(Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, Psalm 49:1-12, Colossians 3:1-11)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/tHofGS12ppw)
13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Reflecting on these texts this week, I couldn’t help but recall the one about a man named Bill who was once talking and asked, ”God, how much is a penny worth in heaven?” God replied, ”One million dollars.” Then Bill asked, ”How long is a minute in heaven?” God said, ”One million years.” So Bill asked for a penny and God said, ”Sure, just wait a minute.” Old Bill just couldn’t resist trying to pull a fast one on God! Not that we can blame him. I imagine some of us have tried to pull a fast one on God at some point in our lives. We think we can outwit God in the same way we occasionally outwit each other. But my guess is that few of us succeeded at it. No, God is particularly difficult to outwit. He’s seen it all, He knows it all, He’s done it all…it is most difficult to cheat God! Especially when it comes to greed and our insatiable desire to accumulate more and more in our lifetimes. What drove Bill’s attempt at trickery was the belief that a million dollars would make his life better. Greed can evoke such cunning beliefs. Greed can make us believe that what we have isn’t enough. Greed can make us want more and more even when what we already have is more than we can handle. We become blind to what we already have in the maniacal pursuit of what we don’t have. We become fools to greed, so foolish that we pathetically try to outwit God.
There is a reason why greed is one of the seven cardinal sins. Greed makes us do stupid things and behave stupidly. Just listen to results of a survey taken by James Patterson and Peter Kim that asked, “What would you do for $10,000,000?” Patterson and Kim found that two-thirds of Americans polled would agree to at least one, some to several of the following things to do in exchange for $10,000,000:
Would abandon their entire family (25%) Would abandon their church (25%) Would become prostitutes for a week or more (23%) Would give up their American citizenships (16%) Would leave their spouses (16%) Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free (10%) Would kill a stranger (7%) Would put their children up for adoption (3%)
Now if that isn’t a terribly revealing survey about the sheer stupidity that greed evokes, I don’t know what is! Unbelievable the things that our fellow Americans would consider doing in exchange for money! Thus is the power of greed! Greed makes us do terribly stupid things. Not only how we go about getting more and more but also in what we do with what we get. Each of us can only handle and manage so much. In succumbing to greed, there comes a point when there is too much to manage and we inevitably mismanage what we have. The man in Jesus’ parable illustrated such stupidity. He had accumulated so much stuff that his storehouses weren’t large enough to store all of it. Rather than sharing it with others, he foolishly decided to tear down his storehouses and built even larger storehouses. He behaved stupidly in how he managed what he had acquired and Jesus condemned the man for it. We don’t know the full extent of his stupidity because we don’t know exactly how he acquired his wealth but we can guess it was through hurtful, selfish means. Otherwise he wouldn’t have insisted on building larger storehouses. He would have been grateful for his blessings and worked to share them with others. Thus is the stupidity that is evoked by greed.
But greed isn’t the only sin out there. There are plenty of other sins that can evoke similarly stupid actions and behaviors. At the heart of the stupidity of sinful behavior is the separation from God. Sins pull us away from our loving relationship with God. Sins keep us from enjoying the love of God. They keep us from enjoying deep and everlasting satisfaction. Sin only provides temporary satisfaction. The love of God provides permanent satisfaction.
In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gave us rich wisdom concerning our pursuit of things other than God’s love, i.e. sinful behavior. His famous declaration, “vanity of vanities,” teaches us that engaging in sinful behavior is engaging in wispy, disappearing behavior. Vanity is a temporary rush of self-importance that quickly disappears. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul also warns us to keep seeking things from above rather than earthly, sinful pleasures. When we seek Christ and the love of God, we are seeking that which sustains and enriches.
I realize that Jesus’ parable, Solomon’s wisdom, and Paul’s encouragement are difficult words to live by. I realize that they are words to help us deny our earthly, sinful natures. But is life simply about denial? Did Jesus come to teach us how to simply deny ourselves and our sinful desires? No, I don’t believe life, the good life, is simply about denial. I don’t believe Jesus came to teach us how to deny ourselves. Jesus taught us how to live life abundantly. Jesus wants us to know the abundance of God’s love for us. As I mentioned earlier, sins separate us from the love of God. When we sin, we can’t fully appreciate the glory of God’s love. Jesus wants each of us to be rich in God’s love. Jesus just doesn’t want us to mismanage our riches. When we deny God’s love or fail to share God’s love with others, we are mismanaging our riches and Jesus doesn’t want this. Jesus wants us to seek God’s love. Paul wants us to seek God’s love. Solomon wants us to seek God’s love. David wants us to seek God’s love. And none of them want us to mismanage God’s love. We aren’t supposed to seek and hoard God’s love to ourselves. We’re supposed to share God’s love with each other. When we seem to have run out of God’s love in our lives, we’re supposed to seek out God and God’s love and replenish ourselves in His endless fount of love. God’s love for us is so great that we could never use it all up. We simply need to seek it out and restore ourselves in it.
As we reflect on our sinful natures this week, let us be less concerned with feeling bad about our weak characters. These readings can be heard as nothing more than words of judgment and condemnation. Instead, let us revel in the glory of God’s love for us. Let us be glad that God continues loving us in spite of our stupid, sinful natures. We can act and behave stupidly because of our sins but God still greatly loves us. Let us be grateful for all our blessings, especially for being…rich in love.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.