T h i s _W e e k ' s _S e r m o n
e have all seen the offensive bumper sticker, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Or, the yuppie version, “The one who dies with the best toys wins.” Well, in this story, told by Jesus, we hear the reality version, “The one who dies with only toys plays the fool for he dies and leaves them all."
John Ruskin tells the story of a gold digger who was transporting his fortune by boat. The boat began to sink so the man strapped as much of his gold as he could around his waist and began to swim to shore. He sank like a rock. Ruskin asked the essential question; “As he was drowning, did the man have the gold, or did the gold have him?”
Gold, money, mammon is in itself not an intrinsically evil thing--- It is our all consuming love for it that makes it evil. We can love it more than life: And sometimes it costs our life.
Jesus even went so far as to refer to the rich man in our story as, “a fool!” Jesus never called anybody else a fool; thus, emphasizing the malignant nature of valuing mammon more than eternal things. Thieves can only steal our possessions, but the love of money can steal our hope of eternal life . Lots of folks play the fool.
Jesus asked this Rich Fool, “…whose will these things be now?” One Sunday School student answered this question: “All that stuff will belong to his wife's next husband!” You may have heard about the rich man that was terminally ill and asked his wife to come to the bedside one last time. “Dear, you are still a lovely woman and I know that you will remarry and that your new husband will want to live in our mansion, and he will want to wear my fine clothes and drive my Rolls Royce, but just one thing; will you please promise not to let him play with my new Ping golf clubs! She answered, “O, don't worry, he's left handed!”
Marilyn loves to go to estate sales, and sometimes she drags me along. We have gotten some great bargains over the years as we tramped through piles of possessions. But there is always an accompanying sadness for we know that we are playing the role in Jesus' story as recipients of the question, “Whose will these things be?” We ask ourselves, “How much is enough?” At what point do we join in the evil of storing up too many treasures? Maybe, if we are concerned and asking the right question, that means we are not guilty--- I hope so. At least in our hearts we can not be accused of hoarding. Admittedly, every Christian in the western world must struggle with prosperity in the face of some who have too little. This is an age old problem to which missionologists and evangelists have no easy answers.
My Dad used to take fellow pastors and church folks on mission trips to Haiti , the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Most of them went thinking they were poor, but returned realizing that they were wealthy in comparison to Haitians who had nothing. They ended up helping the Haitians materially by teaching them how to export their hand made Afro-centric art; yet, the greater gift was that they shared the rich news of the Gospel and souls were enriched.
John Wesley struggled with these same issues. His childhood rearing was by necessity frugality, as the son of a very poor parish pastor. He was taught the Christian virtues of hard work and saving and financial planning. Here is his sometimes misquoted statement: “Gain all you can, without hurting either yourself or your neighbor, in soul or body, by applying thereto with unintermitted diligence, and with all the understanding which God has given you. Save all you can, by cutting off every expense which serves to indulge foolish desire, to gratify either the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eye, or the pride of life. Waste nothing, living or dying, on sin or folly, whether for yourself or your children. And then, give all you can, or in other words give all you have to God.” ( Sermons II , Outler, ed; 1985, 278-279).
My friend Bert Lance use to misquote Wesley as saying, “Make all you can, keep all you can and save all you can.” He was a banker and can somehow be excused. But Bert left off the main part, the “Giving all you have back to God” part.
There will come a time when the only wealth that will matter will be in God's heavenly bank. We will not be counting our money on our deathbeds, except in relation to the hope that we might rightly have of leaving our families some inheritance; rather, we will be making sure that we have an inheritance in Our Father's House. As Jesus said, to be “...rich toward God.” is our ultimate goal.
How do we attain this worthy goal of being prepared for this next life? Can we buy in? Can we save up? Can we take out a second mortgage? No! As with an inheritance from a rich relative, it is freely bestowed and is unmerited. In fact it can not be bought at any price.
And who can have this heavenly bank account? Is it an exclusive club? No! The Christian faith says that, “Whoever believes in him... has eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16). The meaning is very clear. We are pilgrims traversing through these present Shadowlands on our way toward our permanent reality called heaven. Those who will be included are those who made prior reservations by faith at God's travel agency.
The best news of all is that we can know now, whether or not we have a reservation. The best part of the Good News is that we have an assurance of Glory in our hearts on this side of life. We can know it as a reality in our lives because he has taken up habitation in our souls. And because we have this assurance we can march through life unafraid.
Would it not be the saddest fate to die and leave it all to the unknown? You can't take it with you when you go. As a pastor I have followed a lot of hearses; and I have never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch. Can you imagine a big black Cadillac hearse pulling a U-Haul truck in a funeral procession?
The Rich Fool in Jesus' story was like the rich man who had requested that his golfing buddies all send him off with some cash. His Realtor was asked to bring a thousand dollars in twenties, so he placed his manila envelope in the coffin. Even his preacher fulfilled the pledge and reluctantly put an envelope in the coffin, and then the dead man's lawyer wrote out a check for three grand, and took out the two envelopes filled with cash.
Whose will these things we now love be? They will probably go to your wife's next husband. But, the treasures in heaven, your richness toward God will be awaiting you in glory. My old Daddy had a lot of Haitians waiting on their spiritual father when he arrived at heaven's gate.
That is being “Rich Toward God .”
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor