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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Fool Who Was Rich - 07/31/2016

The parable from Luke we read today about the rich fool contains a warning that we need to hear repeatedly … and not just repeatedly in the course of our individual lifetimes, but regularly throughout the parade of humanity that started so long ago and that we carry into the ages yet to come through our lives today.

We must need hear it repeatedly because it shows up in one way or another in all four of our scriptures today, scriptures that span thousand of years.

“When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others … Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish,” (Ps 49: 10, 12) wrote the sons of Korah 2,600 years ago. Korah was the son of Esau and his sons wrote this psalm when they recognized that their father's greed was the source of his downfall.

A few centuries later we get a dose of wisdom on the despair we can experience from being too steeped in vanity. “I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?” wrote a certain teacher, a certain king of Jerusalem and son of David called Solomon. “So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This (despair) also is vanity.” (Ecc 2:18, 20-21).

Our journey through the scriptures then takes us to the letter to the Colossians written some 50 or so years after the earthly ministry of Jesus ended on the cross and his eternal ministry began in the echo of an empty tomb. “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Col. 3:5)

Idolatry is at the heart of these teachings. This particular flavor of idolatry has less to to with worshiping things like golden calves or power or fame, and more to do with how greed leads us to focus only on ourselves and how much we can amass. It is to live in complete isolation from God and neighbor with a big sign over your head that flashes “It's all and only about me.” And that is what Jesus focuses on when he responds to the a person in the crowd who demands that Jesus intervene in this family dispute over how an inheritance is divided among brothers.

The Gospel of Luke casts a harsh critique on the wealthy for the most part, while simultaneously holding up the poor. Mary sings about it in her song of praise as she and Elizabeth celebrate the news of their unborn sons. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (1:52-53). Jesus alludes to the counter-cultural view he has of the world in Luke's version of the Beatitudes. After a host of blessings for the underdogs, he says, “But woe to you who are rich.” (6:24)

Because of that tough critique of the rich, I think it's important to hear quite precisely what is being judged harshly here. It's not being wealthy. It's not having the skill and the resources to successfully work the land and reap a plentiful harvest. It's not, as in the case of Solomon, being gifted in intelligence and wisdom and the ability work hard. Rather, it is what we do with those gifts and passions and wealth. Do we store them up for ourselves or are we rich toward God?

This is a text about stewardship and the choices we make about what we do with all the abundance God pours out for us  – no matter what form that abundance may take – time, money, wisdom, skills, resources.

I had a conversation with someone sometime ago about how we understand and recognize sin as children of God and followers of Jesus. In the end, all the examples we could come up with in some way involved turning inward instead of outward. We basically boiled it all down to navel gazing … times when we become so focused on our own possessions, our own needs and desires, fears and passion, our own success and wealth that soon we find all we can see in creation is our own belly buttons. We become like damns in the flow of God's abundance. And since all we can see is ourselves, the desperation of all else around us goes unnoticed and unanswered.

The bellies of the hungry continue to growl, the oppressed continue to live in the large and dark shadow of the privileged, the planet continues to groan under the weight of misuse and over consumption. Or we live our lives as if we are the pivot points to the success or failure of everything that happens around us.

I fell into this common habit of us saints and sinners just last week when I let my own thoughts of self-importance get the better of me. My weekend with my family was punctuated by moments of anxiety that I had messed something up in planning for worship in my absence, as if I was at the very center of this faith community's ability to come together and worship God and be disciples at the feet of Jesus.

Well, the fact is that I did mess something up in the musician schedule for last week. But guess what? I am not at the center of worship here – God is, God and this amazing story of God's gift to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God who, despite my missteps, heard this community's confessions with a warm and open heart, forgave sins and then fed all who gathered at this table of God's free-flowing bread and wine of life. God provided all this without me … God even provided a visiting musician. I had to confess that was navel-gazing.

This parable Jesus offers us today is the perfect picture of navel gazing. Just listen to the language of it again. “(The rich man) thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

It isn't the rich man's success and wealth that Jesus is commenting on at all. That success and wealth is a gift from God. It's what the rich man does with this success and wealth that draws these critical words from Jesus … that forms this response to the person in the crowd who wants Jesus to intervene in a family dispute about who gets what and how much of it.

So we may wonder, how might this parable go if the rich man responded in a different way to his wealth and success. How might it go if he modeled the Way Jesus teaches us, the Way Jesus has freed us to pursue?

I think it might go something like this:

Then Jesus told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store these crops?' Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will go to all those who helped work this land and I will provide what they need to feed themselves and their families through the year with enough to store for the next year. For without their help, this bountiful harvest would not have been possible. More than that, I will share this abundance with my faith community so that this bountiful gift from God will benefit the neighbor I do not know. And even after that, I will have enough to fill my barn.' And so that is what the rich man did. His workers rejoiced in the abundance of God, the shared fruits of their shared labors. And people throughout the region gave thanks for the generosity of the unknown benefactor who shared the abundance of his fields so freely.

The next year, there was a drought and many places were touched by famine. But because the rich man had turned outward rather than inward with the abundance of the land he worked, the people were able to survive these hard times thanks to the plentiful harvest that was shared and stored throughout the region. The man had not stored up all his treasure for himself, but was rich toward God and all were able to sing the song of Solomon. They sang of God's abundance for all of creation, “So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 8:15) Soon after, the Lord came to demand the rich man's soul. Like all the wise and all the dolts, like all the rich and all the poor he perished and went home to God, who greeted the rich man saying “Well done, my good and faithful servant, well done.”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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