
Jesus uses this as an opportunity to warn about the danger of greed. "Watch out! Be on our guard against all kinds of greed ..."
B Greed can cause quarrels among brothers – as was the case with the man before Jesus. But that's not all. A couple of months ago I was hiking with Gerard Niessink through the Mojave Desert. He warned me to watch for mine shafts that sank deep down into the desert. I was amazed at the number of holes we came across. Now, you need to understand that this is in the middle of the desert. When these mines were dug in the 1800s all food and water and supplies and equipment needed to come in by horses and mules – no roads or trails for wagons, no railroads, no four wheel-drive vehicles. Hot days, cool nights, rattle snakes, Indians. And, they would dig shafts 100 or more feet down or a couple of hundred feet into the side of a cliff. Cave-ins were a common occurrence. What motivated the miners to endanger themselves and to put up with all of this? Greed!
A couple of years ago we were hiking with Joost and Anita in the mountains by Mineral King. We climbed to 9500 feet. Halfway up a cliff we saw White Chief Mine. John Crabtree, the person who developed the mine, claimed that he and two other ranchers from the Porterville area, were led to the mine by the spirit of a great Indian chief. One August night in 1872 they were sitting around a campfire and this giant Indian chief appeared to them in a vision and asked them to follow him. After an all-night journey the chief brought them to the entrance of a natural cave, where the chief said they would find veins of pure gold. When Crabtree and the others returned to the San Joaquin Valley, their preposterous story started a gold rush at Mineral King. Merchants and bankers and others invested millions of dollars in the White Chief Mine. Yet, do you know how much gold and silver it produced? Not even one bar! Why was Crabtree foolish enough to start White Chief Mine on the basis of a vision? Why did investors risk and lose millions? Greed!
I want you to consider, also, the corporate scandals that have rocked the stock market. Why did Worldcom lie about $4 billion in expenses? Why did Enron lead investors astray and why did its accountants go along with this? Why did a host of other corporations overstate earnings and understate expenses? Greed!
It isn't only miners and corporations who are guilty of greed. Churches and other Christian organizations are too.
In a recent elaborate swindle scheme, New Era Philanthropy promised to double an organizations's money in only 9 months. Many evangelical organizations and churches. Some Christian Colleges have lost their entire endowments. Unfortunately, nobody stopped to sniff the air. Now some of the worthiest nonprofits and the savviest philanthropists in the country are creditors in bankruptcy court facing potentially enormous losses.
Mr. Tony Carnes says he spent much of a year trying to discourage colleges from participating in New Era's program but met with scant success:
They could just taste the money. I've never seen anything like it. The weakness around the mouth, the desire in the eyes. I've always heard the expression, "You can see greed written," but I've seen the reality.
-- Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1995, p. A4.
In light of all this, it is any wonder that Jesus warns us about greed? "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed ..."
II Life Does Not Consist of Abundant Possessions
A What really is greed? Greed is an insatiable desire for more: more money, more gold, more silver, more possessions, more toys, more land, more cows. The greedy person is never satisfied. There never comes a moment when he or she says "enough."
This means that the man who petitioned Jesus will not have his problem resolved if Jesus intervenes on his behalf and if his brother gives him what he wants. He might be satisfied for a while but he won't be satisfied for long. There will come a time when greed will raise its ugly head again. So Jesus says,
(Lk 12:15) "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
Greedy people measure life's worth and value by the abundance of possessions. He or she is judged most successful who has the most money, the biggest dairy, the most expensive car, the biggest investment portfolio, the most recreational vehicles, the biggest home, or the best vacation home on the beach or in the mountains.
Jesus is not saying it is wrong to have riches. Nor is He saying it is wrong to have a savings plan or an IRA. We all realize that a certain amount of material goods is necessary for life. What Jesus is saying is that a greater abundance of goods does not mean a greater abundance of life.
Jesus drives home this point by telling the man and the crowd the Parable of the Rich Fool.
B In this parable we see a man who is already rich. On top of this, with no extra effort on his part, he is given even more riches through God's gift of a bumper crop. He did not earn it and he did not need it.
This unearned and unneeded wealth gives the rich man of our parable a problem: what to do with his unexpected windfall.
His solution is to tear down his barns and build bigger ones in which to store his grain and his goods.
Is he storing the grain and goods there until the priests and Levites come to collect his tithe and offerings? That's what many people did at the time of Jesus. Is he storing them there until a time of famine to feed the poor and hungry? That's what Joseph did in Egypt.
Our rich man has other things in mind. He is storing his unexpected wealth, keeping it safe, for his future well-being. He is planning to take life easy; he doesn't have to do any more work; he can surround himself with servants to do his every bidding and doesn't have to lift even a finger. With all of his wealth he can now eat, drink, and be merry without a care in the world (vs 19; cf Isaiah 22:13-14).
God, however, has something entirely different in mind. God speaks to the man and says,
(Lk 12:20) "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"This reminds me of what is written in Psalm 49:
(Ps 49:12-14) But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. (13) This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. (14) Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.God reminds the man that we leave the earth like we came into the earth – with nothing!
C Why does God call the rich man of the parable a fool?
The rich man was a fool because in his greed he thought abundant goods meant abundant life. He thought he was really living because he was rich and able to take life easy. He needed to learn that real living does not happen because he had bread and water or steak and wine; rather, real living happens when he lives life before God.
The rich man was a fool because in his greed he prepared for the wrong future. He prepared for his future life on earth but gave no thought to a future life in heaven. He amassed treasure on earth without amassing treasure in heaven.
The rich man was a fool because in his greed he worked for the wrong reason. According to Paul, the Christian should work for two reasons. First, so that he will not be a burden on others (2 Thess 2:7-12). Second, so that he may be able to give to those in need (Eph 4:28). But the man of our parable worked so he could eat, drink, and be merry; he worked so he could take life easy. This man had the same mentality as many people today who live and work for their weekends and vacations.
The rich man was a fool because in his greed he thought of everything as his. "My barns, my grain, my goods." He had no sense that it was a gift and a trust from God. He had no sense that the barns, the grain, the goods, and even his soul belonged first of all to God (cf Psalm 24).
The rich man was a fool because in his greed he did not consider the needs of the hungry. He worried about where to store his excess crops while all around him were the mouths of the needy; God blessed him so richly so he would store his food in the bellies of those who were hungry.
D When God speaks to him, what is the rich fool's response? Does he have a foxhole conversion? Does he repent and believe and prepare to meet His Maker? We are not told. Likewise, we are not told the response of the man who talked to Jesus – we don't know if we rushed to his brother's side and settled the argument about their father's estate.
There is a reason for the silence. Jesus wants each of us to answer out of our own soul. He wants us to consider if we are like the greedy man quarreling with his brother. He wants us to consider if we are like the rich fool. He wants us to consider if we too are full of greed.
III Rich Towards God, Contentment
A "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." If man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, what does it consist of then? Jesus tells us in verse 21 that it is more important to be "rich toward God" than to be rich in earthly things.
You aren't rich towards God, obviously, if you are greedy. If you don't share with the needy. If you think of everything as yours rather than His. If you live and work for yourself and your own enjoyment. If you think real living means excess food, clothing, shelter, toys, luxuries, and so on.
What does it mean to be rich towards God? You are rich towards God if you use and enjoy riches the way God intends them to be used and enjoyed.
You are rich towards God if you share with the needy, support the causes of the church and kingdom, seek treasure in heaven, and recognize that what you have belongs first of all to God.
You are rich towards God if your first goal in life is to pursue God and Christ rather than amass earthly treasure.
You are rich towards God if your relationship with Him counts more than your pleasure and enjoyment.
You are rich towards God if prayer and Bible reading and worship attendance and church work is not neglected for the sake of work and self.
B "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." If man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, what does it consist of then? The second thing we can say is that man's life consists of contentment. Paul can write to Timothy, "But godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6:6).
When you are greedy and pursue wealth and riches, you are never satisfied and often end up in ruin.
(1Tim 6:9) People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.You might gain the world, but you end up losing your soul (Mk 8:36). But when you pursue godliness and contentment you might lose the world, but you also end up gaining your soul.
Greed is not absent from us, whether we are a child who doesn't want to share toys or an adult who always craves more. Jesus knows this about us. That's why He warns us so strongly:
(Lk 12:15) "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page