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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Barns and Bigger Barns

Pentecost 10      Luke 12:13-21

It’s amazing to me that I have been a preacher for many years now, and have never preached a focused sermon on this specific text.  In the past, when I approached this Bible passage for today about barns and bigger barns, I jumped off onto the bigger topic called “money” or Luke’s understanding of wealth and didn’t stay focused within the Biblical story for the day.  That is a goal of mine today; to stay focused within the Gospel story itself; within those eight Bible verses from Luke 12: 13-21 which were read as today’s Gospel. ....  It’s kind of like milking a cow in the old fashioned way.  Today, I want to stay in one stall with one cow and milk those udders, those specific verses.   My temptation is to go to the cow on either side and milk those other cows, rather than the Bible verses designated for today.   

So we begin this sermon for today with conversation about inheritance.  Who gets what after death?  Death is painful, but often a delicate issue surrounding death is where the money goes and who gets the goods.  It’s the issue of inheritance. 

So, to avoid conflicts, we make our wills, planning that the money and property goes to the right people, trying to avoid conflicts.  So we also make our lists:  going from room to room, putting names on specific lamps or pictures as to who gets what from each of the rooms in the house. For example, mothers go through the whole house, marking the names of specific children and grandchildren on specific items.  We make our wills and we make our lists.  We don’t want any conflicts or confusions. Death brings out enough tension as it is, so we plan for who gets what.  

These are often delicate times.  Why?  Often Grandpa Greed, an old, old sin, often slips out so quietly.  Noses get bent out of shape so easily.  There are jealousies, irritations, keeping score of who is getting what.  These are delicate moments, ripe for family conflict.  Old conflicts and old jealousies and old tapes are easily aroused.   Old wounds get reopened.  Grandpa Greed and “keeping score” are present. 

For example, when my Mom died, there wasn’t any money left.  Their savings had been gobbled up by the high costs of living in a nursing home/retirement home.  It was a little estate.  But there were those special items left in her apartment.  So there we were one day; the whole family in Mom’s apartment; going around the circle, each person getting a choice, beginning with the oldest and working on down.  Mom had already designated something, not many:  a grand daughter-in-law, not even one of her own granddaughters was to get her china, and that caused a little unspoken tension, but we handled it; Yes, some of us children thought it should go to granddaughter, but we could live with it.  Yes, we kept track of who got Mother’s diamond ring and how much that was worth.   Yes, we watched.  Yes, we counted.  Yes, we calculated.  It all went well, and only a few times was their tension, but we all are aware from our own history or other people’s stories that the dispersement of an inheritance has potential for conflict.  It brings out all kinds of greed in us. 

And then there are big estates, worth a million.  So a father dies and leaves a family farm, a family business, and a family house to three kids.  They each have a third, but one of the three kids wants his money out.  The other two don’t want to sell; the timing isn’t right, but the third kid insists.  He wants his money now. You got to sell the family farm, the family business, the old family  The result?  Conflict.  Tension.  

It’s with these images about tensions with inheritance that we approach the gospel lesson for today.   A man comes up to Jesus, the famous rabbi, and asks:  “Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Ohh.  Tension.  Hostility.  Conflict.  Old tapes.  A simple line states,  “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Let’s read between the lines and draw some conclusions. 

Some conclusions?  So…we know the man’s father has died.  Right? It probably had been a time of sadness and sorrow.  

So, there are two boys in the family.  Right?  He doesn’t say brothers, plural,  “tell my brothers to divide the inheritance with me”.  Simply, brother.  One brother.  Tell my brother. So we know that there are two boys now men. 

So, Jewish law dictated that the oldest boy received a double portion of the inheritance, and the other brother a single portion.  So, reading between the lines, the oldest boy got two thirds; the youngest got one third.  The younger got half as much as the older.  Maybe there is jealousy, resentment. 

So, the oldest son has control of the property. “Jesus, tell my brother what to do.”  This means that the oldest son can do what he wants.  People usually resent it when someone else has control of what you feel is yours. 

So, the youngest has asked the oldest for his portion of the inheritance, before. They have had this conversation perhaps more than one time.

So, you can tell that the youngest brother is frustrated with his older brother; he is trying to put pressure on him.  There is tension in the air; tension between them. Right?  Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.  

So, for some reason, the older brother is resistant to dividing the inheritance at this time.  Maybe he can’t afford to buy his younger brother out; maybe he is afraid his younger brother will take the inheritance and waste it.  For some reason, the oldest brother is resistant to dividing the inheritance. Right? 

So, the youngest brother must have believed that Jesus would support his position or he wouldn’t have asked Jesus to be involved.

So, from this simple line,  “Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” we can make several deductions about their relationship.     

So, what does Jesus do?  There are many people who approach Jesus for many things during his life, and his response is what is called a “teachable moment.”  This is a teachable moment, so what does Jesus say to the man?  Jesus had this uncanny ability to read people’s hearts and understand their hidden motives behind their questions, and this is a teachable moment in his life.  Jesus knows your heart just as well; God in Christ is able to read your heart better than any other.  God knows the insides of your heart, the insides of your motives better than you do.  And Jesus knew the inside motives of this young brother as well. 

Jesus, knowing the heart of this young brother, said to him:  Be careful, be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.  I’ll tell you a parable, a story:  a rich man had really good land and it produced abundantly, so much so the rich man didn’t know what to do.  What a nice problem to have.  He thought to himself:  “Why, I will tear down my old barns and build bigger ones, so I have a place to store all my grain and all my goods and all my toys.” So he did. And he said to himself:  “Soul, you have plenty of grain and goods laid up for many years to come.  Sweet deal.  Take it easy.  Eat, drink and enjoy.”  But God said to him:  “Fool, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then what will happen to all your grain and all your goods?”  So it is with anyone who stores up riches for himself but is not rich towards God.

So what is the issue here?  What was Jesus trying to communicate to the young man who wanted his part of his inheritance now?  What did Jesus know about his heart?  What was he saying to the young man’s heart?

It seems to be, by reading between the lines of Jesus’ advice to the young man; we discover that he made three mistakes with money.  People make mistakes with money all the time.  Mistakes like they get too far in debt with credit cards.  Mistakes like they spend more than they earn. Mistakes like they don’t know how to save.  But if you read Jesus’ answer, between the lines, you discover three mistakes with money that this man made, mistakes that you and I also make so easily.  So what are these three mistakes he made with money and you and I often make with money. 

The first mistake:  the purpose of money is to buy a life of “eat, drink and be merry.” By what Jesus said to him, you have the feeling that when he received his money, he was going to use it to eat, drink, and be merry.  Maybe that is why the oldest brother wasn’t going to give him his part of the estate.  The young man is similar to the other parable about an inheritance, the prodigal son, where the younger son took his part of the inheritance and wasted it all, simply using it to eat, drink and be merry.   

Please complete the following statement for me.  You will be able to do this.  This is a common quotation within our culture.  “Eat, drink and be merry, for … tomorrow you die.”  Yes, you all know it.  Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.  We all know it well.   It is part of our American philosophy of life.  It is one of our options for living.  This philosophy has been woven into human history from the beginning and is still present today.  It is called, “hedonism” or Epicureanism.  Live for today.  There is no tomorrow.  Enjoy yourself today.  There is no tomorrow. There is no God.  Don’t worry.  Be happy.  Don’t worry about others.  Don’t worry about commitments.  Live life pleasure fully today.  It’s a deeply imbedded philosophy of living, present at the time of Jesus and is here in America and throughout the world today.  Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.  

Now, that line, “eat, drink and be merry,” has a totally different sound to it, if you say it with smiling and happily tones such as:  “Eat, drink and be merry.”  But God said in darker tones:  “You fool, tonight your soul will be required of you.”  Now, there is a different mood to this sentence.  A different feel.  A different sound.  It suggests:  there is a God; there is a judgment by God:  there is an insane material madness. There is accountability; that to simply eat, drink and be merry is a dangerous way to live today if you are to meet God face to face later on tonight.  It is a dangerous way to live if you believe that you may meet God immediately when you die.  God doesn’t seem to be too happy with this “eat, drink and be merry” philosophy. Foolish is this philosophy that encourages us to “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

Now, why is this foolish?  Why is it foolish to live like this?  Why is it foolish to simply use money to eat, drink and be merry?  I would like you to answer the following question for me:  “Why is it foolish, to primarily live for oneself and one’s pleasures?”

Answers from the congregation?  l) Develops narcissism; self-centeredness.  2) Lose your soul  3) Lose capacity to love  4) Destroy your family  5) Ruin your kids  6)  Have a life with no great purpose other than pleasure  7) Never accomplish anything for the human race?  (People in the congregation had relevant answers very quickly.)

And this temptation is real for all of us today.  Eat, drink and be merry.  Have a good time today.  Life is short.  Enjoy it to the fullest.  The primary purpose of my life is the pursuit of my pleasures.  It is in all of our advertising; it is in all of our movies and TV; it totally saturates our culture.  The primary purpose of life is the pursuit of my pleasures.  It is tough being a committed Christian in today’s hedonistic culture.  And so Jesus says so clearly to us:  be on guard, be careful about all kinds of greed, for life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

Mistake #1 of the young man:  the purpose of money is to provide resources for him, for us, to fulfill a philosophy of life called “hedonism,” eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.

A second mistake of the young man was this:  accumulation of things equals happiness.  The more you have, the happier you are.  When Jesus said, “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” you had the feeling that this man saw the purpose of money was to accumulate possessions for himself, as a way of finding happiness. It is a common mistake, back then and today.  The purpose of money is the accumulation of possessions that will bring me greater happiness.

Please complete the following sentence with one word.   You know this sentence well; it is part of American culture and American bumper stickers:  Whoever dies with the most toys....”wins.”  Yes, we all know it.  Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.  Whoever dies with the most trips, wins.  Whoever dies with the most wealth, wins.

Yet, we all know that it is not true. Way down deep inside, we are all keenly aware that the most valuable things in life are invisible.  They are not trinkets or money or tangible things. 

My mom died; she didn’t have any toys; but she was the richest person I knew and it had nothing to do with money.  She didn’t leave me any of her money, her jewelry, her books, and her fur coat.  What material do I have from her?  I have her letter opener, which I treasure every time I open a letter, and I have her big old calculator that she used to balance her checking account.  But do I have an inheritance from my mother, an intangible, non-material inheritance?  Yes, you better believe it. I didn’t get any toys buy I got the best substance possible from her.   I have her love in me, her zest for life, her delight in living, her divine spirituality, her understanding of all true religion as being defined in love, her tolerance for other points of view, her values, her work ethic, her drive.  I got all the good stuff; I didn’t get any toys.  The best things in life are not material; they are not tangible; they are not physical toys; but they are spiritual and emotional and invisible.  You know that and so do I.  Jesus said it simply:  “A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

I love the following quotation from Danker’s book, Jesus and the New Age, on this text:  “In 1923, a group of the world’s most successful men met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.  Assembled there were:  the president of the largest steel corporation in America; the greatest wheat speculator; a man who was to be president of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the canniest investor on Wall Street; a future director of the World Bank for International Settlements; and the head of the world’s largest monopoly.  A few years later, this was their fate:  Charles Schwab died in debt; Arthur Cutten died abroad in obscurity; Richard Whitney did time in Sing Sing prison and was blotted out of Who’s Who; Albert Fall was pardoned from prison in order than he could die at home; Jesse Livermore, Leon Fraser and Ivar Kreuger, the match king, all committed suicide.  ....  All of these people learned how to make money; none of them learned how to live.  All the bulls became lambs, and Schwab’s bleating in 1930 was the most pitiful of all:  “I’m afraid; every man is afraid.  I don’t know, we don’t know, whether the values we have are going to be real next month or not.”  Close quote. 

At the peak of these men’s lives, they were on the top of the hill in American life.  They knew how to make a living, but they didn’t now how to live.  None of them were very happy.

I suspect that Jesus would have said to these men the same thing that he said to the young man: “Be careful, keep your guard up against all kinds of greed, for life does not consist in the accumulation of treasures.”

Mistake with money number two:  whoever dies with the most toys and most trips wins. That’s false.   It was a common mistake then and a common mistake with money today. 

And what was the third mistake with money that Jesus found in the young man’s heart?  Financial wealth gives you security for the future, gives you a sense of false security for the future. In his parable for the young man, Jesus said:  “The rich farmer had a great year with a bumper crop, and so he had barns and bigger barns, saying to himself:  ‘I have stored up many goods for years to come.  How sweet.  How secure I am.’” 

It is a very subtle thing, but many people find security in their financial nest eggs.  The retirement programs, the investments, the IRAs, the 401ks, the 403bs, etc.  They think to themselves, “I have it all set up for years to come,” and whoosh, they die tonight.  Again and again in the Bible, God warns us not to find our security in money, wealth and bank accounts.  In the very next Bible verses for today, right after the barns and bigger barns, Jesus says:  “Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  The birds sing their songs; they don’t fret and worry about their financial security.  And the lilies of the field:  they don’t fret and worry about what they are going to wear.  And if God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, won’t God take care of you, o people of little faith?”  Don’t put your trust in your financial nest eggs, in money, in bank accounts. 

Of course, we have our retirement programs, our IRAs, our 40lks and 403bs, but when you die, what good do they do you as you prepare to live for all eternity?  They make no down payment on eternal life at all. The rich man in the parable for today; he had a big IRA, a big retirement; he thought he was set for years to come; but he died that night.  The biggest IRA in the world gives you no security at all beyond the grave, and that is the biggest issue of our life.  The biggest issue facing your life and mine is what happens to us when we die, and no IRA or 401K makes one shred of difference about your eternal future. 

Yes, by reading this story of Jesus carefully and reading the specific advice that Jesus gave to him, you sense that Jesus felt the young man was making three mistakes with money:  Mistake one:  the purpose of money is to make it easy to eat, drink and be merry.   Mistake two:  whoever dies with the most toys and trips wins.  Mistake three:  financial wealth gives you security for the future.  Like many people, the young man didn’t know how to handle money and so money handled him.  He didn’t know how to control money, so money controlled him.  Like many of people, he didn’t know that money could be the central controlling influence in his life. 

That’s what I think the Bible story for today is all about. 

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