4 August 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 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.”
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
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?’
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
I like my financial advisor.
We’ve been going to him for years.
He’s got a nice office in an upscale building.
The coffee is free and the bathrooms are immaculate.
When I saw him a few weeks ago
I didn’t ask him what he thought about
this narrative and parable from Luke,
But I wish I had.
My guess is that he would appeal to my conservative financial sensibilities:
What has the rich farmer done wrong?
One could argue that he is wise and responsible,
Investing for the long-term.
He operates a thriving business.
Production is efficient and has led to an excess of supply.
What’s wrong with setting aside savings for future golden years?
“Guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus tells us. (12:15)
The problem of greed,
Jesus correctly observes,
is that it steals the focus away from God,
away from neighbors and one another,
– where life is lived –
and inappropriately places our focus on the abundance of possessions.
When we chose possessions over people
we surrender our lives
and find ourselves increasingly isolated.
When we chose possessions over God
we surrender our souls
and find ourselves increasingly without meaning.
The issue does not appear to be one of quantity.
In other words, I find little evidence in the Gospels
that wealth, per se, is evil.
God and wealth both have claim on us.
Face it, we need stuff to live.
We have to carry a balance to avoid bouncing checks.
We have to make plans for our future finances
when we no longer earn a paycheck.
The issue continually addressed by Jesus
Is about where our priorities lie.
Where is life focused?
Do you think about things?
Have you given the Amazon app a good work out this past week?
Do you daily check the stock market or fluctuations in net worth?
Do you obsess about money or things?
Because when we do, we’re not thinking about God.
We’re not listening to the whisper of the Spirit
about God’s will for our lives.
We’re not paying attention to God’s plan for our riches and things.
This is the Gospel’s promise:
If we keep our eye on Jesus,
Listen to and prioritize every word he speaks,
and live according to the will of the Holy Spirit,
God will get each of us through the eye
of any old needle.
Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions.
Life only has meaning when it’s lived
faithfully according to the will of God.
Not for nothing,
but when one person has abundance
it often means
it has come at the expense of another.
When we see huge differences in wealth,
where people with much
live next to people with little
– poverty, hunger, powerlessness –
a culture of greed is nurtured and fertilized.
Is this the world Jesus wanted to preserve?
Christians cannot be in the business of nurturing and growing greed.
Loving our neighbor means
reaching out from our abundance,
– be it two pennies or two million –
to the last, the least, the lost, the left behind,
the poor, the widow, the orphaned, the diseased, and those left for dead.
This is not political.
This is all about the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is creating
Right here on earth,
Right here in Rush.
Today’s parable from Jesus is correctly titled
“The Parable of the Rich Fool”.
Fools are not unique to wealthy people.
In my humble opinion
fools are evenly distributed across the clergy and the socioeconomic spectrum.
Today, however, Jesus is talking about a rich fool.
His foolishness operates at many levels.
First, this rich farmer is a lone ranger.
He lives life in isolation.
He thinks to himself.
He questions himself.
He draws conclusions by himself.
Where is his family?
Perhaps they are engaged in an inheritance dispute
Like the one that led to this parable.
Where are his farm workers?
Wouldn’t a wise manager consult their staff? Their workers?
Where are his neighbors?
We hear nothing about living in relationship within a larger community,
Seeking wisdom, experience, or guidance.
How is God supposed to speak
If not through the words and actions of neighbors?
Faith in isolation, in the absence of community, is folly.
What a fool.
Secondly, the argument can be made that the rich man is a poor planner.
Granted, farming success or failure
ebbs and flows with the seasons and the weather.
Most farmers I’ve known are modest, conservative members of the Grange.
This rich man planted way too much for his established capacity to harvest, store, market, and transport his crop.
Lets just say
He was in way over his head,
Rolling the dice at the high stakes table.
What a fool.
Thirdly, before you tear down the storage capacity you have
wouldn’t it make more sense to build new, improved barns first,
so that business could be seamlessly transitioned from the old barns to the new one?
What happens if the contractor walked off the job?
or weather struck and building was delayed weeks on end,
Leaving crops to over ripen and rot in the fields?
Even I can see that this would be foolish.
What a fool.
Fourth, you’d rather place your faith
in storage capacity
than in God?
So, what happens when funnel clouds appear over the hill?
We’ve all seen the video of barns, silos, and flying cows.
Or what happens next year when drought hits and the oversized barns are empty?
Eventually food runs out.
Markets go up and markets go down.
But the everlasting love and sustenance of God never waivers.
It’s foolish to trust in anything but God!
Fifth, eat, drink, and be merry?
What about the farm workers
who made the abundant harvest possible?
Are you seriously thinking of partying it up in front of those
by whose sweat and hard work
pulled you away from the brink of failure?
That’s mighty selfish of you.
How about throwing a party for those who earned it
and not for yourself
and your foolish failure to plan?
What a fool.
Lastly, the rich fool failed to plan for the most important thing:
His day of reckoning with God.
We all know a fool when we see one.
So does God.
“You fool!” God says to him.
What God gives, God can take away.
Life, given by God, can be demanded this very night.
Abundance, given by God, will be redistributed
by your estate and a handful of lawyers in a New York minute.
And what will it have gained you?
Is this the legacy you want to leave behind?
Meaning in life comes
when we make Jesus our life’s focus.
This is when we are rich towards God.
when we slice out greed from our heart
and replace it with love of God and love of neighbor.
when we are so focused on Jesus
that the background noise of this world is drowned out
and we can only hear his Spirit’s whisper.
Greed is such an easy temptation;
this is why is must be greatly opposed.
No one is more greatly tempted than me.
Who wouldn’t want to see a swelling retirement account,
a beautiful house,
and a swag-o-licious sports car in the driveway?
Who wouldn’t want to attend a church
with a million-dollar endowment,
an excess of money in current expenses,
and carpeting without coffee stains?
Yet, these things take our eyes off the prize.
The prize is Jesus.
God has given us all that we need,
the question is
how are we distributing it?
My eyes are on Jesus
when I share generously out of my abundance.
My eyes are on Jesus
when I encourage others to listen to the Gospel
and apply the stewardship of Jesus to their lives, too.
join me in storing up treasures towards God.
Let us stop building bigger barns
and let us build bigger the kingdom of God.