Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
Rich Toward God, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney
A young man asked a rich old man how he made his money.The old guy fingered his Armani vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932 in the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel.“I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for 10 cents.“The next morning, I invested those 10 cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 p.m. for 20 cents. I continued this system for a month, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $1.37.”“And that’s how you built an empire?” the boy asked.“Heavens, no!” the man replied. “Then my wife’s father died and left us two million dollars.”
Ah, the great preacher, Quoheleth speaketh to us today: All is vanity. Everything is a waste. Life is hard and then we die.
At one level it is true, isn’t it? We really can’t take it with us! We leave it to ungrateful heirs who should have gone to school and gotten a job or the government gets it or ex-spouses. Later on the only people who care about what we got are those who got it from us.
Still, we all know that nice stuff is, well, nice.
Several years ago a parish church building I worked in got hit by a major lightning bolt. I guess it was major. When 50,000 volts hits your building it knocks a huge chunk of granite off the tower and fried everything it within reach. I don’t know if God is in charge of lightning bolts, but I’m sure no one else is. All our cool electronics was pretty useless in the face of the power of well, an act of God.
Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of Luke refer to vanity this week. This is not the Snow White kind of vanity where the queen has a special mirror which lies to her about who is the most beautiful in the kingdom. I got caught looking in a mirror once by my prep school trained college roommate. He was expert at deflation. He simply said to me: “I caught you looking in the mirror. Did you get any better looking?”
No, biblical vanity is supposing that God thinks our stuff, our looks, our possessions are as important as we think they are.
Our spiritual task is to erect a greed guard. Our vanity is usually greed. There are lots of different ways to be greedy, even including being covetous of someone else’s relationship with God.
Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (12:15). Here, Jesus invites us, not to avoid a life of success, but to choose a life of significance — a life which is balanced and meaningful. There are three questions which can help us balance ourselves.1. How do you spend your time?2. How do you spend your money?3. How do you make your decisions?Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” seems close to the mark. A Russian peasant was told that he could have all the land he could walk around in the time between sunup and sundown. At sunup the peasant began walking as fast as he could. By mid-morning he was disappointed at his progress so he increased his pace and didn’t even stop for lunch. Even in the afternoon heat he hurried yet more as the promise of great landowning stretched out before his fevered vision. Late in the afternoon he was soaked with sweat from head to toe. He was exhausted. He had walked around a huge section, but still he yearned for more. So, he began to run. Breathlessly he pushed himself beyond what he though anyone could endure. His heart pounded, his eyes blurred--sundown was only a few minutes and his goal still wafted in the distance. Faster and faster he raced. Just as he returned to the first corner stake he fell to the ground dead. Vanity, all is vanity.Jesus’ comment to the rich man, to the peasant, was “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (12:21).We can be rich toward God, but never on the cheap.
The ultimate vanity story is one about the settlement of price-fixing charges against cosmetics manufacturers and retailers. The lawyers got $24 million, and each customer got a free cosmetic. (San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 2003) Now that is vanity! Who is looking good now?
And then there was William Hogarth who was hired to do a painting that would be called “The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host in the Red Sea.” The guy who hired him to do the painting was a notorious cheapskate.
Hogarth went to work, and painted the entire canvas with red paint, stepped back and declared it was done.When the buyer came to claim his painting, he was astonished. “Where are the Israelites?”“They’ve all crossed over,” Hogarth replied.“Well, where are the Egyptians?”“They’ve all drowned,” came the response.
Vanity, all is vanity, quoth the preacher.