Vanity of Vanities!
Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on August 3, 2013, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. The texts for the sermon are Ecclesiastes 1:2 and Luke 12:13-21.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we’re talking about our possessions, how much we value them, and what we plan to do with them when we leave this world.
The setting in Luke for Jesus to tell the parable of the rich fool was this. He was teaching about how to live a life that was pleasing to God and someone in the crowd shouted out “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” So before Jesus ever presents his parable, we take note of something. This fellow must not have been listening very well to what Jesus was saying. His question was a self-centered question, off topic, and showed he was in want of money, perhaps a bit greedy to get more of his brother’s rightful inheritance. Jesus responds with a parable that helps us even today understand his divine understanding of earthly possessions and heavenly riches.
A wonderful artist by the name of James B. Jangnegt has created a series of oil on canvas paintings of the parable of Jesus. Today we are projecting his “Rich Fool” painting. Let’s see what he is portraying. The entire picture is ringed by examples of an abundance of possessions. We see computers and appliances and furniture and houses. In the house on the left we see the rich fool in his really large house. He’s eating with death. Next door we see a very humble house with the gathering of a poor and thankful family. The question that James Jangnegt leaves us with this is this: what makes one rich toward God?
In our Old Testament lesson today, from Ecclesiastes, the Teacher declares: “Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity.” Another translation puts it this way: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” What’s he talking about? He’s lamenting the sad truth, as he sees it, that one’s accumulation of wealth has no meaning because in the end someone else will get it. Fortunately he does allow that one’s work on this earth can bring pleasure and that indeed is a gift from God.
So the question continues: what are life and work and the accumulation of money and things all about? And should we as people of faith have a different view from the world about such things?
I came across a will that I made out some time ago. You can learn lots from reading your will in hindsight. This will is interesting because I typed it up myself at the age of 11. It is entitled “Will of James Craig Kniseley I”. And I begin: “First of all I leave nothing to anyone whose name isn’t Kniseley.” And then I go on to list my stuff and who gets it. Here is some of what I listed:
My coin collection to my parents. My clothes to my younger brother. My cat to my family. My toys to my younger brother. My bike to my younger brother. My savings account to my mother. My phonograph to my brother Jack. My camera to my brother Karl. My trains to my brother Rick. I end by saying: Good luck to you all! Jimmy and signed James Craig Kniseley
I note how self-centered I was. Everything is listed as “my” something or other. I am only concerned about “my” family, the Kniseleys. There is no concern here for doing good or helping people in need or even to giving something to my church community, though I certainly was in church and Sunday School every week. I also note that none of the stuff I listed I no longer have, even though it all seemed so important at the time.
You can be sure that in our latest will, Carol and I have made sure to include others besides our families, including this congregation and the ELCA.
Hear then again what Jesus said to the one who asked a question about his inheritance:
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ 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? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
You can imagine that Christians over the years have heard this parable and contemplated its meaning. Here are some of the pithy statements that can be put on bumper stickers that express what we believe are true from Jesus:
1. You can’t take it with you.
2. There are no U-Hauls in heaven.
3. Everything we have is on loan from God.
4. Our treasure is in heaven.
5. We can be rich in the eyes of the world and poor in the eyes of God.
6. We truly possess only what we give away.
7. It is in giving that we receive.
8. You can’t out give God.
9. God loves a cheerful giver.
10. God’s Work. Our Hands.
Our hymn of the day, “How Great Thou Art”, puts our faith in proper prospective. It is not how great we are or how much stuff we have accumulated. It’s all about our God and how great God is, the one who created the heavens and the earth, the one who died on the cross for our salvation.
Thanks be to our God. Amen!
Children’s Message: “Dollar Bills, Good and Bad”
1 Timothy 6 “Give this command to those who are rich with things of this world. Tell them not to be proud. Tell them to hope in God, not their money. Money cannot be trusted, but God takes care of us richly. He gives us everything to enjoy. Tell the rich people to do good and to be rich in doing good deeds. Tell them to be happy to give and ready to share.”
Some people think the Bible teaches that money is bad, but that’s not true. I can hold this dollar bill so that I can still see the world around me. I can see my friends, people in need, see the God’s Word and the altar and the cross.
The problem comes when I hold this dollar so close to me (in front of my eyes) that it’s all I can see or care about. I love my money too much and I don’t see my friends or people in need or God’s Word and the altar and the cross.
Having money is not the problem. But if I love money too much, it becomes a problem. We need to remember that God gives us everything and we should use everything, including money, to do good work for God in this world.
Prayer: Thank you for giving us money. Help us to remember to do good things with it. Amen.