"YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU"
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24)
October 21, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and take nothing for his toil that he may carry it away in his hand.
Ecclesiastes 5:10; 15 (ESV)
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days over what the Bible teaches about wealth and money. On the one hand, the so called “preachers of prosperity” that you hear on the radio and see on television tell you that wealth is a good thing—that God wants you to be prosperous and even rich. They lure people into making them rich by telling you that, if you give them a certain amount of money, God will bless you “twofold” or “threefold” or “tenfold” or whatever. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, they mistakenly believe that wealth is a sign of God’s favor—that if you’re rich, God is pleased with you, and if you’re poor, there is something lacking in your standing with God. At the other extreme are those who say that material wealth is evil—that “money is the root of all evil.” What the Scriptures actually say is that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). People of this mindset see material wealth as being a bad thing and assume that everyone who has it loves it above all else and is driven by a desire for more.
The truth of the matter is that material wealth is really rather indifferent. It doesn't make anyone a better person or a worse person, just as poverty doesn't make a person any better or worse. But whatever our station in life, we are to be responsible with what the Lord has chosen to give us. When Jesus said: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25), He wasn't passing judgment on the rich person; He was simply saying that the rich person is subject to the temptation of relying so much on his riches that he loses out on the blessings of the Gospel. It's good to have the things that money can buy, just so long as we don't lose out the things that money can't buy. I am referring, of course, to the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus gives us in the Gospel. In today's Old Testament Reading King Solomon warns us about the love of money, that is, the value that we might place on it and the confidence that we might have in it.
The value of material wealth is limited, On the surface that statement might seem to be ridiculous, since a lot of people who have it seem to be quite satisfied. But stop to think about this for a moment. If material wealth satisfies, why do people keep pursuing more of it, no matter how much they already have? Most of you have probably heard the story of the millionaire John D. Rockefeller who, when he was asked: "How much wealth does it take to make a man happy?", replied: "just a little bit more." Material wealth may provide us with many things, but it cannot truly satisfy; it only excites within us a desire to have more. I've heard at least one preacher define money as "that commodity that people relentlessly pursue six days a week and don't want to hear about on the other day." The desire for wealth can easily become an addiction, driving people to concentrate all of their attention and efforts into acquiring more of it.
The danger in this is the same one that Jesus was warning about when He made His comment about how difficult it is "for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25). When so much of our attention and energy is focused on one particular thing, we miss out on everything else. In His Sermon on the Mount the Savior warned about becoming obsessed with material things--even the necessities of life. He advised: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). The key is to distinguish between what we really need and what we merely desire. And what we need more than anything else is deliverance from sin and death. Its value and worth cannot be calculated in dollars and cents, but in God's redeeming love revealed in Christ. The cost of what we need the most is the innocent blood of Jesus, shed on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for all human sin. It cost Him everything but it costs us nothing. Whether you are rich or poor in material things, your greatest possession is the salvation that Christ has won for you in His life and death--the salvation that the Holy Spirit gives to you freely in the means of grace.
The other problem with the value of material wealth is that it is temporary. Elsewhere in this book of Scripture we read: "I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 2:18, 19) and: "Sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it" (Ecclesiastes 2:21). This is the whole point of Jesus' parable of the rich fool. The person who places his confidence and finds his joy in material wealth has a false sense of security and happiness. Such a person is in for a rude awakening when he hears the final summons as did the rich man in the parable: "Fool!" he was told. "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20).
Death is the great equalizer. Whether you are rich or poor, you will die. That is the fate of all of us who are infected with this terminal illness called sin. What we ought to learn from this cold, hard fact is that there will come a time for each of us when it won't matter what material possessions we have. When we meet our Maker He won't ask us how much money we have, what kind of house we live in, what kind of clothes we wear, what social circles we are connected with, or where we go on vacation. All that will matter then is that we have what money can't buy--our standing before Him as sinners who are justified, reconciled to Him, and called by His Spirit to receive the priceless gifts of salvation that Jesus gained for us by His perfect life of obedience to the Law, the atonement for our sin that He accomplished for us by His sacrificial suffering and death. and the sure hope of resurrection and everlasting life guaranteed by His resurrection and given to us in Baptism.
These precious gifts of salvation are what fully satisfy. When we have these, we have everything; we needn't look for more. They will provide for us throughout our days and even beyond. They are not temporary. We will never use them up and they will never decay. They will always be there for us to strengthen us in our weakness, to restore us when we fall away, to comfort us in our grief, and to deliver us even from the fear of death. Our greatest need and desire is fulfilled completely and permanently in our Savior. His love is all-encompassing and never-ending. His Word is sure: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" John 10:10) and so His promise: "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.