Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 13)

Text: Luke 12:16-21
Jesus told them this parable: "There was once a rich man who had land which bore good crops. He began to think to himself, "I don't have a place to keep all my crops. What can I do? This is what I will do,' he told himself; "I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I will store the grain and all my other goods. Then I will say to myself, Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!' But God said to him, "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?' " And Jesus concluded, "This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God's sight."

Fake rabbits

What is beautiful to one person may not be the case for the next. And so you can bet there are people who will disagree with my next sentence. Of all the animals there are in this world, greyhounds are animals that are to be pitied the most.

I'm not referring to their shape, although it could be argued that they are not one of the most handsome dogs, nor am I referring to the feeling that the lean look of a greyhound always gives the impression that what the animal needs is a really good feed.

When I say that of all the animals in the world the greyhound is to be pitied the most, this is because of the races they have. They chase something they can never catch. Unlike most other dogs, when they chase a cat or a rabbit, they have a good chance of catching it. But the greyhound never catches what he is chasing. I don't know what the "rabbit" they chase is made of, but itís not real. It doesnít have legs like a real rabbit but scoots around the track on a rail. If, by some chance, the greyhound did catch up with that rabbit, he would be sadly disappointed Ė itís only a fake.

And you know what? Those greyhounds don't learn. When they see that fake rabbit fly past them all common sense goes with it. Going on past experience you would think they would know they will never catch it. But the temptation is just too much and off they go Ė maybe, just maybe, they think they will catch it this time!!

Those greyhounds chasing after their fake rabbits are a commentary on life. We spend a lot of time chasing after things that we think are valuable at the time but when seen in the bigger picture, they are just "fake rabbits".

Too often, we are like the child who says to his mum, "If I can have a new fifteen speed, alloy framed, front and rear suspended, metallic red bike, Iíll never ask for anything else in my whole life. Iíll be the happiest person in the whole world and I promise to take real good care of it."

Two weeks later, the bike is left lying in the driveway in the rain. When he was reprimanded for such carelessness, the boy replies, "Naw, thatís all right. Itís soon my birthday and Iím going to ask dad to get me a twenty speed. Fifteen speed is for babies."

What happened to the boy who was going to be happiest person in the world with a new fifteen speed, alloy framed, front and rear suspended, metallic red bike? This boy is typical of so many of us - dissatisfied, discontent, ungrateful, always chasing something that he thought would be bigger and better and provide the supreme happiness everyone is seeking. In actual fact, this is all a "fake rabbit".

Jesus tells the story of a man who had done very well for himself. Indeed, he had been truly blessed by God. He had become very wealthy and owned some of the best land the district. And he used that land wisely. He employed very successful farming practices and it paid off with a bumper crop. The question now arises, "How should I manage this unusually large harvest?
What should I do?
I have no place to store my crops.
I know what I will do? I will pull down my old barns and build bigger ones.

Now that seems like drastic action. He doesn't just build extra barns to add to his existing ones; he tears down his old barns and builds new barns. This underlines the size of the harvest. If he has enough from this harvest to be tearing down his old barns and building better and bigger ones, his harvest must have been so good that he could afford to carry out such a massive building scheme. He hasn't just done well; he has done very well indeed. We are impressed.

But then something goes wrong. Our fine impressions of this successful farmer vanish when we discover that he has no intention of sharing this miraculous gift. He has stored his harvest all for himself. His own words condemn him: Lucky man! You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy, eat drink, and enjoy yourself!

Notice what's happening here. Don't make the man worse than he is. He's not unlike most of us in his passions and motives. The message of the parable is not: ĎGod doesn't like people who work hard and are successfulí. This isnít a story about an exceptionally wicked man. We donít hear of him mistreating his workers, or being dishonest or unjust.

He is just an ordinary man who is careful, conservative and has been blessed by good rains and good soil. But he gets everything out of focus. He lost sight of the fact that his farm was an asset given by God and that his good crops were gifts from God. His wealth had become the sole focus and centre of his life.

This story is an example how we, like the farmer, think we have got everything right when, in actual fact, we have got it all wrong. It doesnít matter if we are successful and rich, struggling and poor, it is a fact of life that we so easily forget what are the most important things in life.

No sooner had the farmer finished congratulating himself than we hear the voice of God. "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?" The rich man thought he had done everything right and could now sit back and enjoy his wealth but he had forgotten the most important thing of all Ė he had forgotten God. Jesus concluded his story saying, "Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God" (Luke 12:21 New Living Translation). The farmer had got it all wrong. Of what good was all his wealth after his death? As the saying goes, "A shroud does not have pockets".

Like the greyhounds who think that the fake rabbit is worth chasing, we too are in danger of putting so much effort into the wrong things. Jesus says in Luke 9, "And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process" (verse 25 NLT).

There is a story of a conversation between a young man and an older man.

"What will you do with your life?" asked the older man.
"I will learn a trade." said the young man.
"And then?" said the older man.
"I will set up business."
"And then?"
"I will make my fortune."
"And then?"
"I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money."
"And then?"
"Well, I suppose that some day I will die."
"And then?" came the stabbing question.

That about sums up this parable of Jesus. This story of Jesus is a very modern one. Just substitute the crops and barns with the things we strive for, and we stand right in the middle of this parable. We constantly face the threat of the things of this world and include here not only property and money, but also our careers, our families and friends, or whatever might consume us and become our central and only focus. We can be so easily obsessed by all this striving to improve our lot in life, that we lose sight of what is truly important. The tension in Jesusí story is the tension in our lives.

We can ignore the tension this parable creates within us and gloss over it saying, "Things arenít that bad?" However, there is no denying that Jesus confronts us and forces us to look within ourselves at the values and beliefs with which we operate. He wants us to recognise that we are chasing "fake rabbits".

In the end Jesus said, get your priorities right. The rich fool died and his riches didn't help him one bit. We need to be "rich in God's sight" (v 21).

What did Jesus mean when he said that we are to be rich in Godís sight? Our greatest need by far is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord.

Notice I said personal relationship.
I can tell you John Howard has bushy eyebrows, balding on top, wears glasses and is vertically challenged;
I would recognise him if I passed him in the street;
I can tell you that his wife is Jeanette,
I can tell you that he is the Prime Minister of our country,
but in no way can I say that I have a personal relationship with him in the same way that I have a personal relationship with Miriam or my children.

There are many who know who Jesus is,
something about his life,
what happened to him,
but they don't have a personal relationship with him - to trust him, love him, rely on him, believe him, turn to him, talk to him, listen to him, have faith in him, worship him here at church, regard him as someone close and personal.

Having a Saviour who loves us, forgives us, walks with us through the ups and downs of life's journey, has brought us into his family and promised to all who trust him that they have a place in heaven - that is to be truly rich, to have assets that will not deteriorate.

When we consider all the things that make up our life, we quickly see that we have riches beyond measure every day of our life. We can have the finest car, the best house on the street, the best retirement plan, the best health, but the greatest asset that we can have is Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation.

It is Jesus who even forgives us when we get all of priorities mixed up.
He keeps on loving us even when we are selfish with our time and too busy for God - to pray to him, to worship him, to listen to him speaking.
He keeps on loving us even when we are too busy to love and serve the people around me. Jesus even forgives us when we are so busy making a living that we forget that he is the source of all that we have.

All the other things will fade away and will be of no use to us beyond the grave, but the love and salvation of Jesus will endure into eternity. The best asset you can have for this life and beyond is faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

Thank God today for the riches that have come to you through Jesus your Saviour.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th August 2007

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