Grabbed or Given?
Greed grabs more, chasing life, but life is with God - so...
Guard against greed - there’s no life there
Be rich toward God who’s been rich towards us - you’ll find life there
I’ve got £10 here which I don’t really need. And do you know what, I’m just wondering if any of you lovely people want a bit more money? Who fancies a bit more money? Hands up. £10 for you, my friend.
How many of us want just a bit more money? Let’s be honest, pretty much all of us. How many of us are here today thinking, “do you know, actually, I’ve got enough, as much as I want”? Really?
How much is enough? Well, this is John Rockefeller - ever heard of him? Toward the end of the 1800’s he was a MAJOR name let me tell you: founder of Standard Oil, which became the largest and most profitable company in the world, he was also the richest man in the world. He owned a far larger proportion of the total wealth of the US than any of our modern billionaires like Amazon’s Jess Bezos or Microsoft’s Bill Gates. He was stinkin’ massive mega ludicrous rich.
So when he was asked in an interview “just how much was enough”, what do you think he said? “Just a little bit more”. Even for the richest man in the world, how much is enough? Just a little bit more.
But it’s not just him. In 2018 a Harvard researcher asked more than 2000 people, each worth over a million dollars, how happy they were on a scale of 1-10 - and how much more money they’d need to get that to a 10. How much more? “All the way up the income-wealth spectrum, basically everyone says two or three times as much.” [that’s a direct quote from the researcher] Not just a little bit more but a whole lot more!
But it’s not just them. Let’s be honest, this is true for us too. When are you going to have enough? Enough vbucks? Enough riot points? Enough clothes? Enough bedrooms? Enough holidays? Enough money? How much would be enough? … Well just a little bit more.
Why is “enough” so hard to achieve? What is it makes us dissatisfied with wherever we are, that always makes us want more and more — and more? What is it that is just so appealing about stuff?
It’s the promises that it keeps on making. Stuff, this stuff we want more and more of, is busy making promises. It promises us joy. It promises us rest. It promises us security.
Yet every time we get that little bit more, turns out it doesn’t keep it promise. But here’s the crazy thing: somehow, even though this stuff we have now didn’t keep it’s promise, we’re stupid enough to think that stuff, the stuff we don’t quite have yet, that’s totally going to do it. Doh! [face-palm]
We’re all chasing after joy, rest, security through our stuff. At it’s heart, we’re chasing life itself. And Jesus has something to say to us about that.
We’re working our way through Luke’s gospel, Luke’s telling of Jesus’ life story, as a church and today Jesus has stuff in his sights, and this question of enough. He has some things to say to say to us which are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years so. So let’s listen together to what he has to say - Carolyn’s going to read for us today and we’re in Luke chapter 12, that’s page ________ in these blue bibles, Luke chapter 12 - look for the big 12, and verse 13, small 13. Page _______, big 12, small 13.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus says.
Why? Not because greed harms others (though it does - that’s just not what Jesus is saying right here) - but because greed harms us; it’s self-harm. Greed is looking for life in all the wrong places - thinking “just a little bit more” is going to bring us rest, security, joy. Greed is asking for life from things that just can’t give it: uncaring, dead things like money and cars and houses and toys. “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”, Jesus says - or as another translation puts it, “life is not measured by how much you own.”
Greed doesn’t bring us life - all those things break all the promises they make - they have no power at all to give us life. Instead of life, greed steals away life through misplaced hope - and in its place greed brings us death. That’s what Jesus’ parable says. The rich man’s greed brings him death not life.
Now I don’t expect many of us here are set on pursuing greed - but it has this nasty habit of just sneaking into our lives with it’s “just a little bit more line.” So it’s something we have to keep on guarding against - that’s what Jesus’ warning here tells us: So how do we do that? Easy to say, harder to do. I think this parable has two big helps for us in guarding against greed.
First, we should remember there’s a giver. Take a look again at v16 “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops."
This rich man here - he’s just a whole lot like us. No place to store my crops, he thinks. My crops. Why are they my crops? Because my ground yielded an abundant harvest. Oh did it now? And that’s yours, you say? Sure you can plough, and plant, and water. But God gives the growth. The ground ultimately belongs to God. And it’s fruitfulness ultimately depends on him.
We have a tendency to see all productivity, all the things we can accomplish, intuitively as our own. “I worked hard today, I earned my salary,” we say “so now it’s my money and I can do with it what I want”. Like the rich man sees what the ground produces as his crops. But there’s a flaw in that thinking: it rests on everything belonging to us to begin with.
Imagine this: imagine I give you a fabulously powerful robot which can do any DIY job you can imagine in seconds. Imagine you take that robot and go knocking on doors all down your street looking for odd jobs, get a heap of them done for people, and come back with a giant wadge of cash in your pocket. Is that really all yours?
It’s my robot, after all.
All our productivity - all our talents and skills, all our capabilities - ultimately come from God. We have no right to be good at art, or at computers, or at sports or whatever. Any gift we have is one he’s given to us - it’s not ours by right. And so when we use it, does the result really belong to us? Are we right to call it “mine”?
If you can do something our culture pays well for, who made you so able?
If you were exactly you in Dhaka’s slums, what chance would you have of getting paid? Or in ancient Iraq, say?
Whatever we do, ultimately it’s always God who makes it productive.
So there’s the first defence we find here against greed: we have to remember there’s a giver - so lay off with the “mine” claims. It’s not automatically ours.
Second, we should know what “enough” is.
In v17 the rich man is lamenting having no place to store his crops (awwwwlll poor man) - but like any good politician he hasn’t quite come out with the whole truth because v18 shows us he already has barns - plural, notice - and if there’s nowhere to store these new crops that means these barns he’s planning on tearing down have to already be full of something else! This man is introduced as a rich man - and he has barns filled to the brim meaning no room for this new crop.
We’re back to “just a little bit more” again. Just a little bit more will be enough to make him truly happy, he thinks. Just a little bit more will mean he can take life easy, eat drink and be merry. So tear down those full barns and build some bigger ones - notice the plural there again! How much is enough?!
That’s the question we should be asking ourselves. How much is enough? How much should be enough for me? How much do I really need? And when I find myself wanting more than that, what am I really looking for? What do I think it’s going to do for me? Because we have to get our heads around this truth: stuff doesn’t keep its promises.
Now I’m not going to put a figure out there or anything like that, and say if you’re over £X, that’s enough. But I do want to give you some homework today: try and find some time this week to sit down and think about where that “enough” line is for you - and where it ought to be. Do you have enough already? I think many people in the West do. If so, what does that mean when you find yourself chasing after more? Or, like in this parable, when you find you have been given more than enough?
Jesus says we need to be on our guard against all kinds of greed - because greed only brings us death, not life. We can be on guard by remembering there’s a giver, and knowing what’s enough. But Jesus gives us more help here too - he sets out an alternative which can deliver us: being rich towards God
See that in his conclusion in v21 after the parable? “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” For all this man was rich, Jesus tells us, the problem is that he wasn’t rich towards God.
But how do you go about being “rich towards God”? Say you decided this morning to make this afternoon all about being “rich towards God,” what would you actually do? It’s quite an odd turn of phrase, this idea of being rich towards someone. If I was being rich towards you, for example, what would that mean?
Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: there’s more than one way to be rich. There’s more than one direction, one dimension you can be rich in. You know, like you can be big this way, in the up-down dimension, or you can be big this way, side-to-side. Well Jesus is saying you can be rich, you can have abundance, in different directions too.
Sure you can be rich in terms of money - that’s one kind of rich. But you can be rich in terms of God too - and that’s a whole ‘nother kind of rich. The man in the parable is rich in terms of money but poor in terms of God. Jesus is calling us to be rich in God, rich towards God as an alternative to greed, a way to guard against it.
And what is this other kind of richness? What does it look like? It’s the opposite of the rich man in this story. It’s taking how he lives and turning it on its head. So two things, two key ways to be rich towards God:
First, Keep Him in the picture.
The rich man only sees himself, only thinks of himself. It’s one of the striking things about this passage. Notice how many times it’s “my”. My crops. My barns. My surplus. Notice it’s all about him - not another soul mentioned anywhere in the story. Even when he needs to talk through his problem with someone, he ends up talking it through with himself! The only needs or desires he pays any attention to are his own.
Being rich towards God starts with keeping him in the picture. Practically speaking, this means weaving him into your day. We talked earlier in our gathering about what prayer is: simply talking with God. There’s a great way to weave God into your day. Is praying new to you? There’s a great website called trypraying.org which can help you get started. Prayers don’t need to be long or formal or difficult or out loud to connect you with God. Just a few words in your head and He’s listening - and he’s back in the picture.
Are there other regular habits you could develop which help weave God into your day? Maybe you could read a bit of the bible each day, even just one verse? Maybe you could use mealtimes as a nudge to pray and remember God?
Here’s one really good idea someone gave me: you know how we all get into those internal monologues - a bit like the rich man in our story, discussing with ourselves what we think and what we’ll do. Can you just try and build the habit of turning those monologues into a dialogue with God, thinking those thoughts towards him instead of just towards yourself?
What does keeping God in the picture do to help us guard against greed? It helps us recognise the giver, to see that every good gift comes from His hand, to remember that anything and everything we can achieve is only because He made us able. It’s a step along the journey of recognising every single thing comes from Him - down to our very next breath.
So keep Him in the picture. Why not take thirty seconds right now to think of one way you could keep God in the picture in this coming week, and then make a plan to actually do it. Send yourself a text. Put something in the calendar. Thirty seconds: how could you keep God in the picture this week?
How can we be rich towards God? First, keep God in the picture. Second, treat everything as His gift. Treat everything as His gift.
Being rich towards God means recognising everything I have doesn’t really belong to me - even if it might seem like that because I paid for it with money I earned from my work - it’s still all His gift. That means it belongs to Him, not us - so we can’t treat it like it’s really ours. The christian-y way to talk about this is to say we’re just stewards - that is, we’re just looking after someone else’s stuff.
We’re not free to do whatever we want with it. Instead we need to be asking the question: what does He want us to do with it? Why did He give it to us? Perhaps just to enjoy it and then give Him thanks for His gift. But perhaps He’s given it to us with a particular purpose in mind. Either way, it’s His gift, not mine to keep. That’s the point about this rich man dying in the parable: no possession is ultimately ours to keep.
Think about it this way: say you let your friend have one of your most precious things, let’s say they’re moving so you lend them your fancy new car. You wouldn’t want them to be careless with it, you know, just leave the keys in the and door open and walk off. Or treat it with contempt and fill it with mud from their garden. Or just to go joyriding in it, racking up speeding tickets! You’d want them to be thinking about why you had given it to them, about what you wanted them to do with it. You gave it to them for a reason - that’s how it is with everything we have. God has given it to us for a reason.
This is true of our money, yes, but there’s so much more: it’s true of everything he’s put in your hands. Every single thing.
Has God given you talents? Are you a natural at music? Can you solve any sum?
Has God placed you somewhere special? Do you have unique resources? Serious power and influence?
That’s all his gift. But it’s bigger still.
Here’s the bottom line: God has given you your life. It’s a gift, not your right. It belongs to Him. He can demand it back. If you’d call yourself a Christian here today, the bible says loud and clear that “you are not your own”. No, you were bought at a price - bought with the precious blood of Jesus. Your whole life is a gift given back, given for a purpose, and you must treat it like that.
Greedily grabbing on to more and more things in pursuit of life only brings us death in the end; no possession can give us life. It’s only when we’re rich towards God, recognising Him as the giver, treating everything as His Gift, that we truly find life.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?