Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio


Text: Luke 12:13-21

Galatians 5:16-26

            There is a peculiar incongruity about abundance. Does it not seem that the more we have, the less we appreciate what we have? Does it not seem that the more things we accumulate, the less satisfied we become? And the only thing which seems to take the edge off our dissatisfaction is what?

Accumulating still more. Enough never seems to satisfy. That is the very principle which makes casinos and gambling parlors so profitable. Let’s call it “greed.”  

            The newspaper funny “They’ll Do It Every Time” once featured a single frame showing a child sitting at the table in front of his birthday cake. Surrounding him was a huge pile of hastily opened gifts; computer games, sports equipment, toys, clothing, candy. Across his face was an equally huge frown. The caption simply read: “Is this it?” American culture in our day seems to epitomize the image of the poor little rich kid.

            Some years ago, an article appeared in an edition of Christianity Today entitled “Wanting More in an Age of Plenty.” Here’s an excerpt: “The paradox of our time in history is that we spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; more medicine, but less wellness. We read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. These are the times of tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life, but not life to years. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.”

            The sad reality this article exposes is that in our abundance, we’ve become a nation of fools. Exercise of bad judgment and lack of common sense in the most important things has become the norm. Our priorities have become skewed. We know in our minds and speak with our lips of the right things, the correct priorities, what we ought to do. But do we do them? Or are we something like a rich man Jesus spoke of in one of His parables? Let’s first take note of what prompts Jesus to tell this story. He’s in the midst of a crowd described as being in the thousands. There are SO many that Luke tells us that “they trampled on one another.” Yet somehow, Jesus has managed to be in more private conversation with some of His disciples, encouraging them in their mission. Suddenly, a single voice arises out of the throng with what appears to be an off-the-wall request: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

            As usual, Jesus sees a teachable moment. But first, He must let this brother and everyone else know that His job description doesn’t include attorney practicing family law. He replies, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Isn’t it interesting how we folks like to mold Jesus into the role which best suits our needs at the moment? When we’re unjustly dealt with, we want Jesus to be judge. When we’re sick, we want Jesus to be the doctor. When we’re treated wrongly, we want Jesus to be the avenger. When we’re down on our luck, we want Jesus to be our trump card. When we seek election, we want Jesus to be a plank in our platform. Jesus can be all and any of these things. But He makes it clear on this occasion that He’s not here to be pressed into service upon command. At any rate, Jesus captures the moment to address a larger issue; an iceberg the tip of which was the brother’s request. Watch out and be careful about always wanting more and more, whether it has to do with an inheritance, or anything else. For abundant life is not about having an abundance of things. Jesus then spins a yarn to illustrate.

            There’s a man who lives in a certain town. He’s a farmer by vocation, but a shrewd entrepreneur at heart. As neighbors pass by his vast acreage, they remark how well the farm is managed, always producing the best crops of corn, wheat, barley and beans. In the middle of the expansive property, next to a cluster of silos brimming with grain stands a home of some size by Palestinian standards. In its parlor sits the man in the center of all this; a man envied for his good business sense and sound judgment. Seated next to him is the town’s leading builder sharing his plans for a new storehouse twice the size of the present one. No expense will be spared. Only the best materials and state-of-the-art construction will do.

            His wife, who’s barely seen him in weeks, calls for him to come to bed. He yells back that there’s still important work to be done, and he’d get there when he got there. As the two men strain over the details of the blueprints, the rich man looks forward to the day when the work is done, and he can take life a little easier. Maybe he can reconnect with his wife and kids. He can start enjoying some of the simpler pleasures, possibly even volunteer his talents to the broader community. But the thought is whisked away by measurement and design. So on the men go for another hour. Finally, the builder departs, leaving the plans so his client can fine tune them. The rich man sits down at the table and studies the prints rolled out in front of him.

            Suddenly, there’s a sharp rap at the door. “Who can this be at such an hour?” the man mutters. He opens the door to find the angel of death on his step. “Who are you?” the man asks. “I am the angel of death. Your life is required of you tonight.” And the countdown proceeds….10….9….8….7…. The rich man begins to sweat as he feels a strange tightness in the center of his chest. “Why, I wasn’t expecting you. I need more time; just a few more years to get everything finished and in order.” The angel is silent….6….5….4…. Beginning to feel lightheaded and short of breath, the man stammers, “Well, just a few weeks to prepare my wife and family.” No reply….3….2….1……. And he’s gone.

            Early the next morning, the rich man’s wife finds her husband’s lifeless body slumped over the table. An elaborate funeral is planned. The builders, and architects, and bankers, and community leaders are gathered at the graveside for a fitting service. They exchange comments about his industriousness; about how well he managed his farm, and what an outstanding businessman he was, and with such long-reaching vision. After the last rites, his wife and children go home. His business associates return to their workplaces. The townspeople go their ways. That night, in the still quiet of a graveyard, the angel of death stands before the headstone scrawling across it these letters: F-O-O-L. The next morning, as the rich man was too busy to prepare a last will and testament, his sons argue over their portions of the inheritance. Jesus ends His parable with these words: “’And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

            Understand this. The problem with the rich man wasn’t that he was a rich man. It was that he was a foolish man. He exercised great business judgment, but otherwise exercised poor judgment in the most important matters of life. His priorities were skewed. His wealth and increasing abundance, and dreams of a carefree future, were the most important things in his life. He was what he had. His family, his relationships, his religion, maybe his health, the truly most important things were pushed off to the side. And when his number was called, he had prepared nothing but an inheritance over which brothers would fight. For Jesus, this man’s problem was in where he had laid up his treasure. Yes, he was rich and wise in material things. But sadly, he was poor and foolish in spiritual things.

            I believe there is a pox upon our affluent society this day. And that curse is not that we have abundance. It’s what that abundance has done and is doing to us. We don’t have to listen long to television or travel far into cyberspace to recognize that we are a nation of people rich in material things, but poor in spiritual things. In many ways, we’re like the poor little rich kid. And that, I’m convinced, is why in spite of the glitter and glitz and trappings of a culture of opulence and excess, and smiles pasted on screen and page, we are an increasingly sad, and discontented, and disconnected nation of people. We too often sit in the middle of a huge pile of gifts, frowning and wondering: “Is this it?” In the end, what will we have prepared?

            The gospel of Jesus Christ offers us an answer, and it’s not hard to get. We need to rearrange our priorities. We need to be about laying up spiritual gifts as central to our lives. The barns we are building, we should be filling with godliness, faith, kindness, generosity patience, compassion, service to others. These things should define who we are, and whose we are. Then wealth can become a blessing rather than a curse. Abundance can be appreciated when put in proper perspective; then can be a source of blessing and joy – not just to us, but to all around us. As a capstone to this parable, Jesus goes on to urge His disciples not to be anxious about things of the world. Instead, he instructs them to reset their priorities as such: “….strive for (God’s) kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

            We should be asking ourselves daily these questions: What is central in our lives? Is it building bigger barns to store our abundance for a day of ease? Or is it building a spiritual house in which Christ is central, and the storerooms are filled with the harvest of the spirit Paul inventories in his letter to the Galatians we read earlier: “love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Let our priorities – as a body of Christ, and as individual disciples of Christ – reflect wisdom, not foolishness. Seek and strive first for the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Then all these things will be added to you. Alleluia! Amen.