You Can't Take It With You

Sermon for August 4, 2013
Based on Luke 12:13-21

My mother is one of the estimated 2 million people in this country who are known as hoarders.  Hoarders are people who compulsively buy, or acquire in some way thousands of items that eventually fill every corner of their home.  The living room, dining room, and bedroom of my parent’s house are filled with piles and piles of everything you can imagine and some things you would never imagine.  My mother’s queen size beds is layered several feet high with clothing she hasn’t worn in 30 years, a few pieces of clothing she does wears, and clothing that have never had the price tags removed and are still in the bags she carried them home in from the store.  Much of the house is only accessible by narrow paths through the piles of clutter.  The basement of my parent’s house is stacked to the ceiling with boxes of who knows what, as is every closet, attic space and outside shed.

There are many physiological reasons as to why people hoard things. My mother’s compulsion to hoard I believe comes from growing up in poverty.  As a child she owned 2 dresses, 1 doll, and a few books.  She and her two sisters received a nickel each day to buy a slice of bologna and some crackers for their school lunch.  Their mother worked long hours just to keep her head above water.  There was no father supporting the family. My mother and her two sisters were responsible for running the house. I believe my mother still lives with the fear of having to live in poverty again and so she accumulates and surrounds herself with as many things as possible to maintain a sense of wealth and security.  As long as her house is filled with possessions she thinks she will never be poor again.

In our scripture lesson today from the gospel of Luke Jesus is asked by a man, one of the crowd who has been following him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Apparently the man’s older brother would not share with him the part of their inheritance he felt he deserved. The laws of the day said that the older brother in a family was to receive a double portion of an inheritance.  If the father had no sons, the inheritance went to his daughters.  However, the daughters were then required to marry a man within their own tribe so that the father’s wealth would never leave the tribe.

It would not have been unusual for a rabbi to settle such a dispute.  Rabbis were experts on the various religious and civil laws.   But Jesus refused to settle the dispute for the man. Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus asked.  Jesus refused the man’s request to settle the dispute for a reason.  He knew that greed was at the root of the dispute. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed...” Jesus said. “For one’s life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.”

Jesus was trying to turn the man in a new direction, to help him understand the situation differently, to guide him towards a new understanding of life itself.  Our lives are not measured by what we possess or by our personal wealth. Real blessings come from those who hear the Word of God and obey the Word of God. To better make his point Jesus told the man, and the listening crowd, a parable or story about a rich man with a bumper crop of grain.

There once was a rich man whose land produced a very large crop of grain one year. The man thought to himself, ‘What will I do with all this grain? I don’t have a barn that’s big enough to hold it. I know, I’ll tear down the barn I have and build a bigger barn.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have so much stored up that you can relax now for years and just eat, drink, relax, and be merry.

What you just heard, was what the man was privately thinking to himself. By telling the story this way Jesus is telling us what the deepest, inner thoughts of this man are.  What the man was thinking to himself is not what he wanted everyone to know publicly. The man’s inner thoughts reveal his true self.  By telling us this man’s private inner thoughts, Jesus is reminding the man with the inheritance problem and the crowd and us today that nothing is secret from God.  God knows our every thought and hears what we are thinking.

The problem wasn’t the size of the grain harvest.  The problem was that the rich man wanted to gather everything up for himself, for his own benefit, to serve his own personal interest.  It did not occur to him to share his extra grain with people in need.  The man is self-centered and presumptuous.  I will tear down my old barn, I will build a larger barn, I will store my grain in it, I will say to my soul… It is all about him and what he will do. It is my grain, my barn, my soul. There is no one else in this man’s world but him and his wealth. At least until God steps in in this story and has his say.

“You fool!” God said to the rich man. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. The rich man was expecting to live for many years.  But God said “this night” God is telling the man that tonight he is going to take the man’s soul.  Tonight he will die, not years from now as the man thought, but tonight.  “And your possession, who will they belong to when you’re gone?” God asked the man.

Remember what Jesus said about gaining the whole world but losing your soul?  How many people hold on to personal wealth to the very end sharing it with no one, thinking only of themselves ignoring the fact that many people would benefit from that wealth.  How much wealth do any of us need to acquire and hold on to?  If we think we need a lot of wealth, then we are depending more on the security of our wealth than we are on the security that God offers. Material riches offer us no protection against the uncertainty of life.  And when we die, what we once owned will only be passed on to someone else, someone we might think doesn’t even deserve it.

I was listening to a piece on the radio last week about Andrew Carnegie.  He was a man of great wealth and a man who shared that wealth with the community.  He built many libraries with his money because he believed libraries benefited the most people in the best way possible.  The knowledge people could gain from a library could help them improve their lives.  Andrew Carnegie believed he did not have the right to keep so much personal wealth for himself.  He said “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”

This parable, as with all the parables of Jesus, is as rich in wisdom for us today as it was for the people of Jesus’ day, perhaps even more so today. The majority of people in Jesus’ day lived in poverty.  Only a few were considered wealthy.  There are probably more people who own great wealth today than ever before in history.  There are over 400 billionaires in the United States today and over 1,400 billionaires worldwide.  There are 12 million, millionaires in the world. On the opposite side, there are 47 million people living in poverty in the United States the greatest number in 52 years of census taking.  Over 20 million people in the United States live in extreme poverty. Worldwide, there are an estimated 2 billion people living in poverty.

Many people have their needs met. Most of us sitting here this morning have everything we need and more.  And yet there are many people whose needs are not being met. Why?  Why are there so many people with so much and so many people with not enough?  Why isn’t God providing enough for everyone? Jesus said we will always have the poor with us. Perhaps the poor are God’s way of reminding those who have to give to those who haven’t enough. God does provide enough for everyone it’s just not always evenly and fairly distributed.

It is hard for many of those who have to give to the have nots. Perhaps because those who have live in fear of becoming one of those people who don’t have enough.  Perhaps it is a faith issue, not an issue of not being able to give.  It is interesting that many people who have the least in this world are the people with the greatest faith in God. My mother doesn’t hoard things because she needs them but because she lives in fear of once again living in poverty as she did as a little girl 70 years ago.  In fact my mother can at times be very generous, but not overly generous, and on her own terms.  Even as a woman of faith she finds it hard to fully put her life in God’s hands and believe that God will meet her every need. That is true of many of us.

The man who wanted Jesus to settle a dispute between he and his older brother concerning an inheritance was driven by greed.  He was afraid he wasn’t getting his fair share. He was acting as if there was no God that it was all about him. But Jesus told him that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. The wealth of one’s life is measured by one’s relationship with God. Possessions and wealth disappear and we cannot take them with us when we die.  But the relationship we have with God lives on, it is eternal.  It is eternal, and because of our relationship with God all our needs are met.

We have security in our lives not by things, but by how we overcome things. We overcome things in our lives not by our own doing but through our relationship with God. As Christians our lives are about abundance, but not the world’s idea of abundance.  Our abundance comes from our relationship with God through Christ.  The Apostle Paul said that there was one thing he could be sure of in his life.  That neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, would be able to be separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  To know this love, is to be rich in God.  Those who lay up treasure only for themselves will never feel the security of God’s love although it will always exist.

I leave you with this question to ask yourself.  Does your faith in God affect every aspect of how you live your life or just some of it?