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."

Riches in heaven

It was one of those pleasant summer evenings. A cool breeze was gently blowing in our faces as we sat outside our tent pitched on a hill overlooking the Goreme Valley in Turkey. The sun was slowly sinking lighting up the cliff faces on the edge of the valley and the strange rock formations below us with shades of orange and red. And as the sunlight faded the lights of the town below came on and the stars in the cloudless night began to fill the sky. It was a great night. Wow, here we were sitting in the middle of Cappadocia – a place that dated back to the Hittite Empire in the Bronze Age and an important centre of worship for the early Christians. This was true contentment - taking in the scene, relaxing, still weeks left to go on holidays, all was right in the world at that moment.

These moments of complete contentment come to everyone at some time. Maybe when you saw your child graduate from school or university, or those special moments with children or grandchildren, or if you’re a sports person, pondering over your score card and being pleased that you have done so well.

You would have thought that the rich man in Jesus’ parable would have had one of those moments of contentment as he looked over his crops and noted how well everything had turned out. Farming can be tricky business especially if the weather isn’t just right. He had every reason to be contented – his crop was the best that he had ever had.

But this farmer is not contented. He is the beneficiary of a spectacular harvest. It’s obvious he is a good farmer and has been blessed with excellent farming conditions. He has done very well over the years and become very rich. This bumper crop is a problem and he is stressed. We find him having a bit of a discussion with himself.

"What can I do?" he asks himself, "I have had such good seasons in the past, my barns are full and I have nowhere to store this year’s crop. I know what I will do? I will pull down my barns. I will build bigger ones".

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 both his wealth to be able to go into such an extensive rebuilding program and the size of this harvest as well as previous ones. He hasn't just done well; he has done very well indeed. Miraculously well.

Up to this point there is little for which to criticize the man. In fact, this miracle of God's blessing probably reminded Jesus’ listeners of how Joseph in the Book of Genesis stored up surplus from the bountiful harvests that God gave in preparation for the coming seven drought years. It was assumed by people in those times that a surplus implied that there would most likely be tough times ahead.

The conclusion could be drawn that when God gives a miraculous harvest like this, certain demands and responsibilities are placed on the rich man - to build bigger and better granaries, and like Joseph, to care for his people in the lean years ahead. And early in the parable it seems the farmer is doing the right thing. He is taking his responsibility for managing his good harvests seriously preparing for the possibility of drought years ahead for himself and his community.

Our fine impressions of this farmer soon vanish when we discover that he has no intention of sharing this miraculous gift. He has no clue that it is God who has provided him with so much wealth. 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!"

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. His wealth had become the sole focus and centre of his life. Nothing and no one else mattered.

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 doesn’t matter if we are successful and rich, struggling and poor; it is a fact of life that we so easily forget what the most important things in life are.

So far in the parable the only one who has spoken has been the rich farmer. Suddenly another voice intrudes into the story - the voice of God. The voice doesn't accuse the rich man of injustice, or selfishness or even of greed. God says 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?

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 – 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 fatal heart attack? As the saying goes, "A shroud does not have pockets".

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).

A miser who lived alone used to keep all his gold and precious things in a cellar under the floor of his house. One day he went down through a secret trap door to gloat over his treasures. Then the trap door banged down so that he couldn't get out. For all intents and purposes the miser had just vanished. No one could find any trace of him. People searched all over the house without finding any trace of him. After a long time, they gave up and the house was sold.

The new people who bought the house wanted to do some renovating and the cellar was found. When it was opened the miser was sitting at a table with all his gold glittering around him. The dead man had even eaten a candle before dying of hunger. Here was a man with all the money one could possibly need, but in the end it couldn’t help one bit. Jesus concluded his story saying, "This is how it is with those who pile up riches for themselves but are not rich in God's sight."

What does Jesus mean by being rich in God's sight? We might think that our greatest needs are material possessions but to be truly wealthy is to know Jesus Christ and his love for us and the forgiveness and freedom he has won for us. When I say that knowing Jesus is to be truly wealthy I don’t mean knowing that there is someone "up there" who watches over us or knowing something about Jesus’ life and what happened to him. In any modern minds there is strange mixture of wishful thinking, superstition and limited knowledge when it comes to knowing Jesus.

The riches that are referred to here is knowing Jesus in such a way that you 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 who is extremely interested in everything that happens in your life.
Knowing Jesus gives peace in the severest storms of life and joy when everything seems in turmoil. Knowing Jesus means that the power of sin and death no longer terrify us. We trust in all that he has done and will do for us.

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. The riches of this world stop at the grave; God's riches are eternal.

It is Jesus who even forgives us when we get all of priorities mixed up.
He keeps on loving us even when we too caught up in our own little worlds and too busy for God – too busy to pray to him, to worship him, to listen to him speaking, to busy to go for him and serve others.
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.

There are other riches that Jesus refers to when he talks about "riches in heaven". These riches include generosity, love, justice, peace, forgiveness, joy, eternal life. These are the kinds of riches we should be spending our energy pursuing. These are riches that not only have a wide and lasting influence on our lives but also in the lives of the people in our lives.

Today Jesus is challenging us through this passage of Scripture to see what kind of riches we really have. Do we have riches in heaven? Is Jesus the centre and focus of our lives and are we like him when it comes to those in need around us - generous, kind, loving, helpful, compassionate? Does the way we use our wealth demonstrate the rich relationship we have with our God?

Here is a radical thought - but it is biblical - if your property and possessions or whatever it might be (work, sport, friends, work, farm) lead you away from Christ, it is better then, for you to do without them. Doesn't Jesus say, "Does a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life?" (Mark 8:36).

Thank God that Jesus did not have the same attitude as the Rich Fool. He did not keep himself to himself with no regard for anyone else. All the riches of God are centred in what Jesus, the Son of God, did there on the cross. In the death of Jesus there is forgiveness for our mismanagement of God's gifts.

Daily we live our lives in the knowledge that we have been made members of God's kingdom through baptism. We live in the knowledge that we have a Saviour who forgives our weaknesses and encourages us to live lives rich in the sight of God. Real riches are to be found in Jesus Christ and in a life of love and service in his name.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
1st August 2010

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