Do you like buffets? Me, not so much now but when I was younger, I loved buffets. They were almost a challenge. My philosophy was, the first plate the restaurant wins, the second plate is a draw and anything after plate three meant you were the winner. How much is enough?
Ferdinand Marcos was the president of the Philippines from 1965 until they ousted him in a coup in 1989. During that time, they estimated that he and his wife, Imelda, embezzled somewhere between 5 and 10 billion dollars from the Central Bank of the Philippines. The couple currently hold the Guinness World Record for the largest-ever theft from a government. How much is enough?
When the Marcos fled the country, they discovered Imelda owned more than 3,000 pairs of shoes. How much is enough?
While we were on vacation, I heard a man say that he owned over a hundred watches. I like watches as much as the next guy but obviously not if he was the next guy. How much is enough?
When I was in university, the Skillet, which was the restaurant in our local Zellers store, had a promotion. All the fried scallops you could eat for 10.99. Dan Heinz, a university friend, and I saw this as a challenge. Now granted, they were only the small bay scallops, but Dan and I spent the afternoon trying our best. I ate 110. Wrong in so many ways. I would say that it’s nothing to be proud of, but I wore it like a badge of honour. How much is enough?
Sometimes it seems that our entire lives are guided by the old Klingon Proverb, bIje’be’chughvajbIHegh.
This is the second 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.
It was 20 years ago that 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 March would be a good month, so here we are.
And so, if you can handle a few messages on stewardship each spring, then you get a free pass on the preaching team 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 new 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.
Twenty years ago, 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, the preaching team wants to address the Question: How Much? How much should we spend? How much should we save? How much should we give away?
Now there are all kinds of formulas to help answer that question, but more than that, it comes down to a philosophy of life.
We looked at this scripture last year, but there was so much more to talk about, here we are again.
Let’s 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 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 ultimately that 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 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 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. Here, 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 mindset 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.”
For Some People, Having Enough is a Goal
The man in Jesus’ story was a farmer and not just any farmer. He was a rich farmer. And many farmers would tell you that is an oxymoron. That those two terms, rich and farmer, are mutually exclusive.
But he had a farm that produced fine crops. And there is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, as a farmer, that would probably be his mission statement. To have a fertile farm that produces fine crops.
I think we all have a basic instinct to make sure that we have enough to survive.
When society was primarily hunter-gatherers it meant making sure there was enough meat and berries to feed us for today. But within that world, there was no sense in collecting more, because it wouldn’t last.
We no longer live in a hunter-gatherer society, but there is still that innate need to make sure that we have enough.
When we first begin to adult, the answer to the question, “how much?”, was pretty basic. It’s enough to pay the rent, enough to feed our family and enough to clothe ourselves and our children. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is a scriptural principle. Paul, writing to the young preacher Timothy, tells him in 1 Timothy 5:8 But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.
But have you noticed that our definition of “how much is enough” continues to change? Let’s go back to the story, Luke 12:17–19 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
For Others, Having Enough is an Illusion
The farmer was doing well, by all measures. His farm was doing well, he was prospering. His family was well cared for, but it wasn’t enough. Perhaps once that would have been enough, but no longer.
Of all the things he could have done with his excess, he chose to horde it. Not save it but horde it.
You save for a reason. You might save for an emergency fund. The experts all tell us that we should have savings for an emergency. An appliance dies, you have car problems; you need dental work that isn’t covered by insurance. Then you can dip into your savings and not have to put in on a credit card. That makes sense.
Or maybe you’re saving for a large purchase or a family vacation. Most of you know that Angela and I love to cruise, and we have a cruise savings account set up. And every spare dollar we have goes into the cruise account. The money we’d spend on gifts for each other, or that we would spend going out to dinner, or going to a concert all goes into the cruise account. And because of that, you have a sane pastor, a relatively sane pastor.
And we all should be saving for our retirement because OAS and CPP aren’t going to cut it, unless you have developed a taste for Alpo.
But this man wasn’t saving for a purpose. He was just storing it because he had too much to use, and apparently too much to sell and giving it away didn’t seem to be an option.
He was hording it. He wanted to have it, just to have it.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.”
Eventually, enough is no longer enough.
Let’s go back to when we first begin to adult. The answer to the question, “how much?”, is pretty basic. It’s enough to pay the rent, enough to feed our family and enough to clothe ourselves and our children. But ten years after that, the apartment no longer meets our needs, we need to eat out more, we need a better car and nicer clothes. And there’s no problem with that until there is.
It was Steve Martin who said, “I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.”
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10 Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!
And Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
The question is, do we own stuff or does stuff own us? And do we need all we have?
Because when stuff owns us, then we have to work to keep the stuff and to get better stuff. And all of a sudden, the table turns from us owning stuff to the stuff owning us.
Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves, do we need it right now?
I came across this quote from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “Simply by not owning three medium-sized castles in Tuscany I have saved enough money in the last forty years on insurance premiums alone to buy a medium-sized castle in Tuscany.”
When I first read that it made me scratch my head, but then I realized it made sense.
So, I tried it, I told Angela, “Simply by not owning three Mercedes convertibles, we have saved enough money in the last forty years on insurance premiums alone to buy a Mercedes convertible.” That didn’t work.
Let’s go back to the story, Luke 12:20–21 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
For Others, Having Enough is a Lie
The man got to the top of the ladder only to discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
However much or little we have, the question will be the same at the end of our lives; who will get everything we’ve worked for?
I was reminded of the temporary nature of stuff in June of 2000. For those of you who were living in Kingswood in June of 2000, you know exactly what I’m talking about. A fire at a building site at the back of Kingswood got out of control and before it was done, had consumed over 200 acres of woodland.
They had evacuated the entire subdivision and when we drove away from our home; we had our dog, our cat, our hamster and our bunny in their kennels, and a green box full of photo albums and home videos.
You see, it takes natural disasters to remind us that everything is temporary. Whether it be fires, floods or wars, it’s during those times that we learn what is really important.
In his book, “When the Game is over, it all goes back in the box”, John Ortberg writes about learning to play the game of monopoly from his grandmother.
And he said that he learned two things from her about the game. The first was to be ruthless in acquiring everything you could in the game, every property, and every railroad. And then to get as many houses and as many hotels as possible on each of your properties. The second thing he said he learned was even more important, and that was that at the end of the game, everything went back in the box.
As much as we accumulate in this life, at the end of the day, everything goes back in the box. And in most cases, that box is a little over six feet long and two and a half feet wide.
My father was fond of reminding me when I was growing up that at the end of the game, both the pawn and the king go in the same box.
So over the next couple of three weeks, we each need to ask ourselves, “How much?” and perhaps the answer can be found in Jesus’ question, Mark 8:36–37 “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”