Summary: A Thanksgiving message on materialism and contentment/simplicity.
Here’s a question for you: The Bible says that “money is the root of all evil”…true or false?…False! It’s the love of money. Thanksgiving is upon us, and as soon as it’s over, and we’ve thanked God for what we’ve got, we enter that season where we go crazy with consumerism, spend more than we can afford, and fret over what we don’t have…’tis the season to be greedy!’
A bumper sticker on a yacht reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Let’s re-write that: “He who dies with the most toys is dead.” Of all the funerals I’ve conducted, there was no U-Haul truck behind the hearse. We can’t take it with us, but we work as though we could. We have to fight against materialism, which leaves us morally bankrupt. Materialism isn’t possessing things, but being possessed by things.
The “poor little rich man” in the parable congratulates himself. He’s ignored God in all his planning. He thinks he is in full command of his life and possessions. He is full of himself. He boasts of “my barns, my grain, myself.” He has failed to regard his assets, even his life, as things lent to him by God’s generosity. He figured he had found life and happiness. “Hell is for those who insist on finding life outside of Jesus’ death” (Robert Capon). We may own the deed to some real estate, but in actuality, we’re merely tenants. How much land does anyone really need? Just six feet (Tolstoy). “We don’t have everything we want but more than we deserve” (David Souza).
Jesus isn’t condemning earthly wealth. His condemnation is against covetousness. We need to guard against greed and dissatisfaction. Money can buy comfort but not an ounce of contentment. Ask yourself: would you invest your life savings in a company you knew would go broke? That’s exactly what the rich man in the parable was doing…and what many people are doing today. They’re choosing to live without God and put all their effort into a life they know will end. They may have a healthy 401K and a Roth IRA, but they haven’t planned for life after death. This isn’t something you’ll read about in Money magazine or the Wall Street Journal.
This poor/rich man didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He worked himself to death, and for what gain? What had he really accomplished? What did he leave behind? He was advancing his personal kingdom with no thought of advancing God’s. His legacy was a full barn and an empty life without purpose. Solomon warns in Ecclesiastes: “He who loves money will never be satisfied with money; his desire is meaningless vanity and futility, striving after wind” (5:10). Unhappiness is often the result of our attachments to the world.
If we compare ourselves to the rich man in Jesus’ story, we might ask ourselves: “What is the measure of success? When we get to the top of the ladder of success, we may discover we’re on the wrong ladder. Material things can consume us and ruin us. Albert Einstein counseled: “Don’t strive to be a success; strive instead to be of value.” How can we know God and connect to people when our focus is elsewhere? The poor/rich man in the parable might well have been a model for Ebenezer Scrooge.
For so many people, happiness is conditional: I’ll be happy if…” or “I’ll be happy when.” In the Army, soldiers say their two best assignments are their last one and their next one, and when they move, they adjust accordingly. Why can’t we be happy where we’re at?
Henry Ford was a poor/rich man. A reporter once asked Mr. Ford if there was anything he wanted. What could he possibly want? He seemed to have it all! But he also had an answer; there was something else he wanted. He answered the reporter with one word: “More.” If you’re content with what you have, you can walk up to people like Henry Ford and tell them: “I’m richer than you.” That’s because satisfied people have re-defined wealth. They’re happy despite their circumstances.
The poor/rich man in the parable was a spiritual pauper. He didn’t realize that what we are is more important than what we have. He was investing in the present. “Nothing that is God’s is obtainable by money” (Tertullian). Can we not learn to live simpler lives?
Henri Nouwen observed that, “When we see with increasing clarity the beauty of the Father through His Son, we will discover that material things no longer distract us.” We need to give importance to Who we have rather than what we have. Our problem is--we have so much, and so much has us!
Here’s something I often read at funerals…
Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.