As of Friday the current estimated jackpot for the Powerball was $478 million. I don’t play Powerball or any other games of chance. But every now and then when I hear a news story about how high the jackpot is, I play that game in my head. You know the one. What would I do if I won $478 million? I’d buy a house on River Road with a pool in the back yard and I’d pay someone to take care of the pool. I’d buy a beach house on Lake Michigan. I’d take my family on a trip to Europe. I’d buy a little red convertible. I’d buy Kurt his dream car, and Becca and Jamie too when he gets old enough. I’d buy all new furniture and get rid of all the old stuff. I’d buy new clothes and shoes and not think about the prices. Oh the mind can just go on and on, can’t it?
Because you see, greed is a powerful force. Greed is the desire to possess more than we need. We normally associate greed with money, as did Jesus. But we can be greedy for many things — for food, fame, sex, or power. Christians have always identified greed as one of the seven deadly sins.
Dan Clendenin writes that “There's a horrible paradox in greed — it's never satisfied by what it desires. Rather, the opposite is true.” He quotes John Cassian, a 4th century writer who said: "When money increases, it always wants more than a person can accumulate." (Source: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1036-the-rich-fool-and-the-saint-francis). That’s how it is with greed. No matter how much we have, we want more.
In our story for today, someone in a crowd asks Jesus to be an arbiter so he and his brother can divide up the family inheritance. Jesus refuses and then he says: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus had learned about the power of greed. He knew what a force it could be in a person’s life. He also knew the power of possessions. We human beings think we want lots of pretty things. But all the pretty things in the world will not bring us true joy. A connection to God is what brings us true joy.
So Jesus told 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.”
This is where we get the phrase “Eat drink and be merry.” The man in the story was foolish. He had so many things. So many possessions. He built bigger barns so he could store all his possessions. He decided to eat, drink and be merry because he was rich in possessions. But God said to him, “Your life is over tonight. What good are all these things to you now?” Jesus said, “That’s how it is when we store up lots of treasures for ourselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s easy, in this world, to get caught up in the rat race of storing up worldly treasures. There are so many pretty things out there to buy. The ads on TV and the internet show us these pretty things that we can’t live without. We take on second jobs so we can buy more things. But our souls are empty.
Jesus invites us to be rich toward God. How do we do that? We slow down. We consider our values. Compassion is a good place to start. Do you remember the last time you showed compassion toward another human being? It felt good, didn’t it? Compassion is a choice. It is a way of life. One can even call it a rule of life.
Do you know the story of St. Francis? His life began as the son of wealthy parents. His father was a silk merchant. Francis was in the military as a young man, but he had a vision and lost his taste for worldly life. There is a story that he was selling cloth in the market place on behalf of his father. A beggar came up to ask him for alms. “At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi). He got a message from God that he was to repair broken down churches so that is what he did. His friends made fun of him but he did not care. He began to live as a beggar around his home town of Assisi. At the end of this period (on February 24, 1209, according to Jordan of Giano), Francis heard a sermon that changed his life forever. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty (source: ibid). Francis' preaching to ordinary people was unusual since he had no license to do so. In 1209 he composed a simple rule for his followers ("friars"), called the "Primitive Rule", which came from verses in the Bible.
The rule was "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps". In 1209, Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious Order called the Franciscans. The order exists today. They are known for their simplicity and their compassion for the poor.
Why did Francis have a call to live a life of simplicity? He had lived a life of material wealth and he learned that it was not the way to God. He had to empty himself of things of this world, in order to find God.
So what does this story say to us today? Are we all supposed to sell all that we have and give it to the poor, and live on the street? No, I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking.
But Jesus is asking us this: where do we put our treasure? Where is our heart? Do we focus our attention on the things of this world and the drive to get more things? Or are we seeking to know him more deeply?
Scripture says the LOVE of money is the root of evil. Money, in itself, is not evil. It’s when we love money too much that we get into trouble. It’s when we love money more than we love God that we lose our way.
I don’t buy lottery tickets. I don’t go to casinos. Now I know some of you go to the casino for entertainment. You decide how much money you will spend and you don’t cross the line. But I don’t go. The reason is because I don’t want to get caught up in the desire for money. I don’t want to fall into the deadly sin of greed. When I start thinking about what I would do if I had “all that money” I start thinking that money will fix all my problems. And money is not the be all and end all of the world. Money is simply a tool. I don’t want to put my trust in money. I want to put my trust in God.
I believe that is what Jesus is saying with this parable. Don’t trust your possessions. Don’t trust your earning potential. Don’t trust your 401K. Trust God. God is the only source of true security that we have.
God will pick us up when we fall down. God will give us hope when we are in despair. God will give us strength when we are weak. God will show us the way when we are lost.
God is the one we trust.
So don’t get caught up in the things of this world. Put your trust in the one who will not fail you. Put your trust in God. Amen.