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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Luke 12:13-21
June 2, 2013 - Second Sunday after Pentecost

         What’s wrong with a good retirement plan? How many of us have at least something set aside so that we can get by in our older years? So why, in verse 20, did God call the man in Jesus’ story a fool? As they say, it must be true because God said it, but why? Wasn’t he just being prudent?

         You are a plumber. You got trained and licensed, you do good work, your rates are fair. When someone calls, they call again because they get honest work for a fair price. Word gets around. One day you can’t answer all the calls. So you hire an assistant, then an­other. Then you rent an office, and get a secretary to answer the phone and keep the books. You’re just building a business to support you and your family the rest of your life.

         You are a seamstress. It’s a hobby, but then a friend offers to pay for a wedding dress for her daughter. Everyone at the wedding asks where the bride found her dress. More women ask you to make dresses. Soon you’re making good money. But your family com­plains about sewing projects covering the dining room table and filling up the living room. So you and your husband plans and build a spacious new sewing room on the back of the house. Now you’ve got room for a business which is putting money in your savings.

         What’s wrong with all that? What’s wrong with initiative and hard work and planning for the future, values on which this country was built? So why is the rich man in Jesus’ par­able any different? Isn’t he the epitome of prudence? He has more crop than he can store. So, in verse 18 he plans and enlarges his storage so nothing goes to waste. He’s simply re­sponding wisely to the growth of his business.

         Wouldn’t you do the same? It’s just good business management. It doesn’t seem fool­ish. It seems prudent. Of course that’s not a word we use often these days. But prudence is an old fashioned word for a virtue that many appreciate. We looked at faith, hope and love, the Christian virtues, the theological virtues, the virtues that are specifically aimed at God. Now we’re on to the four cardinal virtues and the first is prudence.

         Prudence is not a term we often use anymore. It sounds like a girl’s name from a Victorian novel. It sounds a bit like “prudish,” so we might think a prudent person is a con­servative with a narrow morality. If we do use the term, we tend to think of just the kind of the thing the rich man in this parable was doing. Prudence is good business, looking ahead, planning well and avoiding losses and mistakes.

         This first of the cardinal virtues is sometimes called “wisdom,” but it’s not just deep thinking or esoteric philosophy. It’s practical wisdom. The prudent person doesn’t just have theoretical knowledge. She knows what to do. He knows how a thing should be done. Pru­dence is knowing the truth and applying it to a practical situation.

         But isn’t that what the man in Jesus’ story was doing? Ask Carl here. Some of you have borrowed Carl’s tools. Whatever it is, from a splitting maul to a welder, Carl has it. And as he said yesterday on our fishing trip, he has all those tools because he keeps build­ing new outbuildings on his property to store them all. It’s just prudent. If it’s O.K. for Carl, what’s wrong with this guy Jesus was talking about?

         And what’s wrong with getting ready for retirement? You hope to plan your saving and investing well so you can live near your grandchildren or in a beautiful retirement community like Covenant Shores on Mercer Island. Is there anything wrong with prudent foresight and planning, putting your resources away securely, hoping to live out your life in peace and comfort? There doesn’t seem to be, but we keep coming back to the question. Then why was the rich man here not prudent, but a fool?

         The virtue of wisdom is practical, but it is not just practical. Aristotle said pru­dence is right thinking applied to action. The practical application of wisdom, what we tend to call “prudence,” is only the last part of the story. Right thinking comes first. The man in the parable was not thinking right.

         I fact, prudence has three parts. A prudent person takes counsel, makes judgment, and then, and only then, takes action. We often focus on just the second and third parts to­gether. We admire a person with a gift for good practical judgment. He makes swift and brilliant decisions. And we admire the person who takes action. She gets things done. But we’re not as keen on the person who “takes counsel,” who wants to listen and learn and dis­cern the truth before doing anything.

         The rich man is decisive. He comes to a swift decision and then sets about his plan in verse 18. He’s got parts 2 and 3 of prudence. But look at verse 17. When he is thinking about his plan, who is he listening to? “And he thought to himself…” One reason this man is a fool is because the only person he consults about the truth of his situation is himself.

         He missed the first part of prudence. He failed to properly take counsel and discern the truth about his situation. He was planning for the future, but he wasn’t looking at real­ity. He left out the biggest factor there is in reality.

         Prudence is based on knowledge. It’s the skill of putting knowledge to use. But your knowl­edge must be real. You may be the best carpenter who ever lived, but if you fail to check whether your foundation is level, it will not come out right. You can measure exactly, square up everything, and saw perfect cuts. But if where you started is out of plumb, not level, then the doors won’t hang straight.

         My great aunt was a wonderful cook. But when she got older she sometimes failed to distinguish the sugar from the salt. So even though she still had all the practical skill to make a beautiful pie, it tasted horrible. She wasn’t working from the reality of her ingredients.

         So it doesn’t matter how practical you are. You can be a brilliant investor, a fantastic homemaker, a thoughtful parent, but if you fail to discern reality, then life is going to turn out like a crooked door frame or a salty pie. It will be wrong and hard to swallow. You have to discern the truth about the situation in order to be prudent.

         It’s not hard to find the truth the rich man failed to discern. It brackets the story. Our text began with a man who wanted to Jesus to settle a family dispute about money. As many of you know, when parents get older or someone dies, it suddenly seems like it’s all about the money. Whatever there was of family love or care for each other disappears as people grab for the most they can get.

         Jesus refused to get involved in a dispute like that and said to everyone in verse 15, “Take care! Be on you guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” There’s the first lesson in prudent discernment of reality. Real­ity, the reality of life, is not in how much you have.

         Which is what God said in verse 20, after calling the rich man a fool. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The man had failed to be realistic. He thought and acted as if he had control over his life, could guarantee himself a comfortable retirement. But he failed to grapple with the great­est reality of all.

         That’s why prudence is not the first virtue for Christians. All the foresight and plan­ning and practical skill in the world won’t do you any good, if you haven’t considered the reality. That’s why Psalm 14:1 tells us, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” A fool is person who fails to take account of reality, who fails to take account of God.

         So prudence comes after faith, by which we believe in the truth of God and in what He’s done for us through Jesus Christ. Prudence comes after hope, by which we learn to put our trust in what God is doing and not what happens in this life. Prudence comes after love, by which we learn to turn our hearts to the realities which really matter, God and others. We need the virtues which turn us toward God before we can be really prudent.

         In verse 21, Jesus talked about it in terms of storing up treasures for yourself versus being “rich toward God.” That first business of storing up treasures looks prudent to most of us. We want to build equity in our homes, put something in an IRA, have a nest egg in bank account, and maybe even a few gold or silver coins stashed away in case the banking system goes way south. But Jesus asks the much more prudent question of whether we’ve been rich toward God.

         Life is practical. Jesus knew that. Everyday, you decide whether to build more barns or do something else. You go shopping or stay home and clean house. You write your term paper or talk with a friend. You place an order or take inventory. You vote for this person or that person. All of it is plain, practical action in the real world. But the real world, says Jesus, includes God. It’s not prudent, it’s not realistic, if God is left out of the plan.

         Right here, Jesus doesn’t say how to do that, to be rich toward God. One way might be generosity toward others. This rich man wasn’t thinking about anyone but himself and his own future comfort. Down just a bit in the text, verse 33, Jesus talks about preparing an “unfailing treasure” in heaven by giving away what you have to those in need. If that kind of generosity isn’t part of our lives, we’re not being very prudent.

         Or we might consider how rich we are toward God by how we use our time. Some would say that in our world today, time is our most precious possession. We’re so busy. Time to do what the rich man contemplated in verse 19, to “relax, eat, drink, be merry,” feels like real treasure. But where is God in our leisure plans? Where are the minutes for prayer, for Bible reading, for coming together in worship? Is our time rich toward God?

         One of the most prudent men I ever knew wasn’t all that practical. He was ninety years old and stored his lawn mower in the basement and still carried up the steps every time he needed to mow the lawn. It never occurred to him to build a little storehouse for it in the back yard. He probably thought he didn’t have enough money for that. He and his wife just kept living in the same little house they had for years.

         But Eph—his first name was Ephraim—was rich toward God. He had memorized whole chapters of the Bible. He and his wife sat and prayed together for a long time every morning. He hardly ever missed church.

         No, Eph wasn’t all that prudent in ordinary ways. When he worked he drove a pro­pane delivery truck around to Nebraska farms. He propped his Bible up on the dash or the seat beside him so he could see it and work on memorizing. It wasn’t a prudent thing to do by our contemporary standards of safety.

         But Eph was prudent about what really mattered. He loved his family and He loved God. He would talk to anyone he met about the Lord. If a store clerk remarked on his name, he’d say, “You find Ephraim in the Bible, and then we’ll talk more the next time I’m back.” Eph was rich toward God. And Eph was totally ready when God was done with him in this life.

         My prayer is that you and I will seek Eph’s sort of prudence. Planning for retirement is fine, but without a plan for being ready when God calls, it’s just foolishness. Enlarging your investments or your storage capacity isn’t bad, but investing and storing your heart and life in God is far more prudent. Amen.

         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated June 9, 2013