A sermon from the past

This is a sermon from my days at New Vernon. There is nothing unique about it except that New Vernon was the wealthiest church I ever served.


LUKE 12: 13-21

AUGUST 4, 2013


A. A man could see that his friend was distraught. “What’s wrong?”  “Three weeks ago a long lost uncle died and left me $10,000. Then two weeks ago a cousin I never knew died and left me $100,000. Last week my grandfather passed away and left me a million dollars.”  “Why so glum?” “This week, nothing.”

B. To listen to some preachers money is evil. But it is not. Money is morally   The Bible has a lot to say about money. So it seems that money matters to God. But it is not money itself that matters to the Lord. The question is, “What does God expect us to DO with our money?” And the warning is what having money might do to us.

C. The unnamed man in the parable, we will call him Mr. Bigger Barns, is wealthy. He might admit that he was fortunate. But he would not use the word blessed. For that would be to give God credit for his abundance and he believed that he did this all himself. When Bart Simpson was asked to say grace before a meal he said, “Dear Lord we would thank you for this food, but we paid for all of this stuff ourselves.” That was the attitude of Mr. Bigger Barns.

D. He believed that his wealth guaranteed his future well-being. He has more crops than he can store. So instead of sharing with those in need, he builds bigger barns to store all of his wealth. Listen again to his speech to himself “I will do this. I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger ones and I will store all my grain and goods. I will say to my soul eat drink and be merry.”

E. Was there any particular pronoun that stood out in that reading? No thought is given to what God expected him to do with his money. No thought is given to meeting the needs of others less fortunate. (Which is what God expected him to do with his money.) It’s all about me.  But as he knelt at the altar of his god, which was not money but self, something happened which he didn’t account for in his long term financial planning. He died.


A. David Schlafer paraphrased God’s comments to Mr. Bigger Barns this way. “You soul is bankrupt. Foreclosure is imminent. You’re dead fool!”  This passage is at its core not really about sharing. It is about God’s intrusion into our lives with a different pattern for living and a different version of success. Sure the man never thought of using his surplus to help hungry people. But that was a symptom, not the disease. The disease which is rampant in our time is called selfish materialism. But in the end we lose every possession that we ever buy and every dollar that we ever earn.

B. Here is a news flash from God. You are going to die. It’s not a question of if, just when. D. Rockefeller was asked once how much money is enough. He said “Just a little more.” When he died, someone asked his accountant, “How much did Rockefeller leave?”  The accountant said, “All of it.”

C. God says that one who invests only in self is a fool. That’s because the materialist has forgotten one crucial part of the equation; Death. Tillitson wrote “One who invests in this life and not the next is wise for a moment and a fool forever.”  I think is must be hard to be rich and be a disciple of Jesus. It’s not wrong. It’s just John Wesley visited a huge plantation owned by a church member. After riding for a long time and still not covering all of his land, the man asked Wesley what he thought. He said, “I think it will be hard for you to leave all of this.”  In more colloquial terms, the preacher told a Texan, You can’t take it with you.” And the Texan replied, “Then I ain’t goin’. But everyone goes. And everyone leaves everything behind. So where is your treasure? Can you imagine it having any value to you in 1.000 years?

D. Materialism in our time has morphed into abstract materialism. We buy things not because we need them or even necessarily want them. We buy them because we can. I was in the home of a very rich man who had famous and tremendously expensive works of art on the wall. He said, “They tell me they are valuable. To be honest, I don’t even like them.” When God intrudes into our lives we are asked to live radically different We are asked to take “self” off the throne so there is room for God.


A.The problem with Mr. Bigger Barns was not that he succeeded. And it was not that he planned for his retirement. It was that in his pursuit of security he was so distracted that he forgot about the only lasting security, which is the love of God. It turns out that materialism is not just wrong, it is stupid

.B.Sometimes scripture is comforting. Bu this passage is   We live in a culture that if we were honest, this symbol would not be a cross. It would be a dollar sign.  You are judged successful by how much you have accumulated. And the most disturbing thing is wondering if we as a church are different than the culture around us. Is this the symbol of our lives?  (The Cross) Are we ready for the radical intrusion of God into our lives that defines a successful life based not on what we have, but what we do with what we have?  Life is a gift. God is not concerned with how much you have. God is concerned with your level of trust in God and how you meet God’s expectations of what you do with your wealth.

C. Be on guard, Jesus says, of pleonexia. The Greek word for greed translates into the constant yearning to have more. The man who sparks this parable wants Jesus to stop talking about God and the poor and tell his brother to give him ½ of his father’s money. He has pleonexia. He is missing the point of what Jesus teaches. He would fit right in in 2013 where money is so often the true Lord.

D. When our priorities are wrong the value of life gets lost. Pleonexia leads to pride and anxiety and elitism and deterioration of the soul. Wealth can be a spiritual liability.  Our economic system is capitalistic.  Some ask if there is such a thing as Christian capitalism. I say But only when we remember what is of ultimate importance.



A.It’s hard to be a rich Christian. I admire some of you who have found a way to live faithfully and understand what God expects you to do with your wealth. Others still ignore the ultimate statistic, which is death. It is one out of every one. To ignore this is to be foolish. When we understand that life and everything we have is a gift of God to be used to forward God’s agenda then we begin to be rich towards God. That’s the guidance that Jesus gives at the end of his parable. Mr. Bigger Barns was But he was broke when it came to God.

B. It’s easy enough to fall into a pattern of more and lose sight of the concept of   A man found a lamp and a genie appeared and granted him three wishes. First I want 10 million in a Swiss bank account. Done. Next I was a red Ferrari. The car appears. Finally I want to be irresistible to women. And the genie turns him into a box of chocolates. “ ..Just a little more.”

C. So what does it mean to be rich towards God? It’s not asceticism which is just self-denial for its own sake. Jesus didn’t live that way. The redistribution of wealth in and of itself is not God’s plan. But when one who has much refuses to share with one who has nothing, God is not happy.

D. The great preacher, James Forbes said that “nobody gets into heaven without a reference letter from the poor.



 V.  HOW?

A.Here are a few ways I think we can be rich towards God. 1 Share, don’t hoard.  2. Begin to really trust God. You can’t give it away faster than God can bless you with all you need.  3. Reassess what your needs are. Many of the things we say we need are really luxuries that we could live well without.  A woman working at the soup kitchen was talking about the downturn in the economy and she said, “I don’t know if we will be able to keep our third house.” This as she stood in the midst of people some of whom live in a cardboard box. 4.  Don’t be legalistic about giving.  I have been asked more than once if tithing is on the gross or the net. That misses the point. Giving is of the heart. It is a reflection of the health of your soul.  5. Change your language from me, myself and I to God and others and me. Here is the bottom line. Learn to live simply, give generously and trust God

.B. I knew a man once who got it. His name was Norvel Christie. He was an eye surgeon who went to Pakistan during the partition in 1947 for a six month assignment. He stayed there his entire career. He performed 100s of 1,000s of eye surgeries giving sight to people who could not afford it. They made a film about him called The Lion of Taxilla. The interviewer asked Dr. Christie if he missed all of the money he could have made in the states as an eye surgeon. He was genuinely baffled by the question. He said, we have a home and the kids went to school and we have plenty of food and health care. What would we do with more money?” He was not in the business of building bigger barns. He was rich towards God. We can be too. Live in such a way that you are forwarding God’s agenda of peace and justice by learning to trust God for all that you really need. And don’t be a fool for Christ’s sake



The policeman pulled over a car that was going 10 miles an hour.  He asked the elderly lady driver why she was driving so slowly? She said, “I saw a sign back there that said the speed limit was 10 miles an hour.”  “No” said the cop.  “That is the route sign. You are on Route 10.”

Just then he looked in the back seat and saw two other older women who looked terrified and white as ghosts. “Are you ladies OK?” One of the ladies said, “Yes officer we will be fine. It’s just that we just got off of route 202.”