13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
Don’t hoard your money, but instead be rich toward God, the end. Got it?
If only it was that simple.
This gospel story isn’t about money. At least not in the way we expect. It’s easy to turn this parable into some kind of financial stewardship message, which isn’t bad, but I don’t think that’s quite the meaning of this story.
First reading through this passage, we might assume the rich farmer in the parable is called a fool because he is wealthy and stores up his possessions. But after a second thought, those things aren’t really foolish. Having wealth doesn’t make one a fool, nor does saving for the future. No, I don’t think this is what makes God angry.
It’s not his wealth and saving that make him a fool -- it’s his attitude about them, it’s how he uses them that makes him a fool. Listen again to how this rich farmer speaks:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' (Luke 12:17-19)
He’s literally just talking to himself, about himself, with himself … you get the idea. He even speculates congratulating his future self on his self-made abundance.
He doesn’t give thanks to God, he doesn’t thank the workers on his farm, he doesn’t even think to share his incredible abundance with anyone. He just decides to build bigger and bigger spaces to accumulate all of his stuff, reserving its use only for himself.
Now this isn’t that far off from some trends in the United States. I’m sure you’ve heard of the show Hoarders. People on the show have accumulated so much stuff they can hardly get around their own homes -- now obviously this is an extreme situation, and usually related to other problems, but it’s also worth pointing out that many people are fascinated by the show. I read that “At the time of its premiere, Hoarders was the most-watched series premiere in A&E network history among adults aged 18-49 and tied for the most ever in the adults aged 25–54” (Wikipedia).
In other words, we not only like to accumulate stuff, we even like to watch TV shows about people who accumulate stuff. And it’s not just Hoarders. Think of all the reality TV centered around extremely wealthy people and what they have.
Or how we gawk with envy at huge homes and yards -- over the last 40 years, the average home size in the United States has increased by more than 1,000 square feet (money.cnn.com). We’re building bigger and bigger barns -- houses -- to store our stuff, which we seem to have more and more of.
But like I said earlier, it’s not wealth or possessions that are the problem -- it’s our perspective and attitude about them. And I know that here this morning we have people with many different financial realities. Some of you may be struggling paycheck to paycheck, others living extremely comfortably, and others somewhere in-between. No matter where you fit in on this spectrum, you can either be rich toward God or not.
Being rich toward God does not depend on your financial status.
In verse 15, Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
So then, what does one’s life consist of? I think life -- and life defined as purpose, what’s at the core, what gives meaning -- I think our lives consist of relationships. Seriously, that’s it. Relationships.
Think about it. Have you ever been in a tragic situation? Maybe you got a phone call that a friend had died. Or maybe your child went missing.
What mattered to you in that moment? Were you thinking about whether or not your house was big enough? If you had enough techology? No, of course not. You were thinking about who you could reach out to, or you were wanting to be with someone you loved. You may have been praying to God.
No one on their deathbed is going to say, “I wish I had loved my possessions more instead of my family.”
Our lives consist of relationships -- relationships with God and each other.
Even our possessions and money should have to do with relationships. I will say again and again that it’s not possessions or money that can be foolish, it is our use of them and attitudes about them that can be foolish.
You probably have things that are meaningful to you. Like a desk that your grandfather made. Or a few outfits your newborn baby wore. Or a boat that reminds you of fishing with your dad. It would be foolish if you had hundreds of desks just to show off. Or if you were attached to tubs full of newborn clothes that hadn’t been used in years. Or if that boat just sat in storage for a decade.
It’s about our perspective, not the things themselves.
And you probably have things that help you be in relationship with others. A phone to contact people. A stove to cook a meal for family or friends. It would be foolish if you could never be away from your phone. Or if you wanted to remodel your kitchen every year to be the best.
Again, it’s about our perspective, not the things themselves.
God says to the rich farmer -- and to us -- “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.”
We can store up all the things we want, but in the end, whose will they be?
Items defined by relationships, like family photos or a favorite painting, will continue to be defined by relationships and passed on to others when you are gone.
But boxes of hardly worn clothes you just can’t part with? A pile of iPads because you always had to have the latest version? Whose will these be? No one’s. They will simply be thrown out.
Of course you’re always going to have some amount of items that aren’t defined by relationships, but that should be kept to a minimum. It’s far too easy to keep boxes upon boxes of things we don’t need, or to go out and purchase a bunch of things we don’t need. These choices are driven by impulses and lack of letting go, instead of being driven by relationships.
What positive difference does keeping everything or always purchasing possibly make in life? Does thinking about all the stuff you have bring you closer to God? Of course not.
Being aware of all this matters because it distracts us from relationships, it distracts us from being rich toward God. Being rich toward God, in my understanding, must start with being rich toward one another. This means shifting our focus from love of things to love of others.
I don’t doubt that you all know that relationships are what’s most important, but everyone can use a reminder. We have all gotten swept away into loving possessions or money at some point in our lives.
We get distracted and swept up in loving things when our focus isn’t where it should be. When we get lazy about connecting with others. When we feel empty and try to fill that void with something other than God’s love.
So what to do? I think the answer to this is really very easy, we just don’t get around to it. Clean house! Both literally and in other ways.
Those boxes sitting in that room full of stuff you haven’t touched in years probably weighs on your mind now and then. It prevents you from having a guest room for your family. Or maybe the storage mess makes you cranky and you keep complaining about it to other people instead of taking care of it and letting it go. If you cleaned it out, you’d have space for your friends to stay or you would be in a better mood at home.
Consider the amount of time you spend online. Do you love reading Facebook or Instagram posts more than having a family dinner time? Clean up how you use your time, set boundaries, and be attentive to your family relationships.
Do you love your huge bank account like the rich farmer loved all of his surplus? Do you have more than you should ever spend on yourself? Instead of falling in love with staring at the wealth in your bank account, fall in love with an organization doing good work and donate some of that extravagant surplus to help them out. Use your money for the benefit of others, for relationships.
I want you to take just a few seconds and either write something down on today’s bulletin or type something on a list in your phone. I want you to think of one way you can “clean house,” one way you can make relationships more central in your life. And I want you to also write down a time -- it could be today, tomorrow, next weekend -- when you can set aside time to start making that change.
I decided I will use social media this week to reach out to at least five people I am connected with online, but whom I haven’t had meaningful conversations with for a few years. Instead of just watching them from the periphery and loving to scroll mindlessly through a news feed, I will clean up how I’m using my time and intentionally send five people a message, seeing what they’re up to and what’s important to them since we’ve last talked.
To end, I want to go back to the beginning of our passage. A man comes to Jesus and demands that he get involved in his family dispute about inheritance. Instead, Jesus tells him a parable about the dangers of loving possessions and money more than people. An inheritance would’ve been given out after someone died. And so this man, rather than mourning the loss of a loved one and spending time loving his family, is fighting over an inheritance -- this sort of thing still happens today.
Heed Jesus’ warning in your life as a whole: “Take care, Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Your life consists of relationships, with God and God’s beloved children. Don’t get distracted by other things. Clean house. These relationships are truly what make up your life, and what matters your whole life long. Amen.