Hosea 11:1-11 – Assyria will rule over Israel because they refuse to repent.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 – Consider the Lord’s loyal love. He delivers.
Psalm 49:1-12- Do not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases. For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them. Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.
Colossians 3:1-11- Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Luke 12:13-21- The Parable of the Rich Fool. ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
The thread running through our texts today is wealth. There are a number Sundays each year where the texts lend themselves to preaching about the use of wealth, or what we in the church often call stewardship. This is one of them. Don’t miss this opportunity. This is a topic in which everyone is interested. You will have their complete, undivided attention. Don’t squander it!
Evangelical preacher Rick Warren, after making millions on his book, once said he had to learn how to manage his affluence and his influence. Both are a kind of currency that can be used for good or bad. They can be leveraged or squandered.
People often quote a passage they think is from the Bible, “Money is the root of all evil.” But that’s not what it says. The passage is from the last chapter of 1Timothy (6:10). It says, pίζα γὰρ πάντων τwν κακwν ἐστιν ἡ φιλαργυρία… Literally, “For a root of all the bad things is love of silver (philarguria).”
I think it helps people to see money like a brick. It can be used to maim or kill, or it can be used to build churches, hospitals and schools. The brick itself is neither good nor bad. Its amoral. It’s what’s in your heart that matters. This is an important distinction.
So how are you going to use this amoral tool that God gave you? This too will be a theme on September 22, another great day to preach stewardship. On that day we will have the Parable of the Unjust Steward, also known as The Parable of the Shrewd Manager, from Luke 16. That parable ends with Jesus’ curious warning:
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. (Luke 16:9)
Translation: We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. Despite all your good (and some not-so-good) intentions, your money is tainted. Some is ill-gotten gain. The banks have invested your money in ways you don’t even know, some of which have caused injustices. So use your filthy dirty stinking money to do some good in this world while you still have time. So that when you get to heaven, the poor just might give you a letter of recommendation.
How are you going to use your wealth? How are you going to manage your affluence? Your influence? Your time?
What’s worth doing? Solomon rants: “Vanity of vanities, all of life is vanity. Generations come and go. The sun rises and sets. Wind blows east to west. Streams flow to the sea. It’s all so wearisome. There’s nothing new under the sun.
Maybe wisdom is worth chasing. Solomon spends time there until he realizes both the wise and the foolish perish at roughly, no exactly the same rate.
So then Solomon chases pleasure. Our text doesn’t include all this, but its all in their between our verses which span 1:2 to 2:23. Then laughter. Then much wine. Then accomplishments. Silver and gold. “Whatever my eyes wanted…” It all amounted to nothing, like chasing the wind.
So he gave up and turned his heart over to despair, because one day, “death comes a-creepin’ in the room” as the old spiritual goes. Everything you do, everything you work for gets turned over to someone else. What a vexation. So much foolishness.
Perhaps Jesus has Solomon and Ecclesiastes rolling around in his brain when someone confronted him: “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” It was only two weeks ago in our lectionary, two chapters ago in our gospel, that Matha barked a similar command to Jesus: “Tell my sister to help me!” Wow. “Tell my brother…” ” Tell my sister…” Fed up, Jesus responds, “Dude, who made me the boss of you?” (My translation.) Jesus refuses to get sucked in, but rather uses the opportunity to throw some light on the root issue.
“Beware of greed. Life is more than collecting stuff.”
Beware of greed. Jesus constantly warns us that greed will get in the way of experiencing the spiritual dimension of life. It’s not the wealth. It’s the want of wealth. Covetousness. Greed.
Then in true rabbinical form he tells a story. A good story, not unlike the story of Solomon in Ecclesiastes.
You know the story. But preachers, don’t assume our people do. Assume you have people who don’t. Assume those who pretend they do, don’t. Assume you have one or two people from another religious tradition. Tell the story. Make it come alive. Make it sing.
A man had a bumper crop. A banner year. An incredible Christmas bonus. What am I going to do with my new found wealth? Bigger barns to store it of course. Or a bigger garage for more cars. Or a bigger house. Because we always, always assume more is better right?
Studies show people really, truly believe that if they made just 10% more they would be truly happy. What if you doubled your income in a year? What would you do? Don’t rush this. Let your listeners ponder it.
People think they’d pay off their debt. They don’t. Here’s what people actually do. They get bigger cars and bigger houses and more gadgets. They take nicer vacations. They give less, not more. The more money people make the less they give as a percentage of income. They actually get more debt, which creates more stress. More anxiety. None of this makes us more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more generous… The things that matter. The things that actually increase happiness and satisfaction in life.
How much is enough?
Just a little bit more.
Our greed tells us, all I need is a little bit more, and I can sit back, relax and be truly happy. We believe wealth will fulfill us.
“But God said to him, ‘You fool (aphron: unwise, fool, moron, idiot)! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 10:20)
Shades of Solomon:
“…Sometimes one who has toiled… must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it…” (Ecclesiastes 2:21)
God criticizes him not because what he is doing is wrong, but because it is stupid.
Jesus closes with a warning: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
What treasures are you storing? Into what are you pouring yourself? Your time? Your money? Your energy?
What if you instead trusted that you had enough and that you always would? How would that change your life? What if, instead of accumulating more, you chose to enjoy what you already have? What if we spent less time aquiring and more time listening, loving and learning?
I leave you with a portion of one of my favorite poems.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?
~”On Giving” Khalil Gibran
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Michael Rinehart