Today’s message at Relevant Church in Williamsburg, Virginia
Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” 16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:15-21 NLT).
I’m a fan of time travel stories, and often wander what it would be like to go back in time and see how people reacted to the words that Jesus said. I suspect that the reactions were not “oh, how wonderful!” or “my, how profound!” No, I suspect that Jesus made most normal people scratch their heads in confusion, and he made most “important” people bang their heads against the wall in anger.
Today’s text is a good example of this. Two things prompt Jesus to tell this little parable. First, he had warned his disciples (with thousands looking on and listening in) not to follow the example of the Pharisees, because they were hypocrites. They were acting like they had right relationships with God, but they were really serving self. Their outward religion was a cover for inward corruption. Jesus told his disciples to beware of their leaven. In other words, don’t touch a Pharisee with a ten foot pole. They are unclean. The odd thing about that is that the popular understanding that people had in Jesus day was that the Pharisees were spiritual supermen. They were the ones who got it right, and that was why they were rich. Jesus said, no, that’s not right. The “normal” people scratched their heads.
The Pharisees themselves were convinced that they were following the rules. They saw wealth as a blessing from God, given precisely because they had followed the rules. When John the Baptist – and then Jesus – opposed them, they got mad. “How dare these ‘prophets’ condemn us. Can’t they see that we are blessed by God? They must be demon possessed.” The “important” people got angry at Jesus.
The second thing that prompted Jesus to tell this particular little parable is a request that someone from the crowd gave him.
“Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” (Luke 12:13 NLT).
Now, the Bible does not give us the details of that man’s issue. He may have had a legitimate legal grievance with his brother. Or, he may have been trying to get Jesus to intervene over his father’s wishes. Those details are not really important to Jesus right now. The point is, the man was trying to gain from his association with Jesus. So, Jesus asks “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” (Luke 12:14 NLT).
Jesus is not Santa Claus. We’re not going to get what we want just by sitting on his lap and spilling our Christmas list. That is not why he came to this earth. When we really start realizing this, a lot of stuff is going to be taken off our prayer lists.
OK, with that established, let’s look at today’s text:
Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (15).
That statement is just as radical today as it was two millennia ago. Today the popular belief is that those who have the most stuff have the best life. The rich are idolized no matter what they believe, and no matter who they serve.
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”(16-19).
This was the man’s 401K – his retirement plan. He said “I got some good stuff. I’m going to make bigger barns, so that I can hold all my stuff. Then I’m going to kick back, go to Barbados, and get some sand between my toes.” Well, that was the plan. But God knew something that the would-be retiree did not know:
But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ (20).
The man was rich, resourceful, productive, and successful. He had made a plan that would provide for his needs and (presumably) those of his family. He would have been praised by the popular culture of his day, and ours. But in just one moment – one last heartbeat – he was going to lose all that he had ever gained.
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”(21)
This is the moral of the story. Jesus tells his disciples and the others who have ears to hear “don’t waste your life just collecting stuff. Bigger barns are not the answer.” So, what is the answer? The answer is “a rich relationship with God.” But how do we get that? Jesus told another parable that explained that:
“…the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it’ (Matthew 13:45-46 NLT).
The “pearl of great value” in Matthew 13 is that “rich relationship with God” of Luke 12. Once you discover that it exists, you also discover that it is going to take everything you have, and everything that you can ever get to obtain it. You then have a choice: you can be like the Pharisees, and just pretend to have it, but still keep building bigger barns for yourself. Or, you can invest in God. That’s a crude way of putting it, but it is what it is.
Big Idea: Invest in a rich relationship with God, instead of more stuff.
I started investing in my relationship with God when I was ten. I regret that I wasted ten years of my life on building useless barns. But, as long as you are alive, it’s not too late. What made the rich fool a fool was that he died before he got the chance to do what he was made for.
Here are a few investment tips:
1. Pay very close attention to what God says.
The Bible just happens to be God’s word. As such, we can find out what God wants, what he does not want, what he has planned – things like that. If you are serious about getting a rich relationship with God, start there.
For me, paying attention to what God says means spending regular quality time reading and studying the Bible. Some of you know that I write a devotional blog. I read a Bible passage every morning and comment on it. It was really hard at first, but now I cannot wait to do it every morning. Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it is not. This has been the hardest year in the plan, because this year covers the prophets of the Old Testament. These guys often had to give voice to God’s heart when his heart was hurt by his people’s sin. As a result, there are a lot of negative confessions, and threats of judgment. No one is comfortable with this because it goes against our cardboard cutout of God. God is supposed to be a peaceful good shepherd, not a wrathful, vengeful destroyer. But the more I pay attention to his whole word, the more I realize that he is both.
2. Spend quality time in conversation with God.
I’m still working on this one. I don’t pray as often as I should, but I suspect that everyone who is honest says that. Prayer is hard to do because it is like talking to the school principal when you are in the 3rd grade, and have just been sent to his office.
The good news is God is like a grandfather when it comes to prayer. I love to hear Jeffrey and Elena and Simon and Quenton speak. Even when they have been bad, I love to see them and hear them.
Notice what Paul told the Philippians about prayer:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
Paul is talking about what happens when we pray. Prayer is a way of exchanging our worries for his peace. We may go into prayer like a third grader expecting punishment, but we can leave the throne with a smile from grandpa!
3. get involved with the church.
Jesus Christ has two bodies. He has a body in heaven at God’s throne, and a body on earth: the church.
There are three foundational commands in scripture: Love the LORD, love your neighbor as yourself, and make disciples. In the church and as the church, we can obey all three of those commands.
As the church, we are gathered together for the purpose of intentional investment in God and his kingdom. A rich relationship with God includes fellowship with each other, and ministry to one another. John said: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16). Investing in God implies investing in our fellow believers too.
When we come to the communion, we celebrate Jesus’ willingness to give up his bigger barns in heaven and to invest in us. That investment cost him his life. As we take these emblems, we can celebrate and be thankful that he cared enough to invest his life in us. We can also remember his challenge for us to invest in a rich relationship with God.