Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12-14 and 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Relationship with whom? What are the possibilities? Our immediate family? Our larger family as in sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces, nephews? Our neighbors? Our co-workers? Our sisters and brothers in our congregations or neighboring congregations or faithful people around the world? Did you notice who was not mentioned? Yes, God; all three persons of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Relationship with God and each other is more important than wealth. Can we have both? Can we have wealth and a close relationship with God? Which one will claim most of our attention? Which one is more important to us at this moment? Which will be most important as we think about being received into the full kingdom of God, into this “place” called heaven?
Is wealth wrong? My, I am certainly full of questions today! Well, each person must examine himself or herself. AND, this examination needs to be done with God standing by our side. We need to look at this whole area from God’s perspective because, after all is done, it is God who gets the final say. Is the accumulation of wealth wrong? It is so exciting to see our money grow; to have a prosperous business; to not wonder how we will eat tomorrow or how we will pay the mortgage or the electric bill or the doctor bill.
Our society needs to have philanthropists – people with wealth who choose to make society better. Our church needs people with wealth who care about mission inside and outside the building. Our society needs disciplined people, people who know how to save instead of spending carelessly. It is a model. Our young people need to see parents who have a plan and work toward that plan. College, as we know, costs an absolute fortune. Giving our children that debt-free beginning is a gift beyond expectation. Having wealth can free us to use our other God-given talents. We truly need wealthy people in our world. So we can end this sermon right here.
Wealth is not wrong! It is what we do with our wealth that matters. It is how we relate to our wealth that matters. What could be wrong with having wealth? Maybe you have found those wrong things already in your life. We find ourselves watching that bank account and those stocks growing, growing when we could be noticing how our children spend too much time in front of the TV or the computer when we could be relating to them. It is easy to justify ourselves when we discover that our children don’t want to have a relationship with us. Mmmmmm. I wonder how that attitude developed.
What happens to our lives, to our personalities, to our relationships when the stock market takes a plunge. We can point a finger all we want toward the cause of the plunge, toward those greedy, greedy people at the top of corporations who don’t even know there are lowly people at the bottom of the ladder. If we don’t think they are the cause, we point our fingers and complain about whatever and whomever we think is the fault. This eats away at our inner being – our physical body, our minds, our hearts. The only relationship we want is someone to tell us it is just a nightmare and not real.
The writer of our Ecclesiastes passage today, is lamenting that he has accumulated all this wealth and when he dies who will benefit from it. The writer is believed to be Solomon, the son of David, the king of Israel after David. He is known for his wisdom, supposedly God-given wisdom. He writes, “So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This … is vanity and a great evil.” Solomon starts this passage with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” What is vanity? One definition is “futility, something vain, worthlessness, conceit.”
The Psalmist of Psalm 49 today has these words. “One can never redeem another, or give to God the ransom for another’s life; for the ransom of a life is so great that there would never be enough to pay it …” I take that to lead us to the idea that even though it is good that we can pay for our children’s college education, we cannot redeem their lives with our efforts. It is the relationships that matter. It is our relationship with God, true and genuine and not pompous, that entices our children to say, “I want that for myself.” It is our relationship with our loving partner that sets the model for how kind and loving we can be to each other when the love of God is in our hearts. It is our sincere, strong love for our children that brings them through the temptations along the way. This is not a messy, sloppy love; a doting love; or a when-I-feel-like-it love. It is that steady, backbone love that flows from our own solid, loving relationship with God.
In Paul’s writing today to the Colossians, he lumps greed with other behaviors and attitudes that are not pleasing to God. I especially like this passage, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
From Paul writing to the Colossians, we move to the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus is addressing earthly concerns. Jesus is talking about crops. He tells of a man whose farm is thriving. In fact, it must have been a year such as we are having now, because the crops are more abundant than his barns can hold. Instead of thinking whom he could help with this abundance, his mind directs itself to building more barns to hold the abundance so that he can relax, eat, drink, and be merry. You know what happens. This man, bent on a good time, really gets a good time but not the kind of good time he envisioned. He is taken to heaven that very night because God is not pleased with his lack of concern for relationship with people who need that abundance. Actually, Jesus comes full circle to Solomon who was complaining that someone else would benefit from all the toil of his years. Jesus tells that God announced to this man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus ends this parable by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
God measures our lives by our relationship with himself, not by the quantity of our own possessions; by the value we place on loving relationships instead of our bank account; by our actions so that we have a good reputation and are a good model. We need to earn a good reputation; we can’t buy one. We can earn achievement in classes, achievement in the ladder in our employment.
Respect, we can earn respect. Our God-given talents enable us to earn acknowledgment for our performance or our kindness or the workmanship of our hands or our muscle strength. It is easy to take the credit ourselves when we should be acknowledging God’s part. We should constantly being thanking “God” and thinking “God.” It becomes a habit when we work at it. You may say that a habit is not genuine, that our heart is not in it. An automatic action is better than ignoring God’s design for our lives. However, for the full expression of joy we shall be giving thanks each day, each hour, each minute for these gifts which God gave to us: the talent, the endurance, the strength, the patience, the opportunities.
So even though accumulating wealth gives us a sense of pride, accomplishment, and something to be envied, there is a price to pay when we do not see it as a side line and when we do not see it as a gift from God to be used for God’s business. What is God’s business? Surely God approves our being careful with our money, being somewhat conservative; but our wealth and possessions shall be used for the kingdom. The kingdom shall be a place of fairness, of equal education and opportunity, of enough to eat, enough safe water to drink, clean clothing, showers, shelter. This is God’s business.
Giving money is certainly good in the endeavor to form a just world. But remember the idea of relationships? Relationships are exponentially more effective than money in the goal of fairness and justice. So we shall let the money accumulate without a guilty feeling, but focus on the people around you. I shall focus on the people around me. Can we possibly heal the gap between our grumpy neighbors and ourselves? Can we just try to put a puzzle together with an unkempt person in a homeless shelter? Can we start enforcing rules with our teen children but in a loving way instead of an autocratic attitude? Can we and our children live modestly so that we can relate to school friends and their parents? We shall think of spending our extra time where God is welcome to be front and center; where relationships can form which are triangles with God as the third person but on the highest corner.
We will find that when such relationships form with people, with our congregation, with other groups, we want to share our wealth, not foolishly, but generously. It is noticeably true that when our treasure is where our heart is, we are happy, joyous people. Fear gets lost, anxiety gets lost. The reward of our toil is in the giving. The reward of our toil is not bigger barns but the spreading of the love of God.
Lord Jesus Christ, help us to value any wealth we may have and give thanks for it. But Lord Jesus Christ, help us to share with generosity instead of building bigger barns. Amen