Sunday, August 1, 2010

How'd You Get So Rich?

Sermon from August 1, 2010
(Pentecost 10 – Year C)
Luke 12: 13-21
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

So, how’d you get so rich?

This is the question that the comedian, Joan Rivers, asks on her reality show.
Joan Rivers’ reality show debuted on TV just last August (as if we really needed another reality show).
This show, hosted by Joan Rivers, is titled:
“How’d You Get So Rich?”

In this reality TV show, Joan Rivers, who is the princess of Hollywood gossip and the queen of multiple facelifts, travels around the country, interviewing self-made millionaires and billionaires.
On the TV show, as Joan Rivers meets each one of these multi-millionaires, she asks each one of them her trademark question:
How’d you get so rich?

Now, I reluctantly confess to you that, in my late night channel surfing, I have seen portions of this show called, “How’d You Get So Rich?”
It is one of those TV shows that you know you should not like, but you just cannot take your eyes off of the obscene excess.

For example, in one episode, Joan Rivers interviews a man who invented a unique bubble-blowing machine.
This man now lives in a mansion so big that his dog has a walk-in closet and the dog has his own private chef.
In another episode of this reality TV show, Joan interviews an advertising executive who, at the age of 40, now lives in a castle with a multi-million dollar art collection.

In another episode, Joan interviews someone who is so rich that she spends one million dollars a year - just on her clothing.

In their 50-foot yachts and in their Hummers and in their walk-in closets that are the size of many of our homes, Joan Rivers asks these millionaires this same question:
How’d you get so rich?

Jesus is approached by someone in the crowd, who yells out:
“Hey, teacher,
Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
But Jesus replies:
“Be on guard against all kinds of greed;
For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then Jesus tells us a story:

Once upon a time, there was a farmer.
The farmer produced amazingly abundant crops.
Even in this lousy stock market, his portfolio has gone through the roof.
The farmer has become so rich and famous that he decides to tear down his old barns and build even bigger barns to hold his grain.
He decides to build giant barns to hold all his stuff.

The next thing you know, Joan Rivers pulls up in her souped-up Escalde.
She gets out of the car in her Ferragamo pumps and pokes the farmer in the chest, asking:
How’d you get so rich?

The farmer then tells Joan his rags-to-riches story.
The farmer tells Joan about how he is a self-made man.
The farmer tells Joan about all the treasures he has stored up for himself.

After Joan River’s camera crew has left the scene, the farmer kicks back and says to himself:
“Self, I have done good.
I have worked hard.
I have given my children the best I can.
I have saved for my retirement in a moderately conservative lifestyle fund.
I have prepared myself for the good life.
Now, I can relax in my easy chair with my remote control, open a cold beer and eat pizza in my boxer shorts.”

Yet then God bellows out to the farmer:
“You fool!
This very night your life is demanded of you.”

We can picture the farmer the next morning:
Slumped over dead in his easy chair, the remote control still in his hand, the box of cold pizza crusts sitting on the footstool,
Surrounded by his new big barn full of grain in giant walk-in closets.
But the farmer is dead.

For the very same night that the farmer was interviewed by Joan Rivers for the show “How’d You Get So Rich?” -
That very same night, his very life was demanded of him.

So it is with those who fill their barns with Self, and not with God.
So it is with those who acquire and spend, but do not pray and give.
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.

In my own life, I have known some people who are rich toward God.

The people I know who are rich toward God are not as concerned about acquiring things.
But the people who are rich toward God are more concerned about making meaningful friendships.

The people I know who are rich toward God are not as interested in spending time at the shopping mall or on eBay or collecting Nike shoes.
But the people who are rich toward God are more interested in spending time getting to know God in prayer.

The people I know who are rich toward God do not try to grasp possessions into clinched fists.
But the people who are rich toward God give, and give, and give again, with open hands.

God does not care about acquiring things.
But God cares about giving.
God cares about people.

In 1930, 80 years ago, the famous preacher of Riverside Church in New York City, Harry Emerson Fosdick, wrote the words to one of my favorite hymns.
Fosdick wrote the hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory.”
In that hymn, we sing this:

“Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.
Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal
Lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.”

This very night, my very life could be demanded of me.
This very night, your very life could be demanded of you.
And on that night, I do not want us to sing that we are rich in things, yet poor in soul.
I do not want us to miss God’s kingdom’s goal.

For on my last day, I hope that Joan Rivers will not appear at my front door to interview me about my wanton selfish gladness.
I do not want to give her a tour of the treasures I have stored up for myself.

But on the night that my life is demanded of me, I hope that I will know Jesus richly –
Because I have known him in a meaningful friendship, fostered by a lifetime of prayer.
On the night that my life is demanded of me, I hope that I will have richly given to others –
Given much more than I have received.

On the night that my life is demanded of me, I hope that I will be so rich toward God, so rich with love,
So that Jesus will poke me in the chest and ask:

How’d you get so rich?

AMEN.

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