I Like Giving - Week Three: "I Like Soccer Balls"
This week we are continuing the sermon series that we've been working on for the past couple of weeks, entitled "I Like Giving." Throughout this sermon series we'll be learning what it means to learn to live generous lives--the kinds of lives that God intends for us to live.
You see, for those of us who believe what we've been taught in the biblical witness, we have been created in the image of God... which means we have the very DNA of God in us. And God is inherently a generous God. Out of God's incredible generosity springs forth God's grace, love and boundless creativity.
We were made to be generous--to lead generous lives. But we sometimes struggle to live into our true nature, because of the way we always seem to choose selfishness over selflessness.
The purpose of this sermon series is to wrestle with these issues and to uncover what the Bible has to teach us about living generously--mostly through the words and teachings of Jesus himself.
Today we'll be coming back to the Gospel of Luke, which is where we spent most of our time last week. This week we're taking a look at a parable that Jesus shared after a young man came to him with a legal issue.
And in the process Jesus teaches his followers that if you want to be truly generous, you have to live life horizontally from a vertical point of view.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
So let's set the scene just a bit. The guy approaching Jesus is in need of arbitration. It wasn't uncommon for people to come to rabbis to help them solve their legal issues. In the first century, he line between religion and law was fairly blurry. This guy was probably a younger brother in a family where by law and custom the older brother was given the lion's share of the family fortune after the passing of the father. Sometimes younger brothers had to fight their older brothers to get their share of the inheritance.
Jesus isn't interested in getting involved in their legal dispute, but he doesn't waste the moment to teach a lesson. So he tells everyone standing there a story as a sort of response to the poor guy asking Jesus for legal advice.
The story Jesus tells has become known as the parable of the Rich Fool. The guy in this story is focused solely on money, personal gain. He has a windfall of a huge harvest, bigger than he imagined. He believes somehow that it was all his doing, and that his good fortune is due to his own ingenuity, hard work, or whatever.
The fact of the matter is that in the first century economics was a zero sum game. If you got rich than more than likely someone in your village, or even your family got just a little poorer, or maybe a lot. This guy appears to control the agriculture over a whole region in order to have as much as is described.
He decides to tear down perfectly good barns to build bigger ones so that he can store all of his newfound wealth in the form of goods, grain, food, sustenance. Then he references Isaiah 22:13, which was a prophecy from God to God's people who refused to repent. God declares to them that what he wants is repentance, humility, a return to their covenant with him, but all he hears is that they want to party in the face of destruction--"to eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die."
This story feels a little like the story of Joseph, the patriarch from Genesis, who saved Egypt by storing grain during lean years so that when famine came Egypt grew strong because it had food when no one else did.
This guy is no Joseph, though. He doesn't have any one's interests at heart except his own. He wants to wait until things go south so he can drive up the prices for his own benefit.
There's no thanksgiving to God... no planning for the future... just more, more, more.
And God says to this man, "You fool! Tonight your life will be demanded from you!" The implication is that the guy dies on the very night that he decides to go through the wasteful process of tearing down storage to create bigger storage so he can have more, more, more...
I was reading this week that there is a deep theological term that is used by dead German theologians to describe this very moment:
Concupiscence is the desire to center the world on oneself. Or as theologian Paul Tillich put it, the desire to "cram the world into one's own mouth."
The guy in this story is showing some serious concupiscence. He has no desire for the things of God. He has no concern for furthering God's kingdom. His only desire is self-concern, what has been referred to as the anxiety of "non-being." He has come to be defined by his stuff, his success, his position, his money--and the thought of losing any part of that is equated with a loss of self.
Listen, it's not saving that gets this guy in trouble. The Bible is full of sage advice on how to save your money, to be wise with your investments, to act with prudence when it comes with your stuff.
What causes this guy so many problems is that he lacks both a horizontal and vertical way of living. He has no thoughts of God, no return to God in thanksgiving for what he's received. He has no care for his neighbors. In fact, he half-hopes they end up at his door on the dole later. "I," "me," and "mine" dominate this story.
This guy is not living a horizontal life from a vertical point of view.
Did you know that 1/3 of Jesus' parables were about money? He knew that it was one of the most vital things that his disciples could learn--mastery over money. In almost all of the stories that Jesus told about people and their money, they missed the mark because their focus was on themselves--not on God and then out toward others. They didn't live horizontal lives from a vertical point of view.
In this parable of the Rich Fool Jesus actually uses economic language to bring home the moral of the story. Loosely translated, the last line of the story goes something like this, "You fool! Your soul has been bankrupted by your balance sheet and foreclosure is imminent!"
In other words, you thought you could take it with you. You can't--take it with you.
Many years ago, I officiated at the funeral of a member of the church I used to serve. She was a marginal member, who rarely attended, and so I didn't know her that well, and had almost no contact with her family. The funeral was held at one of the local funeral homes.
In the middle of the memorial service, I asked if anyone would like to speak to share a memory or two. The woman's daughter, who had obviously added a number of additional beverages to her morning coffee, rose unsteadily to her feet and held up a folded piece of paper.
"That woman was the classiest old broad I ever met." She said in a slurry kind way. She waved the paper. "She left me her trailer. No one can take it from me. That trailer is mine!" Apparently, there had been some dispute about who was going to get the trailer. The class old broad in the casket could have cared less about her trailer at that point. But the disgruntled few family members gathered there who didn't get it, were not happy at all.
I read once that shameful greed can dissolve family bonds. How true. I've seen it happen more than once in my travels as a pastor.
It's fascinating when things are different, though. When President Ronald Reagan passed away several years ago, his children eulogized him at his memorial. His son told stories of his father's sense of humor, his generosity, the time he spent with his family. His daughter recalled a time when her father held a funeral for her dead goldfish, complete with prayers and a sermon of sorts. It was a testament to the fact that this man who once sat in the most powerful seat of power in the world, was so much more than a world leader.
I imagine there are more than a few of us who would rather have our children rise to sing our praises for the gifts of time, love, care, integrity, faith that we left them---as opposed to rising to give thanks for the trailer.
Because none of us are the sum of the things we think we value.
And money is always about more than money.
Watch this video:
What are we hanging on to, hoarding, have in abundance that could change lives? This kid knew that he could have a new soccer ball whenever he wanted it. He also knew that just like money is never always about money, his soccer ball was about much more than just a soccer ball.
It was something he had in abundance. He could have stored it up. But he decided to give it away so that the lives of kids he didn't know could be enriched.
True generosity stems not only from a real relationship with God, but also a way of viewing the world through God's eyes to see where there are needs that need to be met. It's horizontal and it's vertical.
If you want to be truly generous, you will learn to live life horizontally from a vertical point of view.