You Can't Take It With You

Sermon for 7-31-22              by Pastor Teddie McConnell
Greed started out as a survival instinct, something built into our DNA. We’ve all experienced the basic human desire to have a surplus stored away in case of scarcity so our family can survive. Very young children have to learn that they can’t have whatever they want, that the toys other children own are not theirs for the taking, and that Santa Claus can’t deliver everything on their Christmas list. Not everyone grows out of greed. It’s the sin that keeps on taking.
My nine-year-old grandson has so many stuffed toys he has fun counting them. He keeps most of them in a soft, fabric case in his room, like the stuffing in a mattress. He had more than 100 of them the last time we checked. As someone who grew up with just a few stuffed toys - a beloved Pooh bear, a Raggedy Ann doll, a Steiff Bear named BearBear, it feels a bit callous. After all, when I got BearBear at the age of three, I named him that because I didn’t want to name him “Teddy”- people could have gotten us mixed up. They felt more like my precious friends than my toys.
Scarcity either makes you thankful for what you have, or it makes you driven to add to your possessions out of fear and insecurity, never feeling quite safe until you have much more than enough. Worrying, Jesus says, is a waste of time. “Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.“ God provides for the ravens; and you are so much more valuable to God than they are!
Some people feel the need to have more than those around them do, making it a contest and a way to feel superior with status symbols like cars and jewelry. Your wealth can become your idol, what you count on to provide for you rather than counting on God. Extra money and things feel valuable, but they are also distractions and responsibilities that can weigh you down. You can end up spending most of your time tending and protecting them rather than making a difference for your community and your family by using what you don’t need for good.
Americans have a hard time parting with their stuff. We spend $38 billion a year on storage units, which is 6.5 square feet of storage space for every person in America. “But I might need that someday!” we cry.
Some people even choose to be buried with their most prized possessions. Look at the Pharaohs in Egypt. They believed in an afterlife where whoever has the most possessions wins. Sounds familiar. They filled their tombs with jewels, artwork, precious objects, food, and even mummified slaves to serve them in the afterlife, only to have their tombs robbed and their loot plundered or, eventually, put into museums. They spent huge amounts of time and money in creating pyramids complete with hidden tunnels and booby traps, all to no avail.
This is Jesus’ point in todays’ story from Luke. Someone in the crowd who recognized that Jesus had power and authority asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Clearly, some kind of long-term argument had been dragging on between them, and he wanted Jesus to force his brother to share.
Jesus refused to be drawn into this family drama, responding instead with a parable about a man whose bumper crop is so huge that it won’t fit into his barns. It sets him to worrying, to planning and scheming so he won’t lose the grain.
It’s interesting that Jesus portrays this farmer as talking only to himself about it, kind of like this pig looking in the mirror. (Make pig oink.) His plans are so grandiose that he doesn’t just want to build another barn, oh no, he wants to start fresh. (Make pig oink again.) Then, he tells himself, he’ll be able to spend years living on his wealth and enjoying life. (More oinks.)
The farmer doesn’t talk to his family or a financial advisor or even to his rabbi. Just to himself. He certainly doesn’t thank God or ask God to counsel him about the abundance with which he’s been blessed. Perhaps he thinks of the crop as something he earned by himself.
Then suddenly, he’s dead. (Make pig fall over.) And he can’t take it with him. If we’re going to be sincere disciples of Christ, we must talk with God and with other people about the temptations associated with greed and how to be good stewards of our assets. They didn’t come from us, and they don’t belong to us forever. God just lets us use them for a while.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus said,  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and owned a weapons manufacturing company. He was enormously wealthy. When his brother died in 1888, he was surprised to open the newspaper and read his own obituary, titled, “The merchant of death is dead.” The reporter had confused his brother with Alfred. Can you imagine the shock it must have been to read his own obituary and be cast in such a negative light? Nobel decided to change his will and use his massive wealth to create the Nobel Prize, which recognizes accomplishments that bring “the greatest benefit on mankind.”  Unlike the man in Jesus’ parable, Nobel was able to respond to this wakeup call and change his priorities.
Of course, there are plenty of rich people who understand the limits of their money and are dedicated to following Jesus, and there are plenty of poor people who have never given any thought to how their own lives might improve the lives of others or how they’ll be remembered when they’re gone. It’s more about individual choices than it is about the size of someone’s bank account. It’s more about how we behave, how we use our gifts, than about what we have.
It is true that saving for future material needs is part of taking care of what God provides for us. It must be balanced, though, against God’s commands to give God the glory for providing them and to love our neighbors, providing in turn for people who are poor, without access to even the most basic needs for survival.
Then there’s the other asset we all have each day – our time. We get 24 hours each. If we spend all our time on gaining, sustaining, and worrying about our money, has our time been well-invested? If you think you’re more important than other people, you can end up guarding your time like it’s gold, without setting time aside to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit and to figure out what other people may need from you. One of the best time investments I know of is listening to people who need to talk. When you really listen, it’s a gift of your time, a gift from the heart. If you’re comfortable enough to pray with that person, so much the better. Give someone a smile, or a hug, or a compliment, or open a door for them. You might just make their day.
If we distill the passage from Psalm 49 down to its essence, its message is that you can’t use your money to buy your way out of death. More time, a longer life, is what we’re trying to buy when we store up treasures on earth. No amount of wealth or bargaining power will convince God to let you live on this earth indefinitely. However, God has provided a way to be redeemed, purchased, saved, and given eternal life. The salvation available through Jesus Christ is here for those who believe that his sacrifice allows them to have everlasting life. It’s free. And it’s priceless. Talking about Jesus to someone who may not know Him is risky. It takes the courage of a true disciple. But think of the precious gift we give when we are part of the process that leads to Christ, maybe not today, but some day.
Knowing that we have this precious gift from God, the Christ, who gave us the grace that forgives, sustains and renews, the One who is our highest treasure, our treasure in heaven, knowing this fuels our gratitude and helps us keep our focus on our true Provider, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not on material wealth.
If someone wrote your obituary today, what might it say? What do you think most people will remember about you? How would you like to be remembered?
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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