Invest well

A message in the series “Good counsel for a good life,” preached Aug. 4, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood; from Luke 12.13-21, commonly called the story of the rich fool.

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Oh, no, you’re thinking, he’s going talk about how we’re too attached to money, or how we have too many possessions. Well, whatever he says, I’m not giving up my Patrick Mahomes bobblehead!

No more than I will part with my John Wesley bobblehead!

Actually, what I’m thinking about today is investment strategy. My question is: Are bobbleheads a good investment?

This is another message in the series Good Counsel for a Good Life. It’s based on stories by and about Jesus while he’s making his last journey to Jerusalem.

He is teaching one day when someone pops up and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”

If you’ve ever been involved in an inheritance dispute, or know someone who has, you know that it’s among the most bitterly contested and hurtful experiences a family can endure. Jesus has no intention of getting involved in this one, especially when the man tries to triangle him in public against his brother.

“Friend,” he asks, “who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Then he moves directly to the heart of the matter, which is at the heart of so much human heartbreak and misery – and that is greed. “Be on guard against greed in all its forms,” Jesus says, “for your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

It doesn’t? Somebody ought to tell the advertising industry! Billions of dollars are spent each year to convince you that you are nothing without the right possessions, and your greatest possessions of all are your health and your beauty. Even if you die tomorrow, you want to make a gorgeous corpse that will be the envy of all your friends.

You can’t take it with you. We all know that. You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer chock full of items necessary for the afterlife. But you will occasionally hear about the guy who’s buried with his T-Bird. Talk about greed! No one else will ever get any use or pleasure out of that car. Fun, fun, fun till daddy takes the T-Bird away!

To illustrate the problem of improper attachment to mere stuff, Jesus tells a story. Of course, he does. He loves to tell stories.

It seems that a rich man’s land produces a bumper crop – so much grain that he doesn’t know where he’ll store it all. So he thinks to himself (happily, Jesus takes us inside his head) – he thinks to himself, “I know what I’ll do! I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones, and then I’ll have plenty of space to store all my crops and all my other stuff.

“And then I’ll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you’ve got it made! Time to relax, eat, drink and be merry.’ ”

But God has other plans. He says to the rich man: He says to the rich man: ‘You fool!’

Strong language from God, right?

‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And all of your stuff, where will it go, whose will it become?”

“So it is,” Jesus concludes, “with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, cautions you to realize that sooner or later, all of your possessions will wind up in somebody else’s garage sale. Unless some of it happens to land in a museum or in the trash, all the possessions you cherish now will be sold for a pittance in a rummage sale.

Your most beloved stuff may be passed down for a couple of generations, but then one of your descendants will say, “I tired of looking at this junk,” and away it goes.

Well, didn’t you do the same with that hideous vase that was lovingly left to you by your Aunt Matilda? It’s her you want to remember, not the vase, and the vase does not inspire good memories.

Have you ever wondered why some homeless people are constantly pushing around a shopping cart with all their possessions piled onto it? It’s because they have no place to keep their stuff that’s safe from theft. So they have to keep an eye on it at all times. They’re homeless, see. One definition of a home is a place to stash all your stuff.

Some of our homes aren’t big enough, so we rent storage units, and when those are full, we rent bigger storage units. We take comfort knowing that it’s there, though sometimes we have to drop by just to make sure it is, in fact, still there, and someone hasn’t run off with it.

There is said to be big money to be made buying the contents of storage units that have been abandoned. You bid for the contents sight unseen, so you never know what kind of trash or treasure somebody may have left behind.

There are two counter-trends today. One is the tiny house. There are projects in Kansas City and elsewhere to build neighborhoods of tiny houses for homeless veterans. It’s an innovative and humane approach to a national problem.

Meantime, a surprising number of people are abandoning the sprawling suburban manse for a tiny house on a tiny lot. How tiny? Some houses are smaller than 400 square feet. That’s smaller than most so-called “studio” apartments. Forget about the bobblehead collection. No room for it here!

Some tiny houses are built on trailers so they can be moved easily when the scenery in one spot gets boring. (I wonder why they don’t just buy a camper?) Some tiny homes are even made from recycled shipping containers. Go over to the Intermodal and pick out your new home! If you don’t want to remodel it yourself, you can even buy one premade on Amazon.

The other counter-trend is decluttering. The queen of this is Marie Kondo, whose Kon Mari method has swept the world. Go through everything you’ve got, she says, and ask yourself, “Does this make me happy?” If a possession doesn’t bring you joy, pitch it.

It’s an interesting philosophy, and I’m sure we could all benefit from trying it out. My wife, Linda, and I are constantly playing this game. We have accumulated far too much stuff, and we need to get rid of much of it. My idea would be to back up a trailer and start throwing stuff in. Linda wants to be more methodical about it. Methodical is too slow, I say. Get rid of it now, and be done with it.

I’m at the age when I’m ready to engage in what’s called “Swedish death cleaning.” Basically, it’s getting rid of all your excess stuff so your kids won’t have to do it when you die. Tell them you’re doing it now, and they’ll thank you for it, now as well as later.

Theoretically, all this effort gets you down to only possessions that you admire – comfortable and attractive furniture, good books and music, some artwork that delights you, maybe a few tools you enjoy using. You want to get down to things that are useful and good for you. But this is a purely materialistic approach to life, isn’t it? It ignores an important question: Can things really make you happy?

Jesus says your life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. But don’t we spend most of our lives in pursuit of more possessions? Possessions are like money. Apparently you can never have enough. It’s more, more, more till your creditors take the T-Bird away.

I think there are three basic attitudes toward money. Poor people are afraid they can’t get by with the little they have. Rich people are afraid that they’re going to lose the pile they have. People who are neither rich nor poor are afraid to get comfortable with what they have because they know how hard it is to get and how easy it is to lose.

Notice that these three attitudes have a common denominator, and that is fear. We think that money will give us security, but no matter how much of it we have, money never provides security. In fact, money creates insecurity. Money creates fear. Some of us are more comfortable than others in our fear, but we’re all afraid.

Jesus would say that your life does not consist in the amount of money you have in the bank, or invested in stocks, or stuffed in an old sock, or buried in the back yard, or wherever you keep it. Sure, money can make life a lot easier in many ways. But remember this: Jesus, who was probably the most joyful person who ever lived, was dirt poor all his life, and at the end all he possessed was what he wore on his back.

What did the rich man get wrong, and what do we so often get wrong as well?

Is there anything wrong with being happy when you have a bumper crop? Certainly not.

Is there anything wrong with trying to find a good way of storing the grain from that bumper crop? Certainly not. Letting it go to waste would be poor stewardship.

Is there even anything wrong with tearing down old barns and building bigger new ones? It might be more efficient to simply build some new barns rather than demolish perfectly good ones and replace them with bigger ones. But this is hardly a capital crime.

Where does the rich man go wrong?

Is it when he says to his soul, “‘Soul, it’s time to relax, eat, drink and be merry.” Some people find it hard to accept that notion, but it’s biblical enough. “This is the gift of God,” Ecclesiastes 3:13 says, “that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results of their hard work.”

So what’s the problem? Simple. It’s greed. The rich man is focused totally on himself. He cares neither for God nor for neighbor. He stores up treasures for himself, but he is not rich toward God, nor toward his neighbor.

Jesus steers us another direction. He says: “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6.19-21, Luke 12.34)

Where’s your treasure? Where’s your heart? What’s your lifetime investment strategy?

You can surround yourself with stuff, the collection of a lifetime. Or you can invest your life serving God and others. You’ll find some satisfaction with your stuff. It’s OK to eat, drink and be merry. But these things aren’t what’s most important. What’s most important are the relationships of your life. People are your treasure. People are where your heart should be, not stuff.

What do people always say when their homes and all their possessions are swept away by flood, fire, or tornado? “Those are just things. They can be replaced. Thank God no one was hurt.”

Your friends and your loved ones are worth far more to you than your bobblehead collection. When you invest in people, rather than stuff, you’ve made an investment in heaven. Invest well, Jesus says, and you will reap a bountiful return.

Amen.

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