Scripture: Luke 12:13-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
This art of sermonizing is such a strange bird. It falls to the preacher to find ways of communicating God’s word and work to the listener in ways that are both challenging and not hard on the ears. As a result, it is often the case that the preacher feels the need to formulate a beginning that will entice the listener to put down the shopping list and listen. So we resort to various “hooks.”
One hook is the story. We preachers often seek to share anything that can provide a reason for you to listen. For example, I have often used stories from my numerous trips to South Africa to introduce a sermon.
Another similar hook is the preacher sharing a personal story that is intended to assure you that we put our pants on one leg at a time. My very dear friend, Eva Jean Trace, once told me that we preachers must not need much counseling or therapy because we were always so quick to talk about our lives with everyone else. I have never forgotten those wise words.
News headlines are a popular source for sermon introductions. How could you not be interested in learning that this week a second rocket launcher was confiscated by the TSA in Baltimore from military personnel returning to the US from Afghanistan.
Often jokes are used to begin a sermon. Here is one of my favorite knock-knock jokes. Here it is – you start it. (They say knock-knock), Who’s there? Get it?
Very popular is for the preacher to dive directly into some interesting observation about the biblical text being used. Just start the sermon by expounding on the text. Makes sense.
I am sometimes given to starting out with some ghastly observation that I made during the week. And for me, it is not unusual for the reflection to have nothing to do with the sermon. Like noticing, as I did, that Halloween candy is already in the stores and Michael’s has a Christmas display up. I’m still using sun screen. I have no use for pumpkins, candy and skeleton, let alone tree decorations and Naughty or Nice coffee mugs. But Bob did get a nice artificial tree.
I suppose some of this implies a rather harsh observation of you, the listeners, but I mean just the opposite. It is not that you are resistant to listening. It means that the preacher needs to have something worth listening to. The speaker needs to respect the integrity of the congregation and take the time to offer up something worth considering. The cautions and criticisms are upon me, the one who has the honor of addressing you.
Before I make observations concerning our Luke scripture, I want to talk about the season by offering you a story that has been with me most of my nearly 40 years of my ministry.
In Ravenna, only two youth pastors in 1979 when I began my first ministry.
So I sometimes hung out with an Assemblies of God youth pastor who became a great friend.
Visited him at his church frequently.
One summer, signs all over and displays stating, “All of nature tells us that growth happens in the summer. We hope to see you each week in worship.”
The first part I always loved – nature does burst forth in the summer. Especially in NE Ohio. We become, in some ways, a mini-rain forest, with the lushness of our trees and fields and crops. The green, sunny days of July were spectacular this year. I love it that God uses the season of summer to illustrate the importance and reality of growth through nature. And as my wife, Kathy, pointed out, seasons are also ways of describing the stages and changes in life. It may be summer for fruit and veggies, in a literal sense, where the abundance is produced. In our walk with Christ, that season of growth could be at any time in our life.
The part I didn’t like as much was that this AG church linked growth to being in church each week. Being in church regularly is important – I love seeing you here often. I love this Federated Family and I still, after 30 years here, feel a great honor in sharing in ministry with you in this remarkable church.
But I would be cautious in trying to firmly link growth and church in any season. While I personally have experienced incredible seasons of growth within these walls, I have also experienced spiritual growth away from Sunday services. We have all heard stories and experienced ourselves going to those places that are monuments that represent times we have in Christ that were memorable and life changing. Recently a friend described her annual trek to northern Michigan where she knows she will always encounter God. Going there enhances her walk with Christ the rest of the year. You may have a place like that that is not within the walls of this sanctuary. I get a remarkable boost in hope and spirit during every single work camp. Watching kids discover that they can shingle a roof, drywall a room or replace a window is truly a miraculous time. I will never forget one work camp in North Carolina in which we roofed four homes in five days. We tore off three of the homes. We used shingle guns and compressors. We were walking the roof in the burning sun.
I distinctly remember that as we began putting shingles back on the roofs, the boys took over with the nail guns and the girls drifted back and kept them supplied with shingles. After an hour or so, I acted like it was routine and I stopped the work and told the group that it was time to trade out the shingle guns to someone else. Some boys gave the guns to other boys, but a couple of girls were given air guns. I once again instructed everyone how to shingle with a gun – boys and girls alike, making no distinction. After that day, the boys had to beg to use the guns. The girls were not giving them up! Important lessons in equality were initiated without pointing out that we do not distinguish between genders when there is a leaky roof to replace. And we offered totally equal pay. We charged each kid the same amount to be on work camp and made sure that each kid had a meal and a shower. Equal pay for equal work.
The point here is that each one of the kids came to be a gift. They were sharing the overflow of their lives, and even their privilege, with those in need. This was perhaps part of what Jesus is implying in this parable this morning. We are confronted with the rich man’s greed. He sees the abundance of his field, and he sees that he is producing more than he can reasonably store, so he replaces his barns that he might keep it all for himself and settle into a life of leisure and abundance.
But he misses the point of the fruit of his trees and fields. Nature teaches us that an apple tree makes, guess? Apples. Grape vine give…? Grapes. Fruit is produced as is appropriate to the plant. But the plant does not hold back some or any of the produce for itself. It produces all that it can to be used by others. As nature teaches us that there are seasons for growth, it also speaks to what is to be done with what we harvest.
A couple of weeks ago I decided not to preach the sermon that I had labored over for innumerable hours. For those not here that week, I decided that the work campers sufficiently brought the message of the day through their testimonies and sharing, and for me to speak would have simply been because it was what preachers do. So, I announced no sermon and we closed the service. Don’t look for that to happen again anytime soon. You guys!!
That sermon was about process and it fits for today’s lesson. I see very little in scripture that advocates for our current insatiable hunger for balance. We want balanced lives and we want balance at work and we want to balance our exercise with our eating with our social life with our job with having or not having kids with all the rest. And while these are worthy goals, each one implies to me a process of getting from here to there, not of finding a resting place wherein we may plateau.
In comparison, the Bible speaks over and over about process. About what happens in our lives as we live our lives. The Bible acknowledges the ups and the downs – read the book of Psalms. Paul speaks of moving from once place to another and addresses how suffering is often one of the mechanisms in the process of growth. In the Bible, process always leads to growth. Romans 5:1-5 is a great process verse for you to ponder sometime.
Jesus is using this parable to point out a different way of living. Process over some hoped for place of balance. In this parable the rich farmer dies just after he gets everything in order and creates a balance for living large. We can easily imagine a different outcome for the farmer that is more aligned with the nature of Christ. Perhaps instead of hording, it would be Christ-like to share. Perhaps instead of working for a perfect life of eat, drink and be merry, it would be of living in abundance to extend what is left for others. To be fair to the parable, the farmer’s life may have been over. But the legacy is very different. The inverse of this parable of harvest has been evident to us on work camp many times as churches often have tables where parishioners bring in the abundance of their gardens for sharing with their congregations and communities. I have seen that exact thing here at Federated from time to time. This is then not a case of fruit for self, but of fruit for giving for sharing and for service. I experience an abundant crop of zucchini in past years, so I shared the abundance.
The first mistake of the rich farmer was his greed. The second mistake was not being present to the bounty of today and sharing the now.
I received a call from Warren Henry at Warren Henry music this week. He heard that we sometimes offered guitar lessons for kids and he had a guitar to offer. Or, he said in his message, he hoped we could find a young person who might not be able to buy a guitar. Wow, instead of selling the guitar, he wanted to give one away for someone who could use it.
So, I went to see Warren on Thursday and he was bubbling with excitement. He told me that he went through his inventory and he didn’t have one guitar to offer, but four. I admit, I expected some beaters that he could not sell so he wanted to dispose of them to us. As he showed me the guitars, all of which could have been sold in his store, he told me they were all restrung with new strings and that he improved the playing action so they would be playable for a young person. He requested no receipt, no notice or praise; just hopeful that we could find homes for these guitars. Out of his abundance he decided not to build larger barns, but he shared his abundance with others.
We all experience greed and we are all guilty of the fruit of greed, for greed robs others of the abundant bounty and robs us of our integrity. For me, that is enough said about the reality of greed.
It is my hope that we will all receive the other side this parable and think about our blessed abundance – be it our time, treasure or talent. There is so much we can give to our world – even from beyond our comfort zone.
Yesterday, as I concluded writing this sermon, I added a quip saying that if your treasure and abundance happened to include a basket of peaches, I wouldn’t turn you down.
Literally, one hour later, our neighbor walked over to visit, and in his hand, he was carrying a basket of peaches.
God is so good! Amen!