Most of us would like Christmastime to be slower and more peaceful, but is it?
Malls are crowded, airports are busy, traffic gets worse. There are parties, cards, shopping, and eating. If anything, it gets busier around Christmastime.
Jesus, talking to people who are tempted to throw their life away on stuff that doesn’t matter and won’t last, in typical fashion tells a story. It’s found in Luke 12:13-21.
This Sunday pastor Matt retells this story the way it might get told in 2019.
Full Sermon Script:
Anyone but me notice that the pace of life seems to be accelerating — that what it takes to keep all the plates spinning in your life seems to be getting faster and faster and faster?
Amazon, the company that started in 1994 as a bookseller — remember that — has grown to become one of the largest companies in the world.
Fast ordering, fast deliveries, and fast and easy returns.
Amazon has branched out into almost every product market imaginable, and has gained over 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers.
There’s a company in Manhattan called Clowder. Clowder offers busy people the luxury of getting a coffee without leaving their desk.
Rather than tracking down a cafe and waiting in line for your order, you can log onto Clowder, click a few buttons, and have your coffee delivered to your seat at work.
NoWait was a company bought by Yelp for 40 million dollars and is now Yelp Waitlist, a way to check wait times at restaurants and get in line remotely.
You get a text when your table is ready.
Anything that makes life faster for the customer is a winning strategy for business.
A man writes about his experience with a car dealership:
For more than 20 years, I had been doing business with the same car dealership. The people there were friendly and, more importantly, they were located not far from my office, so that if I had to drop my car off for service I could walk to work if no loaners were available.
One day, however, I happened to be driving past a competing dealership and I saw a beautiful new car in the showroom window. I just had to stop and look at it, but I was upfront with the salesman and told him that I would ultimately buy from my regular dealership because it was so conveniently close to my work and home.
And, that’s when he upped the convenience game.
He told me that any time my car needed any kind of service he would have a new car delivered to my home for me to drive until my car was ready.
He said, “The next time you come back to this dealership won’t be for an oil change. It will be to buy your next car.”
And he bought his next car there and he’s been a loyal customer ever since.
From Alexa to Uber to Smart Thermostats to Doordash, these companies that make our lives faster and easier are changing the world.
Mark Zuckerberg has a saying — “Move fast and break things. Unless you’re breaking stuff, you’re not moving fast enough.”
I was thinking about it this week.
That saying may work for some jobs. But there are jobs that doesn’t work for, like a
Fed Ex driver — no one is telling a Fed Ex driver to move fast and break things.
Also, wouldn’t work for a food server.
Or a message therapist.
Can you think of other jobs it doesn’t work for?
For some of you that’s all you’ll be thinking about for the rest of this service. You’re welcome.
In 1967, expert testimony was given to the United States Senate. They said technology — labor saving, time saving technology — was going to change the way Americans work.
They said within a couple decades people would be working 32 weeks a year on average
or they would be working 20 hours a week on average
or they would retire by the time they were 40 years old
Because we save all this time through technology.
They said to the United States Senate that within a couple decades the number one challenge Americans would face with regard to time was — “What do I do with all of my excess time?”
It’s 5 decades later. Let me ask you, is that your primary challenge when it comes to time — “What do I do with all of the time I have left over?”
About that same time, a new kind of restaurant became very popular in American culture — a restaurant that for the first time in human history sold food not on the basis of its quality, not on the basis even of its price, but on the basis of the speed in which it is served.
And we coined a phrase for those kinds of restaurants. We called them “fast food” — fast food… not good food, not even cheap food — Just fast.
Our world is not slowing down. Our world is constantly trying to find ways to make us move faster.
We will pay almost anyone who will help us move faster.
Now do things get better, slower, more peaceful at Christmastime?
Stores and airport are crowded, traffic and parking gets worse. Parties, cards, shopping, eating.
If anything, around Christmastime it gets worse.
So we’re going to do something a little different today — I’m going to ask you to confess before everyone here today that you have kind of a hurry sickness.
I’m going to ask you to raise your hand and confess.
If you’re really convicted about this, you might want to stand up to just get if off your chest. It will be good for your soul.
So I’m going to ask you, if you’ve ever experienced hurry, to actually physically raise your hand.
No… not yet.
You see, this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about — people saying, “We know where you’re going with this. Don’t waste our time. Let’s just get it over with.”
Just indulge me for a second here. Let me describe it, then I’ll cue you.
If you suffer from this hurry sickness, for you there’s just not enough time in the day.
When you come to a stoplight and there are two lanes, and there is one car in each one of those lanes — if you have this sickness — you find yourself calculating which car is going to be faster?
You try to assess by the make and model of the car… and that kind of thing, who’s going to pull away the fastest, and that’s who you get behind… if you have this disease.
When you’re finished shopping and you look at the checkout lines, you count how many people are in the lines — which is the shortest line?
Some of you calculate how much stuff is in all the carts, and then decide which one is going to be the fastest line.
And if you’re really sick, when you get in a line, you keep track of who you would have been in the line next to you
And you watch as you go through the line together which one’s going through faster… and you mentally pressure the people in front of you.
And if the person who would have been you in the other line gets through first, you go away depressed… because you lost.
If you have this sickness, you have to be multitasking all the time. You’re driving a car, drinking coffee, listening to a podcast, talking on the phone, signaling and making emotionally cathartic gestures… all at the same time.
Alright now it’s confession time — show of hands — how many of you would say, “I suffer from hurry sickness?”
How many of you want me to just hurry up and get on with the message?
I want to ask you today to consider the possibility that your greatest need in life might not be for someone to come along and say, “We can help you move faster.”
A man comes home from work every day, always carrying his briefcase.
His son notices this, day after day. So finally his son says to his dad, “Dad, how come you bring your briefcase home every day?”
And the dad says, “Well, son, it’s because I can’t get all my work done during the day at the office.”
And his son says, “Well, Dad, can’t they put you in a slower group?”
I want to invite you to do a radical things today, to consider the possibility that maybe you need to be put in a slower group… maybe.
Jesus is talking to people who are tempted to just throw their life away on stuff that doesn’t matter and won’t last, so in typical fashion, He tells a story.
The story is in Luke 12:13-21 if you want to read it sometime later today.
What I want to do is try to retell this story the way it might get told to us in 2019. This is an edited version of something John Ortberg wrote on this passage.
It’s a story about a guy who was busy.
He was committed… and he was willing to do whatever it took. And it would take everything.
So he finds himself, this guy who’s in the agricultural business, consumed by his work.
This entrepreneur puts in 12-hour days
joins professional organizations and boards of directors to expand his contacts
And even when he’s not working, he finds his mind drifting toward work, so that work becomes not just his occupation but his preoccupation.
His wife often tries to slow him down, to remind him that he’s got a family.
And vaguely he’s aware of the fact that his kids are growing up and he’s missing it.
And from time-to-time they complain about books they want him to read or games of catch they want to play… but eventually after enough books NOT read and games NOT played they stop complaining because they stop expecting it.
And he says to himself that he’ll become more available to the important people of his life in six months or so — “When things settle down.”
That’s one of his favorite phrases, “When things settle down.”
And although he’s a very bright guy, this man in Jesus’ story, he never seems to notice the fact that things never settle down.
He says to himself when he’s feeling guilty, “I’m doing it all for my family anyway.”
He woke up one night at 1:00 in the morning, he felt this twinge in his chest, so his wife made an appointment with the doctor… and they told him he actually had a slight heart attack.
They warn him all the symptoms are there (elevated blood pressure, cholesterol levels and so on), and he has got to make some changes in his life.
And for a while he does.
He starts working on his health.
He gets into an exercise program.
He stops eating so much red meat and Doritos
But when the symptoms go away, his motivation for change goes away too.
He says to himself, “I just don’t have time to do all that stuff.”
He says, “I’ll get around to it when things settle down.” — when things settle down.
He recognizes that his life is out of balance.
His wife tries to get him to go to church with her. And he intends to do it, but when Sunday morning rolls around, it feels to him like that’s the only time in the week that he can rest.
“Besides,” he says, “I can believe without going to church.”
He says, “There will be time for that when things settle down.”
One day the CEO of his company comes to see him and tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, but business is exploding… so much that we can barely keep up with it.
“We’re on the brink of a miracle. This is our chance to make it big, and if we catch this wave, we’ll be set for life.
“But it’s going to take some major changes. We’ve got inventory problems like you wouldn’t believe, and demand is outstripping supply, and our software is outdated, and if we don’t overhaul this whole company top to bottom, it’ll be a disaster.”
Now from that moment on, this man is consumed, and every waking moment is devoted to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And that night he goes home to his wife, all excited, and he says, “You know what this means, don’t you? Once I get through with this project, we can relax. Our future will be assured. We’ll be set for life… because I know the market. I’ve covered every base. I’ve anticipated every contingency. We will finally have financial security, and be able to take those vacations you’ve always wanted.”
But she had heard that song before, and she learned not to get her hopes up.
Eleven o’clock that night she said to him, “I’m going to bed. Do you want to come up with me?”
He said, “I’ve got a little more work to do, but you go ahead, and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
3:00 in the morning she wakes up, alone in bed. He’s still not there. She says to herself, “This is ridiculous!”
She goes downstairs to drag him up, and he’s sitting still at the table in front of the computer, his head resting on the table.
She says to herself, “It’s like being married to a child. He would rather fall asleep down here than go to bed.”
And she touches him on the shoulder to wake him up, but he doesn’t respond, and his skin is cold to the touch.
She dials 911.
She has this panicky feeling in the pit of her stomach, and by the time the paramedics get there and check him out, they tell her that he had a massive heart attack, and has been dead for hours.
His death is a major story in the financial community.
His obituary is written up in Business Weekly, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal.
It’s too bad he was dead because he would have loved to read what they wrote about him.
And then they had a memorial service for him… and because of his prominence the whole community came to it.
And they all filed past his casket, and they all made the same stupid comment that people always make at funerals — “He looks so peaceful.”
Rigor mortis will do that to a person. It’s just what happens.
People get up to eulogize him at this service.
“He was one of the leading entrepreneurs of the day,” one of them says.
“He was an innovator in technology and delivery systems,” says another.
“He was a man of principles,” said somebody else, “and he was a straight-arrow guy. He would never cheat on his taxes or his expense account or his wife.”
Another person said, “He had all kinds of civic achievements. He was a pillar in the community. He knew everybody. He was a networker.”
And then they all got together and had a memorial constructed for him. They wrote inspiring words on it to try to summarize his life — entrepreneur, innovator, leader, visionary, pillar, success.
And they buried him, put up the memorial… and then they all went home.
But then, when it was dark and there was no one around to observe — then unseen, unheard came the angel of God to this cemetery… and made his way through all of the graves to the grave of this man… and there traced with a finger the single word that God chose to summarize the meaning of this man’s life.
You know what the word was?
Fool. “You fool,” God said.
Now you have to ask yourself, “Why did Jesus use such a strong word to describe him?”
I would say Jesus here is not engaged in name-calling… but He’s making a tragically accurate diagnosis.
That for all of this man’s entrepreneurial acumen — for all of his ability to run cost/benefit analyses and cashflow projections — there’s one scenario that he had forgotten to account for in his forecasts.
You know what it was?
It was death.
He forgot to consider the possibility that somewhere along the line he might die.
And God stands amazed at the foolishness of a human being who painstakingly prepares for every contingency, covers the bases of every eventuality, however unlikely, and forgets the one inevitable certainty that stares all of us in the face from the moment we were born… which is — we’re going to die.
He neglected to plan for the most obvious and predictable event of human existence.
“So what other word,” Jesus asks, “can you use to describe behavior as irrational as that?”
So busy building up his little kingdom that he had no time for the kingdom of God.
So busy making a living that he didn’t have time to make a life.
2 illusions prop up the lives of rich fools like this guy… and like a lot of us.
One of them is contained in the little phrase, “when things settle down.”
The illusion is —
Someday life will slow down and there will be time to get around to the important things.
Listen, Blue Oaks, do you know when things will settle down?
When you die. Things will settle WAY down when they put you in the ground.
But until that day comes, it’s not likely that things are going to change in your life so that all kinds of time becomes available for you to get around to important things.
If you look at the life of Jesus, you will see a person who was never in a hurry.
He was often busy. He had a lot of stuff to do. But as He went through life, He arranged His life in such a way — He carved out time for solitude and prayer and so on in such a way — that He was always in every moment available to His Father, and able to be led by the Holy Spirit.
And He was always able to love the people that came into His life. He was never in a hurry.
Listen, things are not going to settle down. You have to make a choice to slow your life down if you want to live the life God has for you.
The second illusion that props up the lives of rich fools is this:
Someday more will be enough.
This guy kept thinking, “If I just get more.. bigger barns.”
The writers of Scripture say something interesting about contentment — contentment is a learned skill.
It’s an attitude.
In other words, it’s not the case that eventually someday I’ll have enough stuff so that I will be content.
If I’m ever going to be content, I must learn to be content in the midst of what’s going on in my life right now.
Do any of you read the cartoon “Peanuts” — Charlie Brown?
In one of them, Snoopy is sitting on his doghouse.
It’s Thanksgiving, and Snoopy is upset… because Charlie Brown and his family are celebrating Thanksgiving with a huge turkey dinner, and Snoopy is stuck in the doghouse with dog food.
He then reflects on this a little bit, and he says to himself, “It could be worse. I could have been born a turkey.”
Now if you don’t take anything with you today, I want you to take those four words:
It could be worse.
I want you to remember those four words, so I’m going to ask you to say those words out loud.
Say it with me — “It could be worse.”
Now when you leave church today and go to your car in the parking lot, you’re going to be tempted to think, “If I had someone else’s car — a bigger car, a nicer car, a newer car, a more expensive car — then I would be content.”
But today, you’re not going to think that, because today when you get to your car you’re going to say to yourself with great passion — “It could be worse.”
When you drive to wherever you live — your apartment, your house — you’re going to get to the door.
When you put your hand on the doorknob, you may be tempted to think about someone else’s home. You may be tempted to think, “If I lived in a house that was bigger, nicer, newer, more expensive, then I would be content. Then I would have enough.”
But today, you’re not going to do that. Today when you walk up to your door, you’re going to say to yourself with great passion — “It could be worse.”
Tomorrow morning when you wake up… and roll over… and look at your spouse, you’re going to say…
No, don’t do that.
Don’t do that. It could be worse.
Scott mentioned last week how 400 families in our community were able to shop at the Toy Shop this year and provide Christmas gifts for their kids that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to provide.
The Toy Shop is an effort to help people who are living in poverty in the Tri-Valley — It could be worse.
You know, we want to make a difference as a church.
And one of the ways you become rich toward God is to use money the way God would —
To give money to people for whom it could not be worse… because there are people in this world for whom it couldn’t be worse.
So if you regularly attend Blue Oaks, this is your church, it is well worth considering being a part of giving to people for whom life couldn’t be worse.
Now I want to be very careful about this — I’m NOT saying… I’m NOT saying that to be effective or successful in business is a bad thing. Please hear me on that.
It’s a good thing. It can be a wonderful calling and enrich the lives of many, many people…
But there’s a lesson people in our society have got to learn.
I remember hearing a psychologist use an analogy that has stuck with me. It’s about playing Monopoly.
I learned how to play Monopoly as a kid raised in a family of six.
Early in my marriage Kathy banned me from playing Monopoly with our friends because I was the most ruthless Monopoly player you could imagine.
I remember playing everyday when I was a kid. I learned Monopoly was about a total commitment to acquisition.
I understood that money was how you kept score in that game, that possessions were a matter of survival… and I played to win.
I was relentless. Monopoly does strange things to you.
But one thing I learned from Monopoly is this — at the end of the game, it all goes back in the box.
All of the houses and hotels, Boardwalk and Park Place, all of the railroads and utilities, all of the wonderful money — it all goes back in the box.
None of it is mine. It doesn’t belong to me. I don’t own any of it.
I just used it for a little while… and then it all went back in the box.
He was a shrewd guy — this man in Jesus’ story.
He learned to play the game… and he played it well.
He was the master of the board. But he forgot this one thing — the game would end.
The game always ends, people.
Sooner or later, it all goes back in the box.
A business person is out for a run… and feels a sudden pain in the chest… and in an instant it all goes back in the box.
A teenager is driving in a car… and someone misses a stop sign… and in an instant it all goes back in the box.
The doctor says it’s malignant… and in a hospital bed, in an instant, it all goes back in the box — house, car, title, clothes, toys — they all go back in the box.
Filled barns and bulging portfolios… even your body goes back in the box.
“So,” Jesus says, “You have to ask yourself — what is it that matters? What is it that’s worth giving your life to?”
This story Jesus tells gets lived out millions of times every day.
You don’t even have to believe the Bible to see it. You just have to look around you.
Ray Johnston wrote about this in his book, “Jesus Called. He wants his church back.”
It was about another person, and this is what he says, describing this person:
All he ever wanted was more.
He wanted more money, so he transformed inherited wealth into a billion dollar pile of assets.
He wanted more fame, so he broke into the Hollywood scene and soon became a film maker and star.
He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid handsome sums to indulge his every sexual urge.
He wanted more thrills, so he designed and built and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world.
He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two presidents became his pawns.
All he ever wanted was more.
He was absolutely convinced that more would bring him true satisfaction.
Unfortunately, history shows otherwise.
Emaciated, colorless, sunken chest, grotesque rotting fingernails, black teeth, tumors, innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction…
Howard Hughes died believing the myth of more. He died a billionaire junkie, insane by all reasonable standards.
Now here’s a question I want us to consider — If Howard Hughes pulled off one more deal, earned one more million, experienced one more thrill, would that have been enough?
As we’re getting ready to celebrate Christmas, if I were to give a credit card to each of our 3 children and say — “I’m dropping you off at the mall. I want you to buy anything you want. Whatever you want, acquire it.”
Do you think that would be enough? Do you think that would make them happy?
I guess we’ll never know, will we?
Jesus says, “How far do you have to walk down that road before you realize where it leads?”
“Surely you understand,” He says, “it will never be enough… because it all goes back in the box.”
This is what Jerry Seinfeld wrote about boxes:
To me, life boils down to one significant thing — movement. To live is to keep moving.
Unfortunately, this means for the rest of our lives we’re going to be looking for boxes.
When you’re moving, your whole world is boxes. That’s all you think about. Boxes, where are the boxes?
You just wander down the streets, going in and out of stores, ‘Are there boxes here? Have you seen any boxes?’ It’s all you think about.
You could be at a funeral. Everyone around you is mourning, crying. And you’re looking at the casket. ‘That’s a nice box. Does anybody know where that guy got that box? When he’s done with it, do you think I could get it? It’s got some nice handles on it.’
I mean, that’s what death is, really, the last big move of your life. The hearse is like the van, the pallbearers are your close friends, the only ones that you could really ask to help you with a move that big, and that casket is that great, perfect box that you’ve been looking for your whole life.
Christmas is coming this week, and you’re going to be unwrapping a lot of packages, and some of them are going to be very nice.
But remember when you open them — someday it will all go back in the box.
“You see, all of this hurrying and accumulating that our lives become oriented around involves a form of denial,” Jesus is saying.
And the fundamental reality we all deny is —- we’re going to die.
There’s a simple, two-word question that we tend not to ask. The question is, “Then what?”
That’s the question the guy in Jesus’ story never asked.
When I finally have enough… when my barn is finally full… when I’m financially secure… then what?
You have to ask yourself…
when you finally get the ultimate promotion
when you’ve made the ultimate purchase
when you’ve got the ultimate home
when you’ve stored up financial security
when you’ve climbed the ladder of success to the highest rung that it can be climbed
and the thrill wears off — because it always wears off — you have to ask yourself, “Then what?”
What do you do with a cold marriage… or one that has failed altogether?
What do you do with children who learned early on that they’re not as important as a briefcase or a meeting or a barn full of stuff?
What do you do with people who should be your close friends who don’t even know you… not really?
What do you do when you discover your life has had no vision and no meaning?
How important will all that stuff be then?
Jesus is asking, “Don’t you know how quickly life passes? Don’t you understand… it all goes back in the box?”
Every once in a while, something happens that pierces our denial and defenses.
When I started studying to get involved in ministry, the person who God brought into my life to be one of my best friends was a guy named Ron Jones.
Ron and I journeyed in ministry together for 20+ years. We studied in college and graduate school together in Chicago and then both moved to California where we pastored.
If I had to come up with a short list of people who to me loved Jesus and wanted to serve him with their lives, he was one of those people.
I mention this because on December 8, 2012 Ron died of cancer.
Ron faced a moment that every one of us will one day face.
Ultimately, the question is, “Then what?”
Ron was one of the most gifted and well-connected people I knew, and he used none of it for himself.
He never became rich… although he could have.
He never accumulated much in the way of power.
He just devoted his life to knowing Christ and to growing like Him… and to telling other people about Him.
And I think, as far as it’s possible to know this about another human being, that when he faced God on that day, he heard from God — “Well done. You lived your life wisely.”
I think that’s what he heard.
Now I don’t mean to be melodramatic about this, but I think there’s a great danger in our society of avoiding or denying ultimate reality.
So I want to ask you, if today was your day, if this was the day your soul was going to be demanded of you — which it one day will — if God were going to write a single word to summarize your life, what would that word be?
You see, because you don’t want to get to that point and realize you wasted your life on stuff that doesn’t matter.
So remember the guy in Jesus’ story.
Remember that things will not settle down.
Remember that more will never be enough.
Remember what this week is about — that God has sent His Son, Jesus, who lived and taught and died for the forgiveness of our sins, and was resurrected to be the one gift that will last forever.
Because the one thing in all of this world that’s NOT going back in the box… is your soul.
Let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.
Thank you, God, for the gift of your Son. We are rich in so many ways… but we are foolish in so many ways as well.
So God, help us not to run after what doesn’t matter and cannot last. Help us spend our lives becoming rich toward you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.