Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, Luke 12:13-21
Here today: Gone tomorrow
Someone in the crowd of thousands calls out, “Hey Teacher, why don’t you tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me?” We might put it this way, “Hey Jesus, why don’t you make the right little plastic balls fall down the tube in the right order on Saturday Lotto for me? Jesus, make me win Lotto!? Give me more, God. Then I might be happy and fulfilled…”
It is a question that will betray the heart. Jesus identifies this question as one revealing a greedy heart. He warns against this greed. He tells a story about a wealthy man who cannot get enough and who is self-consumed and wealth consumed. Jesus names the greed and the folly of wanting more, more, more.
Throughout the little story, this man asks only himself his questions. He only ever tells himself of his own plans. His whole life is lived in himself, without reference or connection to others. He is a self-orientated person living in his own little world of more, more, more. “I am doing well. I will build bigger barns for the great crop I have grown he says (ignoring the reality that “the ground” produced the good crop for him!). In other words, God gifted the man with the crop. The man claimed it as his own and without reference to God’s gift, he decided on his own to do with it what he wants – to store it up, not share it with any other and continue on his self-indulgent, self-interested way.
Jesus calls this greedy self interested direction, folly; the greed is foolish.
So does the old Teacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He is a wise man in the city and he reflects on wealth and work and family and future and life’s purpose and meaning.
The Old teacher says;
I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.
I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity (vapour; ‘hevel’ in Hebrew – misty breath on a cold morning) and a chasing after wind (impossible to catch or succeed in).
I hated my work at which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me, and, who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I worked and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vapour.
So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has worked with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not work for it. This also is vapour and unfair!
So, what do human beings get from all the work and strain with which they toil under the sun?
Yes. What is the point of the work and the pain and the effort and the directions in life to which we apply our minds and hearts?
Jesus and the Wise man say that the accumulation of stuff for its own sake is greed and it is foolishness. Why?
A couple of reasons:
1. The wealth we set our heart on is fragile and easily lost.
Even if you hold on to it in your life time, it will more than likely be squandered in the next generation, or maybe the one after that. The first generation work for I, the second generation realizes that you worked for it and respect that and maybe even increase it. The third generation have no experience of the working for it and blow it all – that’s if the wealth for which you toiled makes it that far and a fire doesn’t burn down everything you own, illness doesn’t destroy your body, the financial markets collapse, someone steals your stuff or you get conned by a con –man who preys on your greed…..
2. Your wealth is not who you are and can never be you at your best.
Wealth and possessions cannot bear the weight of you seeking to be a whole and fulfilled person. Cash can’t give character. Money can’t buy you love nor the ability to love. A fortune cannot create forgiveness and so it goes…
That’s why Jesus calls the pursuit of possessions and wealth for their own sakes folly – It cannot deliver what we all really need – the love and kindness and power of God as given by God through Jesus working through other people.
Now and again, something happens that forces us to ask this very ancient and yet very “now” question.
Talk about a nudge from God.
Late this last week I lost a friend to cancer. A friend with so many parallels to my own life: 40 years old with 2 children similar in age to my own. Her death came quickly towards the end and during this time it had me thinking.
What if that had been me? What would be going on in my head in those last days, what would be more important than anything else? It’s funny how obvious and simple the answer is when death becomes so real like this. All of a sudden I can so easily identify all the insignificant clutter I fill my life with. All the fuzziness becomes clear.
Instead of brushing off my kids with the usual old lines this week, I’ve thought of my dying friend and how she would have jumped at one last opportunity to do the very ordinary but so important things like cooking with her daughter or reading that extra story or 2 to her son.
I thank God for His nudge, because it brought me back to the basics, it’s given me an opportunity to let go of my baggage that’s been weighing me down and focus on what’s REALLY important!
So, what shall we do? When God forces us to cast an eye over our decisions, our directions, our beliefs about life (which are truly shown in the way we are living and what we are working for), why shall we do?
Many here have lived through a “nudge” of God, as Leanne put it. In my life and from this word from Jesus, what we can do to find meaning and love and fulfillment in life is to look elsewhere than wealth or possessions accumulation.
Surely his little story urges us to take our eyes off the stuff and the plans and the longing to get, get, get. As Paul puts it so well, it is wise to keep our eyes “on things above” – the things of God’s Spirit, the things of God’s kingdom in our world and our life.
With the heart and mind seeking Jesus’ direction we will find great gifts. In God’s committed and compassionate acceptance and love in Jesus, we could be a bricky and love laying bricks. We could live in a small rented flat and never own a home and be completely happy with that.
We could live on the pension and have enough to eat and be able to splurge a bit now and again and that would be fine for our life in Jesus.
We could live for now, not the grand retirement which may actually never happen – just ask a few people around here who have had the plans for their life program rudely interrupted! We could find God in our day and be very happy with that as we live and love with others under his care.
As Leanne has experienced, the gifts of the Lord are in the now – reading that extra story to the little guy, viewing that beautiful scene, cooking with her daughter. When the heart is re-focused on what is happening now and our values are re-set to be other-directed and Jesus’ directed, greed disappears and self-giving it will come out in the decisions we make in the moment – like saying “yes” to a daughter when she asks to cook with her mum. It is then we know that God’s “nudge” has put us in his better place.
“A person’s life does not consist of things” says Jesus, in the end. So what does my life really consist of then, Jesus?
Here’s what I am hearing…
My life consists of the crucified and risen God who knows my death, my aging, my anxiety, my dis-ease my hopes, my longing, who is loving me, caring for me, shaping me from within by his powerful word. He knows my loves – for my wife and my kids and my community and I hand them to him to be known and loved too.
My life consists of people. Close people, Christ filled people, Christ-less people (so they think), sent to me to make me whole, make life fulfilling, make work a full of God’s meaning and purpose for my little life – however long he wants it to last.
My life consists of Calling. Work is never just working for the weekend it God working in me and through me for the great feast in the kingdom that will one day occur. He calls me – foolish though I be, limited though I be, unlovely though I be. He calls me and sets my direction to be his presence for and with others – if I take it and do it.
My life is lived in one overarching power and meaning and place – our Heavenly Fathers affirmation. “Your Father in heaven has been pleased to give this life in his kingdom. His affirmation and love cannot be destroyed by fire, flood, wayward children, or even death itself, Jesus says.
The more we are affirmed by him for trusting him, loving him, receiving his love and strength for living, the more we build up an account of kindness, compassion, victory over greed and all other idolatries that is untouchable to any pain, grief, evil or person – it is managed and protected by God for us and will be fully reimbursed in us as we keep our eyes of the things above – the things of God – God in our life here and now.
So, what will it be? Maintain pursuit or break off pursuit and rest in God’s promises and life and power?