The Rich Fool


Luke 12:13-21 & Colossians 3:1:11

Today’s readings are a real challenge. Especially for those of us who think it right and proper to be prudent and ‘put-by’ for old age so that we won’t be a burden on the state or our family. Are these not the very same principals driving the ‘rich fool’ in our Gospel story?

It begins with a rift between two brothers over their inheritance. It was common then for Rabbis to settle this sort of dispute. However Jesus didn’t come to settle domestic disputes and this passage isn’t really about an everyday story regarding barns. Jesus’ real concern is over the wider issue of what’s important and what’s not. Hearts needed changing because His hearers really wanted Jesus to serve them rather than save them.

Our minds shouldn’t be set on earthly things. Not that things like money, possessions, success and looking good are bad in themselves, but because whilst we’re striving to obtain them we’re not primarily seeking Christ Himself to fill our life. He’s relegated to some corner of our life rather than being the centre of it. This is well illustrated by the rich fool who manages to say ‘I’ and ‘my’ 11 times in that short passage!

It could easily be argued this rich man is wise and responsible. His thriving farm has produced so much that he doesn’t have enough space in his barns. He plans to pull them down and build bigger ones to store his excess and have ample savings set aside for the future and be all set to enjoy his golden years.

Isn’t this what we should do, be wise and responsible in saving for the future? He’s figured everything out, he’d make a good financial advisor. He’s worked hard, saved wisely, now he can sit back and relax. Not exactly. There’s something he’s not planned for: his reckoning with God. Not to mention the fact that you can’t take anything with you - there are no pockets in a shroud!

No amount of wealth can secure our lives with God. Jesus repeatedly warns that wealth can get in the way of our relationship with God.

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to save for retirement or future needs. It’s not that He doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, be merry” and enjoy what He’s given us. Jesus Himself spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life.

But He was also clear about where His true security lay. It’s all about priorities: how we invest our lives and the gifts that God gives us. At bottom line it’s about whether our lives are directed towards ourselves or God.

Our lives and possessions are not ours, they belong to God. We are merely stewards of them for the time God gives us on this earth. All that we are, and all that we have, belongs to God which is good because our future is secure beyond all measure. But . . . we rebel against this truth because we want to be in charge of our lives and our stuff.

We’re even fooled into thinking what we desire is for the good of others, our families, a good education, a nice home, the best clothes and holidays. But all of the time that we’re thinking about those things, laying up treasure on earth, we’re not laying up treasure in heaven. Having all we want in this world takes away our desire for becoming a citizen of heaven.

Jesus said the poor, needy and the weak in spirit are the blessed ones. That’s because in this world they always have their hearts turned towards the coming world.

Jesus was speaking to two kinds of people, those who were poorly adjusted to things as they are: the suffering, insecure, hungry and oppressed. On the other hand He proclaims woe on the other type of people, the rich, well fed, happy even. Not because they WERE those things but because their hearts were set on this world, they had no need to turn their hearts and minds to look towards a coming and better world. He’s praising the poor for living in two worlds and threatening the rich for living in one world alone.

Jesus tells us to work for those things which we won’t leave behind when we die. Life in all its fullness is life lived in the freedom of Christ as opposed to life in the bondage of slavery to this world.

John Wesley knew extreme poverty as a child. His father, an Anglican priest in a poor parish had 9 children to support, was rarely out of debt even, once, going to debtor’s prison. When John became a teacher at Oxford University he was paid well and spent his money on playing cards, tobacco and brandy until an incident changed his perspective on money. He’d just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door.

It was cold and he noticed she was wearing a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat but found he didn’t have enough. Immediately he wondered if God was pleased with the way he’d spent his money. Would He say, “Well done, good and faithful steward'? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature form the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?"

Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he’d have more money to give to the poor. One year his income was £30 and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he managed to live on £28, so he had £32 to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to £90. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to £28 and gave away £62. In the fourth year, he received £120. As before, his expenses were £28, so his giving rose to £92.

Wesley believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian's standard of living but the standard of giving.

This practice, begun at Oxford, continued throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply, and he quickly gave away his surplus money.

One year his income was a little over £1400. He lived on £30 and gave away nearly £1400 pounds. Because he had no family to care for, he had no need for savings. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had £100 at any one time.

Wesley limited expenditure by not purchasing the kinds of things thought essential for a man in his station of life. In 1776 tax commissioners inspected his return and wrote the following: "[We] cannot doubt but you have plate for which you have hitherto neglected to make an entry." They were saying a man of his prominence certainly must have some silver plate in his house and were accusing him of failing to pay excise tax on it. Wesley wrote back, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want [need] bread."

His guidelines on money: Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. He wrote, "When I die if I leave behind me ten pounds... you and all mankind can bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber."

When he died, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the £30,000 he’d earned in his lifetime he’d given away. He’d said, "I cannot helping leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors."

A money magazine and some psychologists asked, "Can money buy happiness?". Their conclusion was that we’re never satisfied. We always think if we just had a little bit more, we'd be happier but when we get there, we're not. The more you make, the more you want and it becomes less effective at bringing joy. Once basic human needs are met, more money doesn't make more happiness because:

People overestimate how much pleasure things will bring them. The initial thrill soon disappears and people want more.

More money leads to more stress. A larger house further away can lead to longer trips to work, less time at home, and possessions need looking after and protecting etc. People compare themselves with others, usually their peers. This can lead to jealousy and covetousness.

We live in a world where people always want more, and it’s never enough. Rockefeller was asked how much money it took to make a person happy. He said: "Just a little more."

If we covet/pursue possessions this goes against God's provision for us. Material things cannot fully satisfy: taking time and attention away from God, encouraging us to trust in things, rather than the God who provided them. Even leading us to think that we’ve created everything and rule our own destiny. Today's parable shows that God is in control. We cannot guarantee when we live or die.

As the Titanic sunk a frightened woman, in a lifeboat about to be lowered into the sea, suddenly thought of something she needed and asked permission to return to her stateroom. She was granted three minutes or they’d leave without her.

She ran across the dangerously slanted deck, through the gambling room where all the money had rolled, ankle deep to one side. In her room she pushed aside her diamond rings, expensive bracelets and necklaces. Reaching to the shelf above her bed she grabbed three small oranges and raced back to the lifeboat.

Thirty minutes earlier she wouldn’t have chosen a whole crate of oranges over the smallest diamond. But death had boarded the Titanic and transformed all values. Priceless things were worthless. Worthless things were priceless. She now preferred three small oranges to a crate of diamonds.

This change of priorities and being focused on God is something Paul writes of in Colossians 3: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Christians have died to their old life, anyone in Christ is a new creation and must focus on Jesus, on spiritual not earthly things. Our new citizenship is of heaven, not of earth.

Paul compares becoming a Christian to a change of clothes, 'you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self,'

If we really trust God then we believe that he loves us and will do the best for us. This belief in His provision and sovereignty means that we know He gives us everything we need. He doesn’t give us things we don’t need, or that could harm us. Such a belief must lead to contentment.

We cannot earn our way to heaven. But what we do with everything at our disposal - our possessions, our time, our energy, acts as a spiritual barometer.

Reading these passages this morning, I ask myself: how seriously do I take my commitment to the Gospel and I ask you too. Are we really preparing ourselves for heaven in this life?

Do not let your possessions rob you of eternal life. Be united with Christ now with the life, love, joy, peace, hope, security, acceptance, and forgiveness that this, and this alone brings.