The good life. Ahhh, yes, the
good life. I happened to pick up The Kiplinger magazine
for August 2004 and it has as one of its cover articles,
Own a Piece of Paradise. How to find waterfront land.
What you need to know to buy your second home. $22
billion unclaimed! Is any of it Yours? How to make your
money work for you. (Sigh.) I'd love to know how to do
In fact, I received a piece of
mail from Thrivent just yesterday and it had as its
cover article, Who needs to be a millionaire? How to
avoid the #1 retirement planning mistake:
underestimating your needs. Well, the way I see it, if I
need to save a million dollars before I can retire, I'll
need to work at least to 200 years old.
It's difficult for me to read
about folks who have done so well with their investing
that they don't have to worry during their elderly
years. Not that I begrudge them their success, but I
look at a magazine like this with its recommendations
for investment opportunities and am totally lost. I
imagine it is like reading biblical Greek and Hebrew for
many folks. We have to trust the advice of someone else
who has had the patience and interest to learn how.
Actually, I would love to go
back to my early years and make some significantly
different choices with my money now that I am so much
wiser - though not necessarily knowledgeable.
Now, did you happen to notice
how much in agreement all the readings were for today?
They all seem to talk about how futile our toil for
earthly security is compared with the absolute security
of God's investment in us. I'm sure most of us have
heard that famous line from Ecclesiastes - Vanity of
vanities. All is vanity. Or a more current phrase, "You
can't take it with you." Well, maybe so, but for most of
us we'd sure like to enjoy it while we are here.
As we hear Jesus tell the tale
of the rich man who had an even greater crop yield than
he has ever had in his life, we can't help but be
excited for him. Who wouldn't want to win the lottery
these days? We could pay off our credit cards, the
mortgage, and live comfortably for the rest of our lives
on the interest from mutual funds. But God is less than
excited for this man, calling him a fool. In fact, the
man dies that very night.
What is it that we need to see
in this man's life choices that will help us understand
the difference between success and foolishness? Alan
Culpepper, Dean of the School of Theology of Mercer
University has highlighted five points to be considered.
The first could be called a
preoccupation with possessions. If we listen carefully,
we realize this man has no other thoughts than where to
store his increased wealth. His goods and his prosperity
seem to have become the sole pursuit of his life. He
must have bigger and bigger barns. But does his life
have any other meaning beside eating, drinking and
merriment? At the moment of his death, though he has
material goods, he can certainly be considered an
2. He relies on the security of
self-sufficiency. The parable paints for us a man who
does not need anyone else. He has provided for himself,
and his provisions will take care of him for many years.
We never hear him speak of the security of the love of
family or faithful friends. He does not feel the need of
a community of support or the security of God's love.
This is a man who can make it on his own and doesn't
need anyone else.
3. Greed has him in its grasp.
The thought that he might be able to do something for
those in need never enters this rich man's mind. As we
listen to his thoughts, we never find a sense of
responsibility to use his abundance for anyone less
fortunate than he. Has his greed eaten away any
compassion that he might have had?
4. Hedonism. Does anyone know
that word? It is the dream of a future of indulging
one's whims and desires and maximizing pleasure.
Leisure, recreation, freedom from the demands of work -
the rich man's vision of the future sounds uncomfortably
like one that most of us have for our retirement years.
While there is nothing wrong with being prudent and
assuring that we do not have to be a burden on anyone
else, there is a problem with that being our sole goal
in life. It is hollow and empty in the greater scheme of
5. And the last to be considered
is what has been called - practical atheism. While the
rich man may protest to all around him that he has
always believed in God, when it comes to managing his
life, dealing with his possessions and planning for the
future, he lives as though there were no God.
This parable, no not just this
parable but the entire Gospel of Luke asks us to probe
our basic commitments. What difference should our faith
in God make in the practical matters of life? Luke
frequently speaks of the effect wealth has on a person's
life choices and asks us to remember: If our fields have
brought forth abundantly it is a blessing from God that
demands both prudence and fidelity in making provision
for the whole community.
Remember the story of Joseph
being sold to a caravan going down into Egypt? While
there, he was able to wisely counsel the pharaoh about
his dream recommending storing the crops of the years of
bounty against the years of famine that would surely
come. The difference was Joseph was then able to provide
for all of Egypt and the surrounding countries when the
famine was so great. Including his own brothers that had
A relatively recent Broadway
production and film available at video stores is the
classic novel by Victor Hugo, Les Miserables. Among its
wonderful depiction of many, many themes it portrays how
one man can take his sudden windfall and turn it into a
blessing for an entire community. Jean Valjean, an
escaped convict whose crime had only been to steal some
bread, now steals the silver from the bishop's home
after the bishop had befriended him. When the police
apprehend Valjean and bring him back to the bishop's
house, the bishop confirms Valjean's story that the
silver was a gift to him and adds that he meant to give
the silver candlesticks to him also. And he is allowed
to go free.
This sheer act of grace sets up
a furious struggle within the man. In the words from the
novel, "Did a voice whisper in his ear that he had just
passed through the decisive hour of his destiny, that
there was no longer a middle course for him, that if,
thereafter, he were not the best of men, he would be the
worst, that he must now, so to speak, climb higher than
the bishop or fall lower than the convict, that, if he
wanted to become good, he must become an angel, that, if
he wanted to remain evil, he must become a monster?"
Valjean is able to take
advantage of this moment of grace and becomes mayor of a
small town and owner of a factory. But the way he
conducts his business is always for the well being and
benefit of his employees and his townspeople. When his
old prison guard discovers his whereabouts years later
and he is forced to flee, he gives the factory to the
employees making them all shareholders instead of
selling it and taking the money.
For Valjean, grace both in
monetary terms and in forgiveness - made a difference in
his life and it benefited the people he touched.
Let me tell of one more
individual and I will leave you to contemplate your own
life story. There was a man who lost his home and all
his possessions in a raging brush fire driven by the
Santa Anna winds in California. A news reporter was
talking with him about how he felt. The man told the
reporter how he and his brother had just recently had a
conversation about being careful not to let their
possessions possess them. Now, after seeing everything
he owned but the shirt on his back go up in smoke he
announced to the reporter with unexpected triumph, "I am
a free man now!"
As we think about these four men
and their reaction to their wealth, we should think
about our own lives. No matter how much or how little we
have we can make choices that will benefit those around
us. It's not a question of how much we have, but how
responsible we are in using it. When God blesses us with
abundance whether it is money, talent, joy or freedom,
God expects us to bless others.