Faithlife Sermons

07.31.2022 - Lasting Investments

After Pentecost  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

Luke 12:13–21 NRSV
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

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What do you want?

What do you want most in life?
Take a minute, close your eyes, and think of the one or two things you would like to have, accomplish, or become before the end of your life. Is it something realistic, like repainting the inside of your house, or is it so big and fantastic, like world peace, that you don’t even know where to start to make it happen? That is an easy question for you to answer if you have never been disappointed.
I have been disappointed many times. There is the buildup of excitement for a vacation to the beach, only to discover that the beach is closed or swimming is not allowed because of riptides or bad weather. The past few months, many of us looked forward to summer activities, only to be laid low by COVID. Maybe you saved up for a special purchase, only to find out when you received your package it wasn’t quite what you expected. My great grandfather never learned to read and went grocery shopping based on the picture on the package. There were many times he was disappointed that the thing inside did not match up to his expectations on the label. Disappointment is part of life, and it can cripple our ability to know what we truly want.
If we pay attention, God often meets us in those times when we are re-evaluating our decisions. I’ve traded four-star restaurant experiences for a scoop of ice cream and a walk in the park. I’ve discovered that the sounds and light of the greatest shows on earth don’t have half the drama of an open field in Pennsylvania where a plane full of civilians choose to give their lives to save the lives of those in the Capitol building in Washington DC. And of all the Christmases I have participated in, I still remember the one where we chose not to give gifts to one another but just to enjoy each other’s company, which was just a few years before my dad passed away.
God wants to lead and guide us in life, and that means more than going to church. It affects the way we invest our lives. You get more by giving to God than by giving to yourself.

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Kings and Queens

We were not made to be little kings and queens of little kingdoms.
In our scripture today, Jesus is asked by a man to have his brother split the family land with him. Maybe this was the prodigal son, a real-life person that Jesus would use as a teaching illustration a few chapters later. Perhaps he thought it unfair that tradition held that the elder son inherited the largest portion of the family land while the younger siblings received much smaller portions. Jesus, it’s not fair. Make my brother divide it up equally with me. That sounds like a Jesus thing to be about, doesn’t it? Dividing everything up fairly?
But Jesus had no interest in the family land, so he told a story of a farmer who built his own little kingdom around him. The farmer was successful as well, almost too successful. He realized he did not have enough space to store all the grain and possessions he had stored up, so he tore down what he had and built bigger barns and storage units. Then, as a shocking twist to the story, Jesus said the man suddenly died, and all his success, all his wealth, and all his possessions did him no good.
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”, says Jesus. There are many kinds of greed. Greed for money. Greed for possessions. Greed for relationships. Greed for status. Greed to collect as much as we can. It leads both the rich and poor astray.
This is not a story about rich people going to hell. Luke tells those stories a little later. This is a story of a wasted life. Just think of what that farmer could have done if he worked with God instead of working for himself. Jesus warns this brother that all his plans for using the family land are meaningless if God calls him home today. We all have an expiration date, and we cannot buy more time. When we invest in ourselves, we are investing in something that will fail for sure. The castles we build for ourselves are made of sand, and the tide is coming in. The kingdoms we build will all fall.
How do we make better investments?

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Fishes and Loaves

Everything we give to God is redeemed by Him.
That is our starting point. Redeemed wealth. Redeemed stuff. We have lived so long in a digital age that some of us can barely remember using coins to purchase things, but the idea of offerings predates any physical money. The idea of the offering is not about the people of faith coming together, rich and poor, emptying their pockets, and building a house to keep God in. God told David that He didn’t need that back in 2 Samuel 7. The whole world and everything in it belong to the Lord.
A better story of the offering is that of a young boy who was the only one prepared for a day out in the wilderness, listening to Jesus. He had 5 small barley loaves and 2 fish, enough to last him through the day, or perhaps him and a few family members. When Jesus opened his eyes to everyone around him, those who were not prepared, regardless of their wealth, he took up his food to the disciples as an offering. He trusted Jesus to take care of Him and wanted to see what Jesus could do when he invested his meal for the day in Jesus. Many of you know the story. Over 5,000 people ate that day, and there were leftovers for the disciples to take home. Jesus broke the bread, blessed it, and fed the multitude with it.
The disciples gave three years of their time and were transformed by Jesus. Then they gave the rest of their lives, and Jesus transformed the world for generations through them.
There is a difference between giving to solve a problem or help a situation and giving back to God. When we give to help solve a problem asking for God’s blessing in our work, 2 fish and five loaves might back 10 fish sandwiches. When we give to God out of gratitude for what He has already done for us, we become part of something bigger than ourselves. We partner in what God is doing. Food from heaven with leftovers to spare. It’s more than just everyone pitching in and doing their part. Together, with God, we are more than the sum of our parts.
We partner with God by investing in Him, letting go of our treasures, and allowing God to be our treasure.

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God’s Investment

When we join the body of Christ, we pledge to give our all: our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. That is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, nor is it a once-a-week event. Mature followers of Jesus give Him their all every day.
It is not always the same. What you bring to the table might be different today than what you bring tomorrow. It might be less important that you bring the same thing every time and more important to consider what we leave behind in our own barns, untouched and unredeemed by God. These are the things that will rot and mold, like unused leftovers in the fridge. They will not satisfy us, and eventually, they will not even be fit to give away. Everything, every gift we have, is temporary, except God.
Sometimes we need a positive example of what investing in God could look like. So, for a bit of homework, I want to invite you to go home and look up a man named Milton Hershey. You will remember his name because you’ve grown up eating his chocolate. I won’t tell you his whole story, but I will let you know that he failed as a businessman several times before a series of God-led events got him finally on his feet. Rather than invest in himself, he invested in others in a way that I have to believe was guided by God. Rather than building bigger barns for himself, he built homes and gave them away to people. If he had the greatest earthly treasure other than God, I would say that history and the flow of his investments would show it to be a school he founded for children who lacked opportunities. He himself never made it past fourth grade.
You can’t trust everything you read on the internet or even in the history books, necessarily. There’s always another side to the story. But I don’t share this information from a place I read it. I heard it from a tour guide on a bus up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, an unofficial town named after Mr. Hershey. This tour guide was a retired electrician who was working part-time telling the story of Mr. Hershey, and one of the bus riders was skeptical that Mr. Hershey was really that good of a person and called the tour guide out. The guide was visibly annoyed, almost angry at this skeptical remark, and told us all that Milton Hershey had saved his life. He was one of the boys who was taken from Florida at a young age when his mother was struggling to provide for the family and was given the gift of free education, trade skills and work for the rest of his life. He was not on this bus because it was an easy way to pass the time in retirement. He was simply giving back a little bit to the man who had invested so much in him. That’s a testimony I would take to the bank.
If you get right down to it, God is the real investor here. He has given far more to you and I than we have ever given back to Him. The question we should be asking ourselves is: Are we a good investment?
When people drive by here every day, do they see a building, or do they see people that make a difference in their lives? Do they see our faces and know that God has invested in us more than we know what to do with?
If we offer ourselves up to God and allow Him to break and bless us, like the fish and the loaves, our lives will be redeemed and transformed in such a way that God will touch more lives through us than we can even imagine. Then we will see and understand that when true, lasting revival comes, it will not be because God finally stopped holding back. It will be because we finally stopped holding our lives back from God.
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