Friday, October 20, 2006

In Gold We Trust?

In Gold We Trust
Luke 12:13-21

[13] Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

[14] Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" [15] Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."[16] And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

[18] "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

[20] "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

[21] "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

One week-end several years ago I visited my daughter Janice and her husband Gilbert when they were working with Taylor University. We went to church Sunday morning at the United Methodist Church in Matthews Indiana where Gilbert was to be the guest Lay Speaker.

We had Sunday dinner with Doyte and Mary Kibbey who where members of that congregation. We had known the Kibbey’s for many years, since our daughters Janice and Joan were college classmate and friends of their daughters Becky and Ruthie.

Matthews Indiana is a small Farm town, with picturesque, tall silos around. As we sat around the Kibbey’s Sunday dinner table, Mr. Kibbey told us the interesting story. He said that in 1902, Matthews Indiana was a booming oil town! Imagine that now!

In 1902 oil was discovered in Matthews and people drove in setting up camp, expecting to get rich in oil. It was like a gold rush, he said! Liquor Store people moved in and set up 20 saloons in the small town which had only one grocery store and two churches.

Mr. Kibbey said the old timers told him that many people had oil lights burning on their property day and night. They reported that night was so lit up (maybe "lit up" in more ways than one)... it was hard to tell day from night.

But …alas in a few years the oil was gone!

He said they thought they had an endless supply and wasted it.

WOW. How timely that 1902 story is to 2008. Kroger moved out of West Rome a few years ago…in order to build one huge luxury Grocery Store. As someone who grew up in the South during the great depression, I am just amazed at our wealth and conspicuous consumption…seeing all of us shopping in all the luxury places like there is no tomorrow and our waste like the gold rush in California and the 1902 oil rush in Indiana.

It seems Wall Street and Main Street in America have thought we had an endless
supply of money and resources and wasted. We are in a world where many of us have so much stuff, we have to rent storage places…and our houses have large and larger storage closets and attics.

Perhaps some of us have learned a little from the past what others of us are having to painfully learn now. But none of us, certainly not I, can point a finger at someone else. Selfishness and wastefulness is an all too common trait. We are all sinners and self centered in one way or another.

It seems we all have all been guilty of worshiping the Almighty dollar more than believing in Almighty God!

We have "In God we Trust" on our coins (although as Jeannie has reminded us, there are people in our nation seeking and lobbying to get that important phrase removed from our currency). In fact some are seeking to remove all vestiges of Christianity from our culture and even distort or delete it from our history books.

In our scripture lesson (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus was asked to settle an inheritance dispute and it gave him the opportunity to deal with the insidious blight of money and “things” on our souls. (vv 13-15)

Jesus was not showing indifference to the claims of legal justice, but was insisting that there are greater gains in life than getting an inheritance, and greater losses in life than losing an inheritance. ( The Layman’s Bible Commentary, page 110-111)

The rich man Dr Luke tells us about in this lesson looked upon his possessions as his…and only his. He saw them not as gifts...We read…”my barns, my grain, my goods , my soul.” He seems to think possessions make life…and here comes Jesus reminding us that possession not only, do not give life…possessions do not even give “existence.” As Jesus told the rich farmer, Death separates us from any possession …anything and everything we think we own.

Jesus talks further to his disciples to explain that faith in God frees us from covetousness, which is the tenth of the ten commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Covetousness is a disease of the soul which always brings with it uneasiness and unrest and longing that cannot be satisfied. When we covet, our neighbors house, or our neighbors wife or anything that belongs to our neighbor, Jesus taught, we break most of the other commandments…at least in our heart.

So the Lord wants to free us from coveting and also from undue anxiety about the necessities of life.

The tenth commandment telling us not to “covet” comes silently after the booming “Thou shall nots” about lying, stealing, adultery and murder.

Our community was shocked - in fact it made news all over Georgia and beyond - in July of 2004 when a respected youth leader in a church in Rome was accused of the murder of a fellow church leader. We were later dumbfounded when it was alleged the murdered man’s wife was in an affair with the alleged murderer and was an accomplice in planning the murder.

I do not know the couple, but probably none of us were more shocked than this man and woman still waiting in jail to stand trial for murder. When we begin the hidden sin of coveting, we never know how far down the slippery slope it will take us.

It seems so harmless when we first engage in a flirtation that might lead to adultery. It seems so harmless when we first engage in perhaps soft core pornography that requires more and more explicit materials and often leads to acting out, according to statistics.

These “little” offensives are only revealed when an overt action like adultery or murder brings it into the limelight. Jesus tells us sin begins in the heart with hidden lust and anger.

To covet is dangerous because it is silent and hidden. We do not see “covet.” There are no civil laws against covetousness.Yet this tenth commandment about coveting covers the other nine. Covetousness is deceptive and goes hand in hand with discontentment, lies, lust and hate. We are not to “covet anything that belongs to someone else… house, spouse, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor.”

Our God of love has given us guidelines for what it means to be a civil and liberated human being as well as what it means to be a covenant person and a follower of Jesus Christ.

So Jesus goes on to teach us that our life is in God’s hands.
He reminds of God’s bounteous provision for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. His care of things which are transient indicates his major concern for us who have an eternal destiny. It is all too easy sometimes to forget God is more aware of our needs than we are.

It is all too easy to forget in is "In God we trust" and slip into the concept and behavior of "In Gold we Trust!"

In our scripture lesson Jesus called the man a fool for basting his life on money. The passage starts out with a man coming to Jesus out of the crowd and asking Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute between him and his brother.

Barclay and other commentaries tell us this was not uncommon for people then to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis. But Jesus refused to get mixed up in this kind of family dispute about money.

Then Jesus turns to the people, “Take care. Protect yourself against the least bit of greed’ Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot. Jesus loves us and wants to protect us against the destruction that greed brings into our life. (the Message)

But Jesus did go on to have some things to say about the place of money for those of us who have little money and for those of us who have an abundant supply of money.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other and not to re-apportion wealth. But Jesus reminds us here and in other scripture passages that possessions do not give life it's meaning...and he illustrates it with the parable of the Rich Fool.

This man was rich and getting richer. He thought his only problem was to find a place to store and to invest!

He needed to expand…he had to make a decision...he said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater!” He faced a problem to which many of us aspire. Yet, Jesus said he was a fool!
He certainly would have been successful in our society. We would consider him anything but a fool.

Success is something tangible. It can be measured economically by our bank account...our stocks and bonds...our property. Success can be measure socially by our popularity, our education, our accomplishments, name recognition.

It seems to never have occurred to him to give any of it away.
Jesus tells us…a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15)

Malcolm Muggerage was a successful TV personality in England who became a Christian. He went to India to interview Mother Teresa who was working among the dying in India. He reported that he saw many houses on mercy by churches of many denominations, but not even one by an atheist nor a humanist.

We all talk about teaching our children the value of money. But Jesus is also teaching us here…the value less ness of money.

There is a difference in possessions and ownership. It is said that shortly before the crash of 1929, a man gave Emory at Oxford enough money to build a large building. After he and other wealthy people lost most of his money, he said, “What I gave away is all I have left.”

All of us are amazed to see people work, to get to what the world calls success. Then when they have made it big time, to their dismay they realize happiness is not found there. So they self destruct with alcohol, other drugs and even suicide.

Jesus warns us that possessions, our storage buildings, our gold or bank accounts may have become a weight that prevents us from rising to the heights that God has prepared for us.

It is good to have "In God we trust" written on our money, but it also must be written in our heart. AMEN.

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