Sermons

"What Should I Do? Be Rich Toward God," a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

"What Should I Do? Be Rich Toward God," a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Jul 31, 2016

Passage:Luke 12:13-21

Preacher: The Rev. Claire Cowden

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Discipleship

Keywords: fool, god, rich, treasure, wealth

Detail:

May the words of my mouth & the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock & our Redeemer. Amen.

“What should I do?”

This common question, one that we ask ourselves on many days, is what sets into motion today’s parable from the Gospel of Luke. This is a parable which illustrates greed. It is a parable mostly about what NOT to do, especially if we want to live richly toward God.

This is an uncomfortable parable.  If you are like me, you might squirm a bit when you hear it. Most of us can feel caught by this parable. Even if we are not wealthy, most of us have a lot of stuff in our own barns.
……..

A rich man receives unexpected good fortune in the form of a bumper crop. Farmers, as well as their friends, know that a bumper crop is always a bonus - a hoped-for-yet-always-surprising gift.

So far, so good. The land is not in peril - the weather has cooperated with the land & with farming practices to produce a bumper crop on the rich man’s lands.

The problem begins when the rich man starts thinking. He thinks to himself, “What should I do?” As he ponders, his entire focus in on himself. His deliberation is completely internal. Listen to how often he uses first-person pronouns,
“What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this: I will pull down my barns & build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will say to my soul, “Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

In this parable, being rich is not an inherent problem. The problem is the man’s total self-absorption resulting in greed, in hoarding his treasure.

Even if we were to give this rich man the benefit of the doubt, and wonder if he is being prudent to store up grain for future years of meager crops, the way he thinks to himself betrays his selfishness.
If he has a family & large household to care for, which a rich man in Jesus’ day would have had, these persons do not enter into his thinking as he seeks to answer life's common question, “What should I do with what I have?”

Even more telling, God does not enter into the rich man’s deliberations in any way. He doesn’t thank God for the abundance of the crop.
He doesn’t wonder what kinds of things God might be calling him to do with the extra wealth which has come to him in the form of nourishing grain.
He is totally oblivious of the other people & relationships God has given him in his life, and how his wealth might positively impact their lives.

Essentially this man is living as if there is no God. God says to him, "You fool!"  The biblical definition of a fool is one who lives live as if there is no God.

The rich man keeps a tight grip on his wealth. Essentially his grip is a death grip, because he dies at the pinnacle of his greedy, false comfort, right after he tells himself, “Relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
…………

What should we do with what we have? What should I do? What should you do?

Perhaps the most obvious thing is to do the opposite of this rich man.
We could start by making sure our decisions are not limited to our own internal thinking, which like this rich man’s, can get skewed in an unhealthy way when we limit our deliberations to the voices within us.

If we come into wealth or some other form of abundance, let’s talk with God and trusted advisers about how such wealth, which comes from God & returns to God, can bless others around us - not simply ourselves & our nuclear families.

What should we do with what we have? The parable tells us: Be rich toward God.

One of my favorite Anglican theologians is George Herbert, who lived some 400 years ago. He is a classic Anglican theologian, and his theology is delivered mainly in the form of poetry.

For George Herbert, theology is not primarily about what goes on in our heads - not only about what we think we are in relation to God. Remember - thinking, in particular the kind of thinking that is limited to what concerns only the self, got the rich man into trouble.
For Herbert & for this beautiful Anglican & Episcopal way of life which we share, theology is inhabited; it is lived.
Herbert helps us live more closely with God because he pays divine attention - long, loving attention -  to such routine daily experiences as sweeping the floor, or coming home worn out from a day of travel on a horse.

In one of his poems, George Herbert writes that each human being is a treasure cabinet, with all kinds of sweets, mercies, and delights bestowed on us by God. (1) These sweets, mercies, & delights are not given one time only. Herbert says these treasures “flock & flow,” they are constantly renewed & replenished.

With this image of humans as treasure cabinets, Herbert offers us a way to think fruitfully about how to be rich toward God.

We can be rich toward God because God has given us riches - unique personalities, particular curiosities, a dazzling array of ways to be smart. God also gives us friendships & families; God gives us this community of the Church, along with the gifts of the Spirit: faith, hope, & love.

We are called to be rich toward God. To open our treasure cabinets - to open ourselves - ever more widely to God and to one another.

This rich man, this fool, refused to open the treasure cabinet of himself.  Perhaps this is how his problems began: not recognizing that he was a treasure.  Perhaps one of his treasures was a great sense of humor.  If so, we get the feeling that his humor probably dimmed & rusted, probably never came alive because he was not willing to share it, just as he was not willing to share his wealth to bring others alive.

Be rich toward God. Acknowledge that you are a treasure. You & your wealth are needed in this world, whether you have the kind of wealth a bank will recognize or whether you have the kind of wealth that makes someone’s plumbing work, or another person's hungry stomach comfortably filled, or someone else’s heart leap for joy.

Practice taking the risk of opening yourself. Share yourself with those God puts in your path. Be rich toward God. Live this life with all you have.
Be fully alive…show forth God’s glory. (2)

Amen.

(1) George Herbert, his poem “Ungratefulness.”  

(2) Irenaeus of Lyons, "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." 

RESOURCES
Harper Collins Study Bible: A New Annotated Version by the Society of Biblical Literature, New Revised Standard Version.

George Herbert, The Country Parson and The Temple in the series The Classics of Western Spirituality, edited by John N. Wall, Jr. (1981 Paulist Press).

Sermon Brainwave Podcast for July 31, 2016 at WorkingPreacher.org