Don't Buy Fool's Gold
A sermon based on Luke 12:13-21
Sunday, July 31, 2016 – Pentecost 11C
And he proceeded to dump a small pouch of gold nuggets on the top of the bar. "Now, I know I could sell it for a whole lot more at the bank than I could to you fellas. But I'm chompin' at the bit to get back up in them there hills to get some more, that I'll make you a deal as sweet as molasses. You can sell it for twice whacha' pay. Now, who wants to buy a great investment?"
But as the men reached for their cash, the bartender said, "Don't' be fools, gents. That there's fool's gold."
The prospector got a mean look on his face and said to the bartender, "You calling me a liar?"
"Why, yes, I am, sir."
"Well, how dare you?!" cried the prospector and put a hand over his revolver.
"It's obvious you're lying friend," the bartender replied, cool as a cucumber. "You say, you first shaved in two months just this morning. But everyone can see plain as day: you're tan as a brown bear, 'shaved cheeks" and all. You're story's full of holes, son. Best be moving along."
And the "prospector" stormed out of the saloon leaving his "gold" behind.
The reality is that satan is a master con-artist trying hard to take you for a fool. The world around uses peer pressure to make you want to buy. And your own sinful nature plays the part of the fool. They want to sell you what they promise will make you happy, give you peace, help you find your heart's content. But they're all liars. If you buy what they're selling, it will leave you with a bigger loss than some hard-earned cash. It will rob you of eternity in heaven with Jesus.
But this morning, I get to play the part of the bartender, revealing to you satan lies. But I won't do it with careful observation and logical conclusions, but with the simple words of Jesus—with the parable he spoke, that's recorded for us in Luke 12:13-21….
16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
20 "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?'
21 "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
A certain man had a problem. He couldn't get his brother to share the inheritance his father had left them when he died. It was a common practice in such a dispute to go to a Rabbi and have him settle the matter with his knowledge of the covenant laws. And this man had a good case. He had every right to a share in his father's inheritance. Deuteronomy 21 states that no matter how much the father favored one son over the other, the eldest son got a double share and the rest was divided equally. If there were only two brothers, the eldest should only get 2/3 of the wealth and property and the youngest was entitled to 1/3.
This man figured that a) Jesus knew the Scriptures well, and b) he had a great deal of influence on a lot of people. If he could get Jesus on his side, he was sure to get what was entitled him. So he came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
But Jesus, whose authority knows no bounds, refused to get involved. Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" You see, Jesus didn't really care if this man had a right to the inheritance or not. That wasn't the real problem. Helping this man get his share wouldn't really help him at all. Jesus knew that the heart of every problem is a problem of the heart. This man's real problem was not a lack of wealth, but the underlying problem of his selfish and greedy sinful nature. He knew satan had a hold of his heart. So Jesus told him and the crowd gathered around, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
And Jesus helped them – as he helps us – to realign our priorities. He draws us to repentance and a renewed focus with this parable.
Now everyone knows how difficult farming can be. Too much rain or too little rain can ruin a crop. Too much sun or not enough can ruin a crop. Pests and frost can ruin a crop. But now, this particular farmer had a new problem—one he'd never had before. He had too much of a crop! Things were going too well. "He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'"
But he wouldn't let it go to waste. He had a plan. "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods."
He had a retirement plan that would allow him to relax for life. His 401 and Roth IRA were well funded. He didn't need to rely on some unreliable social security program. He was sitting pretty, looking forward to a life of self-indulgence. He said to himself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'"
But even though at first read it sounds like this man was a wise investor, he was really a fool. His savings and investing, his planning and his plotting, made him misplace his priorities. He imagined he was secure, but he forgot that his times were in God's hands. He thought he was wealthy, but he was spiritually impoverished. He was duped by satan, by his own greed, by what money his crops would fetch and by what that money could buy. And all his hard earned things would go to others. What a fool!
Now, in the Greek, the word, "fool," literally means, "thoughtless one." This rich man didn't give thought to the one thing that mattered most. He didn't give any thought to his relationship with God. He didn't give any thought to his life after his death. He didn't give any thought to where he would spend eternity. That's why Jesus called the man in the parable---and, in a sense, by extension, the man asking for Jesus' help—a fool.
Years ago, when men first came to Alaska in search of gold, some penetrated far into the interior. There they discovered a miner's hut that seemed as quiet as a grave. Entering it, they found the skeletons of two men and a very large quantity of gold. They also found a letter on the table that told of the successful hunt for gold. The more they mined the more gold they found. But the men were so eager to get more gold that they ignored the early coming of winter. Suddenly one day a fierce snowstorm struck. They couldn't escape the hut because of the blizzards outside. Their food supply quickly ran out and they starved. They became so weakened that they finally just lay down to die—surrounded by all that gold—genuine gold, but still fool's gold nonetheless. What fools they were!
That's the danger involved with greed. And we all face it, even as Christians.
The rich man in Jesus' parable had quite the problem, didn't he? He had too much wealth! If you're like me when you first saw his dilemma, you thought to yourself, "Man, I wish I had his problems and he had mine! I wish that I had so much wealth that my only problem in life was where to store it all." But do you see how that reveals the greedy attitude in my heart? And I'll bet you're not really all that different.
And really, in America, we are incredibly wealthy, beyond what most people in the world dream of having. We, like the man in the parable, have so many possessions that often we don't know what to do with it all. We do have problems like his. I'll admit that I've thought, "You know, it sure would be nice if I had more storage around here?" And that this was my biggest problem.
Of all the many things you possess, what is it that you value most in this life? Is it your car? Your house? Your savings account? I hope not. That's all just stuff.
But greed is more than just a desire for more money or possessions. It is an unquenchable thirst for getting more of something we think we need to be satisfied. It can be anything. It can power as well as property. It can mean trying to "outdo others," trying to "be superior." Greed can sneak in very subtly.
What are your priorities for your kids? Is the most important thing that they someday have a great job that they love by which they can take care of themselves (and maybe you too)? Or is it that they have a great faith that trusts that God will always take care of them no matter what? Do you want them to have a great social life? Or a greater knowledge of God's word?
You see? It's not planning ahead or having wealth that's wrong, but our misplaced priorities. That's the fool's gold. Our improper attitudes are subtle, but they're there. And it starts when we put anything or anyone ahead of God; whether your savings, your home, your child or your spouse. Jesus once put it this way, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mark 8:36)
To put anything ahead of God is to become a fool, being swindled by satan, the world, and our sinful flesh. It's buying fool's gold and it will not satisfy, but will cause us to forfeit our souls.
But lest we do forfeit our souls, Jesus realigns our attitudes and brings us to repentance when he reminds us, "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."
Jesus reminds us that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." But rather it consists in the greater riches that we all have. Not in fool's gold, but in real and lasting treasures. For, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 8:9: "[we] know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, so that [we] through his poverty might become rich."
Christ, to whom all things belong, gave up all that he had to become a man, to live a life among sinners, abiding by their rules, yet keeping them perfectly. He suffered ridicule, pain, death, and hell on a cross out of love for us, that we might have the riches of God's forgiveness, for every sin, every selfish and greedy attitude and every misplaced priority.
We have peace through Jesus knowing that no matter what happens to us in this life, God loves us and will bring us through it all, that we have the splendor of heaven awaiting us—a retirement of luxury and ease when we see our Lord face to face! We are rich beyond comprehension because our eternal welfare is assured.
And he blesses us with such an abundance of riches on top of that! He gives us his Word, the promises of his grace, made so readily available to each of us! He gives us the waters of Baptism which wash away our every sin! He gives us his body and his blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. He blesses us with families and friends that love us and share with us the truths of his Word! And he blesses us with so many possessions that we don't know what to do with them all!
Knowing what riches are ours through Christ, we can't help but feel overwhelmed with gratitude in our hearts to God. We want be rich toward God. We want to do nothing but serve him and use all of the gifts he's given, our bodies and minds, our time and abilities, our gifts and possessions, and all that we have and are to bring glory to his name and to thank him without end!
It is my prayer for all of you that God will help you avoid buying any of the fool's gold that this life has to offer, that he will always lead you to see the riches of his grace, that he will continue to lead you to the cross to see the forgiveness that he won for you there. It is my prayer that he will keep your priorities straight so that you will always live your lives in thanksgiving to him for the only thing that counts, for the only thing that matters in the end, for the salvation and the endless riches that are yours through Christ. It is my prayer that you will serve him joyfully and be rich toward him until he takes you to be with him in the mansions of heaven. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen!