By Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church, Amherst
October 29, 2017
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
13 A man in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide with me the property our father left us."
14 Jesus answered him, "Man, who gave me the right to judge or to divide property between you two?" 15 And he went on to say to them all, "Watch our and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because a person's life is not made up of the things he owns, no matter how rich he may be."
16 Then Jesus told them this parable: "There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops. 17 He began to think to himself, 'I don't have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do? 18 This is what I will do,' he told himself; 'I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grain and all my other goods. 19 Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?'"
21 And Jesus concluded, "This is how it is with those you pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God's sight." (Luke 12:13-21)
INTRODUCTION: Most people want to be happy. You don’t hear anyone say I want to be sad and miserable. We want to be happy. The man in the parable in our reading this morning wanted to be happy. He defined happy as having enough “grain and other goods” stored to be able to “eat, drink, and enjoy himself” without having to work again. When he got to where he thinks he can be happy he learns that his life will be ended. He had spent his life getting enough to enjoy life only to find life was over. This raises the question, “How much is enough if you want to stop and be happy before you die?” Maybe you could ask the question, “What do you need to make you happy?
Many people think that they would be happy if they had more money, a bigger house, a better car, a better job, a better spouse, better kids, a maid, and could eat what they wanted without gaining weight. It’s interesting that, we, with the influence of our culture and like the man in the parable, have defined happiness by what we have and what we don’t have to do.
Nelson Rockefeller was elected governor of New York in 1958 and served four terms. One of his early accomplishments was to establish a state university system like the one in California. Until then New York only had private universities. There were many 2-year community colleges. The state teacher colleges remained and 4 new state universities were established for research and the highest graduate degrees. The University of Buffalo had been founded over 100 years before as a private university. The chancellor recognized that a new state university in Buffalo would be very detrimental to the University of Buffalo so he negotiated and the University of Buffalo became the State University of New York at Buffalo with full state support. This merger occurred in 1962. By 1973 a new campus was being constructed in Amherst and that was when I was recruited to join the Civil Engineering faculty. I wanted you to know my connection. I want now to tell about Nelson’s grandfather John D. Rockefeller.
JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER: John D. Rockefeller was born in 1839. By the age of 8 he was raising a flock of turkeys. He saved the profits in a bowl. He soon was working for a neighbor for $3.50 a day to hoe potatoes. When 14 years old he left home to go to Cleveland to go to high school. He was baptized in the chapel that became the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland. He soon became the church clerk and a Sunday School teacher. Then when 16 years old he was working as an assistant clerk and errand boy for $4.00 a week. After 14 weeks, he was promoted to assistant bookkeeper at $25.00 per month.
He got married and at the age of 24 began investing all of his money in oil refineries. When he was 31 he founded the Standard Oil Company. By the time he was 43 he controlled 90 per cent of the refineries and pipelines in the United States. He owned the biggest business in the world. He devoted all his time to the business. This paragraph in condensed from an informative four-minute video I recommend you watch at http://www.history.com/topics/john-d-rockefeller/videos/rockefellers-standard-oil.
When he was 53 he was a billionaire. But he was hated. He owned a monopoly and underpaid workers and forced competitors out of the business by buying them or by collusion with the railroads to not carry their products. He had to have body guards day and night. He could not sleep. He enjoyed nothing. His digestion was so bad he could only eat milk and crackers. He lost weight. All his hair fell out. He was so frail the doctors said there was no way he could live another year.
Then one night, when he couldn’t sleep, he realized that he would not be able to take a penny with him into the next world. He then knew money was not something to save like in that bowl when he was 8 years old. Money was something to share for the benefit of others. The next day he began moving his money from savings accounts into helping with worthy causes. A miracle had occurred. He changed from getting to giving.
He began to sleep. He began to eat normally and enjoy life in general. He helped establish the American Baptist Ministers and Missionaries Society. He funded and endowed churches such as Riverside Church in New York City. He funded and endowed colleges and universities such as The University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. His Rockefeller Foundation funded the research that resulted in penicillin and many other lifesaving drugs and treatments. He helped rid the south of hookworm. The man whom at 53 the doctors said couldn’t live another year, played 9 holes of golf every day when he was 90. He lived until he was 97 years old.
The man who hoarded his money but found that in giving he could enjoy life said, “Turn your thoughts upon the higher things of life. Be of service to humanity. Turn your thoughts into channels of usefulness; look forward to a determination that something useful shall come out of your success. Let you question be, ‘What shall be the fruitage of my career? Shall it be the endowment of hospitals, churches, schools, and asylums? . . . Do everything you can for the betterment of your fellow-men and in doing this you will enjoy life the better.” (quoted in S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases, Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, NJ, 1963, p. 131.)
COMPARISON: John D. Rockefeller sounds like the man in our parable this morning. They both worked and worked to get as much as they could and came to the same question, “Who would get what they had?” They would die having enjoyed none of it. Verse 20 says, “This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?” The word “life” is translated as “soul” in other translations. For example, the Revised Standard Version has “This night your soul is required of you.” The KJV has “this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” Body or flesh is often used for the person’s life in relationship to the earthly or human life. The use of “soul” is most often used for the person’s life in relationship to God. This can be seen in the translations of the next verse.
Verse 21 says, “This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God’s sight.” Also, the RSV and the KJV has “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” When one makes things the reason or purpose for his life he loses the relationship that should exist with God. It certainly implies that the things can become an idol that take the place of God in his life. That person’s relationship with God is lost.
This is certainly the impression for the man in the parable. He would die with no relationship with God. However, Rockefeller had, as a young man, been baptized and active in his church. His story ends with a return to a positive and active relationship to God.
This should be a warning because even a believer can fall into the trap of letting something become an idol and take the place of God and he will lose his life in relation to God. He must then turn back to God and make that relationship with God alive again as Rockefeller did. That thing that can become an idol can even be the search for happiness. The desire to be happy can consume our life such that we don’t have time to maintain our relationship with God.
If happiness were dependent upon John D. Rockefeller should have been the happiest man on earth. He could afford everything, but he couldn’t enjoy anything. He came to the conclusion that happiness or contentment was not found in external situations or circumstances. Happiness or contentment is the product of internal well-being.
HAPPINESS: We have seen that happiness is not the accumulation of things, even if they are valuable things. A dictionary definition of happiness would include things like well-being and contentment. Synonyms would be glad, cheerful, joyful, joyous.
The apostle Paul, late in his life, said, “I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little” (Philippians 4:11b-12). Paul says that it took him a while, but he learned how to be content or happy. If it can be learned we too can learn it.
There are two ways to learn how to be happy. One way is to experience many different situations and then decide which situations resulted in your happiest times. This can result in experiencing many unpleasant and even painful situations. It can also take a long time, maybe even years. The other way is to study how others have experienced the different situations and then taught how to avoid all the pain of being unhappy.
We are not now and probably never will be as wealthy as the man in the parable or as John D. Rockefeller. However, their stories are extreme examples of what isn’t happiness or contentment. The story of Rockefeller begins to hint at one way to find happiness. However, we cannot do the great things he did. We can’t fund a new university. We will have to find what it means for us to be happy or content.
There are many situations and circumstances that we cannot control or change. We should not spend our time blaming, complaining about, or trying to change things we cannot change. We must seek to determine how we must change to be happy. God is always ready to help us so that we can experience joy and contentment with Him. When we decide to change we must determine what we must do after the decision to continue to be happy.
During the coming weeks, we will be examining what happiness is for us, how we can find happiness, and what we must do to continue to be happy.