The following message was delivered to Bethel UMC – Seymour on August 4, 2019 (8th Sunday after Pentecost). Lectionary readings were: Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (UMH 830); Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21.
Reading of the Word: Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)
Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
12:14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
12:15 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.”
12:16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
12:17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’
12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
12:19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
12:21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
One: The word of God for the people of God.
Many: Thanks be to God.
Message – Finders, Keepers
Lord, speak through me and, if necessary, in spite of me that your word may be heard this day. Amen.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked our way through part of the Gospel of Luke and learned about our calling to become channels of love for God and neighbor. We’ve learned about what it is to show mercy to a neighbor and that we, too, are the man in the ditch who is rescued by God’s mercy and grace. We’ve learned the importance of listening for God to speak through others and in those quiet moments by being still. We’ve learned how to pray directly from Jesus who is God incarnate, and that praying is a primary means through which God expresses His love to us. In essence, we’ve learned tools for building our relationship with God by building our relationships with others.
Today our journey through Learning to Love God and Neighbor concludes and today is all about what we do with what we have found in this journey and in our lives here on earth.
At the beginning of our passage today, a person in the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to split the family inheritance with me.” Jesus’ response to that person is a word of caution: “Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you? Be on your guard against greed of any kind … there is no life in an abundance of possessions.”
Jesus goes on then to tell the story of the Rich Fool. The Rich Fool has a really good harvest which creates a problem and his solution to the problem is to build a bigger barn so that he has a place to keep that really good harvest and all his other goods or possessions. He thinks if he does this, he’ll be able to eat, drink, be merry, and relax.
At some point in our lives, we each learned about finder-keepers versus loser-weepers. It probably started when we were young … a sibling … a favored toy or another item… the teasing and the chanted “finders, keepers, losers, weepers” … As adults, we probably still use the saying on occasion … when we’re cleaning our closets going through pockets before putting something in the Goodwill pile and find a few folded bills we’d tucked away, or when we’re walking toward some store and spot some money laying on the ground, we probably think “lucky me, finders, keepers.”
The thing is, we’ve all had those finder-keeper moments where we are the finder-keeper, and we’ve all had those moments when we discover we are the loser-weeper. It’s something we can each relate to.
This mindset of finding and keeping follows us from childhood into adulthood and becomes ingrained in how we function in the world. As students, we acquire knowledge and start to develop a goal-based work ethic. Pay attention, study hard, do well, don’t just pass the test, ace the test. Strive to be the best you can be. The very best are rewarded with more opportunities going out the door than the not so very best.
We carry this mindset on throughout our lives. Learn your trade, perfect your skills, work hard, get that raise, get that promotion then do it all again to get to the next raise or the next promotion. Even those of us who are entrepreneurs or whose livelihood is self-determined … business owners, farmers, professional artists, and musicians … share this mindset of learning and perfecting, working hard, earning more in order to expand and begin the cycle again.
To “find” is to obtain or acquire. What we choose to “keep” is based on the worth or value of what we find. We keep what we value, and we keep most securely that which we value the most. This need to find … to obtain and acquire … and to keep is a never-ending habit we carry through life.
We measure our success by the things we obtain and acquire in material terms … a bigger house in a better neighborhood with a larger TV and a sheshier she-shed.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a hymn about today’s scripture. The first verse and a half go like this:
“Bigger barns are what I need!” So, a rich man said one day.
“From my worries, I’ll be free when my wealth is stored away.”
“Fool!” God said, “Today you’ll die! Will your wealth mean anything?
All life’s blessings really lie in my life that wealth can’t bring.”
“Bigger barns are what we need for our money, gadgets, more!”
Lord, we’re tempted to believe having wealth, we’ll be secure!
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? We work and strive for more and more and more. We’re so accustomed to the pattern of finding and keeping and finding more and keeping more that we don’t even realize we’re caught in it and we rarely name it …
But it does have a name. Its name is pleonexia … the hunger or desire for more … in short … it’s greed. It consumes us without our realizing. It causes us to covet what we find and keep and to protect it from anything or anyone we feel … or fear … might find a way to get some of what we’ve found and kept … We even begin to covet things that are no longer ours like taxes collected and how they are spent, or the freedoms and opportunities we’ve enjoyed that others seek by coming here.
In today’s passage, God calls the Rich fool out: ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
And Gillette’s hymn goes on …
Somewhere children cry for food or to have a doctor’s care.
Can our bigger barns be good when poor neighbors know despair?
Many speaking on this passage today will say that God is telling the man he will die that very night. I don’t doubt the man will die, but I don’t believe God’s warning in the passage is referring to physical death. There is more than one way to “die”. There is actual loss of life. There’s death to self so that we can be resurrected in Christ. And then there’s the kind of death where you die spiritually. It seems more probable to me that Jesus was talking about spiritual death in this parable, and it seems to me that spiritual death is the absolute worst kind of death because it means we’ve disconnected from God.
I believe disconnection from God is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
When we get all caught up in that cycle of finding more, then finding ways to keep the more we’ve found while we find yet more ways to acquire even more, we put ourselves at risk of placing that abundance of possessions ahead of God. Each time we make something more important than God, we are creating for ourselves a new idol, a new golden calf and the more emphasis we put on that new golden calf, the more we fall into worshipping it instead of God. The more we worship it instead of God, the closer we come to spiritual death.
I believe what God was saying to that rich fool who wanted a bigger barn was that the fool was teetering on the edge of spiritual death. He was about to choose his abundance of possessions over God.
We know in our heart of hearts that God loves us no matter what. We know there is nothing we can do that God won’t forgive. He loves us so much that He’s told us that whatever wrongs we’ve done He has taken and cast as far away as the East is from the West. That’s some very serious unconditional endless love. An abundance of grace and mercy.
And all God asks of us in return is to love Him back … with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength, all our soul.
I’m pretty sure everyone here can say, “Of course, I love God! Duh! I wouldn’t be here giving up an entire morning if I didn’t love God!” And we’d all be right. In our hearts and even in our minds, we do love God and in our hearts and minds, we know God loves us. The question then becomes, when others see or interact with us, do they see how much we love God and, more importantly, how much God loves them?
This is what our journey through these passages from Luke has been all about: Learning ways to demonstrate how much we love God by extending that love to others through our own actions … to show mercy, listen, and pray for those who are neighbors and especially those we don’t see or those we wouldn’t necessarily desire as neighbors.
None of this is to say that you can’t have nice things, or you should all go home and feel guilty about the things you have or sell everything and live in the tent in the woods. What Jesus is telling us in this passage is that we can’t allow ourselves to put the abundance of possessions or what it takes to find and keep that abundance ahead of God. Jesus is telling us that instead of building bigger barns we should share our wealth with others to build a bigger community … a community that is God’s kingdom here on earth. He’s telling us that we should trust God to provide for us because God loves us, and God will provide if we just trust Him to.
In my first message to you, I spoke to you about trust; about trusting one another and trusting God; about how trust is love and love is trust. If we read past today’s passage in verses 22 through 34, Jesus reminds us of how much God loves us:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Luke 12:22-34 (NIV)
Diana Hayes wrote, “This is our calling as Christian faithful: to recognize the Christ in everyone. And to reach out a hand of hope, to speak a word of love, to sing a song of happiness, to share a tear of joy or pain, to speak a word of praise, to murmur a prayer, to stand together against those forces that would divide us, isolate us, and block our flow toward home.”
To recognize the Christ in everyone, we have to extend God’s love to everyone.
The Right Reverend Steven Charleston wrote, “Love is as close to magic as anything we will ever know. It conjures hope where none was seen before. It makes anger and hurt disappear. It pulls healing out of a hat. Love challenges us to understand how it all seems to work so easily and amazes us with the simple surprise of its appearance in places we never expected. We work in love, through love, and for love, but we never control love, we never own what has been given to us. It is a mystery we inhabit, a power in which we dwell. And it knows our name. May this magic surround you. May it dazzle you and enchant you and delight you until it changes you. May it work its wonder in your heart, a child watching life unfold like paper flowers pulled from a pocket.”
Nathan Hamm wrote, “If you want to heal the world, don’t just love your own group. Love all the other groups as if they were your own. Because in the end, they are.”
Isn’t that what Jesus commanded us to do? Love all the other groups as we love ourselves and as he loves us?
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are rich toward God when we share God’s love and, in doing so, store up treasure in heaven.
My closing prayer today is the last verse of Gillette’s hymn. Let’s pray …
God of love, we long to know what will make us truly blest.
Jesus taught us long ago wealth won’t give us peace or rest.
You are our security! Safe in you, we serve, O Lord.
May we find we’re rich indeed when we’re sharing with the poor.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Note from Rev. Ohle
This message was delivered the morning after the mass killings at El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, and in the same week as Gilroy, CA. While it isn’t reflected in the written version of today’s message, I did speak to this because it does relate to today’s message. A recording of the actual message will be posted to this page later.