Fool’s Gold (Luke 12:13-21)

In this short and snappy parable Jesus gives a very strong warning against greed. But what is wrong with greed?

Sermon as preached at St. Luke’s on 20th November 2022

Black Friday – Buying Better Possessions

This Friday it is Black Friday. The special sales day, which is meant to kick off the Christmas shopping bonanza. We are bombarded with adverts encouraging us to make the most of the bargains and often see people queuing and fighting for the best deals.

We are offered deals on all the latest and best stuff:

  • iPhone 14,
  • 55in TV screen,
  • Play Station 5
  • Samsung Smartwatch
  • Swanky Coffee Machine

All of this adds up to encouraging us to focus on gathering an abundance of possessions.

But will all this stuff really make you happier? Will your life truly be better as a result?

Jesus’s words act like a pin to the ballooning consumerism of Black Friday. He says, “… life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Arguing over Money

This comment comes in response to a request from someone in the crowd:

“Teacher tell my brother to divided the inheritance with me.”

Probably his father has died and now there is an argument between his brother and him about sharing out the inheritance. Such arguments and manoeuvrings to gain more money are just as common today as they were then. An inheritance is likely to be the biggest amount of money people will gain in one go, so if having lots of money is what matters to them, it is at this stage that their greed will show itself and often erupt into bitter and destructive family disputes. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you here were aware of such disputes.

Jesus refuses to be caught up in someone else’s argument. Rather than joining the argument over the money from the inheritance, he turns it into an argument about people’s attitude to money in order to warn both the crowd then and ultimately us now.

Jesus may not care about this man’s inheritance, but he does care about his soul and ours. So, he issues a very strong warning:

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;…”

(Luke 12:15)

Again and again in the New Testament and the Bible, greed is listed as one of the most serious of sins. Do we watch out for it? Do we guard our souls against it?  Or are we so contaminated by the consumerism of our society that we allow our souls to be deeply infected with a desire to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to grab hold of as much money as possible, no matter what the cost to our relationships or our souls?

Fool’s Gold

To ram home the warning, Jesus tells a parable. It is perhaps one of the most simple parables. There is just one rich man and God. Yet it packs a powerful punch.

The rich man is a farmer and he is already rich. But then he has a bumper crop. He is going to be even richer! His only problem is that he now has so much that he doesn’t know what to do with it all. Then he comes up with a solution. He’ll build bigger barns, so that he can live comfortably and luxuriously off the proceeds for the rest of his life, eating, drinking and being merry.

Then God responds and says, “You fool!”

This rich man’s whole attitude is utterly foolish and wrong.

But why? What is wrong with his attitude. I think we can point to three aspects:

  1. Solitary

First of all, his attitude is very solitary. The short story, puts over a real sense of isolation for this man. It is mainly about the man deliberating with himself and talking to himself. It is all about ‘I’:

What will I do?

I have no place to store my crops.

This is what I’ll do.

I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.

I will store my surplus grain.

I’ll say to myself.

The only time he says, ‘You’ is when he is talking to himself!

This is totally and utterly self-centred. No other person gets a look in. It hasn’t even occurred to him he could use his extra wealth to help others or give to the poor.

This in itself is a challenge to the man who approached Jesus. His concern was for his own gain from the inheritance, fighting for his own selfish ends. No doubt the battle was ruining his relationship with his brother.

When greed grips our hearts, then we quickly become self-obsessed and selfish. We have a solitary attitude that can damage our relationships and stop us caring for those in need around us.

Paul warns in 1 Timothy 6:9:

“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9)

Perhaps part of the reason for loneliness and relationship breakdown in our society today is the strong encouragement to run after bigger and better possessions that creates quite a selfish attitude.

Even in the church how selfish are we with our wealth?

John Wesley famously said,

“Earn all you can,

Save all you can,

Give all you can.”

Do you give all you can or just enough to salve our conscience?

Are we more concerned to use our wealth for the good of others or so that we can eat drink and be merry for many years to come?

Ultimately, such a self-centred attitude to money, makes us fools in God’s sight!

  1. Temporary

The second reason the rich man of the story is a fool is that his attitude is too focussed on the temporary. He plans to store up wealth for this life, but fails to take into account death. God says to him:

“You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20)

From the perspective of eternity, gathering more stuff for yourself is pointless. When you die, you leave it all behind. As God says to the rich man: ‘Then who will get it?’ Not you is the point.

To ignore our death as relevant to our life is all too common and all too easy in our world of relatively good health and long life expectancy. Yet, it is ultimately foolish.

In Psalm 39, the Psalmist says:

“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. ” (Psalm 39:4)

Those who know that their life is drawing to an end, suddenly discover that the things they value and their attitudes change.

As Christians we know that one of the greatest gifts we have from God is eternal life. We can have a confidence about death, which means that we should not fear thinking about it or contemplating how little is our time on earth.

When we do that surely, we must move from gathering things that are only temporary and working for what is eternal. Looking forward to the day when Jesus acknowledges us before the angels and God.

  1. Idolatry

The third reason the rich man in the story is a fool is that his greed is actually a form of idolatry. His possessions have taken the place of God in his life.

Jesus goes on to say in verse 21:

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.” (Luke 12:21)

In all his deliberations the man did not once think about God. Jesus tells the story in the context of a Jewish culture for whom talk about God and the idea of God was very much a focus. Yet, this man in the story shows no concern for God, when he thinks about what to do with his new found wealth.

Indeed, the man that had come seeking Jesus’s help. Seemed to see Jesus, the God-man not as someone to listen to and serve, but someone who could be enlisted to serve his own selfish ends.

In both cases, concern for God’s will or kingdom was not a reality in their deliberations about money.

As Christians it is even easier for us to ignore God when it comes to thinking about our money, because unlike Jesus’s time God is hardly ever spoken about outside of churches.

In fact there is a sense that money has become the replacement god. In Colossians it says:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

As Christians then if we are to take Jesus’s strong warnings seriously, if we are to avoid the foolishness of allowing wealth to become a false god, then we need to work harder than ever to consider what God wants us to use our wealth for. This is the wise approach.

What we need to do is learn what it means to be rich towards God.

So how can we be ‘rich towards God’?

To end let me suggest three areas where we can be rich towards God:

  1. Care for God’s World

First, of all when it comes to climate change. As Christians we believe that this world was God’s beautiful creation and Genesis tells us that our purpose is to care for it and tend it.

As such as Christians we should be at the forefront of calls to deal with the problems of climate change – even though it may cost us financially! To put it bluntly, investing in a change to green technologies is a far better use of money than just gaining an increasing abundance of possessions that we don’t need!

Sadly, it is attitudes of greed and wanting to hold on to wealth that are the biggest barrier to dealing with the climate change crisis.

  1. Care for God’s People

Secondly, if we believed that God has called us to be a part of a family, then rather than being selfish with our money and possessions we should want to use them to help God’s people.

This can be done locally and informally as we seek to support people in our own community who may be struggling – especially during this cost of living crisis. Yet, we must not forget our brothers and sisters around the world, who are being impacted even more severely by the food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. Perhaps more than ever we should be giving to Christian aid charities like Tearfund or Christian Aid.

  1. Care for God’s Mission

Finally, we should be concerned for God’s mission. That includes the need to equip and enable the church to be effective at mission in our local area.

We need to be honest. The church is in decline, so there is less people to give. If those people fail to be more generous, then the resources we have will be stretched even more thinly, our mission will suffer and the decline will become worse.

If we truly believe that people’s greatest need is Jesus, then we will want to be generous and fund a church that is properly equipped to reach out with the Good News.

Good Friday not Black Friday

So are we being rich towards God? Or is our attitude to wealth selfish, foolish and godless?

Black Friday may encourage us towards an attitude of greed, but Good Friday surely encourages us towards generosity.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul says:

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

If Jesus was willing to give up the wealth and riches of heaven to the utter poverty and humiliation of the cross, then how can we not like Christ, reject the foolishness of greed and act in great generosity towards God?

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