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The one with most toys loses - Luke 12:13-21

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 23rd September 2018.

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~~Luke 12:13-21  SJN. EP. 23.9.18
The one with most Toys Loses

There is the story of a man who died and found himself outside the gates of heaven only to be greeted by St Peter. “Before we can let you in” said Peter, checking his clip board, “I need to ask you something.” “Sure” replied the man, “go ahead”.  “Well” said Peter, “we've looked at your life, and to be frank, you are really unexceptional, not having done anything particularly good or anything particularly bad. You went to church occasionally, that sort of thing. And so to be honest, we're not at all sure what to do with you. Can you tell us anything you did that might help us make a decision, swing things one way or the other?" The newly arrived soul thought for a moment and replied, "Well, yes. I was driving down town late in the evening when I came upon a young woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers. So I pulled over, got out my tire iron from the car boot, and went up to their leader. And you should have seen him! He was huge, a  six foot six, muscular, hairy guy with tattoos all over his body and a ring pierced through his nose, leather jacket, German helmet-the works. Well, I tore the ring out of his nose, and told him that he and his gang had better stop bothering the woman or they would have me to deal with!’" ‘Goodness’ said Peter, ‘I am impressed," "When did this happen?" "Oh,” replied the man, “about two minutes ago."

I guess there are many morals to that story, one of which is the need to be prepared to meet our Maker, because we never know when that will be. And that was a lesson that the man in the story Jesus told failed to learn and which many of us here tonight might need to learn. And so if you have not done so already, do turn with me to Luke 12:13ff because if ever there was a story for our day and age, here it is.

First, we have a dangerous desire-v 13, ‘Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “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.”

The man in the crowd assumes that Jesus as a rabbi/teacher had the expertise to pronounce on the legal dispute he was having with his brother. But notice that the man does not invite Jesus to adjudicate between himself and his sibling on the basis of fairness- he demands that Jesus takes his side- ‘tell him to do this’. You see, at the time of Jesus if a father died without leaving a will, then the estate was held by the two brothers and could not be divided and sold without the older brother’s say-so. Therefore technically it was up to him to make the decision. But here the younger brother is so obsessed with getting his hands on the cash that he more or less tries to press gang Jesus into siding with him so he could go back to his brother with the weight of the authority of a rabbi behind him. Do you see?

But let me tell you this, it is never a good idea to start telling Jesus what to do! Just look at how Jesus responds to him. He says, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter between you?’ Jesus doesn’t call him by his name, or even says ‘friend’, which he does with others, he calls him ‘man’ which in the Middle East is a rough way to address someone, as we might say ‘Look mate, who do you think you are?’ But Jesus displeasure arises not primarily out of the man trying to back him into a corner, but because of the man’s corrupt outlook on life which is both an affront to God and a danger to the man himself, as the parable Jesus is about to tell makes clear. A wooden, literal translation of what Jesus says in v15 goes like this, ‘Take heed and beware of every kind of insatiable desire. Because it is not out of the surpluses to anyone the life of him it is- out of his possessions’, which I know sounds a bit like Yoder but it emphasises the point Jesus is making to the man and to us, namely, that the purpose and meaning of life is not to be found in the ‘stuff’ we have and getting more and more of it- ‘life out of possessions’. Because this is the essence of paganism- that this life is basically all that there is or at least the most important and so we have to squeeze as much out of it as we  possibly can- getting more and more and living faster and faster. You take any weekend newspaper and pull out the colour supplement- the ‘good living guide’ and what will you find? You will have in your hands a pagan tract telling you what you should eat, what you should drink and what you should wear. The media is full of this stuff- chef celebrities, changing rooms, bargain hunters. Have you ever been to a wine tasting evening? There you have folk pontificating about what makes a good wine, its bouquet, its body, its vintage. An hour later- down the toilet. That is what happens to food and drink. And yet these people will tell us, this is what life is all about -the good life. But what we put into our mouths and what comes out of at the other end is a total irrelevance in the grand scheme of things and yet we have built up a whole way of living on what you eat, what you drink, what you wear. And Jesus pointed out so many years ago that our life is much more than eating, drinking and wearing clothes. We say, ‘You are what you eat’- to quote Nietzsche; ‘You are what you wear’, or ‘Tesco, ergo sum’- ‘I shop therefore I am’. The result? Our possessions possess us. You cannot get off the treadmill, because you have got to have that bigger house, that better holiday, that latest toy. That is our world. It is the consumer world- we consume and are being consumed. It is the world of Gordon Gecko in the 80’s film Wall Street which stated the exact opposite of what Jesus says here, that greed is good.’ No it isn’t, it is deadly. 

And so Jesus tells a story which flies in the face of much of what our culture is telling us but which we really need to believe if we are ever going to discover what real life is all about now and enjoy eternal life in the future and so we move on to a deluded dialogue vv 16-20.

Verse 16, ‘And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.’ Notice the man is already rich- he is a high roller. The ground, we are told, produced a bumper crop- he didn’t particularly work harder for it than in previous years, through a combination of good seed, good weather, fertile soil and absence of disease and pests things turned out pretty well. But who controls all these things- but God? And so in the final analysis this is actually a gift from God. So the question is: what will the man do with the surplus, that is the obvious question and he asks it, ‘He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Literally translated- ‘the man dialogued with himself’. Now we in the individualistic West don’t find anything odd about this- you have a problem you try and solve it by thinking it through. But in this culture you simply didn’t do that, you talked it through with others- your family, fellow workers, even your rabbi, after all this is a gift of God! So already we are being given a picture of a man who lives in splendid isolation if not literally- spiritually. He is his ‘own man’ and a ‘lone man’ which is not the way God made us to be which is to live in community. It was the French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who famously remarked that ‘hell is other people.’ Not so- hell is the absence of other people- people to love and from whom we receive love. To be left all alone- really alone- is what the Bible calls hell. And so we have a man who is by himself, who talks to himself, and as we shall see, who lives for himself- and if that goes on beyond the grave-that is hell and it is terrible, but it begins now by the kind of choices we make.

And so he begins to formulate a plan,v18, ‘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.”’ Do you see how he has already been corrupted by his wealth? It is all ‘I’ isn’t it? I will do this, I will do that, I will do the other. He is all ego which is no doubted bolstered by his success- who needs God when you seem to have it all? He literally says, ‘Soul’ you ‘have plenty of grain’.  There is only one planet his life orbits around and it is himself- it as if no one else exists in his little universe. And the thing is- get this- he even quotes the Bible to justify his action- the Book of Ecclesiastes which says, ‘And I commend enjoyment, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and enjoy himself’ (Eccl 8:15)- the very words the man uses. So there you are- it must be alright if the Bible says so!

Let me say that you can justify anything you want by quoting the Bible- why even the devil tried it with Jesus in the wilderness. Quoting the Bible in and of itself proves nothing except that perhaps you don’t take the Bible all that seriously. Here the Bible is not so much used as abused. The Bible has to be read responsibly and that means reading passages in their context. You see, the man only quotes the first half of Ecclesiastes 8:15, because the writer goes on to say ‘this will go with him in his toil through the days of life which God gives him under the sun’. Ecclesiastes recognises that everything is a gift from God to be received gratefully and used responsibly, knowing that one day we will die and have to give an account to our Maker for the way we have used what he has given us. But God is not even on this man’s radar because he has in effect made himself god. He acts as if he is immortal, having all the power -building bigger and better barns- and instead of thinking that perhaps what God has given him might be better used to help others, he just decides to lay back and stuff his face.

Let me tell you something. Andrew Carnegie was the great American multi-millionaire industrialist of the late 19th century. He wrote a famous note to himself in 1868 when he was thirty three years old and paced it in a drawer. It said, ‘Man must have an idol—the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry—no idol is more debasing than the idol of money’. If only he had taken his own note to heart! In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt reluctantly wrote of Carnegie, ‘I have tried hard to like Carnegie, but it is pretty difficult. There is no type of man for whom I feel a more contemptuous abhorrence than for one who makes a God of mere money-making.’ We may not have the mountains of money that Carnegie had, but if we are honest, most of us don’t do too badly. How much attention are we giving to ourselves and others we may be responsible for, to what we eat, drink and wear—and, we may add, our hobbies or the state of our homes? Is it an undue amount of attention- is getting more and more stuff the thing which occupies most of our thoughts or is God in there somewhere?

However, the man then hears the divine declaration- v20, ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life [lit-‘your soul’] will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  Notice the ironic contrast in the dialogue. The man says ‘Soul enjoy’. God says ‘Fool your soul is now mine and you are finished and there is nothing for you to enjoy.’ He has been sweating and anxious, planning and working for himself all this time and guess what? He gets absolutely nothing- someone else will enjoy it instead. That is a real downer! And you know what, says Jesus in v21, ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’

Now there is an interesting word play going on in the original language which fills the story with irony. The word translated ‘merry’ or ‘rejoice’ in v 19 is eu-phraino. The word for fool in v20 is a-phron. The phron is related to the diaphragm. The idea being that when you reach a point where you can relax with a great sigh of relief and expand your diaphragm- you have ‘made it’ and achieve a state of euphraino-enjoyment. But for God the man is not euphraino – full of fun, he is a-phron- a fool- a person with no diaphragm left to expand because he is about to die. Do you see? By the way, as an aside scholars have debated whether Jesus on occasions taught in Greek rather than his native language which was Aramaic. This, I think, is evidence that he did- otherwise the word play doesn’t work.

Anyhow the point is this: the man thinks he has reached the high point of his life- and that life is really all about enjoying yourself- when in fact it is the lowest point because all that he has worked for is taken from him- and the most valuable thing he possesses and which he sought to please with all his eating and drinking and partying- his soul- is the very thing which is snatched away by God. The heart attack strikes and he is ushered into God’s presence- and so he remains in eternity what he made himself in life- alone- so very alone. That is the trajectory the man in the crowd was on and that is why Jesus told this hard hitting story to get him and maybe some of us to change direction before it is too late. Be rich towards God!

Some of you here tonight are at one of the most exciting points in your life as a student. The choices and possibilities open to you are really tremendous and may well determine the course of the rest of your life. And that is why it is so important to make the right choices now so that you don’t waste your life like this man did. The Lord Jesus wants you to save your soul and not lose it, to have real lasting treasure that won’t lose its value in the next crash. And the treasure is Jesus himself- God in the flesh. Real life is more than the material which eventually fades; it is also the spiritual which lasts. Some of us are further along the road and statistically speaking closer to being called by our Maker than we were a few years ago. We too need to be ready and not waste the remaining years of our lives, but keep on investing them in the service of the Lord Jesus. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy of epic proportions to go through life and at the end of it all have written on our gravestone, ‘Here lies a fool’ because we neglected the most wonderful gift of all- eternal life by surrendering our souls to the one who can take care of them for ever- the Lord Jesus. Don’t make that mistake- surrender yourselves to him tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~~Luke 12:13-21  SJN. EP. 23.9.18
The one with most Toys Loses

There is the story of a man who died and found himself outside the gates of heaven only to be greeted by St Peter. “Before we can let you in” said Peter, checking his clip board, “I need to ask you something.” “Sure” replied the man, “go ahead”.  “Well” said Peter, “we've looked at your life, and to be frank, you are really unexceptional, not having done anything particularly good or anything particularly bad. You went to church occasionally, that sort of thing. And so to be honest, we're not at all sure what to do with you. Can you tell us anything you did that might help us make a decision, swing things one way or the other?" The newly arrived soul thought for a moment and replied, "Well, yes. I was driving down town late in the evening when I came upon a young woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers. So I pulled over, got out my tire iron from the car boot, and went up to their leader. And you should have seen him! He was huge, a  six foot six, muscular, hairy guy with tattoos all over his body and a ring pierced through his nose, leather jacket, German helmet-the works. Well, I tore the ring out of his nose, and told him that he and his gang had better stop bothering the woman or they would have me to deal with!’" ‘Goodness’ said Peter, ‘I am impressed," "When did this happen?" "Oh,” replied the man, “about two minutes ago."

I guess there are many morals to that story, one of which is the need to be prepared to meet our Maker, because we never know when that will be. And that was a lesson that the man in the story Jesus told failed to learn and which many of us here tonight might need to learn. And so if you have not done so already, do turn with me to Luke 12:13ff because if ever there was a story for our day and age, here it is.

First, we have a dangerous desire-v 13, ‘Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “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.”

The man in the crowd assumes that Jesus as a rabbi/teacher had the expertise to pronounce on the legal dispute he was having with his brother. But notice that the man does not invite Jesus to adjudicate between himself and his sibling on the basis of fairness- he demands that Jesus takes his side- ‘tell him to do this’. You see, at the time of Jesus if a father died without leaving a will, then the estate was held by the two brothers and could not be divided and sold without the older brother’s say-so. Therefore technically it was up to him to make the decision. But here the younger brother is so obsessed with getting his hands on the cash that he more or less tries to press gang Jesus into siding with him so he could go back to his brother with the weight of the authority of a rabbi behind him. Do you see?

But let me tell you this, it is never a good idea to start telling Jesus what to do! Just look at how Jesus responds to him. He says, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter between you?’ Jesus doesn’t call him by his name, or even says ‘friend’, which he does with others, he calls him ‘man’ which in the Middle East is a rough way to address someone, as we might say ‘Look mate, who do you think you are?’ But Jesus displeasure arises not primarily out of the man trying to back him into a corner, but because of the man’s corrupt outlook on life which is both an affront to God and a danger to the man himself, as the parable Jesus is about to tell makes clear. A wooden, literal translation of what Jesus says in v15 goes like this, ‘Take heed and beware of every kind of insatiable desire. Because it is not out of the surpluses to anyone the life of him it is- out of his possessions’, which I know sounds a bit like Yoder but it emphasises the point Jesus is making to the man and to us, namely, that the purpose and meaning of life is not to be found in the ‘stuff’ we have and getting more and more of it- ‘life out of possessions’. Because this is the essence of paganism- that this life is basically all that there is or at least the most important and so we have to squeeze as much out of it as we  possibly can- getting more and more and living faster and faster. You take any weekend newspaper and pull out the colour supplement- the ‘good living guide’ and what will you find? You will have in your hands a pagan tract telling you what you should eat, what you should drink and what you should wear. The media is full of this stuff- chef celebrities, changing rooms, bargain hunters. Have you ever been to a wine tasting evening? There you have folk pontificating about what makes a good wine, its bouquet, its body, its vintage. An hour later- down the toilet. That is what happens to food and drink. And yet these people will tell us, this is what life is all about -the good life. But what we put into our mouths and what comes out of at the other end is a total irrelevance in the grand scheme of things and yet we have built up a whole way of living on what you eat, what you drink, what you wear. And Jesus pointed out so many years ago that our life is much more than eating, drinking and wearing clothes. We say, ‘You are what you eat’- to quote Nietzsche; ‘You are what you wear’, or ‘Tesco, ergo sum’- ‘I shop therefore I am’. The result? Our possessions possess us. You cannot get off the treadmill, because you have got to have that bigger house, that better holiday, that latest toy. That is our world. It is the consumer world- we consume and are being consumed. It is the world of Gordon Gecko in the 80’s film Wall Street which stated the exact opposite of what Jesus says here, that greed is good.’ No it isn’t, it is deadly. 

And so Jesus tells a story which flies in the face of much of what our culture is telling us but which we really need to believe if we are ever going to discover what real life is all about now and enjoy eternal life in the future and so we move on to a deluded dialogue vv 16-20.

Verse 16, ‘And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.’ Notice the man is already rich- he is a high roller. The ground, we are told, produced a bumper crop- he didn’t particularly work harder for it than in previous years, through a combination of good seed, good weather, fertile soil and absence of disease and pests things turned out pretty well. But who controls all these things- but God? And so in the final analysis this is actually a gift from God. So the question is: what will the man do with the surplus, that is the obvious question and he asks it, ‘He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Literally translated- ‘the man dialogued with himself’. Now we in the individualistic West don’t find anything odd about this- you have a problem you try and solve it by thinking it through. But in this culture you simply didn’t do that, you talked it through with others- your family, fellow workers, even your rabbi, after all this is a gift of God! So already we are being given a picture of a man who lives in splendid isolation if not literally- spiritually. He is his ‘own man’ and a ‘lone man’ which is not the way God made us to be which is to live in community. It was the French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who famously remarked that ‘hell is other people.’ Not so- hell is the absence of other people- people to love and from whom we receive love. To be left all alone- really alone- is what the Bible calls hell. And so we have a man who is by himself, who talks to himself, and as we shall see, who lives for himself- and if that goes on beyond the grave-that is hell and it is terrible, but it begins now by the kind of choices we make.

And so he begins to formulate a plan,v18, ‘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.”’ Do you see how he has already been corrupted by his wealth? It is all ‘I’ isn’t it? I will do this, I will do that, I will do the other. He is all ego which is no doubted bolstered by his success- who needs God when you seem to have it all? He literally says, ‘Soul’ you ‘have plenty of grain’.  There is only one planet his life orbits around and it is himself- it as if no one else exists in his little universe. And the thing is- get this- he even quotes the Bible to justify his action- the Book of Ecclesiastes which says, ‘And I commend enjoyment, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and enjoy himself’ (Eccl 8:15)- the very words the man uses. So there you are- it must be alright if the Bible says so!

Let me say that you can justify anything you want by quoting the Bible- why even the devil tried it with Jesus in the wilderness. Quoting the Bible in and of itself proves nothing except that perhaps you don’t take the Bible all that seriously. Here the Bible is not so much used as abused. The Bible has to be read responsibly and that means reading passages in their context. You see, the man only quotes the first half of Ecclesiastes 8:15, because the writer goes on to say ‘this will go with him in his toil through the days of life which God gives him under the sun’. Ecclesiastes recognises that everything is a gift from God to be received gratefully and used responsibly, knowing that one day we will die and have to give an account to our Maker for the way we have used what he has given us. But God is not even on this man’s radar because he has in effect made himself god. He acts as if he is immortal, having all the power -building bigger and better barns- and instead of thinking that perhaps what God has given him might be better used to help others, he just decides to lay back and stuff his face.

Let me tell you something. Andrew Carnegie was the great American multi-millionaire industrialist of the late 19th century. He wrote a famous note to himself in 1868 when he was thirty three years old and paced it in a drawer. It said, ‘Man must have an idol—the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry—no idol is more debasing than the idol of money’. If only he had taken his own note to heart! In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt reluctantly wrote of Carnegie, ‘I have tried hard to like Carnegie, but it is pretty difficult. There is no type of man for whom I feel a more contemptuous abhorrence than for one who makes a God of mere money-making.’ We may not have the mountains of money that Carnegie had, but if we are honest, most of us don’t do too badly. How much attention are we giving to ourselves and others we may be responsible for, to what we eat, drink and wear—and, we may add, our hobbies or the state of our homes? Is it an undue amount of attention- is getting more and more stuff the thing which occupies most of our thoughts or is God in there somewhere?

However, the man then hears the divine declaration- v20, ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life [lit-‘your soul’] will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  Notice the ironic contrast in the dialogue. The man says ‘Soul enjoy’. God says ‘Fool your soul is now mine and you are finished and there is nothing for you to enjoy.’ He has been sweating and anxious, planning and working for himself all this time and guess what? He gets absolutely nothing- someone else will enjoy it instead. That is a real downer! And you know what, says Jesus in v21, ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’

Now there is an interesting word play going on in the original language which fills the story with irony. The word translated ‘merry’ or ‘rejoice’ in v 19 is eu-phraino. The word for fool in v20 is a-phron. The phron is related to the diaphragm. The idea being that when you reach a point where you can relax with a great sigh of relief and expand your diaphragm- you have ‘made it’ and achieve a state of euphraino-enjoyment. But for God the man is not euphraino – full of fun, he is a-phron- a fool- a person with no diaphragm left to expand because he is about to die. Do you see? By the way, as an aside scholars have debated whether Jesus on occasions taught in Greek rather than his native language which was Aramaic. This, I think, is evidence that he did- otherwise the word play doesn’t work.

Anyhow the point is this: the man thinks he has reached the high point of his life- and that life is really all about enjoying yourself- when in fact it is the lowest point because all that he has worked for is taken from him- and the most valuable thing he possesses and which he sought to please with all his eating and drinking and partying- his soul- is the very thing which is snatched away by God. The heart attack strikes and he is ushered into God’s presence- and so he remains in eternity what he made himself in life- alone- so very alone. That is the trajectory the man in the crowd was on and that is why Jesus told this hard hitting story to get him and maybe some of us to change direction before it is too late. Be rich towards God!

Some of you here tonight are at one of the most exciting points in your life as a student. The choices and possibilities open to you are really tremendous and may well determine the course of the rest of your life. And that is why it is so important to make the right choices now so that you don’t waste your life like this man did. The Lord Jesus wants you to save your soul and not lose it, to have real lasting treasure that won’t lose its value in the next crash. And the treasure is Jesus himself- God in the flesh. Real life is more than the material which eventually fades; it is also the spiritual which lasts. Some of us are further along the road and statistically speaking closer to being called by our Maker than we were a few years ago. We too need to be ready and not waste the remaining years of our lives, but keep on investing them in the service of the Lord Jesus. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy of epic proportions to go through life and at the end of it all have written on our gravestone, ‘Here lies a fool’ because we neglected the most wonderful gift of all- eternal life by surrendering our souls to the one who can take care of them for ever- the Lord Jesus. Don’t make that mistake- surrender yourselves to him tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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