Grace United Methodist Church
August 29, 2010
Luke 12: 13-34 (NIV)
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I have a vivid memory of an old “Family Circus” cartoon. A copy of the cartoon hung on my grandmother’s refrigerator at her home in North Carolina. This particular “Family Circus” frame shows Grandma working away in the kitchen, and Jeffy running towards her from the other room. As Jeffy is hurrying into the kitchen, he is saying, “Momma says ‘No,’ and Daddy says ‘Yes.’ Grandma, will you break the tie?”
To some degree, that is what is going on at the beginning of this Scripture from Luke. A man and his brother are in a disagreement, so one brother goes to Jesus, hoping he’ll “break the tie.” It was not unusual for people to go to Rabbis with disputes, and for the Rabbis to act as judges or arbiters in the matter. However, Jesus isn’t going to go there; he isn’t going to get caught in the middle of a petty dispute about money and property. I find it interesting that Jesus spent a lot of his time teaching about money and material possessions, perhaps more than any other subject except the kingdom of God; and yet, he refused to get caught in the middle of a property dispute. How we handle our material resources is an important matter, but what Jesus is essentially saying through his response to the man’s question is that we shouldn’t worry and fret about material possessions because there are bigger things to life, and it’s all God’s anyway! One’s life is made secure not by things, but by triumph over things. Jesus knows this and so he takes the opportunity to tell a parable in an effort to re-direct the man’s concerns and open his eyes. Jesus is saying to that man, and to us, that we worry ourselves about the wrong things.
The modern Western world is built on anxiety. Just consider that for a moment. I suspect you can conjure several images of anxiety without much thought. You can see it everywhere. We see it on the faces of people hurrying to work, cutting one another off in traffic, tying their tie in the rear-view mirror or fixing their hair. We see it even more as people travel home, tired but without having solved life’s problems. Faces are weary, puzzled, living the unanswerable question as to what it all means. We often thrive on setting higher and higher goals for ourselves, and each other, and then we worry all day and all year about whether we will reach them. It’s so bad that we often set ourselves on a downward cycle where we are worried about worrying. And if we do reach our goals, we will set new ones. If we don’t, we will feel as if we’ve failed. Is this really how we are supposed to live? In this scripture passage today, Jesus once again talks to us about a higher pursuit, he is calling us toward that place where we truly belong, where are souls and even our lives are made whole and complete.
A young man and an older man were having a conversation about the future. The young man said, “I’m gonna learn a trade.”
“And then?” asked the older man.
“I’ll set up my business.”
“I’ll make my fortune.”
“I suppose I will grow old and retire and live on my money.”
“Well, I suppose that someday I will die.”
“And then?” came the last stabbing question.
We can concern ourselves over the matters of this world and end up on a dead end street, or we can seek the mind of Christ and the kingdom of God. As Jesus tells this parable, we see some rather unattractive traits in this man; he is gripped by greed and preoccupied with possession. Two things become particularly clear about the man in this parable; he never saw beyond himself, and he never saw beyond this world. An author writes, “When my oldest son, Nathan, was a teenager, he told me that he had decided to become a stockbroker, a millionaire by age 30, and retire to the Bahamas.” The author notes, “I told him I would be deeply hurt to see him fail so badly.”
When we get focused on the wrong things, we set ourselves up for failure. The man in the parable was wildly self-centered. He had an abundance of goods, yet the one thought that never entered his mind was to give any away, and all the man’s plans were made on the basis of life here. When we forget that there is another world, we are destined for a grim shock; we may think that we are pursuing success, but we will only find failure. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
In fact, part of Jesus’ intention in his conversation here is to drive home the point that precisely by getting caught up in greed and selfish motives, life is taken away. We become so overcome with worry and anxiety that we are drained of life; we are drained in the present life, but we also lose future life as well. Several months ago in a Bible Study here at Grace, we got into a conversation about wealth. We were discussing a passage of Scripture that was particularly condemning of wealth. But part of what the passage was saying, and part of our conversation around this passage, was that wealth in and of itself is not a horrible thing, it’s what you do with it. The Rich Fool had a great opportunity to do something amazing with his wealth, to give some away to people in need. But instead, he got worried about it; about how he was going to store it. The problem was not that he had a great harvest, but that he was preoccupied with it. And thus began an endless downward cycle.
Jesus saw the dangerous path the man was following, and so he offered to his listeners and all the disciples three reasons why we should not allow anxiety to get control in our lives. He says, “life is more than food and the body more than clothes.” Now, don’t get this wrong, these words are not intended for people who do not have enough to eat. These words are addressed to persons who have food to eat and clothes to wear and yet spend their lives trying to acquire more and more. These words of Jesus can free us from anxiety over what we have or do not have. Jesus says, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” This reminder calls us away from worry and to a renewed trust in God, and God’s sovereign care of all of his creation; even we unworthy, undeserving fools! And besides, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” It’s just plan ol’ good common sense; worrying does not solve our problems.
Jesus’ teachings go to the heart of the way we are, but they also go to the very root of the problem he faced in confronting a harsh world with the message of God’s kingdom. His message here wasn’t just good advice on how to live a happy, carefree life. This was a challenge to the very center of this world. Society pushes us into thinking that we have to become like the man in the story who wanted the security of enough possessions to last him a long time. But the kingdom of God isn’t like that; life isn’t like that! God simply wants to shower us with his grace and new life. You see, the kingdom of God is about God’s sovereignty sweeping the world with love and power, so that human beings, each made in God’s image and each one loved dearly, may relax in the knowledge that God is in control. No need to worry. No need to fret. If we are willing to let go of the trivial things, we can rest in the knowledge that God is in control.
Isn’t that a comforting thought! God is in control! If we can trust in that, then we can hand over to God not only our resources, but also our whole selves; time and talents, joys and sorrows, worries and anxieties. We give God control of the things that so often control us, control our lives. And with God in the driver’s seat, we don’t have to be worried. It’s no wonder that this parable we heard from Jesus this morning is called the Parable of the Rich Fool. Indeed, we would be foolish to worry ourselves over relatively trivial matters, when God has a bigger plan for us! But before we can be a part of God’s plan, we have to relinquish all that grips us and drags us down. We have to release the worries and anxieties that consume our lives and yet achieve nothing.
So what are the worries that burden you today? What is it that’s making you feel anxious? In all the time that you’ve been turning those things over in your mind, has anything come of it? Let us not worry, let us not be anxious; rather, let us lean on the loving arms of Jesus, confident that our burdens are lifted and our souls freed. Confident that God is in control!