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What Do You Need?

7/31/2016 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 12:13-21.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A million dollars, a mansion and a mountain cabin or a place on the Cape, a Lexus, the Publisher’s Clearing House jackpot, the winning Powerball ticket, a good inheritance…what do you need to feel rich?

I live from paycheck to paycheck, like many of you and many of my friends. One friend in particular finds that what she and her husband bring home in income is quickly eaten up by a house, car payments, credit card bills, and normal living expenses. She lives like many of us – with an abundance of things, most of which are being paid off on time. But instead of taking pleasure in what she has, this friend dreams of having much more and getting it all without having to work for the money to buy it. So each week, she buys at least a dozen lottery tickets and plays bingo. All in all, she must spend at least $50 a week on the hope of striking it rich, which, of course, never happens. Sure, she wins a little now and then, enough to keep up her hope that someday, she’ll be able to buy an even bigger house, an expensive sports car, a boat, and all the things that she thinks she needs in order to feel secure and happy. But, she never wins enough for any of these things. She only wins enough to keep her spending what little she has on the hope of living on Easy Street.

What do you need in order to feel rich and satisfied? A big bank account? A good pension? A secure job with a 6 figure salary?

We have heard about young super-achievers who become executives in their early thirties. They have everything they ever dreamed of and have managed all the challenges they have set for themselves, but they wonder what they will do with the next thirty years of their lives. For everything they have gained, all that they have achieved isn’t enough. They have not found fulfillment in spite of gaining all the riches that my friend longs for.   And so we are left to ask, “What would it take for these people to feel satisfied?”

Luke tells the story about a brother who is looking for his share of his father’s wealth. His father is dead and he wants part of his father’s estate. Now, we may think that it’s reasonable to assume an equal sharing of inheritance, but the Levitical law which determined who got what gave the oldest brother the largest portion of the estate. Maybe this younger brother wasn’t getting anything at all. Even that was not uncommon. So, the younger brother, in hope of gaining what he wants, asks Jesus to intervene on his behalf. But, Jesus doesn’t answer his request directly. Instead, he cautions the young man about greed: “For life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

What would it take for you to feel rich? What would it take for you to feel satisfied?

If we believe Jesus, then we’ll have to come to grips with the idea that there may be something more to life than the abundance of possessions. Richness of life does not come from a wad of bills or a storehouse of goods. For, abundance of possessions and richness of life are not one in the same. They may not even be flip sides of the same coin.

Jesus tells us that it is the fool who gathers up possessions for his future and says, “Soul, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” He is a fool for he has calculated so carefully, but he has forgotten that he isn’t in control of how long he will live. All the possessions in the world will not give him one more second of life. And all the possessions in the world cannot buy him a place eternally with God.

Richness in life comes not from what we have, but from what we can give. Richness in life comes not from what we can store up for ourselves, but from what we can give away. Richness in life comes not from those things valued in this world, but from the treasures stored for us in heaven – treasures like love, peace, eternal salvation, fellowship and communion with others. These are gifts of a gracious God who gives them away freely to us on behalf of his Son who gave his life for us. “The good life” involves a Good God and a community in which to share the abundance of God’s blessings.

What God gave to us in Jesus Christ is not something we can grasp with our hands and store in earthen vessels. What God gave is life, life in abundance, life eternal, a life empowered by the spirit to believe and to serve. We can claim this life and all its riches as our very own because God has secured it for us.

It’s easy for us to criticize the rich fool for looking for security and richness of life in the accumulation of possessions. It is a lot easier for us to criticize the rich fool than for us to follow a different path. It’s hard to give our children everything we want them to have and also teach them that life doesn’t consist of possessions. It’s hard to realize that life is often more abundant when we do other things with our wealth instead of hoarding it, keeping it for ourselves and buying the newest gadgets and the most exquisite items out on the market.

If you need a big bank account and good barns to feel secure, you might as well build them, but it’s foolish to rely upon them. For the basic element for a satisfied life has nothing to do with the things of this earth. It has to do with trust in a God who knows our needs and who will not abandon us. It is that trust that enables us to see beyond the “get rich quick” schemes and the desire to have it all, to envision the riches of God’s love and the storehouse of treasures he has for us in his kingdom. This trust enables us to be generous with what we have and to find peace and security in God.

Trust and generosity don’t eliminate the threat of death. That can still come without warning. But, trust and generosity leave life more full when we face death, and they assure us that our lives are tied strongly to people and to a God who will endure long after we die.

So, my friends, what does it take for you to feel secure? What does it take for you to feel rich?

In answering these questions, I hope you are wise and joyful, and not foolish and greedy. In answering these questions, I pray that each of us calculates what we have not by the abundance of possessions but by the richness of God’s grace. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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