Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
Sermon prepared by Pastor Kevin te Brake, Kingston, Ontario
Dear People of God:
On reading the parable of the Rich Fool, one might think to oneself, "how could I preach this to a congregation of middle class members?" This is a parable of great wealth and great possessions. I am not preaching to a group of stock market gurus. I am not preaching to people who have their iPhone or BlackBerry attached to their hip, ready for that call from their stock broker asking for the go ahead to shift some of their securities into a better fund. We are regular folks; maybe some wealthier than others, but generally we all have jobs or are modestly retired. Some are in elementary school, or high school, or college. But overall, we are just average people with average lives.
Jesus was not only preaching this parable to the wealthy. Most of society actually consisted of poor people living from day to day. The wealthy were on the other end of the spectrum and were comprised of a very small group of people. The poor people represented the average people of society.
Jesus was preaching about the wealthy and about wealth. Jesus was teaching a parable where a man was providing for himself for tomorrow and beyond and did not include God in his plans. This parable was directed to both the wealthy and to the poor, and to everyone in between.
Most of us know this parable as the "Parable of the Rich Fool". I don't want to suggest that we change the title of this parable, but when I read this parable I don't think of a rich fool. He may have been a rich farmer, but I think "poor fool". He was distracted by what he thought were his possessions.
In the late '90's, there was a popular infomercial on television. Perhaps there are some who can recall the Tom Vu infomercials on how to make money. His advertisements vividly proclaimed: "You too can have all this! Come to my seminar!" Watching Tom Vu's infomercial, one would see him on his large yacht, in front of his estate, or sitting on one of his many luxurious cars. In all cases, he had women in scant clothing surrounding him. He was completely engulfed by material wealth and beauty. He was luring television viewers into a possession-filled lifestyle. Vu was letting everyone know "You too can have all this!" He was reminding people that if you want to be happy and have a fulfilled life you must have a yacht, a mansion, luxurious cars, and many women. Above all, you need money.
Tom Vu is no longer making these infomercials or selling these seminars. It is not that he was able to retire because he was so rich. He is still around. He is still alive and well, after being charged with tax evasion and playing Texas Hold'em poker tournaments, trying to make that big money. He is distracted by what he would call his possessions.*
It is easy to get lured into the traps of materialism. There are still other traps luring society towards riches and getting rich quick. What about lotteries? "Imagine the Freedom," as one familiar lottery slogan goes. Statistics Canada reports that three out of four Canadians spend money on gambling on a regular basis. Of these, 1 in 20 has a problem. The distractions that surround us are enormous.
Perhaps those with email can attest to these distractions. Numerous people have received emails requesting help in getting $48 million dollars out of Pakistan. These people in need would like to use somebody's bank account to transfer the $48 million into, $8 million of which the receiver of the email can keep. The reason people get these emails is because, in some cases, people actually fall for these traps. People get lured into thinking they will get millions of dollars, when in fact all the scam does is attempt to inform you that in order to get this money you have to first put up some of your own money in order to cover the transfer taxes. In Western society, we are distracted from all sides with possessions.
Similarly, in Jesus' day there was no email, or yachts, or cars, but people were still distracted with material possessions. This desire for earthly possessions is evident in this passage in Luke in which a request is made for Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute. The dispute occurs between two brothers. We are not provided with many details here, except that the one brother is worried about some part of his inheritance.
Jewish people were aware that inheritance laws were dealt with in the books of Moses. A first born son should receive a double portion (Deut 21:15-17), and the remainder would be divided among other family members. Inheritance rules were dictated by God because, according to Leviticus 25:23, God owned the land: the people were God's tenants.
Nevertheless, the brother attempts to get Jesus involved in his dispute. In reply to his request, Jesus immediately seizes the opportunity to teach the crowds using the example of this brother.
Jesus directs his warning to the crowds: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed." Jesus does not only reply to the brother: he addresses all people. Jesus knows that the issue of materialism and the desire for more possessions is not just isolated to one person, not only to rich, not only to poor, but to all people.
Jesus proceeds to teach the crowd a lesson on greed. For information on first century greed, we can read Romans 1:29 where greed is equated with wickedness, evil, and depravity. Colossians 3:5 talks of evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Greed is the worship of the creation rather than the Creator. Some people have a desire for more money and other material things; perhaps a desire for sex, drugs, or alcohol, or maybe power, control, or social status.
Often a reason for desiring more is the fear and anxiety of never having enough. What is it that we feel we are missing in our lives? Subsequent to this parable, in Luke 12:22 Jesus states "therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life." Our desires fulfill that worry of never having enough to provide for oneself. Desires often reflect a lack of trust in the one and only Provider. It is no wonder that Jesus warns everyone, rich and poor, against excessive desires or distractions.
The readers are presented with a story of a brother's inheritance, leading towards Jesus' warning statement on greed and anxiety, which leads into the parable that Jesus tells the crowds.
Jesus teaches the crowds using the parable of a rich farmer. This man was blessed with an abundant crop. God provides rain and sun for the righteous and the unrighteous. We believe that God controls all that grows and all that happens in creation. It was the Sovereign God who blessed this man with an abundant crop.
His blessing of an abundant crop leads the farmer into a dilemma of over production, but it is a welcomed dilemma. The farmer asks himself "What should I do?" The farmer corrects his dilemma with his plans to make his storage facilities bigger.
It was not the fact that he expanded his operations that provoked Jesus' warning. Do not necessarily view this farmer in a negative way. Farmers in ancient times were encouraged to maximize their productive land area. As a result, this farmer should tear down the existing storage barns. Where these barns once stood, he was to build new, spacious, and efficient facilities. This was not wrong, for he was, of course, an agri-businessman.
His first serious error, however, was that this man did not include God in his plans whatsoever. Did you notice how the words "I," "my" and "myself" are repeated over and over again in these few short verses? In verses 17 and 18 alone, these words appear at least nine times.
God is nowhere in this man's thought process. The farmer desires more possessions because he is missing the desire for Jesus Christ. The man wants to be in complete control, and does not reflect any trust in God. He is distracted by what he thinks are his possessions.
The second grave error that the rich farmer makes is that he builds the barns and stores the grain in order that he may take it easy. Everything is about himself. He works so that he may eat, drink, and be merry. His goal in life is to store up his bumper crop in order that he may take life easy. His labour is focussed on himself, not to mention, there is no sharing of this crop with God or with those in need. He does not even recognize that it is God who blessed him with the abundant crop in the first place.
From a worldly perspective, the farmer has managed quite well, but from a moral and spiritual perspective he has mismanaged his abundance. This parable does not only point out sins of commission, but also sins of omission. The farmer gave no thought to the needs of others. He was thinking only of himself. He had no regard for God, and he had no regard for God's will which is to love God and his neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40). He had no desire to share his abundance with anyone. All of this abundance was his and he was in control.
We then take a look at verse 19, the New International Version states "And I'll say to myself, 'You have plenty of good things.'" This is better translated in the Revised Standard Version as "I will say to my Soul, Soul you have ample good." In this verse, soul means more than just the living being. The man is also referring to his inner being. The farmer is telling his soul that it is set. His soul can take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry. The rich farmer begins to think that he even has control of his own soul.
The same word is used again in the Revised Standard Version when God demands the farmer's life. God is demanding his soul from him. God, being the Sovereign God that He is, intervenes and interrupts the plans of the farmer. God not only demands the man's soul, but calls the man "a fool."
The farmer in this parable is being called a fool by God. According to Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1: "The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" A fool is one who does not include God in his plans. As a result, the fool excludes himself from God's wonderful plans, including salvation through Jesus Christ.
The farmer is then asked the rhetorical question: "Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" We are right back to the beginning of the passage talking about inheritance. Who is going to inherit the farmer's possessions?
This was a rhetorical question because the answer is: everything is God's. We learned from the Old Testament inheritance laws in Leviticus that everything that we own is on loan to us by God. Everything that the man called "mine;" my barns, my grain, my goods, my life, my soul, myself, God takes. God takes it all back. The possessions are all God's.
As verse 21 summarizes, "this is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." God provides the answer to how we are to store possessions.
Life is not about being rich in possessions for oneself: life is being rich toward God. Do not be greedy, do not be anxious; everything is God's. Our life should not consist of desiring possessions; rather, it should consist of desiring God. In this parable, Jesus is not preaching against wealth but how wealth is to be directed. There is nothing wrong with making plans and increasing one's wealth, as the farmer intended to do, but this must be done in consideration of God and His will. God's will is that we love God and love our neighbours. Be rich toward God.
Whether we are contemplating buying a piece of property, making a business decision, or purchasing another vehicle, or perhaps we are contemplating what we are going to contribute to the church this year, or whether we even have enough money to pay for Christian education, we must include God in all our plans, and direct our plans according to God's will. Let Him be in control.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For a small sum, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.
Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run; knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.
As the sun began to set, he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed and died.
Afterwards, his friends dug a grave. It was six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy's story was: "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"
We should not be distracted with our material needs, because if we do, we will tend to forget to include God. We must remember that everything we have is from God and is God's gift to us. Share with others the gifts that God has given us. Share with others our possessions, our love, our talents, our time. Give back to God by giving to others. Give back to God by including Him in all of our plans. In doing so, we are giving God the glory and the honour.
God gave us the greatest gift, Jesus Christ, His son. God gave us the gift of salvation. We should take the time to focus on this awesome gift. We should focus on the love of God-how
God has so wonderfully involved us into His plans of salvation. Share these wonderful stories with others.
Let us not get distracted with any material things or possessions. Let us focus on God's greatest gift to us. Let us remember to be rich toward God in all our life as God has been so rich to us.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Welcome and announcements
- Mutual Greeting
- Call to Worship: Revelation 15:3-4
- Gathering Song: Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty PsH 249
- *God's Greeting: 2 Corinthians 13:14 "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Amen.
- *Silent or Opening Prayer
- *Song of Praise: How Great Thou Art PsH 483
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
- Call to Confession: Psalm 32:1-6a
- Prayer of Confession: Our Awesome and compassionate God, you have loved us with unfailing, self-giving mercy, but we have not always loved you. You constantly call us, and we do not listen. You ask us to love others, and we walk away from our neighbors in need, wrapped in our own concerns. God of grace, as you come to us in mercy, we repent in spirit and in truth, we admit our sin, and ask for your gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord, our Redeemer. Amen.
- Assurance of Pardon: Zephaniah 3:17
- Song of Response: Mighty to Save or I Will Sing Unto the Lord PsH 152
- God's Will for Our Lives: Romans 12:1-2
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH THE WORD
- Prayer of understanding: Lord God we come before you and we are about to read from your Word. We thank you for these ancient Words. Lord, we ask you that these words that were spoken so many centuries ago, may speak to us today. We ask that these words come alive in our life. May your Spirit be at work in us. Bless this time together. Open our ears, open our minds, and open our hearts so we may hear your will for our lives, and that your name may be praised. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray this. Amen.
- Scripture reading: Luke 12:13-21
- Reader: This is the Word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
Message: Being Rich Toward God
WE RESPOND TO GOD'S SHAPING
- Prayer of Application:
- *Song of response: Give Thanks to God, for Good Is He PsH 182:1-3
- Congregational Prayer
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO THE WORLD
- *God's blessing:
- Leader: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)
- All: Thanks be to God! Alleluia!
- Leader: The blessing of our God Almighty - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you this day and for ever more.
- All: Amen! Alleluia!
- *Closing Song: Our God Reigns PsH 195