Pentecost 10 (C)
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Friday morning a man burst into a Metro PCS cell phone store in Pompano Beach, Florida, pointed a gun at the clerk and demanded money. Nayara Goncalves was the clerk and by herself. And instead of handing him the money and providing a quick fix to his financial needs, she told the man “No.” She said “God has something better for you than this. Go back to Jesus.” The man said “Give me the money!” She just kept saying “God has something better for you. Go back to Jesus. You know better than this.” But, he explained he needed the money now or his family would be evicted. “God has something better for you than this. Go back to Jesus.” And the man left.
This morning in the Gospel of Luke a man comes to Jesus. And he, too, has a money problem. And he says to Jesus, “Tell my brother to give me a share of the inheritance.” In the ancient world the oldest brother served as the executor of the estate. After he took what he wanted for himself and his family, he would divvy up the rest among the other siblings. Needless to say, the oldest brother got the lion’s share of the inheritance. Hard feelings were common when it came to settling the estate. Not just then but now as well.
That’s something we all know. Even children know the pitfalls of dividing up an inheritance. A sixth grade teacher was giving her class a math word problem. “Children,” she said, “A wealthy man died and left $10 million dollars. One fifth went to his wife. One fifth went to his son. One sixth went to his butler. The rest went to charity. What did each one get?” The class went silent. Kids took pencil in hand, worked the problem and thought a little more. After a long silence, one boy raised his hand. The teacher said, “Yes, what is it? What did each one get?” The boy said “A lawyer.”
That’s exactly what the man who came to Jesus was looking for – a lawyer. He was asking Jesus to step in and be his advocate. He was asking Jesus to adjudicate the case, to reach into his bag of miracles and provide a quick solution to his financial problem. Jesus’ answer? “Who am I to serve as your arbitrator?” There will be many times in our lives when we are going to feel like we are getting the short end of the stick financially. There are going to be times when you are going to look to Jesus for a financial miracle.
But as often as not, Jesus doesn’t reach into his bag of miracles and pull one out for you. Instead, what he says to you is what he said to the man who came to him. It is the same thing Nayara Goncales said to the man in her store: “God has something better for you.”
To illustrate, Jesus tells a story. He tells a story about a man who also had a money problem. But instead of having too little money, he had too much. How did it happen? -- a bumper crop. That particular year was an especially productive year for the land. It far exceeded his most optimistic business plans. In fact, he had so much wheat that he didn’t have room enough for all of it. So he decides to expand, tearing down his old barns and building new ones. Once he is done, he is ready to live the good life. He can relax, snuggle into the comforts he has worked so hard for. He can “eat, drink, and be merry.” He has the American Dream, before there is ever an American to dream it. Financial peace. Comfort. Security. Status. He has it all.
But one thing you might have noticed as Jesus begins telling this story. He begins it with a warning. “Beware,” he says. “Be on guard.” “Have your wits about you.” Jesus issues a warning before the story begins because no matter what you financial problem, whether you have too little for the moment or too much, money has a way of causing us to lose perspective.
Money is powerful. It is not neutral. It is not passive. It is very alluring and seductive. Money offers us peace. It offers us comfort. It can induce feelings of guilt and feelings of shame just as quickly as it can prompt feelings of superiority. Money lures us into its charm and makes us lose perspective.
How does it do this? There was a time in the 1960’s and early 70’s in West Texas where I grew up when the price of a barrel of oil kept going up and up. Do you remember those days? The days of rising gas prices and lines at gas stations. Some people were getting rich over night. Cashing in and putting all their eggs in one oil barrel waiting and watching as things went up and up. People made financial commitments based on their belief and assumption that if oil went up last year it would go up this year. But the boom went bust. And people who lost perspective lost everything. And big oil companies moved in and scooped up the rigs, the fields, and the mineral rights.
You may remember in the 1980’s there was a farm crisis. What happened? Midwest family farmers begin to see the price of corn go up year after year. They began to believe that it would last forever. They lost perspective and began to make financial decisions based on the assumption that the price of corn would go up. They bought new combines. They erected new silos to keep their corn and beans. Then what happened? The boom went bust. And people lost everything.
Do you not remember the early 1990’s when Biotechnology was all the rage? Companies were starting up and going gangbusters. Money was rolling in. People cashed out their cd’s and savings accounts and put the money into biotechnology stocks based on the assumption that the value of their stock would continue to climb. Then what happened? They went belly up.
Or how about the .com boom and bust. Surely you remember that. In the mid to late 1990’s all the fabulous internet technologies and startups. Businesses were rolling in money. The value of their stocks went through the roof. People cashed in to join the money party. People put all their resources in a .com business on the assumption that the value of the stock would continue to rise. What happened? The boom went bust.
Or maybe something more recent. Perhaps you remember a time not too long ago when people began to see the values of their homes go up. Especially in California, Nevada, Texas, and Florida, but other places in the country as well. Home values kept moving up and up. It was called a “new economy” because the old rules governing the economy didn’t seem to apply anymore. People cashed out their homes and then cashed in on the assumption that the value of the home was stable and going up. What happened? You know what happened. Millions of people went under water.
Money has a way of causing us to lose perspective. It is not just true of our investments like oil, stocks, and real estate. But it is also true of the corporations that rule the financial world. Just like rising oil prices, or rising corn prices, or rising stock values, or rising home values will lure you into a false sense of security. Just as they will coax you and seduce you into believing in them at all costs, so do the corporate powers of the land.
There was a time when Sears and Roebucks was known as being an employee’s company. They had a profit-sharing plan, pension, benefits, and a good work environment. They wanted you to believe that the company was there for you. It had your back. But that was only true so long as it was in the company’s interest. When things in the world changed, Sears changed. And it became a kind of concentration camp for many employees. The corporation does not love you. There was a time when Detroit was a nice place to live, and the auto companies GM, Ford, Chrysler, were a good place to work. They were known for being an employee’s kind of company. And people worked there for decades believing they had a pension. But where did their pensions go? There was a time when Enron was good place to work because the company took care of its people, or MCI/WorldCom, or Lehmann Brothers. Where are they now? You know where they are.
There are companies in Indianapolis that have been know as the kind of place people would do anything to get hired at because of how they treat their employees. Should I say it? Do I dare say the “L” word? Lilly. Lilly Pharmaceuticals has been a place that lured people in with the promise of security, and comfort and prosperity. And what happens? What always happens. It changes. The corporation doesn’t love you. The corporation wants you to believe it loves you. The corporation wants you to put all your eggs in its basket. But in the end it all leads to the same result. Do you ever get tired of the samd old story? What if I were to tell you that "God has something better in mind for you?"
Today the Gospel says just that" “God has something better than that for you.” He wants to take you beyond chasing after prosperity. He wants to get you past the cycle of feast or famine, past the cycle of boom or bust, and the havoc that it creates in your soul. God has something better for you than the life you are seeking. Go to Jesus. And you will never go back.