8th Sunday after Pentecost
August 4, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 12.
My dear friends,
If you like corn, I have good news for you! I recently returned from the heart of the Midwest and I can report that, after a rough spring of flooding, the corn crop in Nebraska should provide a rich harvest. From what I saw, the corn is green and strong and thick and tassels are coming in. But, take that for what’s it’s worth. You know I’m not much of a farmer, but I do know if a crop looks good or bad. I also know this: while the field offers a rich harvest, let’s not forget God and His involvement. And that’s a truism that extends beyond the farms and fields.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said something kinda shocking to our modern American ears: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Wait…what? Sounds “Un-American,” right? If life isn’t about getting and holding on to stuff, then for what then do people live? An existential question, to be sure, but a legitimate question nonetheless. If life is not about getting stuff, then what is life all about? What level of significance…of importance….are we to give our possessions – the rich harvest that God provides us with?
To help illustrate, Jesus told the parable of the Rich Fool, which was going along just fine until God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ”
Interesting choice of words…“fool.” It’s a common word in the Bible (118 times), but Luke is the only Gospel writer to use this specific word, a word directly tied to the OT version of the word “folly, meaningless, or worthless” that is very common in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The rich man’s world view was meaningless, worthless; it’s not a compliment.
So…how do we avoid being “fools?” What are we to do when our field—whatever our field may be—yields a rich harvest? This parable does not say that we may not have an abundance of possessions. This parable also has no intentions to give us a guilty conscience over a good yield of crop or a successful increase in money/possessions. The parable doesn’t teach it’s a bad thing to improve your possessions or investments.
On the surface, you almost – almost – have to admire the rich man; he’s being a good manager of a company who looks ahead and plans accordingly. Okay…so if a rich harvest and money and possessions and success in general aren’t bad, then why is the rich man called a “fool”? He is called a fool because he lives in false security; he is so consumed by greed he neither acknowledges nor thanks God to his eternal peril.
The rich man told his eternal SOUL to “relax; eat, drink, be merry” (v 19). Again, on the surface, that sounds good, right? To have the resources so you can just breeze through life? There is nothing wrong with that so long as you remember that behind that rich harvest, all those possessions, is a loving God who calls you to be a thankful, gracious, faithful, generous steward in and with all things.
The rich man is a fool because he does not see life as a gift from God. All the rich foolish man wanted was to take life easy, eating, drinking, and being merry are all creature comforts of this world…a world that quickly ends without warning, and then what? Then what indeed. And what happens to all the stuff? All those “treasures” you enjoy? When you’re gone, there’s a good chance that many will be sold for pocket change or end up at Goodwill. You know that, right? Think beyond this world and all its stuff.
It ended so tragically for the rich man who only thought of this world and not the next. Jesus said that what mattered – what really mattered – was to be “rich toward God” (v 21). Friends, The true purpose of life is to be “rich toward God.” What does that mean? Well, it has nothing to do with how much money you have, and that’s good. Wealth can come between God and people. As Martin Luther put it, “Whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god,” and how many Americans put their heart and their trust in their stuff? Want proof? Just look around you!
Samuel Escobar, a missiologist from South America, speaks about the stark difference between the Northern and Southern worlds. While the South—South America, Africa, much of Asia—is spiritually alive, it is materially poor. In distinction, while the North—Europe and North America—is wealthy in material terms, its spirituality is at an all-time low.
2 Cor. 8:9 describes Jesus and one who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” Jesus became poor, was stripped naked, He literally had nothing, and hung on a cross; all He had left to give was His body and blood, so He gave that too. He did so that we would be rich in God’s grace. By Jesus’ death you have the eternal riches of heaven. I don’t know how much money you have or don’t have…but you are already rich in the things that truly matter…heavenly things through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith, you are rich in Christ.
To be rich toward God means that we are aware of our dependency on God in all facets of life. Being rich toward God means we recognize God as the provider of all our possessions and being constantly thankful. Being rich towards God means displaying a willingness to share out of our rich, abundant harvest. Rich toward God means to turn to him in times of plenty and need. To be rich toward God is to know that in him we find mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness and life and love through the death and resurrection of his Son.
Have you heard of “The Giving Pledge?” This is an effort by more than 200 of the world’s wealthiest people to help society by committing more than half of their wealth to charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will. People like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and MacKenzie Bezos of Amazon have signed up. Together they’re ready to give an estimated 500 billion dollars away. Hey, that’s great and all, but let’s not forget that “riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). Be a good steward. Be generous. Be thankful. Be rich towards God. Be ready for when your soul is required of you.
500 billion? That can buy A LOT of corn.