Friday, 30 September 2005

THE RICH FOOL

THE RICH FOOL
LUKE 12:13-21

This is story is very appropriate. It is about a good harvest; and it is about an inheritance dispute. The Archer's script writers have obviously been reading Luke. And no, I don't listen to it. Alison does!

A man comes to Jesus and says, "Teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me".

And Jesus answers by telling a story. It is the story of a man who had a bumper harvest. It could be the story of anyone who had a major windfall. The business he worked for did well and the end of year of bonus was good. The company that he had shares in was sold. He won the lottery. He inherited a packet. The business/house sold much higher than expected. It doesn't matter how

Suddenly he had an awful lot of money. So he thought, "This is great. I will be wise and invest the money. I'll put it in investment funds, in pensions and in property. I will take early retirement. I will buy a nice house, get a nice car. I will go on holidays. And I will live well".

And God says to that man: 'You fool'. Tonight you will have a heart attack. And what will the money be to you then. Who will get it? It will become another opportunity for people to argue about inheritance."

So where does this man go wrong?

Jesus concludes, "So it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God"

It was too late for this man. It is not, at the moment, too late for us.

We need to learn to be rich towards God

1. To learn gratitude: to recognise that all things belong to God and what we have is gift

It is significant that the story that Jesus tells seems to imply that the windfall was outside the man's control: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop".

What we have is gift. It is to be received with gratitude

I had a friend who was brought up in the communist days in East Germany. He told me that on one occasion they were at school and sat down for dinner in front of empty plates. The teacher said, "Today we are going to pray to God for food". She said a prayer, and then said, "Look at your plates. They are still empty. God does not give us food. But the people from the farm have worked hard to grow the crops; and the dinner ladies have worked hard to turn the crops into food for us, and they will give us the food."

Yes, we do need to say thank you to the dinner ladies and to the farmers. But we also need to say thank you to God. Who gave us life? Who gave us the ability to reason things out in the first place? Who gave us the ability to make decisions or take risks? Who gave us the time and the ability to work hard? Who gave us, what society would call 'the lucky breaks'.

The danger is that as soon as we start to think that somehow we have earned what we have; that we deserve it; it is very easy to slip into a frightening kind of arrogance: as a 'have' I am better than a 'have not'.

It is very easy to start to think that because we live in the west, because we live in a wealthy society, we are somehow better or more worthy or more valuable than people who live in the Sudan and Tanzania.  We forget that it is as painful for a mother in Ethiopia to lose her baby through an inadequate water supply, as it is for a mother in Bury St Edmunds to lose her baby in a car accident.

2. To learn humility before God and each other: what we have is not down to us

Richard Bauckham writes, "The writing of the stories of our lives is done only a little by ourselves, mostly by other people, by what happens to us, but ultimately by God. It is the the affluent who most easily forget this. .. The seduction of wealth is the illusion it gives us of control over our lives"

The problem with our man in the story that Jesus tells is that he thought he could write his own story. He thought he was in control. Just as God had given him a good crop, so God could take his life from him like that.

And we buy into the lie.  And it leads to 'hubris', pride, the setting of oneself up as God.

We need to recognise that, however wealthy we are, we are not in control of our destiny. A little humility before God does not go amiss.

3. We need to learn generosity

The man in our story doesn't even think about giving. Instead, he gets the windfall, and he thinks: "How can I best keep it".

There is, I guess, a duty of giving. Tithing, giving a tenth of everything that you get, is a principle that has its roots deep back in the Old Testament. Remember the story of Abraham and Melchizedek.

And this is not some strange teaching from a particular branch of the Christian church. This is a practice which is followed by almost all the world religions.

It is obviously a Jewish practice.
And although different strands of Islam teach different things about giving, most practising Moslems will give away a tenth of their income.
And Jesus teaches that tithing is a principle that we should follow: although he says, what is really important is not the percentage but the attitude of the heart.

And I think that it is right to say that, as Christians, tithing is the beginning of our giving.

I'm delighted that St Mary's Committee has committed itself to the principal of tithing our church giving. We have said that, as a church family, we will give 10% of what is given by church members - through the envelopes or through general giving - away. And I have to say that I hope that that will be a beginning. That we will recognise how wealthy we are as a church and parish, and that we will be not only giving individuals but a giving community.

Of course, our giving does not need to be just to the church, although in the Old Testament the tenth that people gave was to the temple and the work of the temple, the work of prayer and the work of declaring the good news about Jesus

So could I ask you, on this harvest - when we give thanks to God for what he has given us - to go home and to actually work out what you receive and then work out what you give? Of course it is hard. As someone once said, "If you give 10% of what you have away, I can assure you of this. You will be 10% poorer".

But if at one level it is hard, it can also be incredibly liberating. We were made to give.

Of course, being rich towards God is not just about our money. It is about using what we have unselfishly. It is about using our homes for God - inviting people around. Last week we had a 12 hour power cut from about 10 in the morning to 10 at night. And one of our neighbours said, "If you have an electric cooker, please come round and use our cooker"; using our cars for God - giving people lifts; using our possessions for God - not letting them control you, but having that willingness to share.

4. We need to learn what it means to lay up treasures in heaven.

There was a horizon to the thinking of the rich man. It was the horizon of this life. He could not think beyond it or above it. That is why God calls him a fool.

As Christians we are called to think outside the box. Perhaps as Christians we need to think 'into' the box! There is life beyond death: and we do need to prepare for it. We need to lay up treasures in heaven.

One last thing

We don't know what the background is to the man's complaint about his brother.

It could be that the father had died and, according to Jewish practise at the time, had left the farm as a single unit to both the brothers. One of the brothers wants the farm divided, and he comes to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me".

It could be that the father had died and, one of the brothers had defrauded the other out of his inheritance. The brother who has been defrauded comes to Jesus and says, "Tell my brother to do what is right". In which case, Jesus' answer is very surprising.

Jesus does not say, "Your wicked brother". Instead Jesus challenges the motives of the person who has been defrauded. Why? Because what Jesus is teaching here is good news. He does not want the man standing before him to be a fool. He does not want the man to be controlled by greed. He does not want the man to possessed by possessions.

Don't you see? It is too late for the rich fool. It is probably too late for the brother who has taken control of the inheritance

Today, around the world, millions of people may be coming to Jesus like this brother came to Jesus. "Lord, tell my brother (you and me in Western society) to share the inheritance that you have given to us"

Jesus does hear the cry of the oppressed. He will not be an arbiter between them and us, because probably we are not willing to hear him. At least he will not be an arbiter between us this side of death and judgement.  But he will help them.

But Jesus says to them, and for that matter to anyone who comes to him, "Don't become like the rich fool. Don't be like the one who would defraud his brother. Don't be someone who becomes possessed by possessions. Don't become like your god: cold and hard.

Learn gratitude, learn humility, learn generosity, and learn to lay up treasures in heaven.

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