“God’s Investment Portfolio”
August 5, 2007 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Our Covenant resource person for estate planning likes to say, “Where there’s a will… there are relatives. Where there’s no will… there are more relatives.” Most of us could tell a horror story or two about our own family or someone else’s where the scene is much as it is in our text. Verse 13 of chapter 12 shows a man squabbling over an inheritance with his brother. He wanted Jesus to be his advocate, to arbitrate for the family and make sure justice was done.
The inheritance was probably land and a farming business. Old Testament and Jewish tradition laid great importance on keeping land in the family. Perhaps their father’s will directed the brothers to manage the property together, rather than dividing and diluting its worth. Or perhaps an older brother took it all for himself and cheated the younger one.
It was not uncommon for rabbis to play such a role for their followers. As respected and holy leaders, they offered advice and settled disputes. Jesus, if anyone, certainly was able to make such a decision. His wisdom would have brought the matter to a swift and absolutely fair conclusion. But He refused to get mixed up in it.
Jesus’ business is not our business. Sure, He could come up with a fair solution. He might even have been able to make everyone happy. But His business is not our business. Jesus’ business is what our business says our about hearts. So He used this occasion to warn about greed.
One great spiritual irony for us is that our economic system is based in an attitude which Christians for almost two millennia regarded as sin. Greed is one of the famous “Seven Deadly Sins.” It’s constantly warned against in Scripture. I Timothy 6:10 says it is the root of all kinds of evil. In Ephesians 5:3 and Colossians 3:5, greed is condemned in the same sentence along with sexual immorality. Yet over the last two hundred years, greed has been embraced, baptized and converted almost into a virtue by American Christians. For us, people who love making money are cultural heroes, not villains.
It’s a subtle trap for followers of Jesus Christ. We start out with a desire to use God’s blessings wisely, to conserve and steward His gifts. Earning more, we can give more, as well as caring for our families and being productive members of society. Yet in the process we too often become greedy. As Jesus says here in verse 15, our desire for money and stuff makes us forget what life is about.
So Jesus told them, told us, a story to remind us of what life in relation to God is all about. He gave us a little parable about investment. In the first century there was no stock market. You invested in land and what you grew on it. Your harvest was your profit. And this certain fellow had a good one. He woke up one morning and realized his corn was as high as an elephant’s eye. When he picked it there would be no place for it all. As the business cliché goes, he turned his problem into an opportunity. His crop became his retirement plan. Build a place to store it all, and he could live off it for many years.
Bring it up to date however you like. Make the man a professional with a great salary who invests conservatively in solid money markets. Make him a single mother scrimping by so she can save a college nest egg for her children. Let him be a shrewd financier who speculates in real estate, finding prime property. It was grain and barns back then, but let it could be bio-tech or Apple or gold coins. The point is that this person was committed to securing his financial future. Do so, he thought, and his worries were gone. As he says to himself in verse 19 says, “You have plenty of grain [call it stocks or property or bearer bonds or a pension plan, whatever you like] laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
I’m no different from that man with his barns. Instead of some big barns, I dream of a little house paid free and clear on a trout stream in Montana, with plenty of money to live on. Instead of “eat, drink and be merry,” for me it would be read, write and fish, probably not in that order. If I suddenly had the money to do it, I’d be very tempted. But Jesus warns me not to.
Jesus is not much interested in our financial security. He wasn’t interested in helping the man in the crowd settle the inheritance, and He isn’t interested in helping you and I achieve a nice investment portfolio for a comfortable old age in this world. He isn’t even interested in helping us “not be a burden on our families,” as so many of us put it today.
In verse 15 Jesus said, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” His perspective is not the ten, fifteen, twenty or fifty years you have until you retire. Jesus’ point of view on you and what you have is that when you put your faith in Him, He gives you eternity. He sees your years laid down beside centuries, your decades compared to millennia, your whole life on earth against the age of the universe. And from that perspective, what you have now matters very little. What matters is what you will have forever.
In verse 20, God’s answer to the rich man’s building plan was to give him notice of his dying moment. He was planning for the next few years while teetering on the brink of eternity. He was like a tourist at the side of the Grand Canyon completely focused on getting a perfect snapshot of a cute squirrel, not realizing he’s about to back over the edge.
Death comes to everyone of us. It can come like it did to this man, totally by surprise and without preparation, as it did for 68 people riding a train in Congo, as it did for a baseball loving father, a successful business woman, an outgoing young produce salesman, and a young Native American mother of two, all as they simply drove over a bridge in Minnesota last week. Jesus reminded us that death can catch us off guard. But we don’t have to be unprepared for it. The only real danger is being foolish like the rich man, as Jesus says in verse 21, “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s terribly hard, but there is a hidden blessing for those of us who see death coming soon. When that happens, we have an especially holy and gracious opportunity to avoid this rich man’s fate. We are allowed to prepare our souls for eternity. We have an opportunity to place our investments where they truly need to be. In the middle of our pain and grief, we receive a blessed motivation to be rich toward God. All of us can receive that same blessing whenever we let ourselves be realistic about time on earth versus time in eternity.
So how do we do it? How do we become rich toward God? How do we make our investments where they will last? Last week, our family noticed a full shopping bag sitting on the kitchen floor one afternoon. We had been to the store earlier and hadn’t quite finished unloading all the groceries. Unfortunately, we found that one of the items in the bag was a container of ice cream. It didn’t belong on the floor, but up in the freezer.
Likewise, St. Augustine imagined coming to a friend’s home and finding fresh fruit kept in a damp cupboard near the ground. He asks whether we would not encourage our friend to place his fruit in a better storage place, some cabinet higher and more dry, where mold is less likely to grow. Likewise, he said, Jesus asked us to store the best fruit of our lives in a higher and better place than this world. Put the ice cream in the freezer. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” As we will read next week in verses 33 and 34 of this chapter in Luke, Jesus told His disciples to “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”
So what Augustine says about the rich man in Jesus’ story is that, “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns… if he stowed it away in the bellies of the poor, it would of course be digested on earth, but in heaven it would be kept all the more safely.”
We place our investments in the high, safe, secure vaults of heaven whenever we make our concerns the concerns of God. Whenever we do the work of Jesus Christ, to share His truth and demonstrate His love in a world that is hungry for both, we are building a portfolio for eternity.
So I don’t really want anymore this morning to focus on the warning Jesus gave us in this parable. Death is coming to us all and you know it well. There’s no need to belabor that grim fact. Instead, I would like to simply commend and encourage you for the ways you have personally invested in God’s portfolio and prepared for eternity.
First, I honor your investment of time in just being here this morning. You could have been earning money for yourself or entertaining yourself or just taking care of yourself, but instead you chose to be here for God and for your brothers and sisters in Christ. God bless you for that good investment you’re making right this moment.
Along with being here, I commend you for every penny you placed in the offering this morning, investing in ministry, in mission, in the work of God both here in Eugene and in China, in Congo, in Colombia, and in dozens of other places where God is banking your investment for an eternal future.
Most of all, though, I’d like to commend those of you who recently made very tangible, visible, and sacrificial investments in the stock of heaven. First, I praise God for all of you youth and leaders who gave up a week of summer and traveled on a mission trip to California where you did just what Augustine said, what Jesus said, and stored your treasure in the bellies of the poor. Just the time was a sacrifice. You seniors could have been earning money for college. All you kids could have used those days for some much deserved recreation and rest. But instead you paid for the privilege of going without sleep and working hard so that you could make a deposit in God’s great bank of eternity. God bless you. You get it. You get what Jesus was talking about here.
And God bless all you adults and youth who’ve just given time to our Dirty Hands Days. You get it too. You’ve prepared for the day death comes knocking by storing up treasure in heaven by storing it in the stomachs of children who ate the lunches you packed, of families who will dine on the vegetables you weeded, of the needy who ate the food you rescued and the lunch you helped serve yesterday. You stored treasure in the hearts and souls of the hikers who encounter God’s beauty on the trails you improved. You built up your account in heaven in the lives of children who ride in nursery buses you cleaned. You get it. You’re getting ready for eternity. God bless you.
Jesus taught that if you try to save your life, save your time, or save your money, you will only lose it in the end. Give it away, life, time, or money, and you will find it. What does it profit you, He asked, if you gain the whole world, but lose your very soul? C. S. Lewis ended his book Mere Christianity with these words:
Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
So instead of eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves like the rich man, we eat, drink and celebrate our Lord, enjoying His grace together at His table. We receive these gifts today as dividends on investments in heaven, knowing the greatest return is yet to come, at His eternal and everlasting feast of joy. May He bring us all to that Table.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj