Here are my reflections from the pulpit this morning at Dover-Foxcroft (ME) United Methodist Church.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:4).
As I read today’s gospel, my first thought drifted to the musical Annie.
I love ya
You’re always a day away.
Those are pretty good words for an optimist. But I don’t think that’s the message Jesus had in mind.
Hmmm. How am I going to reconcile the thoughts in my mind with the teaching from Don Downer? I’m optimistically looking for tomorrow. He’s telling us, not so fast; there are no guarantees for tomorrow.
There is an all too familiar expression many of us quote as scripture: We are called to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. It is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament, even if it isn’t a direct quote.
I think that’s where Jesus was going in today’s parable. The poor slop was worried more about where he was going to store his grain than where his soul would eventually reside. And that reckoning could come at any time … maybe even tonight.
During His ministry, Jesus consistently spoke of a different kingdom. He, of course, understood it, but His disciples …? Maybe not so much. See they – and we — are stuck in this earthly realm. It’s what we can see … and hear … and smell .. and taste … and touch. When Jesus talks about the “kingdom” He loses us. We can only imagine streets of gold … a state of perpetual bliss … being in the presence of God … eternity. We have to reach deep into our mind’s eye to capture those thoughts and use our present experiences to create a vision of eternity, often as an opposite to our experiences.
We have some cautionary tales sprinkled throughout the New Testament regarding this tension between being where we are in the world, but not being of the world. In fact, these examples encourage us to continue our relationships with the world around us, but to be careful to live in a way that pleases God, not the culture:
1 John 2:15 — Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 Corinthians 5:9-10 — I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.
Romans 12:2 — And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
James 1:27 — Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
I think Jesus was quite conscious of this tension. He had been addressing it … over … and over … and over. While Jesus was pointing upward, His followers could only see in front of them. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for our Lord.
Greed had been an ongoing theme in Jesus’ training of his disciples. Sometimes it is implied, other times it is out in the open. Just some of examples Luke shares include the calling of Levi the tax collector (5:27-32); the parable of the sower, about thorns of riches that choke spiritual life (8:14); the pharisees who inside are full of greed (11:39); giving a party in order to be reciprocated by one’s “rich friends” (14:12); the prodigal son who squanders his wealth on wild living (15:13); the parable of the unjust servant(16:1-12); the teaching we cannot serve God and mammon (16:13); the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31); the rich young ruler, and the saying about the impossibility of a rich person to enter the Kingdom (18:18-27); and the story of wealthy Zacchaeus’ generosity (19:1-10).
But of all of these, today’s passage focuses directly upon greed, as Jesus teaches His disciples about this hard-to-discern spiritual killer.
To put it all into some context, Jesus had been busy preaching, teaching and healing when, out of the blue, someone in the throng of followers yells out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Oh, no. Not again. Doesn’t anybody listen? Those had to be the first thoughts that crossed Jesus’ mind.
After He gains His composure, He explains He is not a judge or arbiter.
You can almost picture it. Jesus has been teaching for some time about the Kingdom. Suddenly, someone in the back calls out and interrupts the whole group with a question. Not a question, really, but an insistence Jesus straighten out and validates the man’s legal affairs. It was rude, out of place, it didn’t ring true.
Jesus starts questioning the man’s motives. First, look at what the man says, “Tell my brother to …” He has the temerity to command Jesus and tell Him what to do. Second, he has already decided what he wants, and now is looking for a judge who sees it his way. Instead of going to the approved legal structure of his neighborhood, he is trying to get Jesus to take jurisdiction over the case. Jesus will have nothing to do with it, and rebukes the man’s inappropriate overture. Jesus’ role now is to teach the Kingdom, not to judge petty probate cases.
Which leads to the parable as – hopefully – a teachable moment for the others in the crowd and us. 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.”
As He delves into His parable, we’re told this particular farmer had a bumper crop. In fact, he reaped so much he was running out of room. So, without consulting anyone but himself, he decides he will tear down the old barn and rebuild a new, bigger storehouse. And he reasons he can live comfortably for years. The implied thought is “It’s mine. It’s mine. It’s all mine.”
Jesus calls him a fool.
It is not a bad thing when your “land produces plentifully” (verse 16). It is not a bad thing when your business prospers. It is not a bad thing to receive a promotion and with it a pay increase. It is not a bad thing when your investments increase in value. That is not the evil in this parable. He is not called a fool for being a productive farmer. God knows this broken world needs productive farmers and profitable businesses.
Why, then, is he called a fool?
That’s the question in this parable. Not only a fool, but a fool who loses his soul. In Verse 20 we’re told, God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you” He was literally and tragically a “damned fool.” Why?
As John Piper put it, by the way he used the increase of his riches he gave no indication of being rich toward God. He kept building bigger barns. That might be ok — if you’re storing the grain for a use that shows God is your treasure. But what does the farmer say? Just a verse earlier (19), our farmer friend says, I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry”
See, the use he plans to make of his wealth says one thing: “My treasure is relaxing, eating, drinking, and fun.” That is my life. And the riches in my barns make it possible.
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, if there is no infinitely valuable God and no resurrection. That’s why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:32, If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. But there is a God, and there is a resurrection. So what’s wrong with this man’s way of handling his riches is he fails to use them in a way that shows he treasures God more than riches.
The key concluding verse makes the point most clearly, So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
It’s a matter of perspective. Our farmer looked at his good fortune and said, “This is good for me.” Jesus is telling us, “This is good for you. How are you going to use your blessing to glorify My Father?” The farmer is looking at now … Jesus is looking at eternity. The farmer is happy to keep it all for himself … Jesus is asking us to share and maybe, just maybe, bring someone who is lost back into the eternal fold.
The kicker, which almost gets lost, is Jesus, as author of the parable, knows this was the farmer’s last night on earth. What was going to happen to his riches then? He ain’t taking it with him.
That’s the “tomorrow” aspect. None of us know when that call will come. It could be later today, tonight, next week, next year, way down the road. We-just-don’t-know.
One could easily argue the rich man is a wise and responsible person. He has a thriving farming business. His land has produced so abundantly he does not have enough storage space in his barns. So he plans to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his grain and goods. Then he will have ample savings set aside for the future and will be all set to enjoy his golden years.
Isn’t this what we are encouraged to strive for? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? The rich farmer would probably be a good financial advisor. He seems to have things figured out. He has worked hard and saved wisely. Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor, right?
Not exactly. There is one very important thing the rich man has not planned for — his reckoning with God.
It is not that God doesn’t want us to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what He has given us. We know from the Gospels Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But He was also clear about where His true security lay.
It is all about priorities. It is about who is truly God in our lives. It is about how we invest our lives and the gifts God has given us. It is about how our lives are fundamentally aligned — toward ourselves and our passing desires, or toward God and our neighbor, toward God’s mission to bless and redeem the world.
A seasoned pastor once said, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.’” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.
Our lives and possessions are not our own. They belong to God. We are merely stewards of them for the time God gives us on this earth. We rebel against this truth because we want to be in charge of our lives and our stuff.
Which brings us back to the little ditty that started this reflection all off.
I love ya
You’re always a day away.
Part of the lyrics include
When I’m stuck in a day
I just stick out my chin
The sun will come out
So ya gotta hang on
Come what may
In my little tune, the word sun – S-U-N – is replaced by Son – S-O-N. It puts a little different spin on it, changes the perspective. It reminds me of another standard, My Way, another of my lyrical favorites. I justify it by noting, more often than not, my way is His way, so “regrets, I’ve had a few … but then again, too few to mention.”
That’s living in the world but not of the world.
Take heed, friends. Enjoy life, every precious moment of it. Enjoy the ordinary … they often become extraordinary moments that are even more enjoyable. Rub your eyes and look with new sight. Open your ears and listen. Open your heart and experience life to the fullest. And know one of these tomorrows we will get to see the Son – that’s S-O-N.
And God’s people say,
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: If you do anything, someone will be upset. If you do nothing you can live comfortably but you won’t achieve anything.