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Don't be wise in the world but a fool to God

LUKE 12:13-21

Pentecost 11 | August 21, 2022 | Pastor Ryan Cortright


“Well, that didn’t take long. The new preacher’s already talking about money.” Now, I know that none of you would ever say something like that, but some people can get a little on edge when the topic of money is brought up in church. You probably know that I don’t pick the Bible readings we read each Sunday in church. We follow a calendar of pre-assigned readings and, it just so happens that on this particularly weekend, the Bible readings have to do with our attitude towards wealth. That shouldn’t surprise us, though, because Jesus had no problem talking about money. He brought up the topic quite often. It seems that he was aware of our tendency to turn money into our god.


Let’s talk about what we just heard in our gospel from Luke chapter 12. The man who interrupted Jesus to see if he’d intervene in a dispute with his brother about an inheritance didn’t say, “Jesus, I love money, so help me get me more.” No, he said his brother wasn’t letting him get his fair share of the pie. Who knows, maybe this man had a case to be made? But Jesus wasn’t interested in settling family quarrels over who gets the house. He saw that behind this man’s request lurked this false belief: if I only had more, (in this case, more of the estate) I would be happy.


I want to be clear that no where does the Bible teach that money or the things money can buy are in and of themselves evil. God gives us all things for our enjoyment. But, the problem lies in our heart when we think that money is the key to success and happiness. That’s why Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because a man’s life is not measured by how many possessions he has.”


To make his point, Jesus told a story about a man who looked wise in the world but was called a fool by God. Just imagine if you were living back in Jesus’ day and you heard about this rich man. Let’s say you picked up a copy of the local newspaper, we’ll call it the Sea of Galilee Gazette. You page through it and get to the financial section and you see featured there an article with the title: “Local Farmer Named Businessman of the Year.” You see a picture of the farmer. He’s got the latest equipment, big barns piled full, and a grin on his face that tells you that he thinks he’s something special. And why shouldn’t he think that way? He just brought in a record yield and he timed the market just right. You read through the article hoping you can find some tip or piece of wisdom that you take from this man. Obviously, he’s the kind of person that we all aim to be like. He’s rich, after all, and isn’t that the goal in life? What’s more, he’s reached his dream: he won’t have to work another day in his life. He’s got enough saved up that he won’t have to worry about anything. He’s retiring young and now he’ll pass his days drinking Old-Fashions and watching baseball every afternoon. Of course, he’ll be doing it mostly alone, because, in his desire to get rich, he’s pushed away his family and the few people that he calls friends are just around because they know he might buy when they go out for lunch.


What kinds of adjectives does the newspaper use to describe this man? “Successful.” “Savvy.” “Wise.” If we dislike a man like this it’s probably not because we recognize the folly of turning wealth into your god, but because we’re envious that our lives didn’t turn out like his. Of course, we’re not necessarily hoping to fill up our barns, but our bank accounts.

But let’s imagine that up in heaven God also published a daily newspaper, let’s call in the Heavenly Herald. And on the same day you’re reading about the rich man in the Sea of Galilee Gazette, an angel in heaven flips to the financial page of the Heavenly Herald and there he reads the headline, “Local Farmer Named Fool of the Year.” The angel goes on to read about the same farmer’s success and all his plans to enjoy his life, except, at the very end of the article it points out why God called this man a fool. That night, the rich man was going to die and when he stood before God, he was going to look very poor. On top of that, all that he worked for and accumulated would be gone, probably sold at auction to people that the rich man never knew.


Yes, the man that the world called “wise” God called a fool, because he turned his riches into his god. I can almost hear someone saying, “Yeah Pastor, I know money won’t make me happy. But money can buy a new boat or beach vacation and that would make me happy!” There is a certain kind of happiness that money can buy. The problem is that the happiness money buys is only temporary. It’s a cheap imitation of what God alone can give and you know it’s an imitation and not the real thing because it doesn’t last.


Last weekend there was an estate sale just down the road from our new home. Of course, we had to go check it out. There were all sorts of tools and old car parts, nick-knacks and faded furniture. The man who lived there must have had the woodshop that was the envy of all his friends back in 1975. But now, there was all the stuff, worn out, dusty, old, and being sold for prices that would have made the owners cringe. I was in one of the bedrooms and a woman walked in and in a troubled voice said, “Estate sales are so sad.” It is a bit uncomfortable to think that someday strangers may be walking through your house picking up your things and debating whether or not a China set you could never imagine parting with was worth the $10 bucks or not. If you think that life amounts to accumulating stuff or massing up more and more money you are a fool because all it will be taken from you in an instant one day.

I know that no one here would dispute that fact. I doubt we could find anyone who would say, “Life is about getting rich.” The most dangerous lies are the ones we believe without even knowing it. While we would never say that life consists in the abundance of our possessions, is that how we are living? Do we imagine that if we could only make a little more, buy that next toy, save a little bit more, we’ll be secure, happy and finally ready to eat, drink and be merry?


What makes you rich? What makes you secure? Where you do turn for happiness that will never run out? We know that the right answer is God. But I pray that today we would let go of our love of money and believe that with our whole hearts. There is only one treasure that will never spoil or fade or be taken away; that is the treasure that is ours in Jesus. We are rich in his mercy and forgiveness which covers over all our sins. We have security found in his promises which can never be broken and which will never lose value. Your baptism is not losing any value because of inflation. The priceless gift of Jesus’ own body and blood will be put on your lips this morning; whether you are rich or poor in the eyes of this world.


So what should that man have done when he recognized that his brother was cheating him out of his inheritance? I don’t think Jesus rebuked him for having a complaint against his brother. He rebuked him because he knew that it was greed that was fueling this man’s frustration. He came to Jesus hoping Jesus would help his bottom life. Jesus wanted to give this man so much more! Jesus wanted this man to care as much about the treasure of God’s kingdom as he did about getting more treasures for himself from his brother. Christians live in this world and we have to deal with financial issues. What does it look like to manage money as a Christian? It starts with knowing that everything you have comes from God and giving thanks to him. It recognizes that the purpose of money is not just to have more and more for me, me, me, but to use it to love and serve others.


Jesus says that we are to be generous toward God. You’re expecting me to say that generosity towards God means more in the offering plate. There’s no question that we all should evaluate whether our gifts to support the good news of Jesus are reflective of his goodness to us, but God pleasing giving is not a matter of dollars and cents. It is a matter of the heart and it begins with a heart that treasures God and his Word above all.


When our hearts are in the right place we find that there’s no need for us to get defensive when the topic of money comes up in church. We don’t need bigger and bigger barns. We already have a treasure stored up in heaven where there are no more estate sales. There is only life eternal in our heavenly Father’s house.




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