There are a few topics that are difficult to hear sermons on. These are topics that directly challenge us and our known attitudes with Christ’s desires that often seem difficult and too challenging.
When we are approached with such a topic, we are tempted to turn off the message and say, “The message is too difficult. Let’s move on to something else.” The temptation is as real for me as it is for you. Since arriving at Trinity, I have been preaching through the assigned texts from the common Lectionary. So, when the Lectionary assigns a difficult passage there is a temptation to move onto something else that is easier to digest.
This is especially true when we are approached by a passage that discusses money and finances. No one likes to hear a sermon about finances, because it is the one message we can all relate to and connect with. Everyday we interact with money. Because of this, it is important to think about finances and how the ways we handle money in our homes, our church, and even our culture how it relates to our faith and relationship with the Lord.
Our hesitation with doing so is that we believe we will hear a message that says having money is a bad thing. Hear me when I say this: There is nothing wrong with having money. Finances have no moral qualities to them. There is nothing wrong with having money to pay bills, provide for our families, and have something set aside for our futures.
The question for us is in how we handle and relate to money. How we do is often a good measuring stick of our discipleship. That is because this is a place where all of us can struggle. Our attitude with money, how we treat it, sometimes is what leads us away from our walk with the Lord. It is important for us, then, to understand where the trouble line is and to see what Christ’s desires truly are.
This is especially the case when we look at our parable, this morning, from Luke 12:13-21. What we see is that Jesus takes an opportunity to talk about money and how we, as followers of Christ, are called to handle our finances.
Jesus is teaching when a man approached Jesus wanting him to settle an inheritance claim between himself and his brother. Jesus has no interests in settling the dispute, Instead, he uses the opportunity to teach us about how God desires us to see and use money.
What Jesus gives us is the Parable of the Rich Fool. He tells us of a farmer who was successful, so much so that he had run out of space for all of his resources. The farmer decides to build bigger barns and structures to store his goods. After this decision, Jesus says, the farmer sits back and essentially says, “I’ve got it made. I can sit back, relax, and enjoy all of my money. I have done well and I can live it up.” For this, Jesus calls the farmer a fool.
Now, this seems like harsh language for our Lord to use. We may not be able to find anything wrong with the farmer’s actions. It seems normal to protect one’s interests or even to enjoy what one has done with their life. This is what our culture teaches us. But, Jesus wants us to look beyond what societal demands and to examine the challenging call of discipleship when it relates to our finances. This farmer’s folly wasn’t that he was rich or successful, it was that he could not see beyond his own self. Truly, this farmer’s folly was a sense of greed that ignored the true provider of his riches and what the Provider desires of him and us.
Greed is evident throughout this passage. It is present with the squabble among the brothers and within the farmer’s attitude. Scripture tells us greed is one of the seven deadly sins. These are things in our lives keeps a distance between us and God and hinder our walk with the Lord. This is because they prevent our ability to see God at work in our lives and our need to care for others.
With greed, however, we are specifically thinking of the lust for more. It is the desire for more riches than we could ever need or handle. We are greedy when we are controlled by our finances and bank accounts in a way that our money ends up defining who we are and everything we desire to be.
The farmer Jesus describes was greedy because he lived only for himself. He believed that his riches defined who he was. He felt that it was all because of him why he was blessed with so much. The farmer was so greedy that he could not see anything but himself.
That is the picture of greed. We have heard a lot of talk about greed since the global economic recession began in 2007 and 2008, and rightly so. When we look at what led to bank closures, foreclosures, lost jobs, and lost incomes, we cannot help but say it that greed created this situation.
Greed is not something that is distant and only something that defines other people. We have to be willing to see that sometimes we can be like the farmer. We can be defined by greed and a lust for more than we could ever want. I think there are a couple reasons why we struggle with seeing our own greed. One, we reason is because we believe that only those who are “rich” are greedy. You do not have to be “rich” to be greedy. Another reason is that if we think only the rich are greedy then we have a hard time seeing are own riches. John Wesley said something once in a sermon “The Dangers of Riches” that was as applicable then as it is today. He said, and I am paraphrasing, if you have food to eat, clothes on your back, and a place to sleep then you are rich.
We can all be tempted and controlled by greed. None of us are immune from feeling a sense of greed in our lives. Greed is not just a desire to want more than we have, but it is also wanting what someone else has and being jealous that someone has something we do not. All of us have experienced moments where we have been defined or controlled by a sense of greed.
How do we overcome this greed? Jesus says in the final words of the parable that it is our relationship with God that will help us through these moments. The only way we can not fall into the farmer’s folly is by holding strong to our relationship with the Lord. When we do, when we grow deep in our relationship with the Lord, we will see something true and powerful. That is that everything we have, everything we are, and everything we ever seek to be comes from God.
Our God is the great Provider in our lives. That is the challenging thing for us. We are not the one who provides, but it is God who provides and gives to us. God gives us the gifts and abilities that help us to provide for ourselves and families. This is what the farmer failed to realize. God gives out of love our talents and finances, and, thus, we are called to be stewards of those resources. What we are thinking of is our calling is to be respectful of what we have and to care for what God has given. The relationship we have with God helps us to see money not as a possession to cling to, but as a gift to be used to bless others.
God has blessed us with enormous resources and blessings that we can use to care for ourselves, our families, and others. That is the other thing the farmer failed to realize. He wanted to keep all of his resources for himself. He failed to see the needs around him. Jesus questioned who would exactly receive all of his riches. The farmer’s other folly was that he failed to be a blessing to others out of what God had provided him.
Since God has provided us with more than we could ever dream, and has blessed us in ways that simple words will not do, we are called to bless others out of the riches. Out of our love for God and in response to what the Lord has done for us, we are called to bless others with what we have. The opposite of greedy living is to live a life of blessings where we give out of what we have received. As we do, the words of Matthew 25 echo in our hearts that how we bless others, as we care for the least of these in our lives, we are serving the One who has given us not just financial riches but life everlasting on the cross.
I recognize this it is a difficult challenge to move from wanting more or seeing ourselves as the provider to seeing God as the provider and giver of all things and to live in response to that blessing. Let me give you some suggestions that are not my own, but come from a reliable source. In that same sermon where Wesley reminds us of our riches, he gives us three simple rules for living within God’s blessings: Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Use the talents and passions God has given you to earn enough money to provide for your family’s basic needs. Save what you can so you will have resources to fall back on in difficult times. More importantly, give to others all that you can in response to what God has done for you.
If we do this, my friends, we will not fall to the farmer’s folly. Instead, we will recognize our treasures are heavenly and that we are stewards of what God has blessed us with. We will not be known as greedy, but generous people who have been immensely blessed and are willing to bless others equally.
So, what kind of life do you want today? Greed defined who the farmer was. It does not have to define who we are. We can be defined as people who, out of our relationship with the Lord, are stewards of God’s resources and generous in our willingness to bless others, because God first blessed us.