Luke 12 13-21; Colossians 3:1-11
As most of you know, last October my mother was placed into a nursing home. She has a dementia that has been brought on by a series of strokes. Although my brother and sister and I moved her out of her home into an assisted living facility two years ago, she is now in a nursing home. And her condition since the stroke that forced a move to the nursing home is unchanged. Many of you have been asking. The situation is unchanged.
So – what to do with her house? And her possessions? Her…stuff! Thankfully, my niece is renting the house, so we don’t have to deal with selling that just yet. And the few things that my brother and sister and I have divvied up among ourselves still leaves a whole lot of other… stuff. What to do! What to do!
Garage sale. We held not one but two garage sales. Got rid of a lot of …stuff. But there’s still a lot of stuff left over. Apparently stuff that no one else wants either. I guess the next step is a call to Good Will or the Salvation Army. Still a couple of antique dressers – a grandfather clock – taking up space in the house. My mother’s parents’ – so my grandparents’ dining room set – is still sitting in my mother’s basement. SO we’ve still got some of my grandparents’ stuff. And we couldn’t even give the old TV’s away. You know – they’re not the kind you can hang on a wall. But still – good stuff.
My mother liked to paint dishes when she was a stay at home mom. 18 place settings. Divided by 3 – each of her kids were to get 6 place settings. And they’re beautiful. Neither my brother nor my sister wanted theirs. They didn’t want more stuff. So – I split what was there with my niece. My mother’s hand-painted dishes sit in a box in a corner of my dining room. But she wanted us to have them so….,
And then there was this. A child’s tool box. It was my tool box. A Christmas gift one year. I know it was Christmas because my brother got one too. But when I opened this up a few weeks ago – there were no tools in there anymore. But all of my old army soldiers – cowboys – Indians – medieval knights. My friend Michael and I would play for hours upon hours with these. I just didn’t have the heart to let them go in a garage sale.
Stuff. You’ve got stuff. I’ve got stuff. We’ve all got stuff. And why do we have so much….stuff? I’ll tell you. We think that by having all this stuff – we think that our stuff will make us happy.
Now I’ve preached sermons on stuff before. And quite frankly – they’re kind of fun sermons to preach. Because you all know what I’m talking about when I say, “We’ve all got too much stuff.” And I hope you all know – because if you don’t know, you will at some point in your life – I hope you all know that having more stuff is NOT going to make you happy. In fact – it’s just the opposite. The more stuff you have – the more you’re obsessed with it. Hoarding it. Storing it. Insuring it. Painting and repairing it.
A woman who was a part of this congregation, but who moved away years ago, lived in a house that has to be one of the larger houses I’ve ever been in. And she confided to me that shortly after she and her family had moved into this house that she came to realize that it wasn’t so great. That’s when she told me that less is more.
In the parable that Jesus tells us today in our Gospel reading, Jesus makes it all too clear that “life” and “stuff” are not one and the same. The abundant life that Jesus promises – and having lots of stuff – are not the same thing.
In my back yard I have several bird feeders. Nancy and I love to watch the birds. We have several hummingbird feeders off the end of our deck – a deck, by the way, that we have to spend the better part of a day at least every other year power washing with the power washer I bought just for that purpose. A power washer that I have to drain the gas out of and winterize every fall. And after the deck gets power washed, we stain the deck with UV protection. Takes up the better part of a day.
Sorry. I was talking about hummingbirds. We like to watch the hummingbirds. Did you know that humming birds are very territorial? A female humming bird has taken over our feeder. She sits in a nearby tree guarding her feeder. Now other humming birds do get a chance to eat at our hummingbird feeder, but only when this female humming bird who thinks she owns the feeder is busy chasing away other humming birds.
Now – from the hummingbird learn a lesson. That hummingbird that has claimed ownership of my hummingbird feeder has given up something important. Her freedom. She is no longer free to come and go as she pleases. No longer free to play hummingbird games with other hummingbirds – or whatever it is that hummingbirds do. Her sole purpose in life appears to be guarding her feeder. Guarding her stuff. She is possessed by what she believes to be hers. Possessed by her possessions – possessed by her stuff.
Foolish bird. And that’s pretty much what Jesus says about the man in our lesson today. And do you know why Jesus calls him a fool? I’ll tell you.
Listen! The man is not a fool because he is wealthy. The man is not a fool because he is successful in business. The man is not a fool because he wants to build larger barns.
I’ll tell you why Jesus calls him a fool. He calls him a fool because he lives as though God doesn’t exist. Psalm 14:1 says this. “The fool says in his heart there is not God.” And the person who lives as though God doesn’t exist is going to look like this man. Did you know that you can believe in God, and live as though God does not exist. When there is no love for God – no love – no concern for others.
Jesus told parables for a reason. They are meant to instruct. And I would suggest that in this particular parable – to serve perhaps as a warning.
It’s easy – it’s very easy to get sucked into the belief that wealth brings happiness. That having stuff – having lots of stuff – brings happiness. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being rich. Nothing wrong with having stuff. Until those things – and the pursuit of having more of those things – becomes our obsession – our life’s goal – our reason for living.
Take a careful look at Jesus’ parable again. “You fool. Tonight your life is required of you. And all of these things that you have acquired for yourself – whose will they be?”
Let me tell you – when you die – someone’s going to have to have a garage sale. By the way – If you love your children – downsize. Now. Do your kids and yourself a favor and get rid of some of that stuff – the stuff that you really don’t need – while you are still able!
By the way, maybe this is a good place for me to ask you to take stock of what you call yours. And by the way, I don’t think any of us truly own anything. Everything that we have that we call our own really is a gift from God – and even then what we have is on loan from God. We are mangers – we are caretakers of the stuff we call ours. So our money – our stuff – our possessions are given to us by God as temporary tools – let me say that again – what you have including your wealth – are tools – given by God so that we can live the life God wants us to live.
And the kind of life God wants us to lead – what God wants – what God expects – from those who are disciples of Jesus Christ – is that we live a life of generosity. Not like the rich fool. There was no generosity. He was into himself. In three short verses, the rich fool talks to himself, and refers to himself 10 times. “I, I, my, I, I, my, my, my, I, my.”
Look – there is nothing wrong with wealth. Nothing wrong with saving. Nothing wrong with investing for college educations, nice vacations, retirement, or whatever. I tell couples coming to me to get married that all the time. I think the better money managers we are, the better we can serve God.
The problem the rich fool had was he kept it all for himself, and he gave no thought or concern to anyone else. I would suggest to you that he was a very lonely and very unhappy man. And his expectation that he could now enjoy the rest of his days – to eat, drink and be merry – all came to a crashing halt.
What I am trying to do is to help each of us avoid the trap that this rich man fell into. He lived for himself. He lived just to acquire more and more for himself. His money became his god – little g – and there was no satisfying that god. He needed more and more and more. He was a fool because he lived as though God – the Lord God – did not exist.
Let me share with you a story. “Henry Ford once asked an associate about his life goals. The man replied that his goal was to make a million dollars. A few days later Ford gave the man a pair of glasses made out of two silver dollars. He told the man to put them on and asked what he could see. ‘Nothing,’ the man said. ‘The dollars are in the way.’ Ford told him that he wanted to teach him a lesson: If his only goal was dollars, he would miss a host of greater opportunities. He should invest himself in serving others, not simply in making money.”
That's a great secret of life that far too few people discover. Money is important. No question about that. But money is only a means by which we reach higher goals. And what are those goals? Service to others. Obedience to God.
This past week I received a thank you note for a service I had performed several weeks ago. And the front of the card says this, “God is using you for his special purpose. To shine his light. To share his love. To shape his people.”
That last part really caught my eye. “God is using you to shape His people.” This is a subject that perhaps more than many others where we need to get into shape. Because the love of money, the desire to acquire, can be a god – little g – that can never satisfy. Jesus calls it greed. Paul in our reading from Colossians lists greed among those things we are to put to death. In fact he calls greed idolatry. An idol. You know what an idol is, right? An idol is anything that we worship.
So it’s my job to point that out to you – to be a tool in God’s hands to shape you. My job is to be bold – so bold as to suggest that less is more. That less stuff is the key to happiness. Learning to love God and to be generous towards God – building relationships with the people who we say we love – helping people we don’t even know to live better lives – sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with whoever will listen – these are the things that make for a satisfying – dare I say it – happy life.
Because when we come to the end of our lives each of us will stand before God with empty hands. And while we’re standing before God, somebody else is going to be selling our stuff in a garage sale. And when that happens, the only riches that will matter will be the rich relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ.
And that – that is the only treasure that lasts forever.