In the spring of 2014, our family was living in Maple Grove, when I was in the call process to become the pastor here at Trinity. Shortly after the call process was complete, and we knew that our family was moving to Owatonna, Pastor Peter Strommen, who was the interim pastor here at the time, invited me to come down and meet with him to talk about the church, and the transition. I remember that he gave me a tour of the building.
I remember walking into Fellowship Hall. And I remember that my jaw kind of dropped. I was shocked by its size and its scope…it is ginormous for a church Fellowship Hall. And I remember that I asked Pastor Peter “Wow…this room is huge. Is it too big? Did Trinity maybe overbuild? ” And I remember that he gave me a kind of a sly, sidewise smile…and a great answer. He said: “Well, it depends on what all of you do with it!”
Yep. Challenge accepted.
And I’m glad to say that Trinity did not overbuild its Fellowship Hall. In fact, now I’d say: “yep, it’s big, and it’s just right.”
Pastor Peter checked my vision that day. (Not my vision…but my vision!). Sometimes it just takes an adjustment in our vision…an adjustment in our perspective, to understand both how things really are, and how things can be.
That is what is going on in our parable today.
Instead of calling this the “Parable of the Rich Fool,” I might call it the “Parable of the man with bad vision,” or maybe the “Parable of the man who needed an attitude adjustment.”
Jesus begins the story by telling us that the farmer had a really good harvest. So good, in fact, that he didn’t have enough storage for it all. “What should I do?” he asks himself. “I know, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. If I can store all this grain, then I can retire from farming, and just kick back and enjoy life while relishing the fruits of my labor.”
But then Jesus says that God spoke to the man, “You fool!” God said. “Tonight, your life will be demanded from you. Then what will you do with the excess.” In other words, “Dude, you can’t take it with you.”
Now, our first instinct with this scripture is to look at it through the framework of selfishness vs. sharing. “We shouldn’t hoard things, right? We should share with others. Simple!” Well sure. That’s true, but I think it’s only a part of the story. It is what we see on the surface. If we dig deeper, there is something else going on here…something else that Jesus is trying to teach.
I think the real issue, the bigger issue, and maybe the truth Jesus wants us to learn, is about the farmer’s isolation.
Notice the conversation that the farmer has with himself. The farmer says: “‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
This conversation isn’t just to himself, it’s also about himself…and only himself.
Notice how many times he refers to himself in only 3 sentences: “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down mybarns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Eight times he refers to himself. There are only 46 words in this paragraph, and 8 of them are “Me,” “Myself” or “I.”
There is no thought of using the abundance of his harvest to help others, no expression of gratitude for his good fortune, no recognition of God at all. All he can think of is how to make sure he gets the most out of it, so that he can live comfortably into his old age.
Talk about narcissism! The farmer falls prey to the idea that he, by himself, can secure his own future. He doesn’t believe that he needs anyone or depends on anyone. He believes that he can go it alone.
The farmer is worshipping the most popular of gods, the unholy trinity of “me, myself and I.”
That is why Jesus calls him foolish.
He is foolish because he centers his life only on himself, and because he believes that by accumulating his wealth, he can secure his future.
But in the end, Jesus says that this foolish farmer will die alone; his possessions cannot protect him from that fate. And his harvest will not go to loved ones or be put it to good use. Instead, it will simply dry up and blow away.
And Jesus concludes this parable with a kind of a warning. He says: ““This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” This is how it will be…if…
Jesus’ parable applies to us as much as it did to those who first heard it.
If this past 18 months has taught us anything, it has taught us that despite how smart we are, despite how well prepared we think we are, despite our amazing advancements in medicine and technology, we are all still vulnerable. Our whole way of life was just about taken down by a virus so tiny that it can only be seen with a microscope.
Human life, we are reminded, is fraught with uncertainty and insecurity. Perhaps because of this, we are tempted to grip even tighter to control. And we trust others, less…and we share, less. (Remember the toilet paper shortages?)
The farmer in our parable is called a “fool” not because of his wealth or ambition, but rather because he gives finite things…his stuff…his harvest…his money, infinite value. And Jesus concludes his parable by reminding us that this farmer ultimately came up empty. He has everything he wanted…but at the end, it wasn’t what he needed. He doesn’t have love.
Now let me be clear that in this parable, Jesus is not saying there is anything wrong with being a good farmer…of being successful…of having a great harvest, or with saving for the future. The problem wasn’t the farmers wealth. It was what he chose to do with it.
Likewise, there is nothing wrong with developing our technology… or our medicines…or any of the things that make our lives better. In fact, creativity, and imagination, and science and engineering this is how we believe God is working in the world.
- The problem is when these things become our be-all and end-all.
- The problem is when we choose to keep these things for ourselves instead of sharing them with our neighbors, and those in need.
- The problem is when we forget that these things are a means…they are not the ends.
Jesus is saying here that there is something bigger to which we should pay attention: Faithfulness to the commandments to love God with all our heart, all our mind and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jesus is saying that it is time for a change in perspective; a change in vision.
A mother was preparing pancakes for her two sons, Kevin and Ryan. They were 5 and 3 years old. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother, who was a wise woman of faith, saw the opportunity for a teachable moment…a moral lesson. She said to the boys: “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake; I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”
Aren’t there days when we all feel like these two brothers? Aren’t there days when our concern centers around what we have…and if we have enough…and if all of our needs will be met.
The false promise that we can meet our deepest needs with our “stuff” has been baked so deeply into our culture that all too often when our stuff doesn’t bring us meaning, we just shop for more.
This week, I read an article by Dr. David Lose about this parable where he asks the question: “Can our wealth secure our comfort? Certainly,” he says. “Can it give us confidence that we are worthy of love, and that we are in right relationship with God and neighbor? Certainly not. Only when we recognize that the gifts of ultimate worth, dignity, meaning and relationship are just that, gifts offered freely by God, can we hope to place our relative wealth in perspective and be generous in it toward others.”
My friends, there is an important truth embedded within today’s parable, and it is a truth that Jesus wants us to know:
In a world that too often encourages us to think of self, we need a change in perspective: We are not alone. We are not isolated. We are a community. And we need to think that way. When we do not, when we think instead only about ourselves…when we choose an isolated lifestyle, we are living foolishly. Because regardless of what our culture tells us, life is not all about me, myself and I. Life is about faithfulness to God and care for those around us.
This may be a shift in our vision…a change in our perspective. But it is a change that brings God’s Kingdom to reality right here, and right now…and in this parable, it is the truth that Jesus taught.
Thanks be to God!
The direction and thoughts in this sermon was influenced by the writing of Dr. David Lose of Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. I am grateful for Dr. Lose’s wisdom and insight!