March 4, 2020

I heard the pastor say, “I want to close my sermon with a story.”

My ears really perked up because I loved hearing stories.  I was just eleven years old that summer.  I remember well because my brother and I were attending vacation Bible school that week.  My Daddy and Mother bought us each a brand new Bible for the occasion and put our names on the presentation page, along with the date.  It was 1959. 

We did not belong to that church; we were just invited to attend VBS by some friends.  It was just a small country church with no indoor restrooms, no running water, and no air conditioning.  Everyone used fans.

The pastor was around 75 years old.  He spoke as though he had a mouth full of gravel.  He wasn’t easy to understand, but he was a good man and preached interesting sermons.  So, when he mentioned a story, I was all ears.

He did not tell the origin of the story.  I don’t know whether he didn’t know or thought it irrelevant for the point he wanted to make. When I became an adult and entered the ministry myself, I started doing a lot of reading and studying to be able to preach good sermons so I could be a good pastor. During this studying, I ran across the origin of the old pastor’s story.

The story was by a great Russian writer named Leo Tolstoy.  He lived between 1847 – 1910.  His original short story was about six pages long.  So the pastor abbreviated the story that morning and quickly got to his point.

The pastor told his story like this:  There was once a very rich man, but he could never be satisfied with what he owned.  He continually wanted more and more land and other possessions.  The man heard of an opportunity to acquire a lot of land for a small amount of money (Tolstoy says for 1000 rubles).  For that amount of money the man could own all the land he could walk around in one day, a full 24 hour period.  So the man and one of his servants went to the point of beginning that the man had picked out.

The would-be owner of the land had his plan all figured out.  He would walk as fast as he could for six hours, then change directions walking as fast as possible for another six hours, change directions and walk another six hours and finally the last six hours he would begin back to the point of beginning to complete his perfect square of land.  But the agreement was that he had to get back to the point of beginning to have ownership of the land.  On the last six-hour journey of the man’s mission, he had gotten behind schedule, so he had to begin running to get back to his original point of beginning.  Toward the end of his mission he could see the point of beginning and he knew he could make it if he would just run a little faster.  Well, he made it, and on time.  The land was all his.  And he immediately feel down dead from exhaustion, blood running from his mouth.  The man’s servant dug a grave and buried him where he fell dead.

The pastor closed his sermon that morning by asking Tolstoy’s question. “How much land does a man need?  Six feet from his head to his feet was all the man needed for a grave.”

Then the pastor asked his own question, “What would a man give in exchange for his soul?”

It was a powerful sermon for an old country preacher without much formal education. It did what he wanted it to do.  It made people think about their priorities in life.  Obviously, I still remember that story and sermon sixty years later.  And it still is working on me today.

I’ve been in a position in my life to have know many rich people – millionaires,  and I have even eaten with a few billionares.  I’ve known lots of want-to-be rich people.  One can love a dollar as well as some people love a million dollars.

Many of the rich people I’ve known were very unhappy.  Money can not buy happiness, love, respect, power and positions.  And certainly it can not buy one’s salvation.  There’s much that money can not buy.

I knew a man one time who tried so hard to become rich.  He never achieved his goal, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  He had a day job making an average salary for his time.  But he spent every penny he could buying more land for more cows, more pasture land, and more hay meadows. There was a joke about this man in the community he lived in.  People would say that “John” said he didn’t want all the land.  He just wanted that land which joined his.

I was talking to the man’s grown son once and was told a sad thing about the man.  His son told me, “I hate my daddy.  He doesn’t even love his own family as much as he loves his cows and his land.  He made us kids go to school ragged and without shoes in the warm weather so he could buy more land and cows.    I’ll be glad when he dies.  We ought to bury him out in the cow lot where he spends most of his time.”

When his son told me that, my heart was broken and I immediately thought of the scripture, “Where your heart is, there will be your treasure also.”

Where is your heart today?  I hope it is not on accumulating more things.  “Seek that which is above, where moth and rust can not corrupt and thieves can not steal.”

If you’ll seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these other things will be added unto you.

God Bless You,
Spencer Plumley