Grace Lindvall
(Luke 12:13-21)

Our second scripture reading this morning comes from the gospel of Luke, the 12th chapter verses 13-21. Here we meet Jesus on his roundabout travel to Jerusalem, Luke’s travel narrative, a ten-chapter long discourse that is less about Jesus’ travel destinations and more about his journey to Jerusalem, to his death and resurrection. The travel narrative tells about his call to discipleship – for disciples to align themselves with him and his teaching as he makes the journey to the cross. This passage appears in the midst of Jesus teaching to a large crowd. Listen now to God’s word to us this morning:

Luke 12:13-21

Will you pray with me?

Gracious God – Stir in us this morning the ability to recognize the movement of your Spirit and the courage to act on the movement you stir in us. Allow these words to encourage and strengthen all gathered here today so that we may grow with you and lean into greater discipleship. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen. 

The ushers are passing around some slips of folded paper right now, to everyone in the pews. Will you try something with me? Take the of paper the ushers handed you, do not open it, and place it in the palm of your hand. If you’re right handed, place it in your left palm and if you’re a lefty take the paper and place it in your right hand. Ok? Now, clench your fingers tightly together, keep your fist strong and tight, look at your fist and make sure no one, not even you, can see the color of the paper inside. Make sure its tight in there. Keep that fist closed tight for the rest of this sermon, make sure that no one can see the color of the paper.

The rich fool doesn’t seem so foolish does he? We name him a fool and Jesus clearly condemns his actions but I think most of us here if we met this man today would call him a smart financial planner, I think many of us here in fact may identify with him. In today’s world he may look like a businessman who made good investments, or perhaps a lawyer who worked hard and won many big cases, or maybe banker who has worked her way up in the corporate world, or an educator who saved his money wisely. He’s not a cheat, or a thief, or a jerk; he earned his wealth – his grain – honestly, he worked hard farming the land and the land produced well. He builds safe places to store the grain in large barns so that it will last a long time. This man doesn’t sound like a fool, does he? He sounds like a man who worked hard and planned well.

What’s foolish about this wise financial planner who worked hard for his wealth?

But, the rich fool isn’t foolish because he has wealth.

The rich man’s first foolish act is his worship of the most unholy of trinities – “me, myself, and I.” In the scripture we just read we hear the rich man speak of what he has done, how he will handle the wealth, and how he will enjoy the wealth. He talks to himself, he plans for and with himself, he celebrates with himself, he cares about himself.

He gives no thanks or credit to the sun and water that came from God to feed his crops and grow his plentiful harvest, he gives no thanks to the laborers who helped him till and grow the crops, he gives credit and gratitude to himself only.  He falls prey to the most devastatingly sad ways of life – a life lived concerned only with himself, a life lived seeking only the well being of himself, a life lived thanking only himself, a life lived celebrating only himself. The rich man is foolish because he is selfish.

Are your fists still clenched tight around that paper? Keep them closed.  

The rich man is foolish, yes, but, it is not simply that he is wealthy and thus he is foolish. The story tells of a man who is foolish because of the way he spends his money, the way he values his possessions, the things in which he puts his trust and security. His amount of wealth actually has very little to do with his foolishness – if he was low-income, middle-class, upper-middle-class, the story would be the same – how he, how you, how we spend and value our money matters. And that is the rich man’s second act of foolishness, the value he places on how he spends his money. 

Money and wealth have long been taboo conversation points in culture – we never ask how much money another person makes, we’d probably not ask how much another person gives, we’re often too afraid to ask how much something costs. While we have accepted the taboo culture surrounding talk about money; we somehow also accepted an idea that our spirituality and our giving are unrelated.. The truth is, our giving is tied to our faith – our faith urges and calls us not to give to meet a budget but calls us to give to participate in the creation of the new thing Christ is doing in our lives, in our church, and in our world.

A quick look at our bank statements might tell us a bit more about discipleship than we’d like to know. Where are we spending our money? A seminary professor told me once, “a budget is an ethical document.” Similarly, our personal bank accounts help us better see and better grow into our own discipleship. Our bank accounts are a personal statement on what matters most to us. Looking at how we spend our money, how we value our wealth, and how we give of our resources is a challenge worth taking on. While money is not the root of all discipleship, how we spend and value money may well indicate the ways and the lengths in which we are being disciples of Christ.

Are your fists still clenched tight around that paper? Keep them closed.  

The rich man is foolish too because of the tight grasp he wraps around his wealth. He builds large and safe barns around his grain – trusting that his grain – his wealth – will produce for him a life of unprecedented joy. His second act of foolishness is trusting in the foolish idea that clinging tightly to the wealth in those barns will bring him ‘the good life.’

Now, money of course brings certain comforts. You and I, and probably most of the folks hearing this parable know the comforts and securities that wealth can offer. Security from job loss, confidence that bills will be paid, relief from the stress of working multiple jobs to make ends meet, the ability to pay for unexpected medical online pharmacy bills, relief from uncertainty. By all means, money can offer us certain comforts.

But while money can offer certain comforts – what money can not offer us is the security of love from friends, family and God, or the confidence that we are worthy and loved despite all of our faults, money can not offer us relief from the struggle to be known and to matter, or the security that we will be cared for and loved. What money can not offer us is the joy and love and grace we seek from life.

That is where the rich man was foolish, foolish in his assumption that storing up his grain and wealth would offer him any kind of comfort beyond the comfort of knowing he had enough. What money can not offer, not the rich man, not you, not me, what money can not offer is the love, significance, joy, and grace that we all constantly seek and desperately need.

Are your fists still clenched tight around that paper? Keep them closed.   

David Lose, president of Luther seminary, writes “Only once we realize that the gifts of ultimate worth: dignity, honor, love, grace, joy, meaning and relationship are gifts from God, given freely— can we hope to place our relative wealth in perspective and be generous with it toward others.”

 Are your fists still clenched tight around that paper?

Your thumb pressing down awkwardly to keep your fist clenched? My own fist is beginning to hurt quite a bit, perhaps yours is too, its painful to hold on to something so tightly, isn’t it? Imagine now with me a hand that comes to release you of this discomfort, first peeling away your thumb, perhaps with a bit of resistance. And then pulling back your pointer finger, your other fingers follow behind. Your paper is probably completely exposed now, free to be given. In place of a clenched, tight, painful, anxious fist, now is an open hand – a hand free to give without burden, and a hand free to receive – free to receive the gifts of joy, relationships, grace, prayer, free to receive God’s amazing promise that God will offer guidance and safety, protection and love.

On this Response Sunday, I’m not asking but inviting, inviting each person in this community – young, still in elementary school, retired, still working, new member, and long time member – to participate. And not to participate simply because the church needs to meet its annual budget to do wonderful and amazing new initiatives in ministry; but rather to participate because in giving freely, you may be relieved of a certain burden – the burden of holding so tightly to something it begins to hurt. The burden of grasping tightly to that which has been given freely to you, to grasping tightly to something finite, to grasping tightly with the optimism that this finite thing will bring you joy; and cling instead to the hope that God will offer your open hand grace and joy. I invite you to let go of that burden, to give generously of the wealth you have freely been given. I invite you to trust that it is not the savings in your barns or bank accounts, not the wealth that you will accrue this year that gives you worth, value, or love. I invite you instead to step into the trust that God’s promise is that you are worthy and valued no matter your wealth, that you are secure despite your savings account, that you are loved no matter what.

In the name God our creator, sustainer and redeemer. Amen.