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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Luke 12:13-21

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

August 1, 2004

Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me,” the man said to Jesus. Now, we don’t know much about the situation. Jesus knew enough to stay out of it, which says a lot about how smart he was. Maybe the older brother, the executor of the will, was as slick as he was greedy, the kind of guy who had always stolen his baby brother's stuff: baseball cards, girlfriends, the life insurance policy. Or maybe the younger brother – the one who went to Jesus -- was a whining spoiled brat who couldn’t be trusted with a dime. Or maybe they were twin brothers who had always fought over everything, and on his deathbed their father flipped a coin to decide who got the goods. We don’t know. What we do know is that greed had risen up and split the family. And now at least one of the brothers was trying to drag the preacher into it.

I can imagine Jesus taking a step back. “Whoooooa buddy! Who died and left me in charge?” (My translation.) “Listen up, everybody! Watch out for all kinds of greed. For isn't life more than the sum total of your possessions?”

Greed... is good,” said Gordon Gecko in the movie “Wall Street.” What made that line so memorable is that Michael Douglas did such a good job making us believe it. We watched him strut through the stockholders' meeting preaching greed, and thought, “He's got a point.” Greed is an excellent motivator. Greed makes you work hard and build up bigger barns so you can store up your ample goods for many years. But what happens when those years come to an end?

Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” said Jesus. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

And then, switching gears, he said to his disciples:

Don't worry about what restaurant you're going to go to.” (My translation.) “Don't worry whether your clothes come from Wal-Mart or from a tailor. Consider the crows.” (That's actually what he said, at least according to Luke – the crows. Not exactly the most beautiful of birds. I know most Bibles say “ravens,” but the Greek word is “Korakas.” I know a korakas when I hear one.) “They neither sew nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. How much more are you worth than those ugly old birds?”

Greed is a good motivator. Worry is a good motivator, too. Fear is a good motivator, as Jesus says in the end of his sermon a few verses later. “Don't be afraid, little flock.” (Does he mean a flock of crows?) “For it's your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Think back to the feuding family that started this whole talk.) Put all your stuff up for sale and give the money to the poor. Make wallets for yourselves that don't wear out, a bottomless treasure in the sky, where no thief comes near and no moths eat up.”

And then Jesus gives us his final line, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Greed, worry, and fear are good motivators. But just because something is a good motivator does it motivate you to do good? You put all this scripture together, and Jesus is asking: What motivates you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What makes you string a tie around your neck or squeeze uncomfortable shoes onto your feet? What makes you want to work your tail off for a teacher? What makes you give up the summer vacation time you've slaved all year to earn?

What makes you fight with the people you love? What's worth getting greedy over? What's worth getting worried about? What's worth your fear?

If those are the motivations, Jesus implies, then look to their ends. That's what you're spending your days storing up. Are you satisfied? Do you think God is satisfied?

I think Jesus was preaching more than simply, “Greed is bad” or “Worry will put you in the hospital with a heart bypass.” Doesn't take the Son of God to tell us this. Dr. Phil says these things, too. What it does take the authority of the Son of God to say is the Father in heaven wants to give you -- the kingdom. It's His good pleasure to give you -- the kingdom. He is overjoyed and resolved to give you -- the kingdom. The whole kit and caboodle. The question is, does that really mean anything, to you? Does that motivate you? Does that make you want to stop arguing with your brothers and sisters over who's got the best toys? Does it make you stop worrying so much? Does it make you less afraid?

Think about your answer, but don't think too long, because the little “Jeopardy” song is playing and time will run out. What motivates you? Does it help you receive the kingdom?

Every now and then, a high-schooler will tell me he or she really liked my sermon. It doesn't happen very often. High-schoolers are a tough crowd. And oddly enough, it's usually the sermons that I think I'm writing for the older members of the congregation when they say it. Which confirms to me that we preachers really don't know what we're doing. We know what we think we're doing. But God takes our words and worship and does things with it we'd never expect. So if I get a “nice sermon” from a high-schooler on the way out the door, I'm good for two or three days.

And so it goes with so much of the stuff that happens here at the church. We plan and we plan – we're Presbyterians, you know – we plan and we plan, in offices and in committees – and that's good. You gotta have a plan. It takes a lot of planning to pull off what goes on around here. But I guarantee you we didn't plan to have the Boy Scouts build a picnic pavilion. We didn't plan to have murals painted in the toddler nursery and along the wall of the renovation. We don't plan to ask people to sit in the grass, pulling weeds for hours and hours, pulling weeds that most of would never even see. We don't plan the extra acts of creativity that individuals put into Vacation Bible School or Summer Recreation. We might plan a new program or to build a “bigger barn,” but we can't plan what God is going to make of it. You just don't know what God is going to do. Cheryl doesn't know when that person who's never had kids is going to miraculously “click” with the Middle-schoolers. Carla and Scott don't know when a person who they thought hated music in general is going to turn up with the voice of an angel. You people who run committees don't know when someone is going to come up with an idea that makes everyone say, “Wow! Why didn't we think of that before?” You just don't know what God is going to do. And that is the excitement of being a church together.

There are churches that are motivated by greed. There are churches that are motivated by worry. There are churches that are motivated (and motivate people) by fear. Praise be to God that this church doesn't appear to be one of them. We can plan all we want, but what really makes church exciting is discovering what God is going to do. We can plan all we want, but what really makes this or any other church worth joining is seeing what God can do. The day that you as a person – or we as a church – begin to be motivated more by greed, worry, and fear is the day we'll stop expecting great things from God. You show me a family that's arguing amongst itself, you show me a church that's arguing with itself, and I'll bet you anything that greed, worry, and/or fear is motivating them. You show me a family that's enjoying life – you show me a church that's a place of joy – and I'll bet you anything that greed, worry, and fear are not their primary motivation. I would hope and pray that this church is and will continue to be a place where people aren't greedy with their giving, or worried about tomorrow, or afraid of failure. And I would hope and pray that our confidence comes not from arrogance or from ignorance, but that our confidence comes from God. God who surprises us. God who encourages us. God who takes what we have and makes it count for more than would make sense to add up.

This night, this day, our lives are being demanded of us. And the things that we have prepared, whose will they be? By themselves an act of kindness here, a gift of sacrifice here might not add up to much. A person might even think, “What difference does it make whether I'm greedy, worried and fearful? In the end, it's all the same, right?” Wrong! It makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference because God the Father Almighty is overjoyed to give you the kingdom – is resolved to give you the kingdom. And if you're too greedy, worried or afraid to see past the nose on your face, you'll miss the whole kit and caboodle. This very night, this very day, God is poised to show you an inheritance beyond measure – and far beyond your ability. God is ready to take your paltry little plans and turn them into something worth getting excited about.

Does that motivate you?

A little?

“Do not be afraid, little flock. For it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions. Give gifts. Make purses for yourselves that don't wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven. Where no thief comes. Where no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”

“There your heart will be.” The good news for people like us – the good news for people with mixed motivations – the good news is that even if our hearts haven't caught up with our treasures, they will. And greed, worry and fear will have faded into the distance. May God bless the works of our hands and the words of our mouths. May God do with us more than we could imagine. And may we be brave enough to want to discover what that future might be.