A Sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian
October 17, 2010
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.”
He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!
And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Before I look at today’s text, I want to revisit last week for a moment. First of all, thank you to those of you who were willing to share a piece of your story in the middle of the sermon. I know we all have differing levels of comfort with that sort of public testimony, but last week, I think it really brought the gospel home in new ways.
But there were some other stories in the news this past week, of people who were willing to share their radical gratitude and were willing to make a public stand, sharing their story. I want us to consider the connection between the thankful Leper who came back to say thanks to Jesus, and some of these stories.
As I’m sure you’ve no doubt heard in the news, there has been a tragic rash of suicides in the past few weeks, among young people across the country. Many of these were kids who have been picked on, bullied, and attacked because they were either gay or lesbian, or just because they looked like they were gay or lesbian.
As members of Christ’s body, it is time for us to speak up. Because we don’t want our silence to be misconstrued as acceptance of this intolerant and often violent behavior. Even if we agree to disagree about what the Bible actually says about the topic, I hope we can all agree that bullying and attacking someone because of their supposed sexuality is not what God calls us to do. It is time for us to make sure that this kind of bullying does not happen again. If one more kid takes their own life because they have been told a lie, we, as a community, need to take ownership.
We need to speak with our kids and make sure they are not participating in this behavior or being subjected to it.
We need to be willing to stand up for kids who feel so alone.
We need to reach out to young men and women who have been told that they are “less than”, that they are “abominations”, and we need to offer them a different story.
We need to offer them the Love of God and the Hope that comes only through Jesus Christ.
We need to help all of God’s children know that the God who created them loves them through it all and is standing in solidarity beside them.
A number of people are doing all they can to speak of radical gratitude in their lives, hoping that their message of “it gets better, give life a chance” will get through to kids who feel alone. The Trevor Project is one group, asking for men and women who are gay and lesbian to share their stories of how life gets better, and why life is worth choosing, even in the midst of such pain and attack.
An openly gay city councilman in Fort Worth, Texas used his microphone during a city council meeting last week, to testify that he had been bullied, that he had felt “less than” and “wrong” as a teenage kid. But through love and grace he made it through. I applaud Councilman Joel Burns for his public stance and testimony of radical gratitude, which he shared, even though he knew it could have political ramifications for him.
The sharing of our stories, as you did last week, as Councilman Burns did in Fort Worth, matter. You may be offering God’s Word of HOPE, of LIFE, of GRACE to someone in a way that will save a life, that will give encouragement when it is desperately needed.
As you watch it, consider the importance of these public offerings of gratitude and thanks for the gift of life, and remember our thankful leper from last week’s text.
Okay, thank you for that diversion.
Let’s look at the story we have today.
It begins with two brothers, fighting over their inheritance. “Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”
Jesus is having none of that. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
That seems pretty clear to me.
But then he tells them a parable anyway.
A rich man has a great farm, and a great harvest.
Let’s be clear that there is nothing wrong with that. Jesus is not critical of the man for his success, for his hard work, or for his good harvest. There is also no indication that he is a crook, or that he didn’t pay his laborers, or that he is somehow a bad guy.
But I suspect he gets in trouble with this next part:
“So he thought to himself, “self, what should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build larger ones and there I will store all my grain and goods. And I will say to myself, “self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Did you notice any problem with his conversation?
Who was he talking to?
That’s right, himself.
Nobody else in the room.
He’s facing a big decision. What should he do with the abundance of grain he has?
But he doesn’t consult anyone else about what he might be able to do with all of that abundance.
Perhaps his family might have suggested he could sell the excess grain to a bakery.
Or his neighbor might have said, “you know, I volunteer at the Boise Rescue Mission, and I bet they could use some of the extra grain you have to feed the homeless.”
Perhaps one of his golfing buddies might have suggested that he diversify his portfolio and invest in a new start up.
I don’t know.
Maybe he still would have decided to build bigger barns. But his decision to just hang on to everything he had strikes me as a failure of imagination.
One of the gifts we have in community is the ability to inspire each other to bigger and more abundant ways of living. “Sure”, we might say, “you could do this…but what would happen if you did this instead?” This routinely happens at committee meetings. A so-so idea of mine, when let loose in the Mission Committee, for example, turns in to a GREAT idea. Almost every program done at this church has started out as one thing, but been made so much more because all of your creative ideas came together.
As we think of stewardship, it is about money. We need to put together a budget. But it is also about the abundance of community. How can we come together, sharing our best ideas to really help Southminster strive for God’s Kingdom?
Our rich man didn’t have the benefit of a community of faith to help him dream a more abundant way of living, or he chose not to seek that kind of community out. In any case, he decides to build bigger barns and then kick back, put his feet up, eat, drink and be merry.
And God says, “you fool. This very night, your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?”
It is never good when God calls you a fool, is it.
I hope this text gives us another way to consider God’s abundance. Because I wonder if our rich man is being called foolish because he didn’t know the proper response to God’s abundance. What if God is calling him foolish because God had invited him to be a part of God’s kingdom, using the gifts God had given him to make a difference in his community? God’s abundance is never so that we’ll have way more than we need. God’s abundance is designed so that we’ll have what we need and we’ll have more left to share with others.
What are we doing with our abundance? How are we using what we’ve been given to strive for the Kingdom?
Recently, I heard a story about some farmers who were Shakers. And their crops kept getting stolen. So the sheriff came to them and said, “if you’d put up fences, it would be easier for me to protect your property from thieves and keep the crime rate down.” But the Shakers talked it over and told the sheriff that if people were stealing their crops from the fields, it was an indication that too many people in the community were hungry, so rather than build fences, they would spend their time planting more acreage.
These Shakers understood that with their abundance, they were being invited by God to be a part of the Kingdom.
After Jesus tells the parable of the Big Barns, he has a little teaching lesson for the Disciples. Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or your body, what you will wear.
This is a particularly un-American and fiscally irresponsible passage of Scripture, or at least it seems that way on first glance. Because aren’t we supposed to save up for retirement or for our kids to go to college?
But if we look at it again, Jesus isn’t telling his disciples not to save or be responsible. He’s just telling them to get their focus right. Of course you need to eat, and you need clothes to wear.
But the point of our lives is not to work for food and clothing. We’re supposed to work for the Kingdom, and then the rest of it will follow.
Justin and I learned long ago, back during our poor student days, that if we paid our pledge at the beginning of the month, we still had money left at the end of the month for the things we needed. But when we worried about the other stuff first, and left our pledge for the end of the month, the money wasn’t always there. That still holds true. Each year we try to increase the amount of money we give away, and as long as we start with that first, we always have enough left to take care of the boring things like phone bills and grocery bills.
“For it is the nations of the world that strive after food and clothing, and your Father knows you need those things. So, instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Friends, God is inviting us to use the abundant gifts we have been given, of both money and of creativity and other gifts, to be a part of God’s Kingdom work here in our community. Whether it is helping out at Grace Jordan School next door or providing a building for community groups such as Boy Scouts and Al Anon, with our budget we are working for God’s Kingdom.
Whether we are paying our utility bills or sending money to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, with our budget we are striving for God’s kingdom. As you prayerfully consider your stewardship pledge for 2011, remember also this story. The abundance of gifts in our lives are not just for our own benefit, but can be used to be a blessing for so many other people. And as we strive for the kingdom, the rest of our worries and concerns will sort themselves out. May it be so. Amen.