Jesus, James and Paul address one of the easiest traps to fall into here. It is so easy to be enamored by wealth and intimidated by the wealthy. Dreaming about and desiring to be rich are as common as human beings on this planet. Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, demonstrates this as he sang:
“If I were a rich man”,
“Dear God, you made many, many poor people.
I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor.
But it’s no great honor either!
So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”
Then he launches into the song, If I were a rich man. The final verse is especially telling:
I see my wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man’s wife
With a proper double-chin.
Supervising meals to her heart’s delight.
I see her putting on airs and strutting like a peacock.
Oy, what a happy mood she’s in.
Screaming at the servants, day and night.
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
“If you please, Reb Tevye…”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!
(But you’ve really got to appreciate his last line).
If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.
What about you and me? What would happen to you if you suddenly won the lottery and became rich? I challenge you to google sad stories of lottery winners and read some of them.
Let me share just three:
William “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988 but was $1 million in debt within a year.
“I wish it never happened,” Post said. “It was totally a nightmare.”
A former girlfriend successfully sued him for a share of his winnings and his brother was arrested for hiring a hit man to kill him in the hopes he’d inherit a share of the winnings.
After sinking money into various family businesses, Post sank into debt and spent time in jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector.
Bud now lives quietly on $450 a month and food stamps.
In 1998, Gerald Muswagon won the $10 million Super 7 jackpot in Canada.
But he blew it all on drinking and partying in only seven years.
Filled with remorse, Muswagon hanged himself in his parents’ garage in 2005.
Billie Bob Harrell, Jr., a Pentecostal preacher, thought his prayers were answered and his problems were over when he won the $31 million Texas Lotto jackpot in June 1997. Nearly broke and constantly moving between low-paying jobs, with a wife and three children to support, the first of his $1.24 million annual payouts seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, it was the beginning of an annus horribilis for the 47-year-old Texan. It started out joyful: he quit his job at Home Depot, took his family to Hawaii, donated tens of thousands of dollars to his church, bought cars and houses for friends and family, and even donated 480 turkeys to the poor. But his lavish spending attracted unwanted attention, and he had to change his phone number several times after strangers called to demand donations. He also made a bad deal with a company that gives lottery winners lump-sum payments in exchange for their annual checks that left him with far less than what he had won. When Harrell and his wife Barbara Jean separated less than a year later, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His son found him dead inside his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 22, 1999, shortly before he was set to have dinner with his ex-wife. While family members disputed the idea that Harrell could have committed suicide, he clearly wasn’t happy with his life; he’d told a financial adviser shortly before his death that “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
All of us here have treasures on this earth. Perhaps some of us here are under the illusion that more would make them happier and even better Christians. “Just think of all the mission work you could do!” Well, if your not doing all the mission work you can do with what you already have, it is entirely possible you would not do a lot more if you had more.
Jesus said, “He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much, but he who is unfaithful in little will be unfaithful in much.”
I close with this little story of a winner who did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing:
In 1995, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital received an anonymous letter postmarked in Dallas, Texas, containing a $1 million winning McDonald’s Monopoly game piece. McDonald’s officials came to the hospital, accompanied by a representative from the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, who examined the card under a jeweler’s eyepiece, handled it with plastic gloves, and verified it as a winner. Although game rules prohibited the transfer of prizes, McDonald’s waived the rule and has made the annual $50,000 annuity payments.
Did you know that all of us have received a winning piece that far surpasses anything the lottery or this world could offer?
From the treasures of heaven God chose to send us not money or temporal pleasures that pass away, but an ultimate gift of glory that has no equal and no end. You can either invest your life in this passing world and its temporal pleasures, or you can give your life to Jesus Christ and receive a glorious inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you. Jesus told us that it all starts with being poor in Spirit, mourning over our sins, meekly submitting to God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, then showing mercy, keeping our hearts pure, being a peacemaker and even being persecuted for His name sake.
Jesus said to those who are persecuted, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for GREAT is your REWARD in heaven!”
Listen to 2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.