New Hope Fellowship
August 4, 2019
On the heels of terrible tragedy in our country yesterday and last night, we are confronted with a parable from Jesus that asks us to consider what we are doing with our lives when we are not promised tomorrow.
The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy tells the parable of Pahom. Pahom lived in a small village in Russia and managed a small farm for a certain landowner. Through his hard work and a good harvest, the farm provided enough food to feed his family.
But he desperately wanted to own his own land, and one day Pahom heard that there was a place where he could purchase vast amounts of land for almost nothing. So, he set out for this country with his hired man.
When they arrived the Chief offered to sell him all the land that he could walk around by day for 1000 rubles but there was one stipulation. If Pahom did not return to his original starting spot by sundown, he would lose both his 1000 rubles and the land.
The night before he would acquire his property, Pahom lay awake thinking about his new soon to be fortune. He fashioned plans on how he would use all the farmland.
When morning came he met the Chief at the agreed upon location. The Chief placed his hat on the ground to mark his starting spot and Pahom set out. At first he did not know which way to go, he was tempted in all directions. Finally, he decided to go toward the rising sun.
He walked for many miles. He thought of turning but the land was too good and would have been a pity to lose, so he walked further. At breakfast, he made his first turn and then walked until midday. He walked all morning.
Just before lunch, he was about to make his second turn but he noticed a deep hollow. He thought to himself that it would be a pity to leave that out so he walked further thinking, An hour to suffer, a lifetime to live.
After lunch, he realized that he made the first two sides too long so he decided to shorten the third. He toiled through the heat of the day. His body grew weary with each step. When he finally sat down to rest, he worried that he had blundered by trying to cover too much ground.
After supper, he made his final turn toward home, his body weary, its strength nearly exhausted. Seeing the sun hanging low on the horizon, he began to run. He panicked thinking that he had taken on too much and was about to lose it all.
His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows,
his heart was beating like a hammer, and
his legs were giving way as if they did not belong
Pahóm was seized with terror lest he should die of the strain.
Pahom could see the people all standing around the Chief’s fur cap. He looked at the sun and saw that a portion of it had dipped below the horizon. Terror gripped him.
He thought, There is plenty of land, but will God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach that spot!
With one last surge of strength, he ran up the hill, when he reached the summit he saw the fur cap and the Chief. Just before darkness set, he lunged for the cap. His legs gave way but as he fell to the ground his hand touched the fur.
The Chief praise him for his good fortune, Ah, that’s a fine fellow, he has gained much land.
His servant rushed up to him to raise him from the ground but could not rouse him. Pahom lay dead. The servant
picked up the spade and
dug a grave long enough for Pahóm to lie in and
buried him in it.
How much land did Pahom end up with? About six feet… about six feet from his head to his heels was all the servant needed to put his master’s body in.
How much will you end up with, in the end, do you think?
There aren’t many more complicated and thorny issues in a modern American Christian’s life than the in the area of material possessions. How can we possibly get the right perspective on how we earn, how we invest, how we spend our money?
How can you tell the difference between wanting to do your best and greed? How do you know when enough is enough? How do you
earn a living,
raise a family,
in a society where almost everything you do or want to do is based on what you possess?
[Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, James D. Newsome]
All of this brings us to Jesus’ story.
A nameless person in the crowd abruptly interrupts Jesus to ask him to adjudicate a family dispute over inheritance. Jesus had been encouraging his disciples to remain steadfast in their confessions of faith.
Now all of a sudden somebody brings up what seems in comparison to be a trivial concern—Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.
This is not the first or the last family to find that in dividing the inheritance they themselves are divided.
This story today hit home with me. I am the executor of my dad’s estate right now. I have three brothers. My dad died unexpectedly in December. He and his wife were driving back home to Dallas from Oklahoma, and a driver coming toward them veered out of her lane and into theirs. My dad died three days later in a hospital in Tulsa.
My dad actually did estate planning for a living. He had things really well organized and laid out. Even so, it’s quite a difficult process, dealing with the estate, dividing up possessions, all of those things. We’ve been able to get through it without a lot of family conflict, so I’m grateful for that.
There are two truths about that that I have hung onto throughout the estate process that have been really helpful.
One is that I decided at the beginning that I just wasn’t going to have conflict with anyone in my family about any of this. I just wasn’t going to do it; it’s not worth it.
The second thing is something Jamie said early on. And that is that none of this money was ours to begin with. How quickly, though, we become possessive of it and feel so entitled to our share and protective of our share—this money that until now wasn’t ours at all and we weren’t even thinking of or counting on. So let’s remember that none of this was ever ours anyway. It’s all bonus.
All of this is hard, though. And here is someone facing the same issues 2,000 years ago approaching Jesus saying, Teacher, will you tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me?
Jesus takes this seemingly small request and makes something significant out of it. He refuses to be the arbitrator. But Jesus warns this person who made the request of two things.
One, constantly be on guard against all kinds of greed. Watch out for the variety of ways that greed operates in your life—greed meaning literally “the yearning to have more.”
And the second warning: know that your life does not consist of what you possess. Your life is a gift from God; consequently it is valued in other ways than by the size of bank accounts and stock portfolios.
So Jesus responds to the question about inheritance with these two warnings. Then Jesus tells a forceful parable.
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought, What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? Then he said, I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
But God said to him, You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
This very night your life is being demanded of you. 29 people killed in mass shootings in the last 24 hours in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. Lives ended unexpectedly and tragically and completely unnecessarily. It is unbelievable and maddening. But it is real.
How do we relate to our possessions when life is fleeting and fragile? How do we think about our possessions when we just don’t know what the future holds. I mean, no one walked into that Walmart in El Paso yesterday thinking that it might be their last moments. Right?
I don’t think this rich man’s problem is greed. And there is no mention of theft. No mention of mistreatment of workers. The story does not say that it is wrong if our investment yields rich returns, like the farmer’s field.
Fred Craddock says of the rich fool, the problem is, in your eyes and mine, he’s not a fool at all. He’s just a
businessman. Right? He’s just doing what any one of us would do in his place. He’s not a fool in anybody’s eyes but God’s.
So why is he a fool? He really hasn’t done anything foolish. He is a fool in God’s eyes because he subscribes to the misguided illusion that his prosperity has secured his future.
He wasn’t greedy. He was just smart and successful, and there’s no crime in that. His problem was he thought that by his estate planning, by his long-term planning, he could secure his future.
He thinks he’s taken care of himself for the long term. But then in the middle of this self-congratulatory conversation he is having with himself, God interrupts to inform him that death is on its way. And he is left with the rhetorical question: And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?
It’s the tragedy of trusting in your estate planning. It’s the tragedy of trusting in false security.
Jesus, says, So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Now this scripture text doesn’t provide specific answers to all of our questions about possessions.
It doesn’t provide for us rules that define how much
It doesn’t provide rules that spell out what you
should do with your wealth if you have some.
We search in vain for a guideline, a quantifiable
definition of greed that will tell us whether we
have stepped over the line.
This scripture text does not offer a new law, I’m sorry to tell you. But this text does confront us with a powerful story that prods our imaginations and provides perspective.
To be constantly on guard against the yearning to
to be reminded that life is a gift of God and not a
hard-earned acquisition, and
to be warned vividly against the presumption that
affluence can secure the future.
No rules today, not a lot of explanation— just stories that prod our imaginations about our estate planning, our accumulation of stuff, and what it all means in the end.
[Texts for Preaching]
It was a couple of days after their mom’s funeral when they remembered about the self-storage unit she had. Dad had died several years earlier, but Mom had kept his office in the house. Looked through the desk in the office, found the key to the storage unit.
Seems like there are self-storage units everywhere. Every time a new subdivision goes up, one of the first things that gets built in the area is a self-storage place. People say, I’ll only need this unit for a couple of months. The owner of the self-storage place smiles knowingly.
So they found the unit and opened it up. It’s full of the kinds of things that would go in the attic or the basement—but the attic and the basement were full.
There was an old loveseat that had belonged to their grandmother.
There was an antique washbasin thing.
A queen size bed.
And Mom collected Hummels—you know those figurines. There are several boxes of those.
There’s a chandelier in there that doesn’t fit in any of the kids’ houses.
There are several boxes of Dad’s old baseball cards. He always said someday they’d be worth something.
Assorted other boxes and random pieces of furniture.
The kids pick through the storage unit and everything in the attic and the basement and the house, and then it’s time for the estate sale.
Everything must go, the sign says at the sale.
They don’t want to haul a lot of stuff away, so things are priced low.
Books go for 50 cents,
a big set of blue iced tea glasses for a couple of
Here’s a lamp that at one time seemed too nice to
get rid of but now seems hideous.
Some of Dad’s prized tools.
Now the auctioneer calls out Lot 152: a collection of 400 Hummels. There are knowing smiles, but no one bids. The auctioneer looks at the estate agent, the agent looks at the oldest daughter—a lifetime’s hobby and a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff has come to this: 50 cents here. 5 dollars there. No takers for some.
You can almost hear Jesus say, This very night your life is being demanded of you. And these Hummels, whose will they be?
These tools, whose will they be?
These books, whose will they be?
These lamps, whose will they be?
They had an estate sale. Everything must go it said on the sign and on the flyer. Everything must go.
[Laurence Wood, “A Lot of Junk,” The Christian Century, July 27, 2004]
And, to use Jesus’ words, if we have stored up treasures for ourselves but have not been rich toward God, God will compel us, too, to give away all those things we have stored up, because someday we must go, too.
Everything must go.
And what will become of our lifelong quest to see how much we will end up with in the end?