Sermon: Inherited

July 31, 2022

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Luke 12:13-21

by Eric Anderson

God asked an interesting question of the rich man in Jesus’ story. “The things that you have prepared, whose will they be?” It’s a question that echoes the words of Qohelet, the Teacher, whose book we call Ecclesiastes, written some three or four hundred years before. “Sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.”

The rich man in Jesus’ story would have thought it a great evil, I’m sure.

It was a question about inheritance that inspired Jesus to tell the story in the first place. On the face of it, the questioner wasn’t doing anything unreasonable or unheard of. Teachers such as Jesus were frequently consulted on specific issues for their guidance and advice based on their knowledge of Israel’s ancient law and customs. It wasn’t precisely a legal judgment – it wasn’t likely to be enforceable in the way a modern judge’s order would be – but people didn’t like to ignore or reject a teacher’s conclusion.

Jesus, however, wasn’t interested. As Niveen Sarras writes at Working Preacher, “Jesus indicates that the young man’s claim on inheritance is not just, otherwise, the laws of inheritance (Numbers 27:5-11, 36:5-9; Deuteronomy 21:16-17) would have taken care of the request. As a wealthy farmer and landholder, this younger brother wants to obtain more wealth and a more advanced status within his community at the expense of his older brother.”

So Jesus told a story about the vanity of greed. Not the sinfulness of greed or the way it harms both those who indulge in it and the ones affected by their actions, but the pointlessness of greed. To use a translation proposed by W. Sibley Towner for the word we usually hear as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes, the absurdity of greed.

As Dr. Towner wrote in his article about Ecclesiastes in the New Interpreter’s Bible, “Nothing can be counted on to work out the way it ought to; nothing makes any ultimate sense. Certain things can be done; certain achievements can be made. Happiness is possible. However, over all experience stands the Teacher’s general rule: ‘All is absurd.’”

(W. Sibley Towner, “Ecclesiastes,” New Interpreters’ Bible (Nashville, Abingdon Press), 1997)

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes saw absurdity in life. Jesus focused here on the absurdity of greed. When Moss Hart put it, “You can’t take it with you,” I’m pretty sure the words of Qohelet and Jesus were in the back of his mind.

(Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman, You Can’t Take It With You, 1936)

Jesus’ story warns that focus on possessions, and I’d argue he implied focus on power as well, is ultimately pointless. Purposeless. Absurd. Power and possessions pass to someone else, sometimes in one’s lifetime, sometimes afterward. Unlike the Egyptians, who fervently believed that the Pharaoh could take it with him, Jews understood that he could not. The Pharaoh’s office and authority passed on. The golden finery and the jeweled adornments went into the earth – until someone came to dig them up, which tended to happen within a fairly short time in antiquity. Even the Pharaohs didn’t actually manage to take it with them.

(Click here to view a 2015 cartoon by Tom Toro mentioned during the sermon by Pastor Eric)

Further, when one concentrates on possessions and things, one tends to lose contact with the people around. As Meda Stamper writes at Working Preacher, “The parable of the rich fool (or ‘barn guy,’ as I always think of him) at the heart of this week’s text illustrates simply and memorably the futility of choices made in isolation from the love of God and neighbor.”

“Barn guy.” I like that, too.

Commentator after commentator notes that when the barn guy spoke, he spoke only to himself and only of himself. “I will pull down my barns. I will store all my grain and my goods.” Where were his workers? You know, the ones who actually pulled down the old barns and built new ones? Where were the people who would have bought the grain? You know, the millers and the bakers and the ordinary townsfolk? Did they have food available or had he monopolized the local crop? Where were the poor? Israel’s law required that landowners’ fields be open to those in need. At harvest time, the edges of the field were to be left uncut so that travelers and the needy could pick grain. At harvest time, the grain that fell to the ground when its stem was cut was to be left there so that the poor could gather it for themselves.

If you’re wondering how seriously this was taken, it’s stated in Leviticus 19 and repeated in Leviticus 23, repeated in direct reference to Israel’s great harvest festival. It appears again in Deuteronomy 24, this time referring to the grape harvest. In the book of Ruth, Ruth became one of those gleaning the grain dropped in the field. And in Mark 2, and Matthew 12, and Luke 6, the disciples picked grain from the edges of the fields. They took it very seriously.

Where, for that matter, was barn guy’s family? In a culture that depended upon extended families so that the resources of life could be gathered, the rich fool spoke only of himself.

Along with the absurdity of believing that wealth would insulate him from the uncertainties of life, the barn guy seems to have isolated himself from the relationships that really would support him in more troubled times.

Debie Thomas writes at, “The squirmy fact is that Jesus talks about money and possessions more than just about any other topic. Why? Because there’s something about it that distorts us. Something that makes us defensive. Something that makes it very hard for us to hear the Gospel in its risky, scandalous, impolite, imprudent, and radical fullness. Something in its allure that grabs hold of us, and doesn’t easily let go.”

Let me talk a little bit about my own relationship with money and possessions. I don’t know that it will be useful to you, because I suspect I’m a little bit off the beaten track here, and my idiosyncrasies may puzzle you more than help you.

I try not to make choices or take actions that will enrich myself. I hope I’m smart enough to understand and ask for the resources that I really need, but I don’t want to push for more.

I’m sure you can see the problems with that kind of attitude. I only negotiate when I’m concerned that I might not have what I need to live at, let’s face it, a certain level of comfort. I live happily in the middle income tier here in Hawai’i, but my income puts me into the top 1% in the world.

So… my reluctance to enrich myself is a trifle… cloudy? Inaccurate? Hypocritical?

It could be all of those.

I also have to confess that there’s a certain amount of hubris, of unwarranted pride, going on here. “I’m not enriching myself” is nearly as focused on money and wealth as “I am enriching myself” is. It’s also subject to disconnection from others, from family who depend on me and community that can expect things from me. At some point, “I’m not enriching myself” is about me me me, not about us us us.

The real fly in the ointment is that I still like… things. When I moved to Hawai’i six years ago I owned four guitars and no ukuleles. Today I own six guitars – one was a gift – and three ukuleles. One of those was a gift. Why?

I will happily wax rhapsodic about the differences in tone between the instruments. I mean, one of the ukuleles is a six string, so how cool is that? All that is true. But I bought one of the guitars and two of the ukuleles this year, in 2022. They were ways to mitigate my anxiety in two years of a global pandemic. I would never have told you that I would manage my jangled emotions with shopping therapy, but here it is. I have and I did.

What I didn’t do was to mistake shopping therapy for a long term solution to my stress. I didn’t mistake it for the support of friends and family and colleagues and congregation. I didn’t mistake it for relationship with Jesus. I didn’t mistake it for treasure toward God.

That’s where Jesus’ warning rests with me, and I think with us. Where are the cornerstones of our relationships? What are the values we bring to our choices? What, in the end, determines the courses we take?

Niveen Sarras writes, “Greed is the moral antithesis of generosity. It makes us worry about the future instead of trusting God, who holds the future. Greed destroys us, but generosity blesses us. This pericope invites us to reflect on what we do with our possessions. Do our possessions give us security for the future?”

Jesus was clear. No. They don’t. Nor do lots of other things that pull at our hearts – even a six string ukulele, however cool it sounds.

What we’ve inherited is not a world of wealth and power. What we’ve inherited is a world filled with the Spirit of God. What we’ve inherited is the blessings of our Creator. What we’ve inherited is a relationship with one who embraces us and redeems.

All our greed does is to cut us off from our true inheritance to embrace what we cannot ultimately hold and what ultimately has no value at all.

Claim your true inheritance, your place in the loving arms of God.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the complete service of July 31, 2022. Clicking “Play” will jump to the beginning of the sermon.

Pastor Eric did include things in the sermon when preached which are not found in the text above.

The image is The Rich Man Builds Larger Barns by an unknown artist – printed in The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (1873), Public Domain,

Categories Worship | Tags: | Posted on July 31, 2022

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