(Luke 12: 13-21)
This morning we continue the sermon series which Steve began last week entitled, “Are You Prepared to Die?” The question this sermon series poses is not concerned with human mortality so much as it is concerned with the things or attitudes in our lives which we may or may not be willing to let go of, to die to. We take this sermon series on during Lent as a means of developing our Lenten journey as we seek to grow closer to God and lessen our dependence on ways of life which may distract us from God.
Last week during our Lenten Learn Together during the Sunday School hour, I was reminded of exactly why we do this practice of letting go of things. One of the children of our church, Hank Kirby, came up to me and began sharing about the painting he had been working on based on a scripture verse. He said to me, “the scripture told me that sometimes when some things die, it means new things can grow even more.” He had a painted picture of tons and tons of seeds that had sprouted up after one plant had died. That is exactly what this sermon series is about, about the new things that can grow up in our lives when we let ourselves die to the things that do not serve our lives with God. It is a kind of resurrection to new life as we put to death the old ways.
This morning we continue this sermon series with our second scripture this morning. It comes from the gospel of Luke 12:13-21. This comes in the midst of the Lukan travel narrative, a ten-chapter long discourse that describes Jesus’ very roundabout route to Jerusalem, to the cross. Jesus travels an unexpected and rather inconvenient path to Jerusalem which tells us that the places he goes and the things he teaches were not mere accident but part of an important plan in his ministry. Here we find Jesus speaking to a crowd when he is asked a question from among the crowd gathered to hear him teach. Listen now for God’s word to us this morning:\
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 now, Lord, 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.
This parable is traditionally referred to as the parable of the rich fool, but I must say, I wonder if we give this guy, the rich fool, too much of a bap rep. He is foolish, absolutely, but by name-calling him the rich fool, we quickly put the blame on him, he is bad, I am not like him. But Jesus speaks in parables not to tell us stories about what other people did but to help us relate the story to our own lives. And even though we may not like to admit it, this story relates to us. After all, the rich fool is not a mean or bad guy, he earned his riches fairly and honestly, but it is not his wealth in and of itself that makes the rich man foolish.
No, He earned his money honestly, owning land that produced abundantly. And then he does what any wise person this day would do, he saved his money, he effectively put his money in a 401k or a safe security account. Something the majority of people this day in age do. The rich fool is a pretty smart financial planner.
The scandal of the rich fool and the warning to all of us that Jesus shares has little to do with the money the rich fool yielded and much more to do with the attitude he takes towards it.
First, his attitude is selfish, it is self-congratulatory, it is self-minded, it is self-centered. The conversation he has in verses 17-20 is focused solely around himself. There is no conversation with the people around him, people who may be in need, or those who helped him earn that good yield on his crops. It is a conversation concerned for and with only himself. The rich man’s first foolish act is his worship of the most unholy of trinities – “me, myself, and I.”
David Lose, who blogs at workingpreacher.org makes this point saying, “the farmer’s problem is that his good fortune has curved his vision so that everything he sees starts and ends with himself.”
The problem of this parable, the problem that Jesus warns us against, is one that is less about money and more focused on our attitude toward money and our attitude towards those around us.
If greed is an intense and selfish desire for material possessions and money, Greed is then also the problem we face when we believe that money or possessions will make us happy, that the security of finances will bring us unprecedented joy and new love.
That is the second foolish act of the rich fool in this parable. His belief that these barns full of crop will produce him the kind of joy that can only come from relationships with neighbors and with God. The man builds big, huge, barns and places his crop in there thinking that this big huge pile of savings will yield happiness.
Perhaps we’ve done the same – if only my savings account were a little bigger, or I had a bit of a nicer car, or maybe another bedroom in my house, perhaps that would fill a void I’m feeling.
Now, of course, we know that money can bring a certain level of safety and security – security from job loss or health issues, the promise that the bills will be paid. Certainly, money brings a certain level of ease to life. But ease of life is not what the gospel is about. Ease of life is not what Jesus came to bring to the world. Ease of life is a minor convenience. What Jesus is preaching here is not comfort or ease, Jesus is preaching a life of abundant joy, challenges, yes, but joy and life.
Now, this isn’t a new concept to probably most of us here. We’ve heard these truths over and over again, from the gospel and from secular thinkers and peers. Its written and spoken everywhere. Money won’t buy you happiness, the Beatles wrote, “can’t buy me love,” This isn’t a truth I think we have a hard time believing but rather a truth we have a hard time accepting.
Which is the challenge our sermon poses to us, not can you believe that money won’t buy you love or happiness or goodness but are you prepared to die to greed? Can we let go of the lifestyle that says having more, having better will bring us happiness?
It is not my job, or my desire, or my hope, to shame anyone into this belief or to shame anyone in the way we act. This is a struggle, a struggle to live into a way of life that is dependent not on things we can gain or buy or accumulate but rather a way of life that is dependent on the mysterious and challenging ways of Christ’s gospel message.
That is a challenging message to take on, throughout our lives and world are placed messages that tell us if we have more, we will be better. If we get this, things will be ok. If we buy this car or that house, life will become happier. All around us the world poses challenges to this way of life, a life where greed is squashed and instead we live into life where joy comes from Christ.
So take this not as a command but as an invitation, not another thing to do, but a desire. What if we died to this idea of greed? We may not be able to do it all at once, it may need to be over a long stretch of time, and it will probably need to be over and over and over again, but that’s ok. What if we died to this idea of greed so that in its place these new things could sprout up. What might they be?
A new kind of trust? A new kind of happiness? A new relationship with God? A new relationship with our neighbors? New struggles, surely, but a new life, when we let go of this life of greed, one that surrounds us all the time.
This is not an easy thing to die to, it is not a quick fix and there is no easy answer. But with the promise and recognition that dying to greed, dying to the constant need for more, will spring up new life, it is worth the struggle.
So, let us let go, put to death the ways of greed, the optimism that more possessions more status more more more something will bring you joy; and live instead into the hope that God will offer us grace and joy and much life. Let us step into the 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. Instead let us live in the trust of God’s promise 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.
This is not an easy thing to let go of, but it is worthwhile, because with the death of greed comes the new life of generosity, relationships, trust, and joy.
In the name of God our Creator, or sustainer, and our redeemer. Amen.