"How Much Is Enough"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 1, 2004

Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:31-21

     If I asked, “How many of you could use more money?” every hand in the sanctuary would raise.  We always assume we could use more money.  If we did not need it to pay off debts, we certainly could find a place to invest it.  

     Having a sound plan for investing a portion of their income is one of the first instructions I give to couples planning their marriage.  Wise people learn to invest 10% of their income regardless of the amount they earn.  This is a major way of achieving financial independence long before they retire; however, few people follow-through on this guidance.           

     As we examine Jesus’ parable this morning, we find a rich man who wanted to tear down his small barns and build larger ones, thus insuring that his future would remain economically secure.  Many of us would agree with his strategy.  People prudent in the business world immediately realize that building larger warehouses might be one solution to housing surplus inventories.  Giant, Safeway and Magruder’s have gigantic warehouses for this purpose.           

     At first glace at his parable, we might wish that Jesus had been clearer in his intention. He once taught what appears to be an opposite lesson.  In fact, he put this teaching into another parable. 

     A wealthy man gave his servants five thousand, two thousand and one thousand gold coins respectively before leaving on a lengthy business trip.  Upon his return, he asked for an accounting from each of them.  Two of them had doubled his assets by investing wisely.  The third one, however, feared his master and buried it in the ground lest he lose it.  The wealthy man rewarded the two for their wise decision and punished the one who had caved in to fear. (Matt. 25:14f)           

     The purpose for Luke’s recorded parable can be found in an earlier verse.  Jesus taught, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”   This teaching put a unique emphasis on Jesus’ parable when he factored in the motivation of greed. The question we must ask ourselves is this:  When does prudent management over our assets spill over into a frequently disguised hunger for more?             

     Greed can be an invisible motivator.  Few of us would claim greed as something that inspires us. It is an unattractive concept.  However, when we look at the recent personalities who have fallen prey to their lust for more, it should give us pause. What causes people to sabotage their lives? Who needs to live in a 150 million dollar home? How much is enough for some of these executives?  The list reads like a former “Who’s Who” in the business world.  The Securities and Exchange Commission is adding new names to their list of indictments each quarter.  

     Greed is often hidden in concepts that are not so evil sounding. We call the practice, seizing the opportunity, discreet insider trading, moving assets to off shore trusts, or creatively adjusting the figures on our tax returns, etc.  We always have justifications for our decisions or we would not make them.  

     Greed also outcrops in many other areas of life.  For example, think of the billions of dollars that are spent each year on products that enhance beauty, stop hair loss, or on surgical procedures that alter our physical features.  There really is nothing about any of these activities that would tarnish our character. Our motivation might be to repair our eyelids so we can see better or to repair life-threatening issues over which we have little or no control. 

     Today surgery can perform miracles in correcting many issues that improve the quality of our lives.  However, there can also be the motivation of fear, that who we are is not enough.  We need a shortcut to regain the body we once had.   Greed rears its head each time we want more, but it is not recognized as such.   

     When we do things to ourselves to “feel better,” Jesus would tell us that we are looking for spiritual strength in places that cannot provide it.   Jesus said, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”  Further Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.”  Whenever we engage in any activity in order to “feel better,” we are trying to bolster our self-esteem by investing in something that is constantly changing.  At best “the fix” is only temporary.  What comes next when feelings of inadequacy return?  Such thoughts will recycle in our lives because we corrected a symptom not a cause. 

     Each of us is the only one who can determine what motivates us. Many of us believe we understand why people engage in certain behaviors, but, in reality, we have no idea. There is a way to examine and better understand what motivates us that may be a full-proof test.  How many of us celebrate our lives with gratitude, one of those highly invisible qualities that reveal what is going on inside of us?   

     For example, we have all been with people who display this contagious spirit.  We enjoy being around them. They make us laugh. They accept their station in life with gratitude.  They never complain.  Seldom do they talk about others in less than a complimentary manner.  They look upon challenging moments with a brief facial expression of surprise before they dive into problem solving. 

     Everything about them communicates enthusiasm and a joy for each new day.  They do not worry about their bank account, or what model car they drive or how they look.  They may not even have a sophisticated understanding of God.  They trust that God who is powerful enough to have created the universe will be with them in all circumstances.  Their fear of life has been conquered. 

     One of our dear friends who lived near us on Capitol Hill told me a beautiful story about one of our former church members. He died in an automobile accident prior to my appointment to the church.  His memory, however, was firmly embedded in the minds of the people who knew him. 

     Once so many dignitaries descended on Washington, D.C. that there were not enough limousines to transport them. There were too many other conventions in town and most of the cars were under contract. Some Federal Government officials were pressed into service. To his surprise, Bob became one of those last minute drivers.  

     His car had an interior that needed to be replaced.  To compensate for the tears in his upholstery, he used duct tape to cover them, a product that had gotten rather dog-eared through months of constant use.  When he picked up the dignitary that had been assigned to him, the only apology he extended came in the form of these words, “Had I known in advance that I was going to pick you up in my car, I would have changed my duct tape.”  

     He was so comfortable with himself, so unassuming, that everyone who knew Bob Cantrell loved him.  His treasure clearly was in another place than with his possessions or his image.  How many of us carry ourselves with such inner confidence? 

    We need to remember Jesus’ words, “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”   Do we understand this teaching to the extent that we have learned how to put it into practice?


    Thank you, God, for enabling us to realize the limitless horizons of our potential.  We look forward to a time when your kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.  May we come to learn that kindness is not mere goodness, it is a power; that forgiveness is not a weakness it is a skill; and that peace is not withdrawal it is a choice.  May we learn that our earthly treasures have their place, but not in our hearts.  As we enjoy our creature comforts, may we remember the days of happiness when we were surrounded with much less.  Teach us how to define ourselves by what we give away rather than by what we keep.  Inspire us to grow in the trust that our maturing spirit is centered within your will, guidance and design.  Amen.


    Eternal God, each occasion we gather in your name, the opportunity presents itself to be transformed.   Hymns carry us back to memories of another day.  Coming to the chancel helps us to remember how Jesus wanted to be remembered in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.  The spoken word helps us to revisit the attitudes we use, the goals we set for ourselves and to reconsider the unwise places where we invest our energy. 

    Each of us experiences moments when events call on skills we fear we do not have, when hostile and angry thoughts try to gain control over our minds and when our own responses disappoint us.  How inviting it is to withdraw into prayer and recognize your guidance that is there for all who seek it.  How freeing it is to let go of people, events and thought patterns as we remember to seek your will, not our own.  Thank you for the peace that comes when we assume full responsibility over just one life – our own.  Then, who we are becoming can lead the way for others without fear or worry. 

    Enable us, O God to remember the resources given to us by our church family.  We have each other when we join in worship, committees or classes of study.  We have this wonderful building.  We experience care and support when life presents us with fragile moments.  We have opportunities to be in service.  With grateful hearts, we now pray the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say . . .