Pastor Linda Friesen
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
The Story of the Rich Fool (Luke 12.13-21) ~From The Message by Eugene Peterson
L: Someone out of the crowd said,
ALL: “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
L: Jesus replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?" Speaking to the people, Jesus went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” Then Jesus told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. The man talked to himself:
ALL: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’
L: Then the man said,
ALL: ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’"
L: Jesus continued, "Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barn-ful of goods—who gets it?’ That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God."
BIG container of animal crackers. One of my favorites. Can’t wait to eat them all when I am off this silly 24-day challenge. I am not going to share them with ANYONE. They are all MINE!!
It’s mine. No, it’s mine!! Yep, it’s the terrible two’s relived. My two kids lived through them. First Dani, always advanced entered them at about 21 months. Of course, this might have had something to do with a new baby brother, a competitor to the attention of her parents and grandparents that was once all hers. Parker- he was right about on schedule claiming his stuff as MINE at about age two, when he started to talk. You see he didn’t need to talk any earlier because he had a big sister to speak for him.
CD: Material Girl
A Material Girl… What is a girl to do? My closet isn’t big enough for all my shoes… My dresser for all my sweaters… My garage isn’t big enough for all my stuff…
What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough. Here is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and I will build bigger ones… then I’ll gather all my grain and goods (all my stuff) and say to myself- SELF- you’ve done well. You’ve got it made. Retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!! (Another translation reads- eat, drink and be merry!) Just look at what I have done, and it’s mine, mine, mine… all mine!! Maybe the two year old in us is still alive and well after all…
Sound familiar? This is our world, our material world. This is the world that we live in, a world of more and more and more… and the more is all mine.
Today Jesus reminds us to be-ware of GREED, counted as one of the seven deadly sins, those things that keep us from being in right relationship with our creator, those sins that are difficult to shake, deadly in nature. Today Jesus warns to protect yourself against the least bit of greed; the least bit.
Greed- defined as a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed. (selfish- excessive- desire- more than what is needed)
Well, that seems pretty subjective... and isn’t just a little bit of greed OK? Maybe even necessary? I mean, isn’t that how we get ahead in life?
After all, humans were created to be imaginative, to design and to build, to think and to explore, to add to our world; in essence, to give us more, more of what we need, more of what we want. And yet, the line between want and need or desire and necessity is thin. When does our need for that ever expanding “more” of life become too much? When does the desire for the abundant life turn itself to greed? When do we cross the line? How much is enough?
In Greed, our desires get the best of us, bringing out the worst in us. Desire can be the source of some of the best things that we do: the desire to cure cancer, to wipe out polio, to create the next best gadget to make our lives easier, our cars safer, our lives longer. When is it that the desire for the goods of this life become all-consuming greed? Of course, this is part of the insidious nature of Greed. It can look so much like ourselves at our very best until it turns inward, rather than outward (a selfish and excessive desire). When a gift of God becomes mine, is that where the trouble begins? It’s that ever-expanding notion of the more we have the more we want, along with the expectation that we somehow deserve it- all of it, and all of it is mine… it’s all mine…
Gratitude is sparse in those with full-blown Greed. The refusal to believe that all we have is a gift from God, everything is gift, nothing is MINE… not one thing.
Enter, a simple story told by Jesus. Jesus is in the middle of teaching his followers when he is interrupted by someone in the crowd who wants Jesus to settle a financial dispute between siblings, a family feud of sorts. And what is it about? Money! Jesus refuses to enter into the family squabble and instead uses the situation as an opportunity to teach about the seduction of wealth. Notice what Jesus does not speak about here- the wealth itself- but rather the seduction of wealth. This farmer’s error is not in his wealth. He is not portrayed as wicked, gaining his wealth illegally or by taking advantage of others. In fact, he almost seems surprised by his good fortune and makes, what appears to be, a reasonable plan to reap the abundance of his harvest. We might call that good financial planning- building larger barns to store away some of today’s bounty for a potentially leaner tomorrow.
Except for two things: First, notice the farmer’s consistent focus throughout the conversation he has with himself. What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this I, I, I… my, my, my. The relentless use of the first person pronouns “I” and “my” betray him, a preoccupation with self (greed defined!). There is no thought to using the abundance to help others, no expression of gratitude for his good fortune, no recognition of God at all- just mine. It is not the material stuff at all but rather the attachment to the material stuff of world. The farmer has fallen prey to worshipping the most popular of gods, the unholy trinity of me, myself and I; while turning away from worshipping the One True God, the maker, creator, owner of everything- EVERYTHING. And this, my friends leads to his second mistake. He is not foolish because he makes provisions for the future; he is foolish because he believes that by his wealth he can secure his future, live happily ever after just me, myself and I.
Which is what scares me a bit about today’s story about the rich fool… scares me, but also gives me hope.
What’s scary, of course, is that I identify a little too closely with the rich guy. He seems to have worked hard and made enough money for a solid retirement. He seems to have everything he needs and more. That’s my hope… that one day I can retire and enjoy the fruits of my harvest. I’ve worked hard… if I could simply hit the mark on my investments that my financial planner has set for me… The allure of money in the bank creates the illusion of independence. I can do it all myself, thank you very much! It seems to promise us, it seems to promise me… that I can somehow transcend all the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind me that I am indeed mortal, a finite being, a created being ultimately and always dependent upon each other and, most especially, on God.
Whatever our advances or achievements over the many years of evolution, each of us and the entire human race as a whole remain vulnerable, fragile human beings, fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. It is perhaps for this very reason that we are tempted to strive for a measure of security and control over our lives through our own efforts and our own accomplishments. The farmer, the rich man, you and me… we are called fools not because of our wealth or our ambition but it is when we give these finite things that we consume infinite value- I cannot live without it- that we become the fool. This man has tried to insulate himself with his stuff and because it has always been about him alone, he has come up empty. He has all he believes he needs and wants and more, yet in the end- which comes that very night!- it proves inadequate. The motto, “you can’t take it with you”, runs as true for this rich fool as it does for you and me.
Abundant life is not measured by the possessions one has. Life and possessions are a gift of God to be used to advance God’s agenda of care and compassion for a world in need. This leads to abundant life.
Jesus began his story about the rich fool warning those listening to him to protect themselves against greed, even the least bit. He ends this story reminding us that God shows up; this is certainty, God will always show up. The good news for us is that God has taken away our sin in the cross of Jesus- God knows that we cannot do it alone- and so each moment of each day we are given the opportunity to look at our own sin and change.
Think with me for a moment:
If the greedy man is named a fool, what might the opposite of greed look like? What might this person be called? And where could we practice such an act? The opposite of greed (as a selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed) is generosity and a generous person would be called wise, a sage. Where have you seen or experienced generosity in your life? We have the opportunity to practice this act every time we gather as community to worship God. It is an act that runs very counter to our culture of consumption and greed. It is not about getting but giving.
As part of our worship, the offering plate is passed. It is an opportunity to practice the art of generosity versus greed, giving back what has first been given to us, an act of looking outward toward our neighbor in need and upward, thanking God for all that has been gifted, entrusted to us. Pastor Steve often jokes, “Wherever two or three are gathered, an offering is taken.” Not scriptural, but perhaps it is. It is here we are asked to place our money where our hearts are. This may be one of the most radical, countercultural, defiant acts that the church asks of us- open handed, gratuitous giving, just because; practice in the art of letting go, of saying it is not mine, it is yours.
If you are like me, I give through an automated bill pay method. I do not physically drop my money into the plate. I just push a button and my offering goes, poof into the air and on to Our Savior’s. I don’t see it, or feel it. Maybe this is a mistake. It is convenient and it ensures that my offering will always get to the church on time. We, the church, appreciate this, but maybe here we could take a lesson from our brothers and sisters in Africa when it comes to offering. The offering during an African worship service (taken multiple times!) is a parade, a dance, it is a joyful release of what God has first given to them. It is not about me giving my offering, dropping it in the plate (boring). It is about me giving back. Some bring cash donations, others the fruits of their harvest- literal crops, fruits, vegetables, grains dropped at the offering table. For some it is a chicken or her eggs. All gifts from God. But the most meaningful gift comes when those dancing through the aisle bring themselves. When they have nothing left to bring, they simply drop their hand into the plate, dancing and singing, smiling as they go- giving their very lives into the hands of their creator.
Maybe we could do this too. Whether we pay by an online system or simply have nothing to give today, when the offering plate is passed to you, place your financial gift if you have one today and then be BOLD and GENEROUS. Place your hand in the basket, leave it there for a moment. Give yourself to God. Try it!