LUKE: 12:13-21

FEBRUARY 7, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            Did you check out the announcement section of the bulletin? Did you notice what we have covered thus far in our “Building a Significant Life in Christ” sermon series? This morning we turn to the sixth element of constructing such a life … focusing on what matters.

            Our scripture passage for today comes from Luke’s Gospel. Turn there with me. According to the first verse of this chapter, Jesus was speaking to thousands, thousands not just his disciples. He had just warned the crowd about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and then he stressed the importance of the public confession of one’s faith. Before moving on to his next topic someone in the crowd interrupts him. Note the interruption. Verse 12.


            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 agains all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”


            How many of us have a will? Trudy and I do. In fact, it’s probably time to update it.  I think it’s been four or five years since we have done so. Having a will is very important, especially a well-thought out will because many a family squabble have erupted over the lack of such a will.

            And some people are very thorough, very specific in their wills and I came across some interesting requests in wills from Japan. Listen to a few of these. A 43 year old women wrote, ”After you finish a simple funeral, I would like you to grab a handful of ashes and get on a bullet train. When you arrive in Tokyo, take a cab and get off at the Ginza station, then find a coffee shop and take a break. Then find a nice tree along the street, and quietly cast my ashes at its root."

            Or this one from a 45 year old man. ”My dream was to climb a 3,000 meter mountain with the two of you, my children, but to this date, it hadn't come true. Take a look at the pictures of mountains I have taken. If you can find one that looks beautiful, try climbing it for me. And please take good care of your mother."

            And one final one from a young mother: "Pick the red roses from the garden and use them to decorate my funeral. Put the number of roses that match my age inside the coffin. I have never put makeup on my face. Make sure I won't be all made up by the undertaker. Well, since I'll be meeting your father and some good friends up there, I'll let you apply that orange lipstick, but just a little.”

            Most American wills are not that colorful. Recently, however, I heard a shocking true story that was told by an estate planner. A certain wealthy man, we will call him Mr. Smith, died in Tennessee. His attorney was working on settling the estate when he received a telephone call from the Internal Revenue Service.

            "What about the one million dollar life insurance on Mr. Smith's life?" asked the I.R.S. agent.

             "What life insurance policy?" Mr. Smith's attorney answered. He had no idea the policy existed. It seems that unknown to any of his family or friends Mr. Smith had a mistress. He had taken out a one million dollar life insurance policy and named her as the beneficiary. Now here's where it gets really bad. Because of the way Mr. Smith's will was written, not only did the mistress collect the one million dollars, but Mr. Smith's widow had to pay the taxes on the one million dollars. True story.

            I doubt if the man who interrupted Jesus had such a problem with his parent’s will … we don’t get any of the juicy details about his situation … but the man had serious inheritance issues nonetheless. So he asked Jesus, a respected rabbi to settle it. Of course, the man's request was not totally out of line. Jewish rabbis were sometimes called upon to settle disputes. Jesus, however, did not want to get into the middle of the dispute. Instead, he used the dispute to tell a story. Listen to it.


            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 toward God.”


             In this encounter and subsequent parable, Jesus points out two things that don’t matter as much as we think they may matter, and one thing that really matters.  Let’s begin with the two things that don’t matter as much as we think they matter.

            First, he reminds his listeners that life is more than success. Most everyone I know wants to make something of their lives. They rather be a success than a failure. The much rather succeed than settle. A Sound of Music song resonates in their minds: “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow ‘till we find our dream.” That may be our song as well.

            The farmer in this story is clearly successful. By the way, I like this farmer. In some ways he reminds me of Denny Adams and Rich Petersen in our congregation. Each year they plant a vegetable garden. It takes hard work to plant and care for a vegetable garden. Trudy and I tried that once. It was too much work for us. When it comes to vegetable gardens, we are one and done. Been there done that.  Don’t want to do it again. After all, tomatoes and cucumbers and onions and zucchini don’t plant themselves.

            I like this farmer. He worked hard. He plowed the ground. He planted the seed. He pulled the weeds. He beat the weather to get his crops into the barn. He doesn’t complain. He makes his lot in life productive. He was a successful farmer.

            According to Jesus, however, the problem with earthly success is that it doesn’t necessarily translate into heavenly success. The size of one’s portfolio … or size of one’s barns … doesn’t amount to anything in the life to come. As has been said before, many people spend their lives climbing the ladder of success only to come to the end and realize it was leaning against the wrong wall. That was certainly the case with the farmer.

            Second, Jesus reminds us that life is more than stuff.      

            The farmer certainly had a lot of stuff. He had to build bigger barns to store all his stuff. I think of the late George Carlin. Carlin made a profound statement in his comedy routine. He said, “The essence of life is trying to find a place to put all your stuff.” Trudy is a realtor. In addition to master bedrooms and spacious bathrooms and kitchens, people want space to put their stuff. They want walk-in closets to put their clothes. They want enough cabinets in the kitchen to store their stuff. They want a space in the basement to put their stuff.

            I haven’t seen the bumper sticker in years, but I remember it. The one who dies with the most toys wins.” The truth is the one who dies with the most toys, dies. That is the reality of life. That’s what Jesus reminds us of here.  

            An owner of mini-warehouses was recently asked,  How’s business?” With a big smile he said, Business could never be better because America is full of stuff.” We have 32,000 self-storage businesses nationwide containing 1.3 billion feet of rentable space. One hundred million storage containers are sold by Rubbermaid each year so that we have some place to store our stuff. In fact, in we can hire professional organizers who will come to our house and organize our stuff so you can store our stuff more efficiently.

            And God reminds the farmer, that when he dies, his stuff won’t mean a hill of beans. But if a significant life in Christ is more than stuff and more than success, what then is it? Where should we focus our energy to get the most out of life that we can?

            Well, Jesus reminds us that a significant life in Christ is a soulful life.

            But God said to him, You fool. This very night your life is being demanded of you.” Other translations of this verse read, “You fool. This very night your soul will be required of you.” Jesus put it another way in the Scriptures, What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). A significant life in Christ is a soulful life.

            In the bible our soul is the essence of who we are. It’s the real me. It’s the real you, especially as we relate to God, and the Bible is clear: “Guard your soul. Nourish your soul. Don’t sell your soul.” In a culture that is rich in things and poor in soul, we need to hear these words.

            Is it well with our souls? We expand our minds, we improve our relational skills, and we exercise to stay physically fit, but what are we doing to keep our souls in shape?

            Mike Yaconelli, author and founder of Youth Specialties made the following confession. He said,


            Until a few months ago, I had no idea I’d lost my soul. In the busyness and clatter of my life, as I traveled all over the world serving God, I thought my soul was just fine. But it wasn’t. I spent hours every day doing God’s work, but not one second doing soul work. I was consumed by the external and oblivious to the internal … Then I began to learn there is a difference between believing in Jesus and being with Jesus, talking to Jesus and letting Jesus talk to me, acquainted with God out there, but a stranger to the God in here. Slowly my soul was reawakened by a loving Father calling me by name. I found my soul again.


            That's being rich in God. A significant life in Christ is a soulful life.