"The Best Bequest"#84-09
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 30, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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This week on Action in Ministry Q&A MP3
Text: Luke 12:19-21
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Those words tell us that God has changed our world. The life, death, and resurrection of the Redeemer have reformed the lives of believers both now and for all of eternity. Now, by the Holy Spirit's power, may others receive the legacy of salvation Jesus wishes to give. Not just this Reformation Sunday, but always, may God grant His inheritance be given to us all. Amen.
Although it is not strictly mandatory from a legal point of view, novels and films have taught us that a person's last Will and Testament really ought to begin with the words, "I (and then you insert your whole name) being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath to (and then you list who gets what). Now that phrase has always caused me a problem. Since many wills are written when a person's physical condition has deteriorated to the point where they expect the grim reaper to come calling any minute, how can they say they are in 'sound body.' So, rather than wondering, I went to one of my lawyer friends and asked him. He laughed and told me that the expression is not a medical one; it is merely a statement that the individual is capable of making the decisions which follow in the rest of the document.
Then he added, "From my own perspective on things, I believe you might be asking the wrong question. There's a lot of evidence which indicates it's not a person's body which ought to be questioned, it's their minds." Now that opened up a new can of worms. I asked for an explanation. He told me that the bequests made in wills are often a time for a person to vent, or get even, or take revenge on a spouse, friend, or relative. When I asked him to amplify, he said, "Well, there is the case of Leona Helmsley. Her will left $12 million to her dog. As far as her grandchildren were concerned, some of them she cut out of her will entirely, the rest were ordered to pay an annual visit to their father's grave; that is if they wanted to collect anything."
My friend continued. He told me about the Michigan millionaire, Wellington Burt who died in 1919. His will specified that nobody would get a penny until 21 years after his last grandchild died. In November of 2010, more than 90 years later, twelve people divided up Burt's $110 million. My lawyer pal was just warming up. He told me about the German poet Heinrich Heine who, in 1856, left his fortune to his wife, Mathilda. There was only one condition to her collecting the cash; Mathilda had to remarry so, as the poet put it "there will be at least one man to regret my death."
When I asked my friend if anyone had ever made a good bequest, he had to think a bit. Then my friend mentioned Jack Benny, the comedian. Through their entire marriage Jack had a rose delivered daily to his wife. When he died in 1974, his wife, Mary, kept getting a rose from their florist. Finally she paid the man a visit and said, "No more roses. Jack is gone." He replied, "Mrs. Benny, you don't understand. Your husband's will has given me enough money to insure you will get a red rose, every day, for the rest of your life."
So, that pretty much sums up my lawyer friend's examples of what it means to be "of sound mind and body" when you're writing your will. And it gives me the opportunity to ask, "Since you are of sound mind and body, when you die, what will you leave behind and who will get what you leave behind?" Understand, I'm not trying to be nosey. I only ask the question, because our Savior, Jesus, asked it almost 2,000 years ago. True, He said it a little differently, but the intent is the same. Jesus asked the question after He had told the story of a very successful rich man whose harvests had guaranteed he would live 'happily ever after.' What the rich man didn't realize was 'happily ever after' gave him less than 24 hours. That's right, the man had a ton of dollars, but he had zero time left. That's when God asked him, as far as "the things you have prepared, whose will they be?"
That's the question I'm asking you, "Who is going to get what you leave behind?" Now you could reply, "Look, Pastor, after I'm gone it doesn't make much difference, does it?" And I suppose you're right, but that doesn't stop people from trying to make a last statement before they die.
What will you leave behind? A Philadelphia woman in her will instructed her executor to take one dollar from her estate, invest it, and pay the interest on this investment to her husband, "as evidence of my estimate of his worth." Another woman, also from Philadelphia, left her divorced husband one dollar to buy a rope to hang himself. These ladies knew what they were leaving behind and they knew how they wanted to be remembered.
Who will get what you leave behind? That's what Jesus asked. He asked it because He wanted us to realize the things we give to others after us should be of a spiritual level and not be limited to things. Jesus is promoting a truth which escaped a wealthy French industrialist who left his fortune to a leech. That's right a leech. Capitaine Furrer was disturbed by the greed and impatience of his heirs. To punish them he adopted a blood-sucking leech and made a will which gave the leech his fortune in coal mines and textile mills. The judge appointed a human lawyer to be the leech's guardian. You can see why Jesus wants to know, "Who will get what you leave behind?"
Dear friends, look around. Most of our TVs have numerous shopping channels which are on 24 hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year. Look at the people who are running themselves ragged so they can earn enough money to drive the right car, have the newest cell phone, and live in a desirable neighborhood.
Yet, when all is said and done, who will get what they have laid up; who will inherit that for which they have suffered and bled? And if you don't want to answer that question, how about this one: "Shouldn't all this stuff we have; all the things we have accumulated provide us with a great degree of satisfaction?" You would think so, but it is not that way. Go to the best neighborhood in your town and you will find sadness, anger, hatred. You will see domestic problems and violence. Ask a realtor, "How many of these nice homes are on the market because the husband and wife are getting a divorce?"
And if you're wondering what the point of all this is, let me tell you. If you believe the most important things in life are things, you will have missed something pretty important. Things just aren't enough. The great German Reformer, Martin Luther, often, not always, but often said many wise things. By the Holy Spirit's power he rediscovered the Scriptural truth: 'we are saved by God's grace and not by our own works.' But Luther also said, "I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."
Luther put things in their proper perspective. He knew people may give their children a lot of things, but if that is all they leave they are missing giving the one thing which is needful and that one thing is the Lord Jesus Christ. Now for a goodly part of this message you may have been chuckling to yourself and mumbling, "I don't have to worry about who's going to get my stuff because I really don't have any stuff to leave.
I hope you really don't believe that. If you do, let me tell you about Patrick Henry. I'm talking about the guy who signed the Declaration of Independence, the fellow who said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Now let me tell you something you may not know about him. It is true Henry was a skilled orator and a wise and fearless statesman, but he was also a lousy business man. When he died in the year 1799, his family was not surprised when they opened his will and found out he was completely broke. He was broke financially, but, and this is a big exception, his will still proudly said, "I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more that I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they are given that and I do not give them one penny more, they are rich. If they do not have Jesus, and I had given them all the money in the world, they will continue to remain poor." Patrick Henry had the right idea. He knew what He was working for. He knew what He wanted to leave behind.
Jesus wondered, "Who will get what you have laid up?" So, once again I ask you, "What are you laying up? Is it just stuff?" If so, that is not enough. The day will come when the stuff will rot, the cars will rust, the house will decay, the bank accounts will be closed, the diamonds lost, and the stocks will become worthless paper. The day will come when those to whom you leave your stuff will no longer need it. The time will arrive when they will breathe their last and they will leave this world. On that day, even the most precious stuff you may have bequeathed them will be worthless.
My friends, there will come a time when your children and grandchildren will think back upon your memory and although they may cherish a piece or two of bric-a-brac or memorabilia, they will appreciate even more the gift of Jesus. He will be by their side to comfort them when you are lowered into your grave. He will watch over them when they go into the hospital. He will be helping them when they give birth to another generation. He will watch over those children when the parents are too busy. Jesus is the One Person Who is all important, the One Person Who is necessary. Jesus is the Gift, the Inheritance Who, if we care for our loved ones, we need to share.
Most of you who are listening to my voice today are of 'sound mind and body.' If so, I am glad. As I write this message, the stock market is up. To those of you of sound mind let me ask "What will it be tomorrow?" You don't know. You have your hopes, but you don't know. You might make an intelligent guess, but you don't know. Do you have a sound body? If so, good, but will your body be just as sound tomorrow? You hope so, but you don't know. Strokes, heart attacks, auto accidents, a fall down the stairs, a salad with tainted greens can, in a few seconds, make a sound body feel very sickly.
In this life things are such that what tomorrow brings will always be unknown. Indeed, the only thing which can be known with complete certainty is that God's Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ entered this world to move people from darkness into light; to give hope to those who were despondent and forgiveness to those whose souls were befouled by their transgressions. While the world is unpredictable, the Savior's promise to be with us can be counted on and trusted. No matter how many friends desert us, betray us, ignore us, or decide to become our enemies, Jesus remains steady, a Rock to comfort, support, and sustain.
And, when we have reached the end of our days and the physicians say they can "do no more", we shall have the assurance that Jesus will take care of us. The Living Lord of Life Who carried our sins to the cross will come to us and take us through the valleys where death casts its shadow and lead us to that place where sorrow and tears are no more; where mourning and grief are at an end and joy is part of all we do. What joy there will be for those who wait by our deathbeds if we have left them the assurance that Jesus was our Savior and all believers will be reunited again in a gathering which will never be spoiled by sin. What will you leave behind? Give Jesus to those who come after you. If they have received Him, they will remember you well, and your life will be a success.
Many years ago near Electra, Texas, an oil well was being dug. It was 180-feet deep and 12-inches in diameter. During the digging a child fell into the unprotected hole of the well. From the depths below, the child's piteous plea could be heard, "Daddy, get me out!" Rescuers tied ropes to the father's body and let him down into the narrow well, but to no good effect. Other efforts were made to rescue the child, but all ended in failure. Fainter and fainter the child's plea was heard, "Daddy, get me out! Daddy, get me out!" The cry finally ceased. Later, the lifeless form of the little child was brought to the surface. Strong men, who had been unable to rescue the child sat down and wept.
That is a sad story which touches our hearts. But you know, every day many a child is being lost in the well of sin. As in the case of the girl in Electra, Texas, it is often because someone was careless or not thinking. A fence could have saved that girl's life. It would have been enough but it was never put up. The little girl's suffering was tragic, but it didn't last for too long. But that is not so for those who are lost in the eternal hole of hell.
Every parent, every grandparent should know that Jesus, humankind's Savior, is the One Who can rescue us. We should know it, but tragically, too many parents and grandparents never give Jesus to their children. When parents bring children into the world and then fail to teach them to know God and Christ, they are digging a pit into which these children can fall and be lost. Many parents, by their example, are teaching their children that believing in the Savior is unimportant. Some parents never give their children a chance to know God's will. I pray no one within sound of my voice ever hears the cry echoing throughout eternity. "Daddy, mommy, get me out."
Instead, I pray that we try to make Christ the greatest inheritance we pass on to those after us. It is my prayer that having done so, in eternity, as we stand before Jesus' throne of grace and mercy, we will be surrounded by grateful children and grandchildren who will whisper into our ears the glorious and comforting words, "Mommy, Daddy, you left me what I needed to get in to heaven." If that is the legacy you wish to give those who come after you and you need some help to do that, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Action in Ministry for October 30, 2016
Guest: Dr. Joel Biermann
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and this is the segment of our program called Action in Ministry and Pastor Gregory Seltz joins us now.
SELTZ: You know I do love looking back every time this year to remember the legacy that Martin Luther left for those who would come after him. It's more important than ever today.
ANNOUNCER: Joining us today is Dr. Joel Biermann, who is Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and he's here to remind us of that treasure rediscovered nearly 500 years ago and what it means for us today.
SELTZ: Dr. Biermann, thanks for being with us.
BIERMANN: Always a pleasure.
SELTZ: Now, listen, as we think about inheritance; inheritance we leave for our loved ones; one of the goals should be leaving the riches of Christ, right?
SELTZ: That's what Luther really did. He left a lasting legacy as he stood up for Biblical truth against the selling of indulgences. What was that all about and how did that lead to a reaffirmation and a rediscovery of the gospel?
BIERMANN: The church had determined that they could, frankly, make some money by offering a chance for people to essentially buy their way out of purgatory, buy their way out of having actually to repent and take responsibility for their sins. Really, the first, initial kind of start of the Reformation with the 95 Theses, where Luther is really kind of complaining about these things, is what led him to think more and more carefully about what exactly does make a person right; how do we get squared away with God; and then it leads some time in those early years to that discovery of the Gospel where he realizes it's not a matter of doing. It's not a matter of performing. You certainly can't buy it. It's simply this gift that God gives and that's when he talks about being reborn. He's blown away by the grace of God. That's what changes everything. That's the legacy that we treasure. That's the legacy that we want to make sure people grasp and keep on passing on.
SELTZ: Yes, absolutely.
ANNOUNCER: How does the impact of the Reformation affect us even today; even for those who don't identify as Lutherans?
BIERMANN: The Reformation just changed the world, that's why it's the Reformation; more than people realize. Obviously, in the church-we celebrate the Gospel; salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. But then the impact just keeps on going because Luther, essentially, reordered the political scheme of the world at that time. He really did. He also brought a whole new concept to this idea of living your life in your ordinary routine just doing what we call your vocation, your responsibilities; being a good mom, being a good father, being a good son or daughter. This is one of the things Luther highlighted and we kind of take a lot of that for granted now. But it was really Luther who brought that stuff back to the fore.
SELTZ: In what sense do we need a kind of constant Reformation even today?
BIERMANN: There is this sense that we need to continually be tuned in to God's truth and that's absolutely right. As we do that, there is a sense of reforming that comes with it; where we recognize maybe we're off track a little bit. Maybe we need to resharpen this. Maybe we just need to refocus on a different part of that heritage we have because it's more relevant to the situation today.
ANNOUNCER: In a sense, Luther was also standing up against religious tyranny. How do we see that playing out in today's world?
BIERMANN: A lot of people get concerned about religion having too much impact and especially we're concerned about other religions, particularly in the west; Islam terrifies people, getting worried about this kind of tyranny thing. Luther helped us realize that it's not so much standing up and sticking it to the man, it's a matter of making sure we're staying on to the truth. I think that's the important thing. For Luther, it's not so much, "I'm my own guy. I'm my own individual. No one can tell me what to do. I have freedom." That's not really the point. The point is much more...here's what God actually says and when we stay on track with what God actually says, that keeps us from falling into the tyranny of idolatry; which is putting any man in the place of God and that's always a danger.
ANNOUNCER: And there's a danger, I think, in this year of Luther that he could be portrayed as the revolutionary, as you said sticking it to the man.
BIERMANN: That's right. There are plenty people who want to claim that kind of story for Luther which is just wrong. Luther was not a radical and he was not trying to undo things just for the sake of being a radical. He was not a rebel. He hated rebellion. He was very much about being patient and faithful with God's Word, so it's not just a matter of "Hey, I'm my own guy." It's really a matter of "Here's what God has said. Here's how we live." We don't let any person or any institution stand between me and God. That's the problem of idolatry and it's rather different than simply being a rebel. It's a matter of making sure not any human thing, any idol, replaces God.
SELTZ: Including yourself.
BIERMANN: Yeah. Right.
SELTZ: We've got this great little resource here, A Treasure Revealed, which gives us a look into the events of the Reformation and the key doctrines and teachings like you've been talking about.
SELTZ: So, why is it so important? Let's just talk to our listeners. Why is it so important to know this story and understand these teachings for yourself?
BIERMANN: This story is our story and it's not a story that just kind of "oh, that's interesting history." It keeps it being lived out and I'm a firm believer that the more you understand your doctrinal heritage and some of the history, the more you can identify what's going on today in the world and make good connections.
SELTZ: Thanks for being with us. Thanks for joining us and sharing.
BIERMANN: My pleasure.
SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today, to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, the name of this resource is: A Treasure Revealed: Martin Luther and the Events of the Reformation. You can download this content for free at our website. Go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry. That's lutheranhour.org. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 30, 2016
ANNOUNCER: And now a special election edition of Questions and Answers with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hello, Mark. I must say that it is certainly good to be once again in the Gateway City, here in the beautiful, "Show-Me" State of Missouri. I might even go so far to say in this world there are many wonderful places, but none so fine, as St. Louis on a crisp autumn day.
ANNOUNCER: Wow! You've been listening to too many speeches. You sound like a politician running for election.
KLAUS: Do I? Well, as far as me running for President, I have nothing to say about that at this time. Right now I'm just happy to be going around shaking hands, kissing babies, and listening to the heartfelt needs of my fellow citizens as well as my pollsters.
ANNOUNCER: And what have you learned from all of this?
KLAUS: I've learned I don't like pollsters. Just about every day Pam and I get phone calls from one poll taker or another.
ANNOUNCER: That's why we hardly answer the phone anymore.
KLAUS: Truly. Well, we seldom answer their questions either. That's because they usually call at supper time.
ANNOUNCER: Can you say anything good about polls?
KLAUS: I like some of the information they uncover.
ANNOUNCER: Such as?
KLAUS: Well, recently the Reuters News Service shared that 20% of born-again Christians in the U.S. are not planning to vote for any of the presidential candidates they've been given. They want someone in the Oval Office who is an exemplary human being, family person, good leader; and until such a person comes along, these believers say they are going to withhold their vote.
ANNOUNCER: The Lutheran Hour has never endorsed any political candidate and we're not about to do so now.
KLAUS: No, we endorse only one Person and He's not likely to ever sit in the Oval Office, though at times I think He has been an honored Guest there.
ANNOUNCER: Here you're talking about the Savior.
KLAUS: I am. From what Scripture tells us He aspired to one job and one job only, and that was the giving of His life to win forgiveness for this world's sinners and lost souls. No, there is nothing which says Jesus ever sought earthly power.
ANNOUNCER: In fact, when the devil offered Jesus rulership over all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus shut the tempter down. But it leads me to ask, "Which person in the Bible would you nominate for President?"
KLAUS: Tough question, Mark. Abraham kept himself out of trouble by throwing his wife under the bus. He's out. So is Jacob who showed favoritism toward one of his sons. Moses, he was a murderer. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Scripture just doesn't have that many people we would feel comfortable running for the Presidency. No, we probably don't want these rapscallions. We may not, but, the truth is, God did use them.
ANNOUNCER: That's right. He called those sinners to repentance and then made them His representatives.
KLAUS: Yes, they stumbled and fell, but the Lord picked them up, brushed them off, set their feet once again on the path He wanted them to walk.
ANNOUNCER: Even though we're not endorsing anyone, is there anything we should say about the upcoming election?
KLAUS: Ah, yes. First, we should say a great many people have fought and died to give us the freedom to vote for our leaders. It is a blessing the United States has enjoyed which much of the world envies. Go out and vote. Yes, you will be voting for a flawed, imperfect sinner, but throughout history God has used sinners to accomplish His purposes; whether they acknowledged Him or not.
ANNOUNCER: Anything else?
KLAUS: Yes, if the Bible and history show us anything, it is this: God gives a country the rulers they deserve. That's a very sobering thought. They can be used to lift up a nation to a time of peace, hope, and prosperity, or they can drag a nation down to destruction.
ANNOUNCER: Or to repentance. So you would say...
KLAUS: Our nation, like every nation, ought to pray that the Lord will give us the leaders we need, not the rulers we deserve. If the person you like gets elected, pray for them. If the other person wins, pray even harder.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"How Firm a Foundation, O Saints of the Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"God Bless Our Native Land" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)