November 1, 2015

Luke 12:13-21

Years ago a very clever scam hit the Internet that involved penny stocks.   Some people found a clever way to entice unsuspected buyers into a trap that left them with stock at inflated prices.

The scam worked like this: A person would purchase a large quantity of a penny-stock, then use Internet chat rooms to spread false information about how it was one of the rising stocks of the future.

If one could purchase a stock for a couple of pennies with the good prospect of it going up a cent or two, a person could double or triple his or her money easily and quickly.

Because of the false rumors, people began purchasing the stock and the prices began to rise.  Of course, at some point, the scammer sold his/her stock, making a lot of money. After a while, the bubble burst on the stock when people realized that it had no value and many people lost money.

Proverbs 1:19 describes greed as “ill-gotten gain,” and says that it takes away the lives of those who get it, but of course, this is just the opposite of what most people believe.

A lot of people believe that objects and money will bring joy and happiness and if you have to get those things at someone else’s expense, so be it.

Of course as a rule, someone who has basic needs met is happier than someone who has no food, no home, or real relationships.

But greed is that belief the more you have, the happier you will be.

Monetary gain is good if we obtain it in ethical ways and even then it must be kept in perspective.

When we become obsessed with gain, greed enters the picture and the objects we are seeking become like gods to us. Greed is an obstacle to holiness.

Greed doesn’t have an economic indicator. Greed can occur in the life of a mutli-millionaire or in the life of the poorest person among us.

Old people can be greedy as well as little children. Greed occurs because at our core we are selfish. We like to get our needs met first, then we might consider helping someone else.

Remember, money and possessions are neutral commodities. They are neither good nor bad in the eyes of God.  It’s not money that’s the root of evil; it’s the love of money that’s the root of evil. It’s our attitude about money and possessions that moves us off center, either toward holiness or away from holiness.

A desire for gain is not wrong.  Being a capitalist is not a sin. Turning a profit keeps food on the table. But an insatiable desire for gain can lead us away from God and cause us to be people unwilling to share what we have.

The Bible’s favorite word for this kind of greed is covetousness. The Law of Moses said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”  Exodus 20:17 (NIV).

Greed is now an American pastime and the evidence of greed is woven through much of the fabric of our society.

Take professional sports as an example.  Gone are the days of Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox slugger, who in 1959 at the age of 40 was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck. The pain was so bad that he could hardly turn his head to look at the pitcher. For the first time in his remarkable career, he batted under .300, hitting just .254 and only ten home runs.

Williams was the highest salaried player in sports that year, making $125,000. The next year, the Red Sox offered him the same contract.   Williams told them he wouldn’t sign it until they gave him the full pay cut allowed, 28 percent. His feeling was that he was always treated fairly by the Red Sox and they were offering him a contract he didn’t deserve.  Williams cut his own salary by $35,000!

Is there anything in professional sports today that resembles such integrity?  Greed is the same whether it’s a standoff over millions or whether it’s a dispute over who gets what from a deceased relative’s estate, or whether we hedge God by not giving God a tithe.

Years ago there was a television game show called “Greed.”  The show began with five players, all seeking to win a million dollars.  The group was led by a captain who made all the final decisions for the team.   Throughout the game, contestants were offered the opportunity to eliminate a teammate or be eliminated themselves.  The contestant was offered $10,000 simply for trying.   As the winnings of the team grew, the captain had to decide whether to take the winnings and quit or risk it all for a chance to win more. It was amazing to see the number of times people chose to risk $80,000 each in order to try to win $250,000.

It’s just a game, right?  No, it’s life.  When decisions are about money and not about people, greed has entered the equation.

When decisions are about self-advancement and not self-sacrifice, greed has raised its flag.

When teamwork is sacrificed for individual recognition and gain, greed has scored a goal.

One of the times greed rises up is after a person has died. You see people dividing up the possessions, or at least trying to, and they cannot come to terms.

One man came to Jesus asking him to get involved in a dispute he had with his brother over the family estate. He wanted Jesus to hear his case and rule in his favor. When we hear the man’s story, we are sympathetic to him.

However, Jesus was more interested in using the situation to teach them about an issue far more valuable than their stuff. So he said in response

15  “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

When we called out the names of these individuals this morning in the candle ceremony, how many of them did you think: “Man, he had a lot of stuff.”?
“Buddy, he drove a nice looking truck.” “That lady lived in a nice house.” That man had a great collection of antiques.”

If you were thinking along these lines about any of these people, please listen to the rest of this message very carefully.

Jesus told a story of a man who tore down his barns and built bigger ones. This is not a story against investment, or being a visionary, or planning for retirement. It is a story about greed.

Greed happens with we place our trust in our possession and not God. That’s what this man did.

This guy thought, “I have nothing to worry about. I can retire and live off of my earnings.  I don’t have to work anymore.  I can go to the beach, sit by the ocean and sip coconut for the rest of my days.”

While this attitude might sound benign, it leaves God totally out of the equation.

A young man from a wealthy family was about to graduate from high school. The custom of this affluent neighborhood was the bestowal of a car once the student graduated from high school. The boy fully expected the norm would hold true for him as well.

He had spent months talking about cars and looking at them with his father. Just a week before graduation this father and son found what appeared to be the perfect car. The young man was certain he would see the car in his driveway. Yet, when he opened his father’s graduation present it was a Bible. He was so mad that he threw down the Bible and stormed out of the house. He never reconciled with his father and remained estranged until the father died.

As the son went through his father’s belongings, he came across the Bible his father had given him years ago. He brushed off the dust and opened it. To his surprise and horror he found a cashier’s check between the pages of Scripture. It was dated the day of his graduation for the exact amount of the car he and his dad had chosen together.

The father wanted his son to learn to trust in God’s word, but the son’s trust was set on material things. (The Houston Post, September 2, 1992, p. D3) IOWMARAPR94 Illustration #23 

Material things are temporary. Not only can we not take them with us, but they cannot sustain us through the most difficult times of life. We need God’s word and God’s strength for that.

Greed happens when we develop a hoarding spirit.

The man had a hoarding spirit.  He did not have the first thought about using his good fortune to help others.  He felt that it was all meant for him.  So this is really a Scrooge story.

Saving is smart and wise but hoarding is the practice of never opening up our pocketbook, our closets, our cupboards, or our arms to help others in need because we selfishly want to keep it all for ourselves.

The farmer who built bigger barns felt that his good fortune was meant entirely for himself.

If we don’t practice gratitude by giving away part of what God has given to us, we become greedy people.

God wants us to develop a different attitude about our money and possessions.  God wants us to get to the point where we view everything we have as coming from God.

If we can get to the point where we believe that what we have is God’s and not ours, then we can make decisions about money and possessions that God has entrusted to us. This is the basis of stewardship. It’s all His and we are His managers.

Finally, Greed happens when we fail to acknowledge God as the source of all that we have.

Not once did the man ever acknowledge God as the source of his wealth.

God made the seeds the man planted. God made the soil from which the seeds grew.  God sent the rain that germinated the seeds.  God made the sun to shine, which pulled the seeds up from the ground.  God protected the plants from pests, disease, and drought, and yet not once did the man give thanks to God for his fortune or return to God a portion of his earnings.

We are never self-made people. Even people that have never acknowledged God owe God for their blessings.

Generosity is one protector against greed. We must cultivate a generous spirit or otherwise we become selfish and we hoard what we have.

Jesus said that God called this man a fool because the very day he planned out his life, which revolved around his possessions, God demanded his life.

Life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. If that were the case, the person who finished with the most toys would be the winner.

What makes us rich is not what we accumulate but what we give away.

During our candle ceremony today, each of you were remembering what these people gave to you, our church community, their families, to our country to help keep us a free nation, to civic organizations, to their work, to friends, to their Savior, Jesus Christ, as one of his followers.

As you remember them, also remember that we will go the same way as they have gone. God will one day demand an accounting of our lives.

God takes inventory of our hearts and this story tells us it will not be God if God finds that we spent our lives storing up for ourselves things on this earth rather than seeking to be rich towards God.

So we can say, greed leads us away from God.  It is an obstacle to holiness. Greed and God are opposed to one another.

One antidote to greed is to give something away. Be generous. As you are generous of that which God has given to you.

Give what you have away with a thankful heart, knowing what you have came from God. Give God thanks for it and for the opportunity to share it. This is true worship.

It occurred to me last night that Halloween might be the most generous day of the year. We cut our lights on and allow complete strangers to walk up to our door so we can give them something sweet to eat.

However, we don’t trust them enough to hand them the bowl, giving them the opportunity to get as much as the want. For this we know, zombies, superheroes, characters for “Star Wars,” butterflies, ballerinas, witches, pirates, minions, and jokers, are all greedy—all of them, especially pirates.

The day after all of these have collected their treasure, many of them will hoard, guard and protect it with their lives, and not let mom or dad have any of it no matter how much they beg, unless it’s the Candy Corn, but certainty not Hershey Bar or the Snickers.

While we may laugh at a child hording his or her candy, if we replace candy with time or money, or in the case of Jesus’s story, it was grain.

That man thought that he had laid enough up that he could take live easy: “eat, drink, and be merry.”

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?’ (Luke 12:30 NIV).