Written by Debbie Brown
Sermon given at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, South Hadley, MA
We FINALLY are getting some rain! Thanks be to God! We needed it! Last night we had a deluge of hard and fast rain that ran down the streets and sidewalks, forming pools of water. As I drove through the storm last night, I remembered the public service announcements about the danger of driving through standing water. Gauging the depth of water can be tricky, and you can do a lot of damage to your vehicle or even be swept away when the water is running beneath the surface.
Several years ago, a friend of mine in Texas ignored that advice. She saw the standing water in the road, judged it to be quite shallow, and decided to drive through it. But she was mistaken. As she got toward the middle, her car suddenly stalled and water flooded in. Fortunately for her, the water wasn’t running heavily, so she was safe. But her car couldn’t be saved and ended up becoming scrap metal. It was a very expensive lesson for her.
In a way, standing water in the road after a hard and fast rain is like the message in a parable. On the surface it appears to be simplistic – maybe even shallow. But wading into it surprises us with its true depth. The parables Jesus tells are a vehicle to offer valuable lessons about God and the nature of God’s kingdom. If we dive in, we can find ourselves at the precipice of death and new life.
The parable of the Rich Fool that Jesus tells us today is like that. On the surface, I think we all get it. To store up our treasures is vanity. We can’t take our material possessions with us when we die. By the way, news flash to the deceased riding in the hearse with the U-Haul behind it pictured above. That person is in for a big reality check….
On the surface, it’s easy for us to think that this parable has nothing to do with us. None of us here are so rich that we need to build bigger banks to hold all of it. So it must really meant for the super-rich people, the one percent of Americans holding anywhere from one third to one half of the wealth in this country. They are the ones building bigger banks to store up their treasures. And they are very successful! The newest reports by some economists reveal that their wealth is growing yearly by about six percent, while the wealth of the rest of the ninety-nine percent of us is steadily shrinking.
I think I am safe to say that all of us have felt the strain of the cost of living; it has been increasing faster than our modest gains in earnings – if there are any increases at all. And it feels as if the average middle class American is taking the brunt of it all as we pay the lion’s share of taxes and fees to support everyone, while the rich keep getting richer.
So how in the world are we like the rich fool?
It takes some risk on our part to see it. If we don’t explore the possibilities, we will find ourselves in danger. Even though we are not rich, our attitudes about our possessions are very much like those of the rich fool, and it IS a matter of death and new life.
Notice that when the rich fool makes a decision to store up his treasures in bigger barns he consults only with himself. He credits everything he has to his hard work and decides to hold onto his riches for his own pleasure. He has worked so hard for what he has, and he deserves to enjoy it. Besides, what if he falls on hard times? His bounty will provide him with a good cushion to absorb a few losses.
Perhaps you, like me, recognize a tiny glimmer of yourself here. We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. We have been taught that we are the masters of our own destiny. All we have to do is work hard and get a good education in order to achieve the “American Dream” – which by the way is getting bigger and bigger and harder and harder for many of us to achieve.
We have worked hard for what we have; our possessions and accomplishments define who we are in the eyes of the world. We can’t be faulted for not working hard and doing what has to be done to succeed. Still, we often find ourselves working harder and harder to maintain our status and end up becoming slaves of the American Dream.
We don’t want to feel as if our work is in vain, so we do one of two things… we spend all we can while we are still alive because we can’t take it with us (as a bumper sticker I have seen suggests), OR we save and save because we don’t know when we might need it to get us through a tough spot.
To be clear…I don’t think Jesus is trying to tell us that spending or saving is bad. Riches and money in and of themselves are not evil. Instead, it is how we view and use our possessions that matters the most. The rich farmer in today’s story only looks inside himself to decide what to do with his wealth.
The parable says that after the farmer finished building bigger barns and storing his riches, God came to him and said, ‘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 toward God.”
In the end, he loses everything.
Rich TOWARD God – it is a strange turn of words isn’t it? What might it mean to be rich toward God? The answer isn’t in our text. but immediately following this parable, Jesus gives us a glimpse, reminding us of God’s promise, and offering some words of wisdom.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”
He goes on to say, “Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Striving for God’s kingdom isn’t something we can do on our own. There are risks and fears – perhaps some that you have already thought about as hear Jesus’ words. Fear is a powerful emotion that can only be overcome when God, not self, is at the center of everything we do.
In Holy Baptism, we became inheritors of God’s kingdom and given the gift of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. We are no longer sentenced to a life that is defined by our possessions and achievements. Instead, we are given new life defined by God’s love shown to us in Jesus’ victory over death. We have also been accepted into a community where we are given the tools to help us step out in faith.
In worship and the study of scripture, God’s love for us and for all people is revealed through Jesus’ death and resurrection – proof that even death cannot have victory over us. We also receive forgiveness for the times we fall short, and the body and blood of Christ to strengthen us for the work we are called to do.
This doesn’t happen to us all at once. It is a process – baby steps along the way as we begin to engage in life-giving practices that help us to grow in faith and overcome the fear that keeps us from experiencing new life in Christ.
Worship, prayer, gratitude, service, forgiveness and generosity flow more freely with each step we take and with the realization that we are called to be stewards of all that God has given us.
Stewardship gets a really bad reputation, especially when we see it only as a once a year drive to give more money or do more things for the church. But this isn’t what stewardship is all about. Instead, it is process that allows us to acknowledge that everything we have, including our achievements and accomplishments are God’s…first and foremost. This is whole life stewardship.
When we don’t put God at the center of everything we do, we might be tempted to see stewardship as something we have to do or something God wants from us. Instead it is a way of life God wants forus. Living every aspect of our lives in ways that honor God frees us from the vain pursuit of piling on more stuff. In return, our lives are filled in ways we would never expect.
New life begins when we give up everything – every notion that what we have is ours alone and that we have the right to use it for our own benefit.
We are not self-created, but God-created. Even our good deeds are not ours, but flow from the gifts that God gives us… not just for us, but for the sake all of God’s creation.
Today, as we collect the offering, pay close attention to the words. They begin with a question and answer…
“What can I offer you O Lord, for all your blessings unto me. I will offer my heart in thanksgiving. I will lift my voice to praise your name.”
This is the heart of whole life stewardship. What might this mean for us?
When God is at the center of our lives, it becomes harder and harder to hold grudges and judgments against one another. Forgiveness flows. Relationships with unlikely people grow, and our worldview changes to one that embraces kindness and generosity.
I am sure you have some thoughts about what God has in store for your life, but here are few ideas to start us all off on the whole life stewardship journey:
Begin each day in prayer and end it thanking God for the many blessings we have encountered along the way – nothing is too small to notice when we take time to give God thanks.
Practice and grow in faith through worship as we gather, hear the word, eat God’s meal, and are sent out to do what God has already done for us.
Volunteer in places that make a difference for others.
Seek God’s guidance in every aspect of our finances – thinking of the implication of how our spending and consumption affects the all of creation. Do this individually, as a community of faith, and as a citizen of our country and the world.
Pray for our leaders and urge them to work toward social and economic justice.
Look at our country and the world through God’s eyes rather than through our own fear-clouded vision.
Go ahead… take some baby steps, wade in slowly, or simply dive into the still waters where God is at the center. You won’t believe what you will find.
It is a matter of death and new life……