The Sermon for Sunday, July 31st, 2022, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

The Lessons: Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:11; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:5-17; Luke 12:13-21

The Text: Luke 12:13-21

The Topic: Being rich according to God’s perspective

INTRODUCTION

The man who would have sold his Picasso painting for $139 million put an elbow through it minutes before completing the sale.

Throughout his life, Pablo Picasso produced an estimated 13,500 paintings and designs, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations, and three hundred sculptures and ceramics. The painting titled The Dream was completed in 1932.

In 1997, at an art auction at Christie’s in New York City, casino magnate Steve Wynn purchased The Dream for $47 million. Less than a decade later, Wynn completed a deal to sell the painting for $139 million. The transaction would have set a record for the sale of a piece of art.

It would have — if Wynn, who was standing close to the painting, hadn’t turned, and inadvertently clobbered the Picasso with his elbow, punching a six-inch hole in the middle of the masterpiece. While no one is certain what that does to the value of the painting itself, the effect on the sale price was immediate. Even more quickly than it had come, the record-breaking $139 million sale evaporated.

 — Associated Press, “Vegas Tycoon Pokes Hole in a Picasso,” CBSNews.com (October 18, 2006)[1]

Three of our Lessons today deal with wealth.

In the First Lesson, the Preacher, who states that he was king over Israel in Jerusalem, has unlimited riches and resources, which he uses to full extent for his own indulgence, but finds in the end that all his buildings, gardens, musicians, servants, and even all his wisdom, which was greater than the wisdom of any kings before him in Jerusalem, could not provide him with a sense of purpose in life. “All was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11b, KJV). This Lesson teaches us that, though many good things can be done with rich resources, the self-indulgent use of them is unprofitable.

The Psalmist addresses Psalm 49 to people from all levels of society (“high and low, rich and poor, one with another” – v.2, Prayer Book Psalter). He invites everyone to reflect on those that trust in their wealth. Then he points out that all a man’s riches cannot redeem a man’s soul so that he should live forever, for the price of doing so is too great (Psalm 49:8). Furthermore, the rich man sees that the wise and the foolish alike die and leave their wealth for others (Psalm 49:10). Though rich people enjoy honor and respect in this life because of their wealth, and though they name lands and buildings in their honor, yet they do not live forever on this earth. Therefore they may be compared to animals that die and do not have eternal life. The purpose of the psalmist in writing as he does, is to remind people that riches do not last forever, and that true honor is not necessarily connected with wealth. Later in the same psalm, the point is made more precisely:

Be not thou afraid, though one be made rich, * or if the glory of his house be increased; For he shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth, * neither shall his pomp follow him.

(Psalm 49:16-17, p.401, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928)

Our Gospel Lesson reiterates the truth of the danger of accumulating wealth even more clearly. One of the crowd asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Perhaps, the brother was the elder son, the first-born, who had inherited all the property from his father, and the younger son had received nothing. Though normally today a person leaves property to his children in equal shares, in ancient Israel, the elder son would receive most of the inheritance. The Lord Jesus Christ refuses to be drawn into the role of a judge or arbitrator settling property disputes, since there were courts that would deal with these things. Hence his reply, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Luke 12:14, KJV).

Now the Lord’s reply is no indication of whether he favors the man or his brother in this property dispute. The man could have been unjustly treated, but the Lord directs his attention and the attention of the crowd to guarding against the sin of covetousness, since a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).

Aristotle, in writing long ago about the life of a philosopher, remarked:

Yet if supreme blessedness is not possible without external goods, it must not be supposed that happiness will demand many or great possessions; for self-sufficiency does not depend on excessive abundance, nor does moral conduct, and it is possible to perform noble deeds even without being ruler of land and sea: one can do virtuous acts with quite moderate resources.[2]

Aristotle takes a moderate, balanced approach, but the Lord Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21) to emphasize the shortsightedness of being covetous. The rich man’s thoughts have a certain logic to them – why not build bigger granaries to store great harvests of grain? Why not enjoy all the benefits of working hard to produce it all? We are reminded of the rich farmer Nabal’s response to David’s request for provisions for his men (1 Samuel 25:11 – “Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be? -KJV). In the Parable there is no thought in this rich man’s mind of sharing his grain with others whose land might not be producing so well. It is natural to want to store up many good things for the years that lie ahead. It sounds all so reasonable until God gives his reply to the rich man’s thoughts, calling him a fool and warning him that that very night his soul will be required of him, that is, he will die, and then who will have those things which he has laid up for himself? So it is, the Lord concludes, with everyone that accumulates treasure and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

But how does one become “rich toward God”? In the passage following our Lesson, Luke 12:22-34, the Lord gives us some answers. One must not be anxious about material things, but trust God for his provision and direction. In verse thirty-three, selling possessions and giving alms to the poor is a way of providing for oneself never-failing treasure in heaven and a purse that does not wear out. Through generosity to the poor and needy, we grow rich toward God. If we are concerned only with having plenty of wealth for ourselves, we remain poor towards God, but if we give generously, we provide for ourselves treasure in heaven that will never fail.

It might be argued that inflation and the excessive cost of living will keep us from accumulating too much. The real danger in all the work that people do to support themselves is the danger of covetousness, the danger of thinking only of our own needs and never of the needs of others. It is a danger for individuals as well as a danger for churches, which exist for the sake of the salvation and edification of others.

One of the duties of the Church is to care for the poor. In the early days of the Church’s history, as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles bears witness, there was not a needy person among the disciples, for the wealthy among them who owned properties or homes would sell their lands and homes, bring the proceeds, and give them to the Apostles for distribution among the poor (Acts 4:34-35). One of the duties of the Laity according to the Canons of the ACNA is “To serve their neighbor, sacrificially demonstrating the love of Christ to the poor, the sick and those in need.” (Title I, Canon 10, Section 2, Canons of the ACNA).

CONCLUSION

As individuals and as a congregation, what are we doing to help the poor? What will you do to become rich toward God?


[1] Quoted on p.508, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

[2] p.625, H. Rackam (ed.): Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics X.viii.9-10. London: Heinemann Ltd.,1926. Reprinted 1956.

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