Posted on Aug 04, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Our Gospel story today is often titled the “Parable of the Rich Fool,” but before we just skip over the accusation made against this man and talk about what this means for us today, I think it is critical that we understand why God calls this man a fool. Was it wrong for the man to want to store up his riches? Was it wrong for the man to save his abundance for the future? Does God think it is foolish to be rich and for us to have an abundance? A more modern question might be, is it wrong that we have created retirement savings plans and 401Ks?
Well, to answer these questions, and to get at the heart of this story, let’s take a closer look at it. A man comes to Jesus and wants Jesus to get involved with his apparent squabble with his brother over their inheritance. But Jesus refuses to get involved in this family feud and instead tells a parable about this rich “fool.” “The land of a rich man produced abundantly,” said Jesus (Luke 12:16). From this one line, we learn two critical things. First, since this is a rich man, we know he has a household of people he is responsible for. He may not have a wife, or children, or brothers or sisters, but as a rich man and one who had land, he would have had slaves and other servants that were his responsibility. Secondly, we know that times were good because the land of this man produced abundantly. This man had an abundance of everything. So life is good!
But there is a problem, and we discover the problem in the conversation the man has with himself when he says, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” (Luke 12:17). The man doesn’t have a place to store all his crops! That is a problem, but that is not the problem Jesus is raising, because such an issue is easily solved, as we are told in the very next verse when the man 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” (Luke 12:18). This technical problem was easily solved, but there is a huge issue that still went unresolved, did you hear it? If not, let’s look at the next verse. The rich man said, “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). Did you hear the problem?
The problem wasn’t that this man was wealthy. The problem wasn’t that the man saved for the future. Being wealthy is not a sin, nor does God frown on those who are wealthy. Saving for your future is not wrong, and in fact, we are called to be good stewards. The problem here was that this man appeared to live only for himself, and he believed that he could secure his life with his abundant possessions. The problem was that this man believed that what he had was his alone, and he believed that if he only had more stuff then all would be good, then he could “eat, drink, and be merry!”. This man was not a fool because he was wealthy or because he saved for the future. He was a fool because he cared only for himself and he believed that success was about the stuff he could accumulate. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Life is not about stuff. No one who has died has ever been able to take their physical wealth with them, but this man failed to understand that. The reality was despite his great wealth, he was poor in every other way, eating alone, and even dying alone. To which Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
This is a convicting story for many of us, because in many ways we live our lives like this man. We want to accumulate wealth so we can have comfortable lives, and to be honest, that is OK, as long as we also realize that God expects us to share this wealth. We are to live generous lives every day, and know that all we have is a gift from God, and that all we have, we have because others have worked with us, for us, and supported us so that we might succeed. Our stuff, whatever it is, does not just belong to us. It was first God’s and God is a demanding God when it comes to generosity. God has given us all of creation. God has given us His very life in Jesus Christ, and God has given us eternal life through the life, death, and resurrection of Her son Jesus Christ, and in return we are to live the same way. Living generous lives is how we were created to live.
As I prepared for this morning, the last time we will worship together in community with me as your pastor, I thought a lot about this story, because I consider myself a very wealthy man. So, I prayed with this text and I thought about it a lot. What is it that makes me such a wealthy man, I asked, and the answer I received was incredible. I was reminded again this week that I am wealthy because God has granted me gifts such as the gifts of preaching and teaching that I get to share with others. I am wealthy because I not only have a wife and family that I love, but they also love me.
I am wealthy because I have been blessed to serve a faith community these past ten years that has allowed me and my family to be a part of your family. You have shared your lives with us in so many ways, both the joys and the sorrows. I have had the privilege of being with your loved ones when they were sick or dying. I have had the privilege of presiding at funerals, marriages, and baptisms. I have watched your children grow into adults. You all have allowed Jill and I to be part of your lives in ways most people never get to be. I am wealthy because you all have made me a better person and a better pastor. I am wealthy because you have taught me so much that I now get to go and share those things with the wider church.
And, you, too, are wealthy! What makes you wealthy is not all the money we just received from the building sale and the huge endowment that is being created. What makes you wealthy is not that valuable piece of property you own across the street. What makes you wealthy is not any of the stuff that you see here. No, what makes you wealthy is that you are a faith community that seeks to be in relationship with God and who desires to know God. You are wealthy because you desire to serve the world and welcome of all of God’s creation. Your generosity through Pantry Pack and The Gathering Table makes you wealthy. You are a faith community that has not only said to the world all are welcome here, but you mean it, and you seek to make everyone welcome. These are the things that make you wealthy, and among all the change that will be required of you moving forward, my hope and my prayer is that you only increase your generosity. I pray that you always remember that life is not about the stuff. I pray that you continue to seek new ways to be rich toward God every day.
You have been richly blessed. As I look at you I see a community that is so richly blessed that you continue to produce abundantly. May you always share that abundance!
Thank you for allowing Jill and I to be a part of this incredible faith community. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your family, and thank for making this a community that is generous and caring. May you continue to produce abundantly and may you always be rich toward God. Shalom!