What is Success?

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Well, good evening and welcome to Jesmond Parish, Church Rico Tice here. I'm actually speaking from London, but it is an absolute joy to be speaking to you as we approach Easter, the central festival of the Christian year. So thank you for giving time to come in and listen, let me pray as we begin:

Father God, in the midst of this pandemic with many who've lost their lives, we pray Lord that you would help us to reflect on what's important, particularly as we grieve, give us help and strength we ask you, Amen.

I don't know what's wrong with me, but I find myself constantly reading the most inane material. I do hope your reading habits are better than mine here. For example, this is something I read a while back, which is a list of lost property found on British rail trains in the previous year. It's an amazing list, and at the top of it to my astonishment was a human brain that apparently had been left by a medical student on an away day. I don't know what you'd call that, but I think that may well be the ultimate in absent mindedness. The other things on the list included a pair of stuffed gerbils, a motorcycle, and a wooden leg, and the mind boggles as to whether the same person left them all on the train.

Now, as we come now this evening, and thank you for joining us as we approach Easter at Jesmond, it's just lovely to have you come and join us, but I'd like you to do a small exercise for me. Could you do this? Henry Ford said ‘thinking is probably the hardest work there is, which is why, so few of us engage in it’. But could you give yourself to this question? Here it is, do you think you're a successful person? And not do you think you have been in the past or do you think you will be, or I mean in the midst of a pandemic I don't know where we will be, but, but now. Would you consider yourself successful and they'll be some who've been put down so often they wouldn't, they'll be others for whom the pandemic has knocked all the wind out of their sails. They'd be some who even now would be saying, well, look with all modesty. I think I am. I dunno where you are. My older brother was head boy and captain of everything. I only put on my UCAS form that I was his brother. When I applied to university, it was terrible. But the question is this, what would constitute success as far as you're concerned. That comes before us in this passage today, as we approach Easter, someone whom from every point of view would have been considered successful. And yet God's judgment on him. The creator's judgment on him was that he was a dismal failure. It's an extraordinary thing. So God writes about him. I don't know if you can see it in the reading we had. Here we have it. Luke 12.20 God says about him:

You fool.

You fool is what is what God says. He writes his obituary. He says you've been a fool. This is the funeral card, my best mate from university and I played rugby together there. And he died of a pulmonary embolism. I don't know, 13, 14 years ago now when he was 38. And I went to his grave with his dad in the Midlands and his dad was crying and pointed at his son's grave and said to me, ‘what do I put on my son's grave Rico?’ It was a dreadful moment. Well, God writes the obituary on this man's grave. It's the word fool. You fool. Now I don't know much Greek. The only two Greek words I know are kebabs and this one, the word fool here interesting that means ‘without thought’ it's not that this man didn’t think. He made plans, he sat down, he thought and he thought, and he thought his mind time was full, but he hadn't thought about the really important things in life. He hadn't thought about the really big things and has not the pandemic done that? So many people are asking questions because they hadn't thought about the loss of control. They hadn't thought about the loss of loved ones. They hadn't thought about the brevity of life. So this guy didn't think about the right things. He didn't think about the really important things in life. So I wonder if we can just give our minds to the things that this passage say constitutes success and failure in life.

We all want to be a success. What are the issues here on being a success or a failure? And interestingly Jesus in Luke 12 has been speaking about eternity. My godfather was killed in a cliff fall on the 6th of August 1982. And honestly, I woke up at that moment, the reality of how temporary my life ,was to the reality of death. And that's why this whole COVID pandemic has almost been a revisiting of those moments 40 years ago. For me. Because you're like I absolutely remember this thinking my Godfather's died. He died in a cliff fall. It'd been very sudden what do you do with that? Well, Jesus has been speaking about the soul about the reality of death and people are riveted. Jesus says fear him who, after the killing of the body, as part of throw you into hell. He warns us that the future belongs to this figure. The son of man, it's almost Luke 12.2, a bit like gladiator. What we do in life echoes in eternity, Jesus says there's nothing concealed that won't be disclosed.

And then in the midst of this, as people are listening and their souls are listening and that they've been given this soul food, and they're thinking about eternity, suddenly bang, there's a massive interruption and a guy in the crowd shouts, will you shut up about that spiritual stuff. That's not real life. Just tell my wretched brother to divide the inheritance with me. That's what's going on. Can we look down? As we see it, Luke 12.13, someone in the crowd said to him, teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. Might as well have been wretched brother. He's obviously furious. And here are two men, two brothers who were falling out for good over the will.

You know what they say? Don't you where there's a will. There's a family. Well, that's, what's going on here. And you know, this family is separating. That absolutely furious one of them or both of them feel it's so unfair. Do you know? I had a colleague during a funeral he was taking, one of the members of the family got a van and removed what they wanted from the parental home. So they got back from the funeral for the week at the house. And literally the dining room table was not there. Can I advise you not to do that? It puts a bit of a shadow over Christmas. But this man is absorbed with his possessions. He can't be doing with, with Jesus teaching. So having been so rudely interrupted, Jesus says Luke 12.15:

watch out a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of his possessions

and the word watch out there is jumped out the way a truck's going to hit you watch out. And then he arrests us with this parable, this story with a spiritual cutting edge to get this very angry guy, put the writ that he's got in his pocket away and just think about what's important, but whether he wants to see his brother again, not take him to court. So Luke 12.16, we learned that this man was a successful farmer, the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. So it's amazing. He obviously had great soil. The creator had given him great soil and his crops could go quicker than anyone else's. But anyway, this guy with all the money he's got knows exactly how to work the EU subsidies when they were there, the stables have been converted into garages.

There are four family cars. I don't know. I'm trying to think up in Newcastle where his wife would shop, perhaps Jules Be in Acorn Road. I dunno, where would he pay golf in Ponteland? Is that right? Or certainly with his funeral, it would be old Jesmond cemetery. And the kids would be at the private schools wouldn't they they'd be at the RGS or the Newcastle High School for Girls or Dame Allens. I mean, by the way, welcome if you were at that school, it was lovely to have you here today. But you know, if you saw him commuting into work in his Maserati, you'd nudge your neighbor and say ‘Amazing guy that guy. You know, he even clung on to his money when there was a pandemic, everyone lost theirs. He didn't, he made money. Take his advice. He's no fool’ Luke 12.17-18:

He thought to himself, what shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

So you see, he gets a better harvest than is expected one year, but he doesn't panic. He’s not going waste it. It's not going to flood the market. He does his sums. He gets out his calculator. He realizes it's definitely worth building a huge storage mountain. That's what he's going to do. Waste, not whatnot. That's what his Mum taught him. There's a bigger profit and he's not going to Rishi Sunak get hold of it. So he, he calls in his tax man. He does his sums. He gets hold of his accountant. He works out investment, and then having planned and worked. It's amazing because of eventually he arrives at Luke 12.19. Let me read it to you. Here it is:

And I will say to my soul, “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”.

Ever since he was a 14 year old at RGS he thought ‘you know, I'd love to retire by my late forties’ and he's done it age 47. And doubtless, the Sunday Times color supplement magazine would write an article on him saying the man knew when to stop. And now he's got a wonderful holiday home up on the banks of Loch Lomond, and he's built his house and his career. And he's a member of a golf course up there, perhaps. I don't know one of the Edinburgh courses too perhaps Muirfield and then again, a member of Ponteland. Just marvelous. It's all set up. And that's what makes Luke 12.20 So brutal.

You see, they've all flown up to Scotland. They're on the banks of Loch Lomond, all his colleagues and friends. There's going to be a great weekend and they've had this weekend and everyone said ‘right, we've got to flog back to work’, but he's standing on the banks and he's got his holiday home behind him. And he says to himself, looking back on 30 years of work, he says to himself, ‘you've done it. You've retired early, take life, easy, eat, drink, and be merry’. And suddenly there's a searing pain in his chest and he's dead before they get into intensive care. My godfather was like that in the cliff fall. Agonizingly, I've buried someone like that in the last two months from COVID, literally died overnight. It was desperate, it's just agony. Suddenly he's lost his life. Suddenly it's gone. And God says to him, Luke 12.20:

you fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you.

Well, what do they do? They hold a Memorial service for him and doubtless. The chairman will say what a loyal servant of the company he was. The trade journal will say what an example he was to his profession, but God will say you fool. And you know, I took a funeral once and there was a lady there, an old lady and it was of a young woman. It was agony. She died in a car crash called Cathy. And this old lady said to me, she said, ‘’do you know what failure is? And I looked at her, as a bit of an odd question there. I was dressed as a clergyman. I said, ‘no, what do you mean what's failure?’ She said, ‘do you know the definition?’ I said, ‘no’. She said, ‘failure is being successful at the things that don't matter’. Failure’s being successful at the things that don't matter.

Well, we don't know much about this guy. We don't know if he was a good father or he beat his children. We, we don't know much, but, but what we do know is that in terms of the eternal world, all was lost because the end, the last phrase of the parable here is how it will be for whoever stores up things for themselves, but is not rich towards God. You know, now, as Jesus tells this story, do you think it might have stopped the brother going to court with the writ? Do you think it might've stopped him? Just thinking about what's important. And as we think about what's important here and what constitutes success in life, just to say there are two fatal mistakes this man makes and I think in a pandemic, we've got to give them mind time.

This man, absolutely failed to do that. The first mistake he made was this, he lived as though God was not there now. We don't know much about him, but actually we know that he wasn't rich towards God. So I don't doubt that if you'd have interviewed him up in Loch Lomond and said, do you believe in God? He’d have said, yeah, look around you. It's marvelous. But actually he lived as if God wasn’t there. He just ignored him. And actually, what did he do with his time? He was absolutely self-centered. Look at I, my or myself, how many times it comes in Luke 20.17-18. He thought to himself, what shall I do? I've no place to store my crops. Then he said, this is what all do I'll tear down my barns and build big ones, then all store or my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, he thought he was self-sufficient actually, he was self-centered. Samuel Butler wrote about two very selfish people called Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. And he wrote this:

How good of God to cause Carlisle and Mrs. Carlisle to marry one another. And so make two people miserable instead of four.

Absolutely wrapped up in himself. When actually the Bible tells you what to do. If you have money, it says, if you've got wealth, it's a gift. It says actually use that money and share it. Make as much money as you can, but be generous. So Deuteronomy 8.16-17 says this:

You may say to yourself, my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord, your God, it's you. It gives you the ability to produce wealth.

The ability to make money is a gift. Now share. Great to make it, but be generous. That's what the Old Testament said, but this man ignored that. And I guess, and this is sexist. I do apologize, but I guess if you'd have pushed him and he'd have said ‘religion, it's for the wife and kids, it's a handrail for them. But look at me, I'm an alpha male. I don't need it. Look at my house in Loch Lomond, look at my career, look what I've done. I'm self-sufficient’. And suddenly he loses each breath and God says, what a fool you are. Why? Because God is there and he's made himself absolutely real and visible to us. I mean, that, that's what God's done because God says here is my son, Jesus Christ. In the Bible I've spoken to you about Jesus. What do you make of him?

When my godfather was killed in a cliff fall, I remember a Christian teacher at school, a maths teacher saying to me, Rico, ‘Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He lived, he taught, he had a band of followers. He was tried in a Roman and Jewish court. He was sentenced to die. Then strung upon a cross. They put a spear through his side. They took him off the cross. They put him in a tomb and three days later he was walking around again, Rico that's checkable. I know it's against the laws of nature, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Look into it, investigate it. See if that information is true, because if it is true, God is there because Jesus is alive. He's risen from the dead. And you can know him’. And God says to us all what you make of my son. I know that there are Christianity explored courses, running up at Jesmond. Basically we say, who do you think Jesus is? This man who in the sermon on the Mount said, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.

And then as he was being murdered, cried out for his killers, Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing. What do you make of Jesus? And we're saying he walks off the pages of the New Testament. And this man lives as if there's no God, but it's not just that he lived his day as if there was no God, God sends Jesus to die. So for all the times we've taken the gifts and ignored the giver, taken fun and family and friendship and falling in love the gifts, but ignored him. Jesus says I'm coming on Good Friday to die. So he comes to die on a cross so that we can be forgiven. So this man at the judgment, got it. Say, why did I send my son to die? And he'd say, well, I didn't think it was important. You didn't think it was important. I sent him to die. So you could be forgiven. And you're saying you didn't think God was worth bothering with when he sent Jesus to die and rise again, this man lives as though there's no, God. And God says what a fool you are.

But he doesn't just live as though God isn't there. He also lives as if there's no judgment. Again. We'll never understand Easter. We won't understand the Christian faith, unless we understand that there is a judgment day in which God says, do you know me? And have you had your sin forgiven? Now we see this here Luke 12. 20:

but God said to him, you fool you who didn't think this very night, your life will be demanded from you? Then who will get what you prepared for yourself?

So there's a day when God demands our lives from us. As I said this morning, that's a good thing because it means how I treat you and how you treat me and how we treat the world matters to God. That word ‘demanded’ has the sense of a judgment. We are going to be asked how we've lived and related to the planet, to each other, to the God who made us. And this man lived as if there there was no judgment. And God says, what a fool. You are not least, because I sent my son to die so that you could be forgiven at the judgment. And I sent, and I raised him from the dead so that you can have hope in terms of eternity. So as I close, I'll ask you, is your life successful by God's standards?

That's the question. Remember that old lady and the definition of success, failure is being a success at the things that don't matter. Is not success based around how I've related to Jesus Christ, what I've done with his death on Good Friday, what I've done with him, rising from the dead on Easter day. Surely that's at the heart of success if Jesus holds the future. And in a pandemic with so many lost cannot that be true. I've stood on seven or eight times in this pandemic at a grave side or in a crematorium and said these words (Psalm 103.15-17):

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord's love is with those who fear Him.

In other words, the successful people are those who link up with the Lord. And the key to that is what do I do with Jesus Christ and with what he did for me on Good Friday and Easter Day. Please, understand that's what it means to be successful in life. How I relate to the God who made me now, just as we close with Easter coming up, there might be one or two who'd like to respond to that. So here's a prayer. I'm going to say it slowly. And if it's right for you. Why not when I go through it a second time, echo in your heart and it will be coming up on the screen as well. Here it is:

Heavenly Father, I'm sorry that I've lived as though there's no God and no judgment. I now turn away from that life. Thank you that Jesus died so that I can be forgiven. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit and help me to live with Jesus as my master.

So I’ll now say that slowly phrase by phrase, and it would be wonderful if you're in a place to echo it in your own heart. If you've prayed that prayer wonderful. I wonder if you could let someone at Jesmond know, and if you've got questions again, great. Please do follow up with a Christianity explored course. I know the church will be running those just after Easter. So again, do get in touch and ask any question you like, and thank you again for listening.

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