Return on Investment

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
August 4, 2013, Pentecost XI

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

From the Old Testament:
What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

I don’t know how many of you have been watching for the last several weeks, a show on TNT called The Hero. It was a reality TV show that sought to define what a hero was. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the host and tested the strength, courage, and integrity of a diverse group of nine individuals. Each week, the contestants were tested physically, mentally, and morally, as they tried to prove which one truly deserved the title of “The Hero” and the life-changing grand prize that went with it. With temptations around every corner, America watched to see the contestants as they sought to overcome, undergo, and sacrifice on behalf of themselves and others.

The winner of The Hero challenge was Patty. What you may not know is the connection she has to this church. Patty is the daughter of Joe Hallowell, and the sister of Debi Hallowell.

Patty was asked, “What do you think it means to be a hero?” She answered, “A kind, selfless act or gesture that is given without the thought of receiving any praise or gratitude.” Patty proved that throughout the show.

In our Gospel reading today, a man in the crowd asked Jesus to settle a family dispute. Rabbis of that day were expected to settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.

During The Hero’s challenge, there were temptations around every corner. Every episode had at least one random offer to a contestant to take some money or put it into the grand prize “pot.” These offers were $35,000 and up. Two of the contestants took the offer, explaining that “their family could use it,” however, they were somewhat chastised for it by the other contestants. Patty was tempted five separate times for a total of $180,000, but each time she turned it down. She put the needs of the other contestants before her own.

Covetousness is an unquenchable thirst for getting more and more of something we think we need in order to be truly satisfied. It may be a thirst for money or the things that money can buy, or even a thirst for position and power. Jesus made it clear that true life does not depend on an abundance of possessions. He did not deny that we have certain basic needs (Matt. 6:32; 1 Tim. 6:17). He only affirmed that we will not make life richer by acquiring more of these things.

Jesus told this parable of the Rich Fool, to reveal the dangers that lurk in a covetous heart. How do you respond to the wealthy farmer’s dilemma? Here was a man who had a problem with too much wealth! If we say, “I wish I had that problem!” we may be revealing covetousness in our hearts.

Suppose you inherited a great deal of wealth, would it create a problem for you? Or would you simply praise God and ask Him what He wanted you to do with it? There is an expression, “Money is the root of all evil” and it’s true. When money is involved, a person’s true character may be revealed. When family inheritance is involved, especially if the distribution is not even, it can unite a family or tear it apart.

There are perils to prosperity (Prov. 30:7-9). Wealth can choke the Word of God (Matt. 13:22), create snares and temptations (1 Tim. 6:6-10; 17-19), and give you a false sense of security. People say that money does not satisfy, but it does satisfy if you want to live on that level. People who are satisfied only with the things that money can buy are in great danger of losing the things that money cannot buy. What is really important?

This farmer saw his wealth as an opportunity to please himself. He had no thoughts of others or of God.

How do you respond to the decisions of the rich man? One might say, “Now that was a shrewd business man! He had an abundant crop, so he decided to store it away for the future; perhaps he could even retire. Don’t we do something similar with our wealth?
If we are able, don’t we save for our retirement? Some of us have a pension, Social Security, IRA or 401k retirement plan, where we save for our retirement. This is not wrong, in fact, it is quite smart. So, why did Jesus see this man to be selfish in all that this man did, and proclaim that this man was a fool? It was because this man thought only of himself. It’s what we do with our wealth that determines our character and our relationship with God. It determines who the Hero is; and what return we receive on our investment; and where we spend eternity.

There is certainly nothing wrong with following good business principles, or even with saving for the future (1 Tim. 5:8). Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). But neither does He encourage selfishness motivated by covetousness.

How do you respond to the farmer’s desires? Should we say, “This is the life! The man has success, satisfaction, and security! What more could he want?” But Jesus did not see this farmer enjoying life; He saw him facing death! Wealth cannot keep us alive when our time comes to die, nor can it buy back the opportunities we missed while we were thinking of ourselves and ignoring God and others.

Jesus made it clear that true life does not come from an abundance of things, nor do true success or security. This farmer had a false view of both life and death. He thought that life came from accumulating things, and that death was far away. On March 11, 1856, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” He also said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” In other words, “the best things in life are free.”

There was one episode on The Hero where three contestants were brought to a bus “graveyard.” One contestant had to go onto a bus filled with bees to get the next clue. There was another bus where the contestant would be sprayed with tear gas. Patty was not one of the three contestants, but she was brought in and given a challenge and temptation. She could take the place of the contestant and be sprayed with the tear gas or receive $35,000. She chose to be sprayed with the tear gas, and she was so sick she was taken to the hospital. She chose to put another person’s health and well-being ahead of her own.

Patty was asked, “What three things you couldn’t live without?” She responded, “My family, who I adore, my friends who mean the world to me, and my lipstick!” Patty has a wonderful family, a husband and three children; and of course, we know other members of her family. It makes perfect sense why she earned the title “The Hero.”

Finally, how do you respond to the death of the boastful farmer? We are prone to say, “Too bad this fellow died just when he had everything going for him! How tragic that he could not enjoy his abundance.” But the greatest tragedy is not what the man left behind but what lay before him: eternity without God! This man invested in earthly things and lost everything in the heavenly things. The man lived without God and died without God, and his wealth was but an incident in his life. God is not impressed with wealth, in and of itself; it’s what we do with the wealth and gifts we are given, that matters.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” It means to acknowledge gratefully that everything we have comes from God, and then make an effort to use what He gives us for the good of others and the glory of God. Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time if our purpose is to honor God (1 Tim. 6:10ff). To be rich toward God means spiritual enrichment, not just personal enjoyment.

“Life is filled with difficulties and perplexities,” King Solomon concluded, “and there’s much that nobody can understand, let alone control. From the human point of view, it’s all vanity and folly. But life is God’s gift to us and He wants us to enjoy it and use it for His glory. So, instead of complaining about what you don’t have, why not start giving thanks for what you do have – and be satisfied!”

Life without Jesus Christ is indeed “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). But when you know Him personally, and live for Him faithfully, you experience “fullness of Joy [and] pleasures forever more” (Ps. 16:11).

King Solomon seemed to hate life, but he also hated the wealth that was the result of his toil. Of course, Solomon was born wealthy, and great wealth came to him because he was the king. But he was looking at life “under the sun” and speaking for the “common people” who were listening to his discussion.

Christ is our life. Eternal life is not some heavenly substance that God imparts when we, as sinners, trust the Saviour. Eternal life is Jesus Christ Himself. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). We are dead and alive at the same time – dead to sin and alive in Christ.

It has been said, “Life is what you are alive to.” A child may come alive when you talk about a baseball game or an ice-cream cone. A teenager may come alive when you mention cars or dates. Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Christ was Paul’s life and he was alive to anything that related to Christ. So should it be with every believer.

We no longer belong to the world, but to Christ; and the sources of life that we enjoy come only from Him. “Hidden in Christ” means security and satisfaction. The Greek scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson, comments on this: “So here we are in Christ who is in God, and no burglar, not even Satan himself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:31-39).

The Christian life is a “hidden life” as far as the world is concerned, because the world does not know Christ. Our sphere of life is not of this earth, but heaven; and the things that attract us and excite us belong to heaven, not to earth. This does not mean that we should ignore our earthly responsibilities. Rather it means that our motives and our strength come from heaven, not earth.

Now in view of our wonderful identification with Christ, we have a great responsibility; “Seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1). Through Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we have been separated from the old life of this world, and we now belong to a new heavenly life.

But how do we “seek those things which are above?” The secret is found in our Epistle reading: “Habitually set your mind – your attention – on things above, not on things on the earth.” Our feet must be on earth, but our minds must be in heaven; we must focus on the prize. This is not to suggest, as D. L. Moody did, that we become “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.” It means that the practical everyday affairs of life get their direction from Christ in heaven. It also means that we look at earth from heaven’s point of view.

In our Epistle reading, Paul mentioned several sensual sins: “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). Covetousness is the sin of always wanting more, whether it be more things or more pleasures. The covetous person is never satisfied with what he has, and he is usually envious of what other people have. This is idolatry, for covetousness puts things in the place of God. “Thou shalt not covet” is the last of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:17). Yet this sin can make us break all of the other nine! A covetous person will dishonor God, take God’s name in vain, lie, steal, and commit every other sin in order to satisfy his sinful desires.

Because we are alive in Christ, we must seek the things that are above. And, because we died with Christ, we must put off the things that belong to the earthly life of past sin. The result is that we can become like Jesus Christ! God wants to renew us and make us into the image of His Son!

We were formed in God’s image, and deformed from God’s image by sin. But through Jesus Christ, we can be transformed into God’s image! We must be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). As we grow in knowledge of the Word of God, we will be transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glorious image of God (2 Cor. 3:18). God transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2), and this involves the study of God’s Word. It is the truth that sets us free from the old life (John 8:31-32).

During the filming of The Hero reality show, these contestants sought to define for us, but also for themselves, what a Hero is. They were tested on courage, teamwork, trust, heart, honesty, endurance, and sacrifice. They invested eight weeks of their lives in a quest to find the answer to the question: “who is a Hero?” Although there was only one grand prize, most of the contestants came away with rich rewards. As Christians, we know where our riches are: they are in heaven.

Let us pray:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!

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