Luke 12 v 13-21
People sometimes say of a rich person, “I wonder how much he is worth?” How much is a person worth? The doctor who gives lifesaving treatment, is worth millions to you, but his salary is nothing like that! How much are you worth? The Good Shepherd, Jesus, came to seek and to save the lost, and that makes each one of us of very great worth! Each year newspapers publish a Rich List, which shows the wealth of the richest people in the world. It is the people who have billions of pounds who count. But what are they really worth?
Our Gospel is the story the parable of the Rich Fool. The man, a farmer, was already rich, but he could see that the coming harvest would be the best and biggest ever. His barns could not hold it all. He decided to pull them down and build new, huge barns. If you read the Bible passage, you can see what a totally selfish man he was, because he was thinking only about himself, saying “My barns, my crops, and all my goods. Then I will eat, drink and be merry.” Then he has a heart attack, and dies, and all those things he has prepared, who will they belong to now?
But, is it wrong to work hard and do well? Is it wrong to enjoy the good things of life, a nice house, warm clothing, holidays, and a good pension at the end? Certainly, we need entrepreneurs, good businesspeople who often work extremely hard. It is not having a lot of money that is the problem, it is how it is used. It’s a bit like food. Food is good for us; it is often delicious. But people in Africa face famine now, while here in England 25% of children aged 10-11 are obese. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is a problem in sharing food. And in many countries, a problem in choosing the right food for healthy living.
I expect you have all heard of shipwrecked sailors, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The water runs out and some of them are so thirsty they are tempted to drink sea water. The salty water makes them more thirsty, so they drink more and more sea water, until their bodies are overloaded with salt – and they die. So with money. Most people on the ‘get rich’ path always want more money, bigger homes, a boat. No - a yacht. And so it goes on.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not rich! And every week I find prices have gone up in the shops.” Well…most of us have salary or pensions coming in regularly, we all have free health care, we all have a bed to sleep in and a spare pair of shoes. Millions of people around the world would think themselves rich if they had that much.
It is not that God doesn’t want people to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what he has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But our true security lies in trusting God and loving our neighbours as much as ourselves. Of course, we do need entrepreneurs to start and build up businesses, and probably create wealth for themselves.
In 1894 two young men ran a market stall in Leeds, selling cheap goods. One was a Jewish refugee from Russia, named Michael Marks and the other was Tom Spencer. Eventually they opened shops and became rich. Where would we be now without Marks and Spencer shops on every high street? The first cars were built for rich people. Thomas Ford saw a gap in the market and started mass producing relatively cheap cars. People called these Ford cars ‘Tin Lizzies’. He began a revolution in transport, and became one of the wealthiest men in American history. Almost everyone in the world now would like a car, whether for work or pleasure.
Jesus ended the story, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” I got a bit stuck with those words. We should be rich towards God! What can we possibly give which is of value to God? In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we read. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. That is being rich towards God. Or, as the hymn writer Christina Rossetti put it: “What can I give him, poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part. But what I can I give him, give my heart.”
Maureen Lampard, Licensed Lay Minister