THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 4, 2013

Wealth Development
Luke 12:13-21

“God, whose love is not for sale, is still abundant, but hard for us to find.” – Nancy Rockwell

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 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.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 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?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

CHILDREN’S SERMON (from ‘worshiping with children’, Carolyn C. Brown): Behind this parable is the question, “how much is enough?” One way to explore just a part of this is to ponder the size of the servings at communion. Children often have trouble connecting all the language about feasting with the tiny piece of bread and sip from the cup. Those bits don’t even rate as a snack, much less a feast. So, at some point present what is offered and admit that it is not very much. Then recite and laugh about some of the feast language in the ritual words. Finally, ponder the fact that it really is enough to do what it is meant to do. Just a taste of bread and a sip from the cup remind us of God’s enormous love and our place among God’s people. Insist that sometimes just a little is not only enough, but a feast. Wish aloud that the barn builder in the parable had known that.

There are times when it is best to begin at the end, not the beginning. I think that today is one of those days.

The final sentence in the reading for today is: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Here at the end, all we are left with is a sad case. You may receive this parable in a variety of ways. It may seem that Jesus is speaking to someone else, someone richer, better off. It may seem to be a backhanded affirmation as you have no stockpile of resources.

But here at the end, for sure, we are left with a great reversal. Rich or poor: Jesus implies the biblical truth that we ourselves begin with God and return to God. That is the long and short of the matter. The old story about the substance of the dash between dates on the tombstone being important is emphasized here. If that space, that dash, is not spent in the work of garnering riches toward God we may be disappointed at the end of the story.

This is not one of those “speak up now or burn up later” kinds of sermons. There will not be an altar call. Nowhere does Jesus say that wealth is bad, a sin.

Still, this is one who says, “It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” (Luke 18:24-25)

This is the one about whom his mother said,

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)

Just recently, Jesus asked his disciples to consider, “what does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:25)

What he does say, and emphasizes here, is that wealth can get in the way of your relationship, your richness toward God.

St. Augustine once said that God gave us people to love and things to use, and sin, in short, is the confusion of these two things. One way to be rich toward God is to use some of your resources, your time, your talent, your treasure…that stuff saved up in the barn…to benefit your neighbor in need. That’s what the Good Samaritan did, right?

Another way to grow our riches toward God is to work at increasing our discipleship. Even in the midst of lives whose calendar is all too often a brutal task master, there is time. See that calendar is often driven, as Martha’s calendar was, by the expectations of the society in which we live. Max Weber’s classic text “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” identifies the sin we fear most…sloth…laziness. So now, not only our work, but our play is not adequate unless it is structured and scheduled to a frenzied pace. Still, do you remember, just recently, Mary was complimented for what appeared to be a ‘royal waste of time’ (Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World (Eerdmans, 1999)) sitting at Jesus’ feet; which can mean study, worship, prayerful reflection on his words. This, part of discipleship…prayer, studying the bible, worship with the congregation, to develop wealth toward God is a needful thing.

When you begin at the end of the story and move backwards you always have another chance. I began with harsh words, ‘you fool,’ and harsher realities, that death and the end of life is not only near, but is here. We have traveled backwards with this narrative time machine and now we are left here alongside the ‘rich fool’, comfortable and content. And, knowing what we know now, that you cannot take it with you, we face a choice.

Jesus came to tell us that God wants so much more for us than simply more stuff. God wants for us life and love and mercy and community, and we are in control of creating and receiving these very things that make us rich toward God. This is the new clothing St. Paul urges us to put on.

One thing is clear: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ If we do not learn this lesson, we will make our possessions into the heaviest of burdens which we will carry everywhere and they will get us nowhere.

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