Worldly Success vs Godly Success

There is a story of Dr. Tony Campolo, a popular Christian speaker and professor of sociology at Eastern University speaking before a national women’s meeting.  Before he was introduced, the president of that organization read a letter from a missionary who was leading a project for the poor and needed $3,000 more to fulfill the project.  After reading the letter, the president introduced Dr. Campolo, and then asked him to please offer a prayer on behalf of missionary that she would be able to raise the money needed to complete this worthwhile project. 

Dr. Campolo looked at the president of the organization and emphatically told her “No!”   The president looked astonished, but Dr. Campolo repeated, “No, I won’t pray that the missionary will be able to raise $3,000.  But here’s what I will doOn this table at the front of the room I’m going to empty all the cash that I have out of my wallet - there, $25.  Now, one by one, I want every woman in this room to come up and empty the cash out of their pocketbooks onto this table.  Don’t anybody write out any checks.  Just empty the cash you have on you out of your pocketbooks.  When we’re done, if there is still any money needed to bring us up to the needed $3,000, I will personally write a check for the remaining amount.”  

The president of the organization smiled and said, “Oh I get it.  I understand the lesson you’re trying to teach us.”  But Campolo replied, “No you don’t get it, Mrs. President. I put my $25 on the table and you still haven’t put your cash down yet.  Cough it up!”  So the president emptied the cash out of her purse, $250.  And then, one by one, hundreds of women filed up to the table and emptied out all of the cash from their purses.  They set a couple of women to begin counting it as it was being brought forth.  It took a little over an hour to complete the process, so there was really no time for him to deliver the talk that he had prepared. By the end, they counted over $5,000 ($2,000 more than needed).  Dr. Campolo went to the podium, looking out at his audience and simply said, “How dare we ask God to give resources that He has already given us for just such a purpose!

God gives us, so that we can then go and do His work in this world! God blesses us with countless gifts, and if we are filled with His Spirit and allow His love to dwell in the depths of our heart, we then come to realize that all we have is His, and the Lord expects us to use His gifts to reach out to others! To glorify His name through the blessings we have already received.

Unfortunately, our society instills in us a completely opposite lesson. Whatever we have, we’re supposed to save up and use for ourselves. A desire for more, a focus and priority in buying, obtaining more possessions, getting nicer things, bigger homes, fancier cars, the latest fashions in clothes, and I could go on. In many ways, this temptation towards obtaining more and more is the epitome of the American way of life, of a so-called “successful” life. The more we have, the nicer things we possess, the more our neighbors and others will look upon us as “having made it.”

Honestly we could say that if society has to choose one standard by which to determine “success,” it would be wealth! If someone is rich and living comfortably, they are successful. We even overlook or ignore the way one became wealthy. We often see a total disregard for the means of achieving wealth, but instead see a blind adulation on the rich and famous.

Yet, today’s Gospel lesson offers a stark contrast between such worldly success and success in God’s eyes. The Gospel describes a rich man who was so wealthy, that he retires early. He built a huge home. He had enough to live quite comfortably for the remainder of his life.  He simply said to himself, “Soul, you have done quite well.  Take it easy – relax, eat, drink and be merry."

To be honest, how many of us hear about such a life and envy it?  Most of us would call this person a resounding success! Yet, God looks down and says to the man, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have saved?” Can it be that sometimes what the world sees as success is foolishness to God? Why does St. Paul say that friendship with the standards of the world is contrary to friendship with God?

God is uninterested in money and possessions and status symbols in and of themselves. He takes a keen interest, though, in what we do with the gifts He gives us, in what type of stewards we are with our possessions. Will we be self-centered, gathering only for ourselves and our family, and caring only for our own comfort, or will we understand life as an opportunity to help others – to love our neighbor as ourselves. God understands success from the perspective of divine love, which implies a life of giving, not gathering; of helping, not focusing on oneself. Contrary to society’s worldview, life is not about an individualistic, self-centered pursuit of wealth, fame, and power, where our ego becomes the center of the world!

Here lies the sin of the rich man in today’s Gospel. God calls him a fool because of his egocentric blindness. Regardless of his wealth and prosperity, his comfort and ease in life, the rich man forgot about the essence of life. We all need to understand and say often to ourselves, “Life is not about me!”

Why don’t you say that with me right now, “Life is not about me!”

The rich fool forgot that the greatest treasure of life is God’s love. “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and His righteousness,” Jesus taught us! Living within this Kingdom of God implies faithfully living a life of sacrificial love, of humble service to others, a life of mercy and grace where we imitate our Lord through our words and actions! Success in God’s eyes may mean raising a family with the fear of God, protecting and nurturing a Christ-centered marriage, caring for aging parents with tenderness and sacrifice! Success in God’s eyes means following His commandments in our everyday lives, walking as Jesus walked, and sharing His love with all those around us. Success in God’s eyes means finding time to commune with Him each and every day – through our prayers, in the worship of our Church, in our participation in the sacraments.

It’s quite interesting to understand that “success” in God’s eyes has nothing to do with an abundance of wealth, fame or power. If we’re wealthy, God will view success in terms of sharing our wealth with those in need.

Remember, Godly success does not depend on how many possessions we have, but on how few possessions we need to be content in life, and thus, in our willingness to joyfully share our abundance with others. Success in the eyes of God does not depend on how comfortable and easy our life is, but on how we ascetically strive without ceasing to sacrifice for others and to bless the lives of others.

It seems quite appropriate that each year we read this Gospel lesson around the time of Thanksgiving, and how it falls today on Stewardship Sunday. The central question we are asked today on Stewardship Sunday is, “How am I using my blessings to glorify God, to support His Church, and to help others?”

 

Success. According to the world, and according to God. Two completely different things. May each of us take care not to become a “fool” in God’s eyes, but to live out our lives as good and faithful stewards of all He has given us!

 

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