8/4/2019 Eighth Sunday after Pentecost the text is Luke 12: 13-21 .
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And God’s people say…Amen!
Let’s talk about ‘Storehouse Man’, the rich farmer in Jesus’ parable this morning. His lands have produced such a bountiful harvest that he feels the need to demolish his current barns and build larger storehouses to stockpile his grain. And he rejoices in his good fortune, so much so that he tells himself he can now relax and enjoy security in his future. Yet, in the parable, Jesus tells him that God declares him a ‘fool’ and that he will perish in the night; then what will happen to all that he has planned to set aside for himself?
Is he labeled a fool for being wealthy? For planning for the future? For having the foresight to ensure he will not fall into hardship? Human life is fraught with uncertainty and is fragile at best. We as a species are vulnerable to much, and our very survival is not secure, is not guaranteed. No, the rich farmer is not a fool because he has made provision for his future, but because he is self-centered and greedy. I think the most telling part of the story is that not content to add to his existing barns or build additional ones, he will tear down the ones that are already standing. This is the height of his reckless and narcissistic behavior. He has so much wealth and the harvest has been so abundant that he feels he must tear down what he currently has because he deserves so much more!
His greed alone doesn’t lead to his being a fool, but what does condemn him, is his lack of altruism. He seems to have no thought for the needs of anyone other than himself. Note how he refers to himself in the parable; ‘I’ will build bigger barns; ‘I’ will store ‘my’ grain and ‘my’ goods. This lack of concern for those around him doesn’t make him inherently evil; at worst he is insensitive to the plight of anyone else. And if we give him the benefit of the doubt, we might allow that he was simply pursuing what we as a species have always sought; self-preservation. If our nature didn’t cause us to plan for the future and put a portion of our assets into savings, there would be no need for banks. As mentioned, this life is filled with uncertainty and clever planning would not be unwise.
But it’s not simply his self-absorption and the blindness to others’ needs that make this rich farmer a fool. He labors under the misconception that all his wealth, his abundant harvest, and his full barns are his. If he were to acknowledge that all his possessions are a blessing from God, the sharing of them with others would be the only possible result. He, and we are simply stewards of what God has given us to look after during our time on earth. And once we acknowledge this, that everything is transient and what we have is God’s, it becomes so much easier to share a portion of our prosperity with those in need. The farmer determined that he has enough set aside that he won’t even have to plant his fields for years to come. How much more then does he have available to share with his community?
Later in Luke, in chapter 21, Jesus tells the story of the widow who literally puts her ‘two cents’ in the offering box in the temple. He tells us that it was all she had to live on. At the other extreme, Bill Gates of Microsoft is well-known for his philanthropy. Through various charities, Bill and his wife Melinda have donated 43% of their total net worth. Since 1994 this has equated to over forty-five billion dollars. Quite a sum! But, don’t be too worried for Bill and Melinda; there is still over 104 billion in the bank. There is the obvious discussion that might be held as to whether the poor widow or Mr. Gates’ charity is the more altruistic. Which one was more difficult to do and which had the most impact on the giver’s lifestyle? Which sum would do the most good? While the amounts differ astronomically, they have one thing in common; both Bill and the widow recognized that a portion of their treasure was needed by others. This is what the farmer in Jesus’ parable neglected to understand.
But the main reason Jesus tells the parable is to remind us of what our lives’ priorities ought to be. We are not identified by the value of our possessions, but who we are is determined through our relationship with God. Since all that we have comes to us through the grace of God, our lives must reflect that grace toward others. We must strive to align our lives with God’s purpose. Our gifts, be they time, talent, or finances, must be directed to the goal of assisting in God’s desire for the wholeness of creation. We’re not asked to drop our last two pennies into the offering box at the temple, and I daresay none of us can claim Bill Gates as our next-door neighbor. But it’s all too easy to identify with the foolish farmer, ‘Storehouse Man’. We can easily fall into the self-obsessed lifestyle that gives us a false sense of security. It can be difficult to remember that our abundance, our security, our future are truly not our own, but belong to the Father. And these may be demanded of us at any time.
A few of us from Emanuel attended a planning meeting this week with the Lutheran Inter-Parish Youth Group. We, along with the six other Central Mass. Lutheran churches who are already associated with LIPY, adopted a schedule of events for the upcoming year.
Emanuel’s young people have been invited to participate in worship and feeding the hungry and homeless at ‘Cathedral in the Night’ in Northampton. To volunteer at a food bank here in Worcester. To ensure that underprivileged kids are provided essentials for school at ‘Cradles to Crayons’ in Boston. To travel for a week to Maine in April to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in a nursing home, a food bank, and a soup kitchen. If our kids find themselves called to these endeavors it will serve to illustrate for them the lesson Jesus shares with us this morning. These are some of the ways they can show that they are not ‘Storehouse Man’; that they are willing to strengthen their relationship with God, through their willingness to share what they have been blessed with. Our lives are not our own, but a gift from God that we are called to share with others. It is my fervent hope that the young people of Emanuel will feel drawn to this effort, and that their efforts might serve as an example for all of us to follow.
For follow it we must. It is foolish to think that we are secure in our future, be it as individuals, or as members of Emanuel Lutheran Church. The whole world is outside our walls, as far as Boston or Northampton, and as close as a few blocks in any direction. There is great need everywhere and if we are to live into our belief that everything we have comes from God, we must resist the urge to be ‘Storehouse Man’. We must recognize our duty to serve one another here in this place. We are to aid, comfort, console, pray for and pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ. These actions bring our intentions out of our private, abundant barns and into the lives, and the needs of our immediate partners here in Jesus’ mission. And it then follows that we are to expand our desire to open our barns to a wider circle. Maintaining an inward focus leads to atrophy, whether as an individual or a church parish. It’s rather like filling up a barn and telling ourselves we have nothing to worry about. Like ‘Storehouse Man’, the foolish farmer.
With the general decline of faith in America, those institutions that are flourishing are not those within an inward focus, but those which expand their mission to beyond their walls. Sort of like emptying the barns and sharing the stored-up grain with whoever needs it. Not ‘Storehouse Man’, the rich fool.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, help us to acknowledge that all we have and all we are, is a gift from you. Set our minds on our relationship with you and not on whether our barns are abundantly filled. Open our eyes and our hearts to the needs of your people around us. Help us to resist being ‘Storehouse Man’. Let us not be rich fools.
And the people of God say…Amen!