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Sermons

”You Can’t Take It With You”

July 31, 2022 Eighth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 12:13-21.

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13 Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “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.”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I recall one time seeing a picture with a caption beneath it.  The caption read, “this is something you will never see”.  The picture was of a hearse towing a trailer behind it.  A rather stark visual representation of the old saying, “you can’t take it with you”.  As Martin Luther was fond of saying, “this is most certainly true”.  In the reading from Luke this morning, Jesus responds to a person in the crowd who asks Jesus to become involved in a family dispute between two brothers.  The one asking was likely the younger one, since the cultural norm of the time decreed that the eldest son should inherit the largest share of their father’s estate.  Jesus doesn’t interfere in this family squabble, but as is his custom he takes the opportunity to teach a lesson through a parable.

This story has come to be known as “The Parable of the Rich Fool”.  Is this wealthy farm owner a fool because he has enjoyed an abundant harvest?  Or, because he recognizes that he needs larger barns to store his abundance?  Or, maybe because his plan was to sit back and enjoy his wealth; “eat, drink, and be merry”?  Do these things make him a fool?  Not, it’s not his wealth, or abundance, or plans for the future that deem him foolish, it is failing to recognize that everything he has is a gift from God and that all of it, including his life may be withdrawn at any time.  In fact, in the parable Jesus informs him that his existence will come to an end that very night.  And then, where will he be?  Even in Jesus’ time no one hitched a cart behind the wagon that bore the deceased to the burial place.  Even in the first century you couldn’t take it with you.

Now, God has blessed people with the good sense to realize that saving for the future is a wise thing.  And, certainly God wants only good for God’s people.  The problem the wealthy farmer has, is that his concern for his own welfare doesn’t extend to anyone else.  This Rich Fool of a farmer, by his own admission is worried only about, and is making plans only for himself.  “I” will build bigger barns; “I” will store my excess abundance; “I” will eat, drink, and be merry.  We might be hard-pressed to fault him for not giving thought to those around him who might be struggling with not having enough to eat.  But it seems he hasn’t even considered those who made his abundance possible; he surely didn’t plant the seeds in his fields.  What about the laborers who kept the crops fertilized and weeded, the ones who did the actual harvest, so there would be the plentiful grain to be stored in the first place?  No, this wealthy farm owner isn’t condemned for carefully planning for the future; his sin is his greed.  He is doomed by his lack of caring for others.  Keeping much, much more than he needed and not sharing with those who may have little to nothing; that is the moral test that he failed.

That, and forgetting that everything he thinks of as his own actually belongs to God.  He forgot to be thankful for God’s blessing; and he neglected to share this blessing with others.  Oh, and there’s another point to be made here, one that is unfortunately omitted from this morning’s gospel reading.  And that’s a shame, because Jesus continues this parable with an additional teaching about having faith in the blessing of God.

The following verses in Luke do not appear at all in the three-year-cycle of the lectionary readings, and as I said, that’s too bad, because these words of Jesus have an even greater impact than simply pointing out the Rich Fool’s self-centered greed.  Jesus continues, “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!  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!”

Again, Jesus confirms that God will graciously grant us all our necessities and that there is no need to strive for excess accumulation.  God will provide.  There used to be a saying my parents used quite often when I was young.  Whenever someone in the neighborhood bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation, or put in a swimming pool they would accuse them of “keeping up with the Joneses”.  In other words, everyone was concerned about adding to their possessions, because they felt that they needed to have what everyone else had.  Reminds me of a bumper sticker I’ve seen a few times; “The one who dies with the most toys wins”.  Can you tell that I’m trying really hard to make a point, here?  Perhaps Ecclesiastes summed it up much more clearly than I can; “all is vanity” the Teacher writes.  In the end, the struggle to accumulate as much as possible without thought for the needs of the neighbor or the blessing of God results only in emptiness. 

And this emptiness is often the cause of great anxiety for people.  Anxiousness and fear are generally the root of the desire for excess accumulation.  Wanting more and more because we fear there will never be enough can lead to never being satisfied with what we have.  So, out of this fear and anxiety we choose to tear down our barns and build even bigger ones.  Or, like the neighbors of my youth, buy the newer car, take the extravagant vacation, or put in the inground pool.  What happens then if the person down the street decides to put an extension on their house?  Does the anxiety return and does the emptiness demand we add another story to ours?  The sooner we come to recognize that God provides for the ravens and the lilies and that God bestows even more on us, his children, the less stressful and anxious will our lives become.  The Rich Fool of a farmer found this out too late.

No amount of money, property, or possessions will guarantee our wellbeing; only faith in the God who cares for us will assure us that we are secure, in this life and the next.  If the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there are many things we can do without.  We all know what these things were, there’s no need to list them this morning.  But in the end, we discovered that we could, in fact live without the many activities and objects that were denied to us.  Hopefully, this lesson will impact how we act toward our neighbors as we move forward into a post-pandemic world.  Perhaps we won’t be quite so ready to build bigger barns to store our excess, but rather seek to share what we have with others in need.  We can still eat, drink, and be merry, but let’s remember to share the food, the beverages, and the joy with those who might not have these things if we don’t provide them.  “You can’t take it with you”.      

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to remember that you are the source of all we are blessed to have for the time we are upon your earth.  And give us a willingness to share these blessings with those around us, with those in need.  Help us to recognize that we do not need bigger barns, but rather hearts, as we help provide for the ones you bring into our lives.  And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who gave away all that he had, including his own life, for our sake.  Amen.

God is good, all the time.  All the time, God is good.

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