Pentecost 10 – Year C

A 6th grade teacher posed the following problem to her math class. “A wealthy man dies and leaves 10 million dollars in the bank. In his will he leaves one-fifth to his wife, one-fifth to his son, one-sixth to his business partner, and the rest he leaves to charity. Now, take your time, work carefully and tell me – what does each person get?” All of the students begin to work feverishly with pencil and paper except for one little boy named Joey who immediately raises his hand. For several minutes the teacher ignores him because she wants to allow the rest of the class a little time to catch up. Finally, after a long silence the teacher points to Joey and says – “Joey you’ve had your hand up for quite a while. You must be very good at math. Can you tell me what each person in this story gets?” “That’s easy,” says Joey, “they each get a lawyer.”
You know the old saying, “where there’s a will there’s a way.” Well, when it comes to inheritance, where there’s a will there’s often a lawsuit. Such is the case in our gospel reading for this morning. Someone in the crowd calls out to Jesus and wants him to settle a family dispute. Rabbis in those days were considered very wise men and it was not uncommon for them to act as mediators to settle various disagreements. It was also custom in first century Palestine that when a father died the oldest son automatically received two-thirds of the inheritance. If there were any other sons they were left to divide up the remaining third. Usually women had little or no right of inheritance at all. More than likely the person who called out to Jesus from the crowd was someone’s younger son who was angry that his inheritance was so small. He wanted Jesus to intercede on his behalf. But Jesus knew better then to get involved in family squabbles. Instead, he told the entire crowd a parable about the danger of greed and the foolishness of centering one’s life around the accumulation of wealth.
In this story, often called the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus reminds his listeners’ that what’s best about life cannot be found in the abundance of possessions. He tells the story of a rich famer who was so successful that his harvest out-paced his storage facilities. His barns were full but they were not big enough to hold all his grain. However, rather than sell what he did not need or better yet give it away to the poor, the farmer tore down his old barns and built bigger ones in the belief that the more of his crop he could keep the safer and more secure he would be. The farmer never stopped to think about what he needed, he was only interested in how much he could get. What he failed to realize is that our possessions, the stuff with which we surround ourselves, cannot save us from death. As the author from Ecclesiastes reminds us this morning, “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” No matter how much we accumulate in life, each of us must one day face death. In the end, we can’t take any of it with us.
I would wager this morning that 99% of us sitting in this room have way too much stuff. Our closets are full. Our attics are full. Our basements, our garages, our storage units are full. We surround ourselves with things, collect things, cling to things like they are gods who can save us, protect us from the final enemy – death. But in the end, once we have gone, all we usually do is leave a bunch of stuff that other people have to clean up. Do we really need so much?
Last week we buried a woman some of you know – Kathy Ivins. She was well known in the Richmond community. Struggling with cancer that had spread to her brain, many of us walked with her during months of treatment and surgeries until her untimely death. Although she was well known, Kathy was not some kind of famous person. She wasn’t a politician. She wasn’t a media celebrity or a multi-millionaire. She built her life selling commercial real estate, running marathons, raising her two sons, and loving her husband John. And yet the crowd in this church last Tuesday looked like the 9:00 service on Easter morning. It was packed. Almost 900 people filled every seat in the sanctuary and stood in the narthex to say goodbye to Kathy. Why? I think it was because Kathy knew what was most important in life. Yes, she was professionally and financially successful. Yes, she had a nice house and nice things. But stuff was not the most important thing to Kathy. She wasn’t interested in accumulating great wealth or great power she was interested in relationships. Kathy loved people; she loved making new friends, and nurturing ties with old friends. Next to her faith in God, she cared about people more than anything. A fact that became obvious as I watched 900 people laugh together and cry together as they celebrated her life and mourned her death.
It’s all about the relationships folks. It’s all about the people in your life and not at all about the stuff. I’d give away an awful lot of stuff just to have one more hour with my father or my wonderful grandmother. That’s where our wealth lies – in the people we love who love us back. It’s all about the relationships – that’s the real treasure. This is such a simple truth that lies at the heart of our faith. The incarnation – the divine present in the person of Jesus, God who comes to be with us, to walk among us – this is a God who wants above all else to be in deeper relationship with his creation. Our God is a God of relationships.
Be honest, how many people are there in your life that are important to you but you never seem to find much time for them? The brother you intend to call but rarely do. The sister who keeps inviting you for a visit but you always seem too busy to go. The child who says, “Dad can we go fishing sometime soon?” “Sure,” you say, “We will.” But somehow you never do. The aging mother, or mother-in-law, who drives you crazy sometimes, but who loves you and wants a deeper connection with you. The close friend from college with whom you shared so many formative experiences – but that was years ago and you realize you haven’t actually spoken in a long time. Your wife or your husband – a person you see every single day but when was the last time you really sat down together and connected in a way that was more significant than going over weekly calendar or talking about what the kids need? When was the last time you went away together, just the two of you? Not to mention the God who loves you and yearns to be in relationship with you. When was the last occasion you spent time alone in prayer?
Relationships – nurturing them, feeding them, building them – this is where the real wealth of your life is found. Everything else is vanity says the writer of Ecclesiastes. Not vanity as in prideful, but vanity as in vain – everything else is in vain – it’s all so fleeting, temporary, and ultimately less important.
If August is the month when you take some vacation, the time when you get away with some of the people you love, then make the most of it. Reach out, make a connection, reform old ties, and create new ones. Focus on the people you love and discover the real blessings of a wealthy life. Amen.