When you think of a treasure, what crosses your mind? Perhaps something buried by a pirate? When I was a boy, when I thought about treasure, I thought about Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island”. By the way, Long John Silver was the ship’s cook, not the ship’s captain.
The 1950 Disney Movie, based on Stevenson’s novel, has been rated the best Pirate movie ever, closely followed by The Princess Bride. If you are wondering, Pirates of the Caribbean was number 7, and the Muppets Treasure Island was number 10.
Living in the Maritimes, you might have been brought up on tales of treasure hidden by Captain Kidd, and most of us had known about the curse of Oak Island long before it was a TV show.
Personally, I think the treasure on Oak Island is from the Knights Templar. But what do I know? I’m the wrong Guptill to ask about Oak Island.
Maybe you are more pragmatic, and when you think of treasure, you think of lottery winnings. Good luck with that. Or maybe you’re more of a romantic and when you think of treasure, you think of your one true love.
Dictionary.com defines treasure this way: noun
1. Wealth or riches stored or accumulated, especially in the form of precious metals, money, jewels, or plate.
2. Wealth, rich materials, or valuable things.
3. Any thing or person greatly valued or highly prized:
This is the first Sunday of March, which to most Maritimers means that Spring will happen sometime between now and the end of June, but for the Cornerstone family, it means it’s the beginning of, Stewardship Emphasis Month, or as it’s often been called, Money month.
Here is a little insight for those of you who have become a part of our church family in the past year.
Almost 20 years ago, we decided to take a different approach to dealing with finances at Cornerstone.
We decided that instead of dealing with the crisis of finances. That is harping at you every time things got tight financially in the church; that instead, we would teach stewardship once a year.
Because our church year ends in April, we decided that March would be a good month, so here we are.
And so, if you can handle four messages on stewardship, then you get a free pass on the preacher harping at you about money for the rest of the year. As part of that process, we adopted what we call “Step-up Cornerstone.” Each year, at the end of March, we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to step out in faith and fill out an “estimate of giving” card. We collect those cards at the end of that service, and we use that figure to plan our budget for the new church year.
And there are benefits to that, both for the church and for you as individuals. For the church, it gives us a responsible way to plan our budget for the upcoming year.
For you, it allows you in a very practical way to determine what type of church you want to have in the upcoming year. A church in its own building with paid staff will always cost more than a church meeting in a community centre with volunteer staff.
For the first twenty years of my ministry, the churches that I led did what most churches do. Each year the leadership would pull a budget out of the air. It may have been based on the previous year’s budget with a slight increase for additional expenses, or perhaps department heads had submitted their wish list for the upcoming year.
Often it was done by a committee, but realistically, it wasn’t based on any knowledge of what the church income would be.
Sometimes the church would talk about how they were stepping out in faith. But the end result was that the preacher would end up talking about money all the time, challenging people to step up and pay a budget that was not rooted in reality.
In 2002, the leadership at Cornerstone decided to take a different approach. I would speak on the biblical role of stewardship for a month each year. And it’s an important topic, and it’s an important part of our spiritual lives.
And at the end of the month, we allow the folks who call Cornerstone their church home to respond and provide an estimate of what they believe they will be able to give in the upcoming year.
This year our theme is: Where Your Treasure Is, and for the next four weeks we will be focusing on the scripture that was read earlier.
Let’ start with the back story, Jesus is teaching a large crowd. He has just finished talking about blaspheming the Holy Spirit and how that is the unforgivable sin, and he is interrupted with a request, let’s pick up the story in Luke 12:13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”
That was kind of bizarre. Right out of the blue, nothing to do with Jesus’ message, not a follow up to what he had been teaching about earlier in his message. Just “Hey Jesus, fix this for me.”
The historians tell us that it wouldn’t have been uncommon in that culture, to bring a request like this to a Rabbi or a respected teacher. But up to this point in his ministry, there had been no indication that Jesus had been mediating family disputes or civil matters.
And Jesus addresses that in the very next verse where we read, Luke 12:14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?”
Jesus wasn’t going to allow himself to get sucked into this. He knew that this would lead him down a path that he didn’t want to go, where he would spend all his time decided for this person and against that person. He didn’t want to end up being just another Judge Judy.
But in answering the request, he saw the opportunity to teach what his followers’ response to money should be. And Jesus never shied away from speaking about money.
We are told that Jesus spoke more about our possessions and how we use those possessions than any other one topic.
More than he spoke about heaven or hell, more than he spoke about forgiveness or even prayer. Because he knew how easy it would be for our possessions to end up possessing us.
And Jesus knew that ultimately if money was our primary focus that he wouldn’t be. Which is why he had warned us in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
And so, Jesus turned the conversation to the topic of how we view money, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t where the guy wanted the conversation to go. Luke 12:15 Then he (Jesus) said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Basically, the guy was asking Jesus to make his brother give him more.
I don’t know if their father had already died and the man wanted the will contested or if he was still alive and writing his will, or maybe their father was simply dividing up his assets while he was still alive. We see an example of that in the story of the prodigal son
But, whatever the case, this man apparently wasn’t satisfied with what his share of the estate was going to be.
You understand that is human nature? Very seldom do I hear how wonderful and easy it was dealing with a parent’s estate. Especially when there is more than one sibling involved. And I’m sure that some of you are nodding your heads in agreement.
Swiss poet, Johann Kaspar Lavater, wrote, “Say not you know another entirely till you have divided an inheritance with him.”
And apparently that wasn’t just a Swiss issue, American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
“When it comes to divide an estate, the politest men quarrel.”
Maybe it was a poet thing, but somehow, I doubt that. Through the years, I’ve heard estate horror stories from non-poets as well.
And it’s here that Jesus cuts right to the chase and tells the man, Luke 12:15 Then he (Jesus) said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Here, Jesus shows that he’s more concerned with the man’s soul than with the man’s bank balance. Because we all know deep in our heart, the truth of the statement that someday everything you have will belong to somebody else, but everything you are will be yours forever.
Kind of like the story told of the two guys that were at a rich man’s funeral and one asked, “I wonder how much he left?” To which the second man replied, “All of it.”
And maybe that is why we are so afraid to die. It was Ernest Hemingway who wrote, “Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth.”
And so, Jesus identifies the problem as not being the man’s brother, or the man’s father, but being the man’s greed. That even if Jesus had mediated the issue in the man’s favour, it still wouldn’t have been enough.
It was Socrates who said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
Greed is an emotion that is never satisfied, that desire to always have more. And often times it’s simply the need to have more than somebody else. And more times than not, it’s the need to have more than a specific somebody. In this case, the man didn’t need or want to have more than say, King Herod, he just wanted to have more than his brother.
We often think of greed as a new vice, but three thousand years ago Solomon wrote, Proverbs 15:27 Greed brings grief to the whole family . . . and in Proverbs 28:25 Greed causes fighting. . .
Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day of the danger of greed in Mark 7:20–23 And then he (Jesus) added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
And throughout the New Testament we see greed keeping company with hatred, murder and sexual immorality.
Ken Herr writes in the Wesleyan Bible Commentary “Greed is desire run amuck, an undisciplined desire for more than you have, a willingness to break the rules to get what you want, a mind-set that life is found in the accumulation of ‘stuff.’”
And so to illustrate the danger of greed, Jesus does what he does so well. He tells a story.
Luke 12:16 Then he (Jesus) told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.”
The first thing that we need to realize is This Man Was Rich
In his time and in his culture, he was a wealthy man. Maybe not stinking rich, but he wasn’t just middle class, he was rich.
Now he might not have been the richest man in the area, but he definitely made the short list.
He owned a farm, and not just any farm. You only have to talk to farmers for a little bit to understand that not all farmers are well to do. Sometimes it seems that they farm because they love to farm, not because of the financial benefits.
However, that wasn’t the case with this man. Apparently his was a fertile productive farm that produced an abundance of crops. And so, in a time and a culture where most people simply worked in order to eat. He accumulated wealth.
And Jesus didn’t get into all the minutia of the story he didn’t go into detail about what type of crops the man grew, and whether or not they were they environmentally sustainable. He didn’t talk about the work conditions on the man’s farm, about whether the man treated his workers fairly and provided them with a safe work environment.
Like the majority of Jesus’s stories, he kept it simple to make a point.
Let’s keep going with the story, Luke 12:17 “He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’”
Not only was he rich, but He knew How Rich He Was The man had no doubts about his life situation. But he had a problem, he didn’t know what to do with all his resources.
And again, there are no extraneous details here. The man doesn’t talk about what his profit margins were or what his return on investments might have been.
The man was rich, and he knew he was rich.
And if that was all there was to the story, then it would just be a nice story for us today. But it’s as relevant for us as it was for the man asking about his share of his father’s estate.
Why? Because We are Rich
And around the world we see that played out. Those who are rich and those who are poor.
When I travel to the developing world, I’m still amazed at the gap between the poor and the wealthy. Or even the average and the wealthy. Between those who live without indoor plumbing and electricity and those who drive Mercedes and BMWs.
And it’s easy to imagine this man as a Scrooge McDuck figure, and when we close our eyes, we can picture the rich of our world. The Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, or even locally the Irvings and the MacCains. And there is no doubt about it, they are rich.
I recently read that the top 1% of Canada’s families hold about 26% of the nation’s wealth — roughly 3 trillion dollars. 3 trillion dollars is double the national debt.
But here is a reality that we sometimes miss. That while we might not be the richest people in our country or even in our community, we are still some of the richest people in the world.
For example, usually, I pick my clothes out for the next day, before I go to bed.
Part of that is that for six months out of the year I’m getting up in the dark and it’s just easier. But I go to my closet and then I go to my dresser and I have to decide what I will wear the next day.
Which one of my many shirts will I wear? Which of the numerous pairs of pants will I choose? And you don’t even want to get me started on my sock drawer.
Like the rich man, sometimes I have to ask, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my socks.’
When I am preparing my breakfast, I open the fridge and it’s full of food and when I open the kitchen cupboards, I sometimes have to look behind food to see all our food.
And then I have to decide what I’m going to have for breakfast, I have a choice. Will it be cereal or toast or eggs, or cereal, toast, and eggs?
And somehow, I don’t think the Guptills are all that different from the rest of you. But we are all different from many people around the world that don’t have those options. Their choices of what they will wear or what they will eat are very limited.
But unlike the man in the story, in many cases We Don’t Know How Rich We Are
Most of us would consider ourselves to be middle class, maybe upper middle class in a stretch. But certainly not rich, because we aren’t in the 1%.
But here is an eye opener, in Canada if your annual income, that is the number that’s in box 14 of your T4 is more than $80,400.00 you are in the top 10% of Canadian earners. That means that 90% of Canadians earn less than you. You might not be stinking rich, but you are certainly rich.
And according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, in order to make it into the richest 1% globally, all you need is an annual income of around $34,000.
So, if you are making more than $16.50 an hour, you are a part of the 1%. How you’re feeling?
I’m not trying to guilt anyone; well, not much. This is just a reality check for each one of us.
The bible talks about all kinds of people who were wealthy in their context and culture. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, and Solomon.
In the New Testament, there were people who were wealthy enough to support Jesus’ ministry. Through the book of Acts, we read about merchants and business owners. So, regardless of what you might think or might have been taught, there is no prohibition against wealth in the scriptures. But the bible reminds us that with those blessings come responsibilities and risks.
We are rich materially, but we are also rich in our freedoms. According to the CATO institute, in 2019 the five freest countries in the world were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia. If you are wondering the US was 15th.
This is a measure of personal freedom—which includes freedom of movement, speech, assembly and religion—alongside economic freedom which is simply the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions without government or crony interference.
Today, you came to church. You didn’t have to sneak here under cover of darkness. You don’t have to worry about what the authorities will say about your church affiliation, or about losing your job because you’re a Christian. Or for the matter because you were Jewish, or Muslim, or nothing.
We used to have a family from Indonesia at Cornerstone. One Christmas, before they moved, I asked if they had any specific things that the church did for Christmas in their home country. He said, “We pray our church won’t get bombed.”
Let’s keep going with our story, Luke 12:17 “He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’”
With the realization of his wealth came the question, “What should I do?”
And 2000 years later, The Question Remains the Same “What should I do?”
For the most part, we decide what we will do with what God has entrusted us with. We often think that we don’t have many choices, but the reality is that we make choices about our finances every day. And we all have different financial priorities. Not necessarily better ones or worse ones, just different ones. But part of the challenge is not forgetting God in the mix.
Over the next four weeks at both campuses, the preaching team is going to go a little deeper into this scripture. We’ll be looking at the strategy of the treasure, the deception of treasure, and the promise of treasure.