Sermon May 23, 2004 : God first - Riches and everything else second (Luke 12:13)

Posted in Sermons

Saint Luke – Chapter XII, starting in verse 13: “Someone in the crowd said to him: “Teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” And Jesus replied: “Men, who appointed me as judge and arbiter between you." Then he said to them: “Watch out, be on your guard against all kinds of greed for men’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Then Jesus told him this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a rich crop and he thought to himself: what shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said: This is what I’ll do; I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grains and my goods. And I’ll say to myself: You have plenty of good things laid up for years: Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry”, But God said to him: “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you prepared for yourself? And this how it will be with everyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.”

Brothers and sisters, this passage speaks to us about what our attitude should be towards material possessions. The Lord on many occasions discussed this topic of money and possessions. And he did this always to issue a radical call to the people of God to separate themselves from an unhealthy attachment to money and love of material possessions.

In fact one of the things Jesus most discussed in the New Testament is money. I remember when I first began the ministry it was very unpleasant for me to speak about money. When I found myself obliged to make an appeal for donations for a construction project or something like that, I was sweating before having to do it. Sometimes I would give so many apologies in my appeal that by the end of it I didn’t remember what I was asking money for.

But then I realized with time that Jesus was not ashamed to talk about money and the very important spiritual role that it had in our lives in ministry. What’s more, our attitude towards money actually determines to a large extent the level of blessing that we will enjoy in this life and in the next as well.

Perhaps it’s easier for us to understand how God may bless us either more or less depending on our behavior and level of obedience here in this life. But there’re also many references in the Bible to the fact that there will be a level of reward to different degrees in the next life based to a large extent on what we do here in this life. I don’t know how the differentiations will take place in the coming life. I don’t know if God will give some people a big mansion and some people a little condo with a couple of small bedrooms. Or maybe some will glow brighter than others depending on our behavior here.

I don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but scripture does make it clear that depending on what we do and how we invest our resources here we will enjoy greater or less blessing in heaven. Jesus always took advantage of circumstantial opportunities to talk about spiritual principles. And here we see him doing that.

Jesus is going about his business here when a man interrupts in demand that he get involved in a dispute regarding an inheritance. He demands that Jesus as a Rabbi and as a respected authority in society that he intervene and insists that his brother gives him the part of the money that he deserves. And Jesus rather than letting himself get drawn into this tangle, he responds with some annoyance to this man’s request.

In fact he takes advantage of this opportunity to refer his listeners and us also to the spiritual principles that we should apply regarding money and our use of finances. Jesus went to the root of the problem. He didn’t just deal with the symptom on the surface. He went after attitude that produce conflicts such as this.

We know that unhealthy attachment to money is very often a source of conflict between people. How many people among us know of situations perhaps in our own family, when the body’s still not cooled off in the grave, and the children are already arguing about the money that needs to be divided. And how many families experience divisions because of these things? How many marriages have conflicts because of finances?

I think that the root of all these conflicts is a certain selfishness and an unhealthy attachment to material possessions. And Jesus instead of cheapening his glory by getting tangled up in this little dispute he took advantage of the opportunity to give us spiritual principles that would help address any such conflict that we could have.

That’s why in verse 15 we see him say: “Watch out and be on your guard against all kinds of greed”. And here we see the gravity of Jesus’ warning he says “Watch out” it needs to be paid attention very careful. Then he says “be on your guard”, protect yourself “against all kinds of greed”. He’s not just talking about a little thing here or there but the basic heart attitude of greed.

The Greek word behind the Spanish translation of greed is the Greek word “pleonexia”. Let’s all say together: Be careful of pelonexia all of you in the congregation of Lion of Juda.

What is this greed, this pleonexia? We would define greed as an unhealthy excessive attachment to material things, an exaggerated love of money and that which is material. I could also say that greed is really an excessive attachment to anything. There are some people who are greedy for the recognition of others for example. There are some people that can be greedy for sleep. Some might be greedy for having a perfectly sculptured healthy body. I would say that in this XXI century and this society there is an excessive glorification of human beauty. Billions of dollars are invested helping our population as bluff as possible. All of this talks about an excessive attention to that which is created to the part that we ignore the creator.

At the heart of greed there’s a type of idolatry. Greed and idolatry are brother and sister and have the same roots. Greed is born of an excessive attention to the here and now, the realm of space and time. When a person loves too much the present life and the world he inhabits more than anything else, and his values are entirely shaped by what he experiences here in this life. When he takes his gaze off from the creator and that which is eternal and loses himself in the realm of space and time and he becomes a worshipper of that which is temporally created instead of realizing that the true worship belongs to the God that created this thing. And we’ll see how this rich man exemplifies that mistaken attitude.

And we see in the book of Job again an example of somebody who’s forgotten the eternal and gets too wrapped up in the temporal. Job says in book 31:24: “If I have put my trust in gold and I’ve said ‘pure gold you’re my security’. If I rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands have gained”.

We see how obviously this exemplifies the greed but look at the association that Job now makes. He goes out to say: “I’ve always regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor”

We see here a connection of a worship of the creation and an unhealthy love for gold and silver. The mind of Job through of the Holy Spirit is making that association.

“So that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, the idea is the person kissing the hand. These also would be sins to be judged for I would have been unfaithful to God up high. Here we see how greed is linked to a worship of creation and also a worship of oneself.

Now you may find yourself saying: Ok, well thank heaven I’m not a very greedy person so I can take a little nap while he finishes up his talk today. But I want to assure you that it’s not so easy to escape from the moral implications of this that touches all of us.

Jesus uses the example of this greedy rich man as an extreme example but he represents forces and attitudes that move within each one of us. Let’s look at some of the errors that this foolish man commits: first thing he doesn’t recognize God at any moment, in every moment he’s just thinking of himself and his money. There’s an excessive use of the first person pronoun, I, me, my. He says: “this is what I’ll do: I will tear down my barns, then “I will store all my grain in new barns, I’ll say to myself” Me, my, myself.

At no point does he consult God about such important decisions as what to do with his resources. How often do we make decisions, important ones, about things like career , friendships, romantic relationships without taking a minute to say: God what’s your will for me in this area of my life?

There should be in every important decision in our lives be the awareness like a background in our own thinking, God I pray that you will guide me in this decision. The search for God’s will and his wisdom is something so important, it should be something so fundamental to our thinking that we shouldn’t even have to mention it, it should just be assumed. Our sensibility should be so penetrated by an awareness of God’s sovereignty in our lives that we’re just constantly assuming the question: God do you want me to do? For me that is one of the main character qualities of a true believer that is mature and submitted to the lordship of God in his life. We also see in this man that he has no sense of stewardship. Everything he sees as his own. He doesn’t see himself as managing anything, he sees himself as the owner of everything.

And the idea of stewardship in the bible says something very important. It’s one of the most important principles in the scripture. It says: “ Everything I have, everything I am belongs to God”. Repeat with me: “Everything I have, everything I am, belongs to the Lord”.

And if we believe that everything we do and how we manage our time and our resources is with the consciousness that this isn’t mine. When I give a tithe, an offering, I’m not giving of my own money. I’m simply setting aside 10% of the 100% that belongs to him anyway.

When I give my tithe or my offering I don’t take too long to think about what I’m doing. First of all, because if I think too much there’s a possibility that I might not do it. But it’s also because I don’t have the discretion to think about what I’m going to do. Here, it’s not my decision to make. Everything I have belongs to God and he has said: “separate for me 10%”. It’s simply and act of obedience.

And when we serve God in ministry, and we give our lives to serve to him full time. Really we’re not doing anything heroic or extraordinary. Any ministry service is simply a recognition that everything I am, have, my time, my energy, my own person belongs to Him anyway. When you understand that it revolutionizes yourself and the way in which you see life and yourself. Your mind isn’t thinking so much about material things but rather that God of that which is created. Your priorities come to be spiritual rather than material. You’re more concerned about how your life could be useful to God. How your money can advance the interests of the Kingdom of God. How your physical energies can be invested for the purposes of God. Because you know that God is the owner of your life. And you know that all you have comes from his generous hand. And your life is consumed by a sense of gratitude to God who has given all you have. So you know anything you can offer God is just a minimum token compared to all that He’s given to you. God gave his all when He gave his son Jesus on the cross of Calvary.

How can we miserly and cheap when it comes to giving to God all that he’s given to us. I tell you, many times we lose out on experiencing the blessing and fullness of God because we hold back from giving all that He wants us to give. To experience the joy of the Lord one first has to give himself fully to the Lord.

This is not a poetic image and somehow ethereal, it has resonance in every practical moment of life. When I decide to take one hour more to talk to some needy person on the phone who might need a word of encouragement and lose a little bit of sleep that’s a statement of faith that God will bless and make it up. When you decide to share your privacy and be hospitable with a person who’s visiting that’s a recognition that God is owner of your family and your home. When a man or a woman decides to sacrifice the blessing of even being in a service in order to be with the children upstairs and minister to them, again it’s a recognition of God’s stewardship’s in his own life.

What I’m saying is that these sublime attitudes and ideas have very concrete and practical ramifications for us.

Romans 8:5 said: “Those who live according to the simple nature have their mind set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the spirit have their mind set on what the spirit desires.” The person who’s living with a true attitude of stewardship has his mind set on the spirit in terms of their own practical goods and energies in life, how would it advance the spiritual cause of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Another thing about this man in the parable here is that he has a lateral vision. All he wants to do is distribute and recombine the things he has. He sees himself enclosed in a bubble so all he can do is redistribute the things he has, move them from one place to another. What does he say? He says: “I don’t have where to store all my abundant crops, well I’ll build a bigger barn and I’ll put it all over there”.

It’s a completely horizontal vision. Everything he does in a one-dimensional eye view. I have the image of a domino game where all the dominoes are around the table and we just, sort of shuffle them around but we’re not moving them anywhere, we shuffle them but they’re on the same table surface. The person who doesn’t live for God, his life is reduced to that action. His life is reduced to a life that makes decision that don’t have vertical implication towards God. It’s an impoverished and miserly life. It’s a life of symbolic advancements but nothing that’s genuine. It’s like some sort of sporting event. It’s sort like a game where the players fully invest their energies and are fully wrapped up in it but then afterwards, it’s forgotten. It makes no difference in terms of the ultimate championship of the universe. It’s a serious game, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

How many of us get wrapped up in the game that others have defined. It’s a game that involves important things like going to university, getting a career. Or like Donald Trump, amassing great wealth and getting married as many times as possible and getting the envy of all these men, and being on TV and the news, but at the end of it all, what is really changing in the universe? What moral or eternal implications do his activities really have? When we die and the music stops, what effect, what eternal results did our life have?

When the coffin is shut and your box is put 6 feet under the ground, what lasting effect has your life had? And what are the eternal implications of this little game that we’ve been so wrapped up in. We need to be thinking how does my life affect eternity. How can my life help save someone eternally from the punishments of hell? How can my life be used for the growth and development of a dull enclosed soul of another person, help that person to become more like Christ. How can I myself grow morally and spiritually so that I look more and more like Jesus as every day goes by? How can I take my material goods and possessions and invest them for the purposes of the Kingdom of God that are eternal?

Can you see the difference between a merely horizontal perspective and one that is also vertical? Do you see the difference between a merely animal material perspective and one that is spiritual and takes into account that which is eternal? Unfortunately churches all around, including our own, are full of people who are deceived about these things. We come to church but our mentality our attitude is still taken captive by a horizontal perspective. We still haven’t cut the umbilical cord that joins us to the material earthly life.

I remember the words of Apostle John in his first letter where he talks about the love for the world. It says “do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him for everything in the world, the cravings of sinful men, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father but from the world.

There are only two attitudes that God recognizes, an attitude that is based with affections in this world or one that is based with affections in the next. And I want to ask you with all sincerity and I’m asking myself at the same time: Which of these two attitudes really determines the way I view my life and myself? Can I really say that my affections lie in God and in his Kingdom and his purposes. Of course we’ll never going to be able to be a hundred per cent clear on this but we can have a general sense for which side we’re going with in the things of life. I encourage you to take some time today to meditate on that question, especially we’re going to address the young people that are among us today

As you have your whole life ahead of you and depending on the attitude that you have you could save yourself a huge quantity of headaches and gain for yourself so much blessing if you have the right attitude starting now. Decide now that you will put your energy, your affection, your passion, invest your whole life in the Lord and in His purposes.

Another mistake that this man in the parable makes is that he thinks that his soul is going to be truly satisfied by material things. In verse 19 he says to himself: “Soul, you have many good things laid out for many years, take life easy, eat, drink and be merry”. The image that they were presenting here is as if Casper “the friendly ghost” is trying to have a drink of water but of course he can’t do it so you see all the water going sort of through him and then down on the ground. That’s what is like when a person tries to fulfill their spiritual needs with material things.

Human beings have been programmed only to find true fulfillment in the things of God. We as human beings enjoy great liberty ‘cause God has given us free will. But our make up, our wiring that God has put in us comes with certain requirements, that we can only be satisfied on spiritual things ultimately.

A great Christian saint said: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee, oh God”

God has put a God-shaped vacuum in every human heart and it’s like a missing piece of a puzzle and until he fills that space, there will be a feeling of emptiness.

The image I get in my mind it’s like in “Star Trek”, a huge spaceship docking perfectly into the space dock and it’s going to be just like a click, it clicks in perfectly but it wouldn’t fit in any other dock.

People seek it in fulfillment, they seek it in fame, they seek it in sex, they seek it in recognition, they seek it in material goods but none of it really satisfies. Because our programming requires different things to make us feel that we’re truly fulfilled. We can’t be satisfied anywhere else. The most smart thing to do is to stop fighting against how we are truly made and put first things first and look for satisfaction where it truly is.

If you desire to be happy, then the way to be happy is first and foremost is to let God fill that space that he’s designed only for Himself within you. God doesn’t have anything against material in and of themselves, or fame or romantic attachments. What offends God is when we put those things in the first place when they should be second, third, fourth or much lower priorities in our lives. ‘Cause we need to know that the womb, that the basic foundation of all that we are and do needs to be a basic sufficiency and satisfaction in God himself. And if that basic pre-requisite is not met then everything we do to try to fill our needs will come up short and leave us unsatisfied and restless.

Have you ever tried to eat a big piece of fruit or food with a bad toothache at the back of your mouth? It doesn’t matter how succulent the food may be, the more you try to eat it the pain radiates all through you. Have you ever been depressed and then a friend tries to bring you to an amusement park? Can you really enjoy those entertainments if your whole being is filled with negativity and sadness? And what happens is that people try to find satisfaction in advance in objects and entertainment when their essential being is contaminated by sin and the coming judgment and discipline on that sinfulness embitters everything that they do. And that’s what the bible says: “Seek yee first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added on to you”. If you want to be happy, discipline your own flesh, resist the impulse to go after that what intensely calls your attention, make decisions based on eternal principles, consult the manual before your feelings, decide to follow the instructions of God rather than the needs of your flesh, or your nervous system, or your emotions, or your wounds, or perhaps your physical appetites and make decisions based on the manual that God has written for you. And you will find rest for your soul. Resist the deceptions of your own mind, because the mind is deceitful above all things. The heart is terribly deceitful and we need to learn to control it and make priorities based on the values of the word of God.

Another thing this man does is he doesn’t recognize the fragility of life. They don’t recognize the basic inherent fragility in all life. The man says to himself: Soul you have many good things laid up for many years. He thinks he’s got so much time ahead of him. Maybe he’s 40 or 45 years old and he’s thinking he’s got another 40 years to enjoy the fruits of his labor and his professional achievements. He’s healthy, people respect him because of all this power and wealth. His financial success gives him a sense of effectiveness, but what he doesn’t understand is that in the spiritual world he’s made a decision for that which is not coming.

He doesn’t understand that he really doesn’t have the right to map out his life the way he thinks he does. In the spiritual world, out of his own control, a declaration has been made that his life would end that day. How many of us, again the young people especially, people full of life and vigor, have a great future ahead of them, maybe some have just graduated from the university, or high school, and you have a brilliant future before you, and thinking I’m going to live for many decades, and the idea is – in the future there’s plenty of time to decide to follow God some day, I’ll come to church, I’ll give God his due, in the meantime I won’t do the biggy sins, every now and then a little thing, God understands, and enjoy the many years I have before me, and when I’m old and tired then I’ll start cultivating a spiritual life. –

Something that’s clear in scripture is that human life is so fragile, it’s unpredictable. The bible says that the human life is like a flower on the field that blossoms briefly but the wind comes and blows it away the next day. Then people look and don’t see where that flower was. You don’t need to think only about death to think about human fragility, wealth itself is so fragile, one day you have it and the next day it’s gone. Health is fragile, one day we can be healthy and the next day not. The beauty of youth is so fragile, one day our skin is so tense, and healthy and glowing and the next day we’re using creams or whatever we can to sort of get by. Emotions are the same way, one day you’re up the next you’re down.

We live in a world that is mined with dangers. Jesus said: “In this world you will have troubles. Wow to he who does not consider his own fragility. A part of wisdom is realizing our own mortality. The bible says: “ Teach us to number our days so that we would acquire a heart of wisdom”. Paradoxically the awareness of our own fragility is not a basis for weakness but a basis for strength. To know that I’m weak and that every day I need God, realizing my own fragility motivates me to seek God and his strength. I know I cannot fully administrate and decide my own life. My only defense, my only hope is to take this fragile little life and put it in the hands of an almighty God. To trust my life to the Lord. God I want you to administrate, to use my days, my hours and minutes. Give me what you want and take away from me what you want to take. I give you the interests and the management of my life and put it in your hands. I put my weakness in your divine power. Guide me in your pathway. That is the root of joy and happiness in life.

God wants us to enjoy that rest. God wants us to not be anxious an fearful about problems in life and that we find our rest only in Him. And it all begins by giving our life to the Lord, giving our heart to the Lord, giving our future, our past our present to the Lord. And say to God, all the wealth that I have, everything that I have, you administer it, it’s yours God.

Lower our heads now and pray together and meditate on the word that God has sown in our hearts today. Let the weight and the meaning of his word take root in our own heart today. We’ll examine our conscience today. How important are the things of this world especially material things, how important are they really for me? How do these things influence the decisions, the eternal decisions I make? Where are my priorities really? I want all of us to decide: I’m going to put my life in the hands of God. To live for God. To live for the Kingdom of God. I’m going to be a radical disciple of Jesus Christ, completely committed to God, I give my life to you, Lord.

Lord, we acknowledge that in one way or another your word has challenged us and that we are far from that level of complete commitment to you and of radical yielding to you and to the claims of your Kingdom and the Lordship that you so deserve me, so Father we commit again to being your children and walking in obedience and submitting our lives to you for we know that when we do so we can only expect good things from a loving father. We bless your name.

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