A stewardship message featuring Luke 12, Genesis 41, Mr. T, and lots and lots of coffee.
I’ve got good news for you. Really good news. You’re rich. Did you know that? Maybe some of you already knew. You might already agree that you’re rich, right off the bat. You’ve done well, have made some plans, set some financial goals, and met many of them. Life has gone well for you. Good job. Well met.
But perhaps you find yourself thinking, WHAT? I’m not rich! You should see my bank account! I’m barely making it. Still, for most of you here, like it or not, you’re rich. What, you don’t agree? You look at your neighbors, see all they have, and think, there is no way you could be rich.
If that’s the case – perhaps we need to take a wider view of what we have. Wider than Ames, Gilbert and Nevada. Wider than Story County. Wider than Iowa. Wider than the United States. So how do you stack up, when your neighbors include the entire world?
The website, Global Rich List, can tell you just how rich you are when compared to the international neighbors we rarely see. Just type in your annual income, with benefits minus taxes, or enter an estimate of your net worth. Then click show my results. This website will tell you exactly how your wealth ranks compared to everyone else on the planet.
• So if you make twenty thousand a year, congratulations, your income puts you in the top 3.65% of wealth globally. To frame that a little differently, making ten dollars an hour, working full time, for forty hours a week will net you twenty thousand dollars a year. Now America has higher costs of living than many places, that’s true. And I recognize if you’re earning twenty thousand a year making ends meet can be difficult. But, globally speaking, our planet has 7.7 billion people on it. And if you make 20k a year, after taxes, you make more money than almost 7.5 billion of them. Globally speaking, you’re doing pretty well.
• If you earn a little more, and make the grand sum of twenty-five thousand a year, that puts you in the top 2 percent of earners in the world.
• This may sound crazy, but if you make a little more than that, and earn thirty-two thousand four hundred dollars a year, well, you’re in the top 1% of income globally. Remember that Wall Street movement last decade? The one called We Are The 99%? That was a U.S. phenomenon. But if it were done globally, at that level, with your annual income of thirty-two thousand four hundred dollars a year, well, then those 99% are talking about you. You, are the 1%.
• If you make a bit higher than that, fifty-two thousand six hundred, in this area you’re kind of typical. That’s the median annual income for people living in Story County. So for you, earning fifty-two grand a year you’re kind of average, locally. But globally you’re doing really, really well. You’re in the top 0.3% of wage earners globally.
• And if you make 80 thousand a year, including benefits, and after taxes, you’re in the top 0.1% of wealth globally, even more impressive. In a random sample of 1,000 people on earth, you would be the wealthiest. There are only about six million people in the world that make as much or more than you, at $80,000 a year. Only six million people in the world. Out of 7.7 BILLION. Six million people is about as many people as live in all of Minnesota. Six million people is also about as many people as live in just two Chicago counties: Cook and DuPage. Imagine, all of the people in the world that make $80,000 or more a year could live in just a part of Chicago. In just two counties in the US.
So congratulations. Maybe not to all of you, but to most of you. In a very real way most of you are rich. Some of you are extremely, extremely rich. In terms of how long you’ll live, your access to healthcare, and financial stability for you and your family it is really, really good news.
And yes, this includes your pastor. By these global standards I, too, am rich.
But I’ve got some troubling news for you too, fellow rich person, and it comes from our gospel reading today in Luke 12.
Here we see Jesus, teaching in a crowd, a fairly common setting in scripture. Someone says to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to give me my fair share of the family inheritance.” Jesus responds with a question, asking, what makes you think it’s my job to be a judge for you?”
If you were asked to help with a family inheritance squabble, well, you might say something similar. Or, if you were feeling helpful maybe you’d pull up the contact list on your phone and recommend a good attorney that specializes in that sort of thing.
But Jesus, sensing a teachable moment, returns his attention to the crowd, and offers some wisdom. Protect yourself against greed, he says. Jesus continues, telling those gathered that life is not defined by what you have. Even when you have a lot.
Life is not defined by what you have. Even when you have a lot.
That’s great advice, by any standard. But wait, there’s more. Jesus was not done with this teachable moment.
He then launches into the story of a rich man, a farmer, who found himself with a terrific crop. With such a great crop the man now had a problem. The crop was so big that his barn was not big enough for the harvest. “Ah, I’ve got it”, the rich man says. “Here is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather all my crops in this bigger barn. And then I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made! You can retire! So kick back, take it easy and have the time of your life!”
Now I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a pretty smart plan. Work hard, do well, increase your holdings, save, and then retire in style. This is the kind of advice you’d expect from a skilled financial advisor like Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey. It kind of sounds like the American dream.
But then the plot twist. God shows up, in this parable from Jesus, and has something to say to this rich farmer. “Fool! Tonite you die!” Ouch! I can almost picture Mr. T – that’s the popular actor from the 80s tv show The A Team – with his trademark Mohawk, extend his index finger, pointing it this rich farmer and saying his most famous line, “I pity the fool!”
Now God doesn’t kill this rich farmer, it was just his time to go. And after all the effort this farmer put into storing those bumper crops, ironically he won’t be around to reap the benefits of what he’s sowed. But still, that’s strong language right? Especially when it’s a parable from Jesus. And a word that’s spoken by God. God just called this rich man a fool.
Wait a second…we’re rich, right? At least many of us. Did God just call us all fools? Hold on to that thought for a little bit.
Pharaoh and Joseph
There’s another story in scripture, in Genesis chapter 41, about storing a bumper crop. In this story Pharaoh has a dream, is troubled by it, and none of the wise men in his court could interpret it. Getting desperate, Pharaoh calls in a Hebrew slave named Joseph, who had gained a reputation for accurately interpreting dreams. After describing this dream Joseph replies that it is beyond his power to interpret it, but that God can tell Pharaoh the meaning.
The dream interpretation turns out to be fairly straight forward, and it’s all about feast and famine. Seven years of bumper crops, Joseph says, followed by seven years of drought. To get through the drought Joseph recommends collecting a fifth of the crop each year, and then putting that crop in Pharaohs’ massive storehouses. Sensing God was speaking through Joseph, Pharaoh gives Joseph all the resources he needs to put that plan into action.
And for the next fourteen years, the first seven with bumper crops, the next seven with severe drought, that’s exactly what happens. In the bumper crop years, a portion is put away in the storehouses. In the drought years, when the people cry out for food, Joseph opens up those storehouses and distributes grain to anyone who asks. In this way this story has a happy ending; God’s people are cared for.
So what do you make of these two stories? Both are about storing bumper crops. And we’ve got some rich people in both stories; scripture tells us that Pharaoh, Joseph, and the rich fool are all very well off.
But in one story the bumper crops are a good thing. In the other story, not so much. I noticed a couple of other tidbits in these stories that might impact how we look at them as well.
In the Genesis story it was God’s idea to store the bumper crops, born of a vision from Pharaoh, and interpreted by Joseph. In the Luke parable it was man’s idea.
In the Genesis story the bumper crops serve a higher purpose, to feed an entire people throughout the land. In the Luke parable, the crops were for the good of the man, for himself only.
God’s fingerprints are all over the Genesis story, from giving Pharaoh the dream, to providing Joseph the interpretation, to guiding Pharaoh to put God’s plan in motion. God isn’t even part of the Luke parable, at least until the very end. Instead it’s all about the man, his ideas, his work, his patting himself on the back for a job well done. I think God pities, truly pities, that fool.
Mr. T and Coffee
Mr. T, he who also pities the fool, is famous for wearing huge gold chains around his neck. He started doing this when he worked as a bouncer in his 20s, and became known for it. He kept up that look up for decades. Mr. T estimates that the gold he wears daily is worth about three hundred thousand dollars.
But then, when helping cleanup New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, he gave up virtually all his gold. Mr. T is quoted as saying “as a Christian, when I saw other people lose their lives, and land and property, I felt it would be wrong before God to continue wearing my gold. I felt it would be insensitive to the people who lost everything, so I stopped wearing my gold.”
During our For Such A Time As This campaign no one is going to ask you to sell all your gold. And honestly, if you have three hundred thousand dollars of gold chains like Mr. T had, wear it to church some time. I’d like to take a selfie with you.
Better yet, bring those gold chains and place them in the offering plate.
You don’t have to sell them. We’ll sell them for you!
But, this campaign, for you, might require some sacrifice. If you’re a fan of Starbucks, what if you gave up one coffee, at 4 bucks a pop, each week, and reinvested that right here, at Bethesda? That would come out to $208 for the year, or $624 over the 36 months of this campaign. If one person from each of the 400 families in this church did that it would come out to a quarter of a million dollars. That’s a decent chunk of the way to our goal.
And it’s only drinking one less coffee, per household, per week.
Tho if you’re more of a Dunkin Donuts person like I am, with their two-dollar coffee you’d have to give up two cups of it per week for the same impact. Which honestly just makes Dunkin Donuts customers smarter than Starbucks customers, it tastes better anyways…a sermon for some other time.
So be rich. There’s no shame in that. But be a certain kind of rich.
Don’t be like that rich guy in today’s parable.
Because that’s a pretty sad story.
Instead, be like Pharaoh.
Dream big dreams.
Keep God in the middle of those dreams.
Even better: be like Joseph.
Work to make God’s dreams a reality.
For God used him mightily.
And when the time comes – and this is an opportunity for you – open the silos of your bumper crop. Or wear a little less gold. Or drink a little less coffee. And give, joyfully, for the betterment of those around you.
For when you do, For Such A Time As This, you, my friend, will be blessed. Amen.