Can the Christian Have It All?

Luke 12:13–21 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 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.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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 my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Can we have it all? What do you think?

I bring that up because I’ve got one of those red-letter Bibles. You know what I’m talking about? One of those Bibles that puts all the words of Jesus in red to highlight them. Why do I tell you that? To make you jealous? No. Then why? Because here in Luke 12 you have an almost unbroken sea of red. I opened up my red letter Bible saw red as far as my eye could see. With one little island of black type. Just one. Why do I point that out? Because I want you to sense how abrupt this all was. Jesus seems to have really been in rare form in the moment – really getting into his sermon on the persecution. There he was getting all into the details of how we’d get hauled in front of authorities for teaching his words and how the Holy Spirit was going to be there to help us in that moment and then –  boom! – that’s when it happens. The black type. Some guy pipes up. And it’s not an, “Amen!” or a, “Come on, Jesus, preach on!” either. Not even close.

What does this guy break in so rudely to do? Offer up an abrupt and bizarre and totally inappropriately timed request. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (v. 13) I mean how poorly timed could you be. I’m not saying you can’t ask Jesus for help. You definitely can, but timed like this? “Jesus, stop the flow of your preach to focus on me and my nasty, withholding brother.” Yeah, that doesn’t exactly qualify as a well-timed and appropriate request. It was selfish and rude, but not totally unrelated. Not like you might think. You know how the mind makes connections? That’s what this guy had just done. Jesus had been saying, “There will be threats to your body.” And, “you are even going to be hauled in to testify before very powerful people.” And this guy made a connection in his mind and thought to himself, “When that happens what’s going to happen to my money?” Would Jesus back him? Would Jesus let him have it all? Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to help testify when on trial. Jesus would ultimately protect his body, but what about his money? Could he have that too? Could he have it all? Can we?

Jesus’ immediate response? “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (v. 14) Not exactly warm, right? “Get yourself a lawyer. Take it to someone whose job it is to deal with these cases.” And not exactly an answer to his ultimate question. Could he have it all? Not sure. Jesus didn’t say it was wrong to look at a legal solution nor did he actually recommend one. He simply refused to weigh in. His teaching to the crowd was in a way similar. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (v. 15) This wasn’t exactly, “Wealth is awesome. I’m good with it. Enjoy it. Pursue it. Work for it. Litigate for it. Whatever.” Nor was it strictly a condemnation either. “Abundance will destroy your spiritual life. Those who have it are disqualified from God.” In fact, Jesus doesn’t seem to target abundance with his comments at all. He targets those think their life comes from it. He does that twice and even labels it as greed. He says, “Watch out! Be on your guard! Greed kills. Life doesn’t come from stuff.” Could he have it all? Can we? Maybe.

Then again, that wasn’t Jesus’ final word on the subject, was it? He did keep on teaching. And as he did he taught a most devastating parable. A rich guy was further enriched. For the record, I think it’s important to notice that Jesus very strategically says that the land made the guy rich. He didn’t make himself rich. He was enriched. So this already rich guy was further enriched with an abundant harvest. He talks to himself about it, “What am I going to do with all this stuff?” Thinking it was his to do with as he pleases, he goes to absolutely incredible lengths to avoid sharing his enrichment with anybody. Notice the planning. “I know what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones.” Notice the vision he has for himself. “I’ll say to myself, ‘Self, you’ve got it made for many years. Take it easy. Rest. Eat. Drink. Be merry.’” Sounds uncomfortably close to American ideal of retirement. At any rate, God then breaks into his extended envisioning and says, “Your life is demanded from you this night. I’m going to have you stroke out (or have a heart attacked.). I’ve taking back your soul.” Implication? Money had it. Not God.

And no one else did either. That’s brilliantly taught in the parable. I don’t think it’s just a fun fact that there is only one character in it. Just one. That is rare for Jesus. The Good Samaritan, for example, has people running around in it all over place. Almost all Jesus’ parables do. But this rich guy? He’s all alone. That’s not accidental. That’s what the love of money very obviously does. It destroys relationships and isolates them from what really matters. This guy doesn’t plan to bless his church or give to the poor. He doesn’t even think to mention the easier and more self-interested kind of giving that can happen within a family unit. I mean where are the grandkids? Where are they? Had this guy blown up his marriage by the way he was constantly controlling the family checkbook? Had he alienated himself from all his kids with all those hours he had been out in the fields? Wouldn’t surprise me for a second. That’s what the love of money does. It isolates. Just think of what it must’ve done to this guy who had just outed his brother in front of Jesus and a whole crowd of people. Can you imagine the estrangement and pain that caused in that family?

But then again, that’s not the worst of it. The pursuit of abundance also separates people from God. I don’t have to go any farther to prove than that what prompted this parable. What did that guy want from Jesus? Did he want Jesus’ arbitration between him and God? Did he want Jesus for who Jesus was? Did he? No, He wanted Jesus for money. “Tell my brother to split the inheritance.” You know what’s just as disturbing as noticing that? It’s noticing the guy in the parable. Did you notice his dialogue in it? It’s all self-talk. Not once does he talk to God. Didn’t he make you squirm a bit? It’s so eerily close to what you should be finding in the Psalms. “O soul, you have plenty of grain laid up. Rest. Eat, drink, and be merry.” (v. 20) So eerily close to what you find in the Psalms. Multiple psalms say, “O soul, you plenty of everything in God. Relax in him.” So many beautiful prayers of trust and enjoyment of God. But here? This guy’s composed a psalm to plenty and wealth. That’s how far from God he really was. The point is this: the pursuit of wealth destroys one’s relationships with oneself, others, and especially God.

Why do I point this out to you? Because I want to terrorize you? Not for a second. Jim Carrey was recently asked to speak a commencement address. You know what he said? He said, “I wish everybody could get rich and could have everything they ever dreamed of, so they know it’s not the answer.” Even Jim Carrey teaches this. It’s not just me. It’s not just Jesus. It’s so very important. And why? Because money demands your life, but it can never give you life. Jesus wants you to believe that. He even called us names to make his point. Did you catch that? He said in the parable, “You fool!” You know who he’s talking to? The fool in us. We all have one. The fool that doesn’t understand even the most basic ways of how the world works. The fool that thinks material can minister to the immaterial part of you. The fool that thinks money is what provides a truly restful retirement. The fool that functionally believes that abundance is what satisfies the soul. That its vacations. Its restaurants. Its clothes. Its status will do it for the human soul. The fool that will only come to know its foolery way too late when its life is demanded from it by the God it refused to acknowledge, thank, or pursue.

Can we have it all? You tell me.

But, then again, that’s not the end of Jesus’ teaching. Close, but not quite. This is: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (v. 21) That is the end of Jesus’ teaching. And that is clear. Storing up things isn’t necessarily wrong or bad. Doing it for yourself is. And riches aren’t wrong. In fact, riches are the goal. The goal is to be rich toward God. And we are those who are. Luke thinks its key that this teaching wasn’t spoken to the disciples. He makes a big deal of that fact through the chapter. This was spoken in the hearing of the disciples. This was spoken for them to consider as those who also have an inner fool, but it wasn’t spoken to them as those who are controlled by that fool. I actually think that’s fairly obvious in the moment. Why’s it obvious? You didn’t show up asking me or hoping for Jesus to mediate a family money dispute. Nor did you come this morning – I don’t think! – because you thought I was going to pull an Oprah church style and start tossing money into the audience. In fact, the only kind of money exchange that’s going to happen this morning that I know of is only in one direction: to God.

No, this group came together for an entirely different kind of arbitration than what happens after mom and dad die. This group came together for the arbitration that Jesus came to give, with a request Jesus will never pass off to the local lawyer, with the case that Jesus always takes himself. The mediation between you and God. In fact, that’s why he came. For the fool in us. For the times we built bigger barns for ourselves. For the times we sat scrooge-like counting our money too gleefully. You realize that? Jesus is the final answer to the parable. Because one day his life was demanded by God. That life demanded should’ve been ours, but it was Jesus’. And that’s how he arbitrated. He paid off the spiritual debts we racked up ironically in pursuit of money. That’s what he came to do. That’s the job He never passes off to the local lawyer. That’s the job he always just does himself. We come to him the fool. He becomes the fool for us. We come to him with our debts to God. He pays them off for us. We come to him in danger of having our lives taken from us. Jesus gives us his. That’s what always happens when we come to him in faith.

Do you know what the makes us? We are filthy rich toward God in Jesus. Filthy rich. Have you thought about how rich you are in him? You are so filthy rich that when he had to tear down our spiritual barns and build us bigger ones. That’s how rich we are. He filled our barns with so much spiritual treasure that we will never run out of his forgiveness. And you have life. Not life that consists in the abundance of possessions. That’s never how it works. You have life for that immaterial part of you from that ultimate immaterial being: God. That’s true life. That’s real living. That’s truly having it all. Do you see it? Resting in God makes every moment a real vacation. Enjoying his faithfulness is the true retirement. And toasting his love is life’s joy and crown and abundance. I so want you to see that. I want you to see that so clearly that self-talk gets replaced with prayer. And the psalms of your heart change. They change. They change over from enjoyment of your stuff and your doings and your goings into little snippets that sound like something ripped right out the Psalms, “O soul, you have plenty in God. Relax in his love and faithfulness.”

That’s where Jesus wants you. That’s where he’s always wanted you. Because here’s the deal: Christian teaching has never condemned wealth. It condemns the pursuit of it. And Christian teaching has never looked askance at the enjoyment of abundance. It looks askance at doing that selfishly. And it’s never said you can’t plan financially for the future. It simply teaches you the give back to the God who enriched you first. And it always teaches that way so that money is never ultimate in your life. It always remains a means. It’s a means to thank God. It’s a means to care for family. It’s a means to bless the poor. It’s even a means to enjoy a moment, but it’s always and only a means. Never an end. Only God is that. And let me tell you this. When we believe that deeply and we functionally act that way, you know what Jesus goes to promise right here in Luke 12? God won’t be able to help himself – such is his heart – he won’t be able to help himself. He’ll not only give you himself through Jesus, he’ll give you everything else as well.

That is the new interior world of trust that Jesus came to recreate in us. To make us people who possess possessions. Not those who are possessed by them. To make us people who have wealth. Not those whose wealth has them. To make us people who have abundance. Not those whose abundance has them. Jesus came that we may be people who aren’t possessed by money, but rather are people who simply possess it. Do you see the freedom in that? We can use money to bless God’s church. Not leave it impoverished. We can use abundance to help the poor. Not leave them down and out. We can make wealth enhance our family life not ironically impoverish it when it controls us. Do you see that? Jesus is saving us for real living even now. Living that was so important to him that he allowed that guy to break in on his teaching even as he was revving up. So he could break in on us and hand us back everything new: new relationships with each other, a new relationship with God, even a new relationship with our stuff. Everything new. Do you see that? Jesus is literally handing us back everything new in this teaching.

Can a Christian have it all? Yes! In fact, we’re the only ones who can. Strike that. We’re those with plenty no barn can contain, with a rest that will never ever end, and with a merriness to which nothing can compare. Can a Christian have it all? We not only can. We actually do. Amen.  

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