by: Denise Robinson
Games We Play: Monopoly
Luke 12:13-21; Micah 6:6-8
Today we begin a new series on the games people play. We begin with the popular board game, Monopoly. Monopoly was introduced in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression, and was a wild success. In its history, over 275 million copies have been sold worldwide, making it the best-selling game in the world - sold in 111 countries and produced in 43 languages. There are over 900 different game editions including ones based on TV shows, movies, sports teams, singing groups, branches of the military, and colleges such as Indiana University (and that other one in Indiana as well). Neiman Marcus put out an all-chocolate version of the game which sold for $600. And, if you have $2 million you can even buy a Monopoly game where the board is made from 23-carat gold, with 165 rubies and sapphires topping the chimneys of the solid gold houses, and hotels and the dice have 42 full-cut diamonds. The longest game of Monopoly lasted 70 straight days. World records have been broken – playing the game underwater (45 days) and in the bathtub (99 hours) and upside down (36 hours). In 2002, Parker Brothers released the America edition. The front cover of the box reads, “Celebrating, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property.”
Given the popularity of the game, I suspect that many of you have Monopoly memories. What is your favorite strategy? Do you concentrate on buying the railroads or utility companies? Do you try to control the low rent district or do you go for the uptown properties like Boardwalk and Park Place? While Monopoly is a great game to play and can provide fun times for family and friends, it’s a terrible way to live. The underlying principle in Monopoly is to acquire property, gain wealth, and crush your fellow players. Jesus said, “Do not store up treasures on earth, but store up treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Monopoly doesn’t exactly seem consistent with what Jesus taught, does it? But it’s only a game, right?
In Luke 12, Jesus tells a story, a parable. It was prompted by a man who came up to Jesus as he was teaching with a question about the family will. Well, not with a question so much as a demand. He wanted his cut of the will, and demanded that Jesus tell his brother to give it to him. Given the way the demand is phrased, this is likely a younger brother who, under Jewish law, would be entitled to 1/3 of an inheritance (assuming two sons). In Jewish culture, it wasn’t unusual for a person to take an unsettled dispute to a Rabbi. But Jesus had the advantage of knowing this man’s heart and he refused to get involved because he knew behind the question was a heart full of greed. So, Jesus used the question as an opening to make a point. Jesus made his point using an everyday example that people in his day could identify with and understand. John Ortberg, a pastor and author, had the idea to take this parable in Luke 12 and tell it in a way Jesus might tell to us today. Here’s his version.
It’s a story about a very committed and driven man (or woman), someone willing to do whatever it takes to be a success and discovered that it would take everything. A business type who’s consumed by work and working 12-14 hours days, most weekends, joins professional organizations and boards of directors to expand contacts. Knows how to network. Even when he’s not working, his mind is on what needs to be done – what new deal can be made, what corner can be cut. Work is not just his occupation, it’s his preoccupation. Often his wife tries to slow him down, to remind him that he has a family, and vaguely he’s aware of the fact that his kids are growing up and he’s missing out. They used to complain when he wasn’t around to read them stories or play games or come to school events. But eventually, they stop complaining, because they stop expecting. And he says to himself that he’ll have more time for the important people in his life later, “When things calm down.” Of course, this man in Jesus’ story, he never seems to notice the fact that things never seem to calm down. “Anyway,” he says to himself when he feels guilty, “I’m doing it all for them.” Church is also one of those things on the list that he intends to do; he convinces himself he can believe without going to church. It’s just one more thing there will be time for – “when things settle down.”
For now, though, business is booming so much that he can’t keep up with it all. This is his chance to be set for life. He just has to take it up another notch. Like a man possessed, he shifts into overdrive. Every waking moment is devoted to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One night he goes home to his wife all excited and says, “Trust me. Soon, I can finally relax. Our future will be secure; we’ll not just have financial security, we’ll have more than we will ever need.” That night at 11 o’clock she says, “I’m going up to bed. Do you want to come up with me?” And he says, “No. Not now. I’ll be up in a few minutes. I’ve got a little more work to do.” At 3 o’clock in the morning she rolls over and finds herself alone in bed, he’s still not there. She goes downstairs to drag him up and finds him sitting at the kitchen table in front of his laptop with his head down resting on the table. She touches him on the shoulder to wake him up, but he doesn’t respond. Then she notices he’s not breathing. She runs to the phone and dials 911. In just a few minutes the paramedics arrive, check him out, and tell her that he’s had a massive heart attack and he’s been dead for hours.
Well, his death is a major story in the financial community. His obituary is written up in Business Week, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. It’s too bad he’s dead because he’d have loved to have read what they wrote about him. His memorial service is packed with people summarizing his life using words like Innovator, Entrepreneur, Leader, Visionary, Success, and Pillar. And then they buried him and went home to their own families. But that night, when it was dark and there was no one around to see, the angel of the Lord came to the cemetery and made his way through all the graves until he reached the tomb of this man. And there, the angel traced with a finger the single word that God chose to summarize the meaning of this man’s life. And the word was F-O-O-L. “You fool,” God says.
God, you see, is amazed at the foolishness of a person who prepares for every single contingency and covers the bases of every possibility and yet forgets the one inevitable certainty that stares all of us in the face from the moment we’re born and that’s the fact that one day we’re going to die. That kind of person is a fool, God says. And so is every person who lives under the illusion that this life is all there is, who believes that life consists of property and bank accounts and investments and jewels and houses and cars – and the list goes on and on.
There are two great illusions that in the life of one God calls a fool. The first is found in that little phrase, “When things calm down.” The illusion is that someday life will slow down and then we’ll have time to get around to the things that are most important. The truth is we all find time for what we prioritize. Another truth is, life only calms down when we die. But then, of course, it’s too late to arrange our lives around the things that matter most. And that is what Jesus is concerned about, that we live for what is most important. The man in Jesus’ parable thought at some point he would have more than enough time – and then he would turn his attention to living and to getting right with God. But that day never came.
The second illusion in the life of a fool is that someday more will be enough. The man in the parable kept thinking if I just get more crops, bigger barns, then I’ll finally be able to relax, to retire, to “eat, drink and be merry.” But the truth is, more is never enough. Most of you here likely have heard of the billionaire business owner, pilot, engineer, film director, and investor, Howard Hughes. A leadership magazine wrote of Hughes: “All he ever really wanted in life was more. He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion-dollar pile of assets. He wanted more fame, so he broke into the Hollywood scene and became a filmmaker and a star. He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid out huge sums of money to indulge his every desire. He wanted more thrills, so he secretly dealt political favors and two U. S. Presidents became his pawns. All he ever wanted was more, convinced that more would bring him satisfaction. Unfortunately, history shows otherwise. He ended his life emaciated, with rotting black teeth, tumors, and needle marks from his drug addiction. He died a billionaire junkie, insane by all reasonable standards.” He died a fool.
The man in Jesus’ parable is not a fool because he was wealthy or a hard worker or dishonest. Wanting to be successful isn’t a bad thing. He was a fool because he didn’t have God in his life. He was a fool because he didn’t care for others in his life. It’s no mistake that this passage is full of personal pronouns like “I, me, my and mine.” Re-read verses 17-19. He made himself and his desires the center of his existence and that made him a fool. The Bible teaches that true contentment is found when we make our priorities those things God prioritizes. Micah 6:6-8 gives us the answer: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten-thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The man in Jesus’ story suffered from the illusions that one day things would settle down and more would finally be enough. In the end he needed to learn the lesson of Monopoly. Not the part where we play to become the wealthiest player through buying and renting or acquiring the most houses and hotels, utilities and railroads, and cash. The lesson of Monopoly is that when the game is over, it all, houses and hotels, property deeds, utilities and railroads, money, goes back in the box. The game always ends, whether we’re talking about Monopoly or the game of life.
In Monopoly, there’s a card you can draw called the “Get out of jail free card.” Many of us live our lives as if we think we really have one. But when it comes to life, we only have this one life to get it right. Sooner or later everything we have goes back in the box. Everything, that is, except our soul. So, the question I have for you this morning is, what is it that really matters to you? What is it that you’re giving your life to? We all have something we place first in our lives. It may be money or things like the man in Jesus’ parable. Or perhaps it’s a career, physical health, family and friends, a hobby, or personal happiness or fulfillment. None of these things are wrong in and of themselves; they are only wrong if they distract us from what God says is important. The time to get right with God is today not someday. Have you settled your eternity yet? The Bible calls you a fool if you haven’t. We’re not prepared to live until we’re prepared to die. Do you know Christ as your Savior this morning? Are your priorities, God’s priorities? Are you doing what God requires of you: walking humbly with God, loving others, and doing justice?
If God were to show up at your door tonight and say, “Come with me” what would be the one word over your life that he would write? I pray that it wouldn’t be “fool,” but that it would be “mine.”