Sermon / July 31st, 2016 / Luke 12:13-21 / An Abundant Harvest / Pastor Terry Defoe
From the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, beginning at verse 16:
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He 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 my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ (N.I.V.)
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We live in a society where people are often judged by the material goods they possess. We are bombarded with advertising night and day. There's always something new and improved to buy. We live in a world preoccupied with acquiring and possessing material goods. Jesus told the parable before us this morning in response to a request from the crowd. Jesus had been asked to mediate a dispute over an inheritance and you know how challenging that can be! Jesus knew that the reason for the man's request was his greed. Jesus then told a parable which brought the man's motives out into the open for all to see. I pray that God would send His Holy Spirit to enable us hear His words this morning, to understand them, and to live them out each day.
According to the book of Hebrews, the Word of God is
... living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, N.R.S.V.)
Jesus’ parable certainly judged the thoughts and intentions of one man's heart. It drew back the curtain to reveal what was going on within his heart. The man would have known that everything Jesus said was true. We don’t know what he did as a result of hearing Jesus' parable that day. But we do know that his encounter with Jesus that day gave him – and us! -- plenty of food for thought.
As we begin, it’s important to emphasize that the Bible never says that the possession of material goods is contrary to God’s will. Many godly people in Scripture were rich. Abraham, for instance, had great heads of cattle. And many of Israel's Old Testament kings were wealthy. That fact, by itself, wasn't condemned. The farmer in Jesus' parable had an abundance of good things. His land was productive and brought forth a series of exceptional crops. There's nothing in the story to lead us to believe that he came into his riches by dishonest means. It seems that he had worked hard and his efforts had been blessed with success. People who knew him respected him for his hard work and his honesty.
So what’s the problem? Outwardly, nothing. Inwardly, however, there was a fatal flaw in his attitude. Instead of seeing his abundance as a gift from God, the farmer considered them to be the result of his own labor and ingenuity. Nothing more. Nothing less. In a very real sense, his riches were his "social security." They were his "retirement fund," if you will. They would support him into his old age and, in the meantime, would allow him to live a life of ease. He could literally eat, drink, and be merry. As far as he was concerned, he had no one to thank but himself for his good fortune. He was set. He could live high off the hog for the rest of his days. He was secure and comfortable; what more could he ask for? His future was bright. How many people today would love to be in his position?
The man's problem is called idolatry in the Bible. The fact that he had made material goods his idol meant that there was no room for God in his life. The source of his success, he thought, was all his own doing. God had nothing to do with it! He had never sat down with a prayer of thanksgiving to God, thanking him for his many blessings.
One day, ten lepers came to Jesus for healing. After they had received their healing, nine of them failed to return to thank Him for their blessings. Only one returned, humbly thanking the Lord Jesus for this miracle of loving concern. The rest didn’t bother. We, too, receive blessings, daily, from our Lord. And we, too, often take them for granted. The truth is that we live each day by the grace of God. He gives us the ability to earn an income. He blesses us in countless ways. And we respond with gratitude and praise.
All of us seek security in this life. All of us seek protection from life's slings and arrows. We all need food and shelter. Those are perfectly normal things to seek after. God has built these needs into us and fulfilling them appropriately is part of His gracious will for us. The rich man in Jesus’ parable was no exception. He looked to his riches for security in the years to come. And he had no reason to doubt that they would provide what he needed. He placed his trust in them, not in the Lord who had enabled him to possess them. In the parable, though, when he most needed something to trust, his security vanished into thin air.
God’s people trust him with heart and soul and mind and strength. They know that material possessions, important as they may seem, are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. They know that those resources support body and soul and allow them to serve the Lord. Those who trust the Lord, says Jesus, build their house on a Rock. When the storms of life come, their house stands strong. Those who trust in material things, on the other hand, build their house on the sand. When the storms come, their house is undermined and destroyed.
Jesus' words in Matthew 6 provide the key to the rich man's plight:
19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mt 6:19-21, N.R.S.V.)
The rich man's possessions were his treasure. That's where his heart was. His allegiance and his trust were focused there. But when it came time for him to depart this life, the support they had provided him in the past vanished like snow in a warm spring sun.
Do you remember how Jesus had deliberately sent out his disciples on their first missionary journey with a shortage of supplies? He wanted them to learn – by firsthand experience – that their physical needs would be supplied as they went about ministering in his name. At the end of the journey, Jesus asked them if they had lacked anything on the way. "… nothing, Lord!" they answered. Lesson learned!
At another point in His ministry, Jesus tested a rich young man when he commanded him to…
Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. (Luke 18:22, N.R.S.V.)
Jesus wanted to know what the young man trusted most. Was it his riches or was it Jesus? The rich young man revealed his answer by going away sorrowful because he felt he had a great deal to lose by doing what Jesus asked him to do. He failed the test.
In the Old Testament, we encounter a man by the name of Job. Job was another person who was tested – in his case, severely tested! – by God. Job was rich and respected. God allowed him to be struck by disease and calamity. At the end of his long, hard, road, and lots of less-than-helpful advice from his friends, Job learned to trust God with no strings attached. As a result, God restored to him even more than he had at first.
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
In other words,
"Place me first in your life and you won't have to worry about your physical needs. I will provide what you need."
God, our Creator, knows what we need and promises to provide them. When Jesus was in heaven with his father, before he came to this earth as the babe of Bethlehem, he lacked nothing. But when he came to earth, when he took on human flesh for us and for our salvation, he gave it all up. He traded the praises of angel choirs for the curses of sinful human beings. He suffered from heat, from hunger, and from temptation. He gave up his riches for our sake. St. Paul says:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, N.I.V.)
Jesus didn’t ask people to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. The farmer in the parable, the man with the abundant crops, was rich materially, but poor spiritually. He was a HOLLOW MAN. He looked fine on the outside, but on the inside he was empty. Money, in an of itself, isn't the root of all evil. Money, in and of itself, is neutral - it's simply a medium of exchange. Trouble comes, however when mone becomes an idol. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates 1 Timothy 6:10 this way:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and, in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (N.R.S.V.)
Money has a perfectly valid role to play in our lives. But when it takes highest priority, trouble is not far behind. Perhaps we could safely rephrase the Apostle Paul's words and say that "sin is the root of all evil."
In Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils, found in the 13th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, we are told that the seed of the Word fails to grow in a Christian's life when it is choked out by the concerns of this world, including riches. It all boils down to a matter of priorities. The rich man in our text this morning thought he had everything organized for many years to come, but God had other plans!
In the Gospels, Jesus has a lot to say about wealth and possessions and their ability to pervert who we are. He points out, as we have seen, how wealth can demand exclusive allegiance. In our text this morning, we find a clear warning against greed - a clear warning against those who would try to accumulate riches to the exclusion of life's spiritual dimension. In this text, Jesus talks about the spiritual dimensions of money. The rich farmer has great abundance. But his gathering of all that abundance is carried out in complete isolation from God and from his neighbor.
The man in the Parable acts as if his money is only about him. He consults with himself, not with God, and he doesn't give a moment's thought about his neighbor. As far as he's concerned, it's all about him. You'll notice, however, that the farmer is not faulted for being successful nor is he faulted for wanting to set aside something for himself. He's most likely experienced the occasional drought and the occasional shortage so he knows how important it is to save up something for another day. That's not the problem. It's not in his external circumstances.
The problem is internal. It's in his heart. He lives in a first-person universe. He doesn't have a family that is named. He doesn't speak of his neighbor. He lives in the universe made up entirely of himself. You and I here in Canada are among the richest 10% of the people in the world. We tend to forget that. If we constantly focus on what we don't have, we cannot live the abundant life Jesus' promised His people. The first casualty of this man's greed is the quality of his own life. The source of the man's abundance comes from the land which the Lord gave him. He doesn't acknowledge that the source of his abundance is outside of himself. This man is turned in on himself.
Jesus' parable speaks directly to all of us. It reminds us that our allegiance goes first and foremost to our Heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. What's most important in this life is not all those things the ads say we need; the most important thing in this life is a right relationship with God which brings with it the forgiveness of our sins, paid for at the cross, and the promise of eternal life. God knows what we need. He has promised us an abundant, full life through faith in His Son. And what he promised, he has richly provided. For that, we thank God! Amen.
And now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus.
Let’s Pray – DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER -- Remind us that our material possessions are an expression of your grace at work in our lives. Remind us of your many blessings, the most important of which is our salvation, earned for us at the cross -- the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. Remind us that you have richly blessed us so that we, in turn, might be a blessing to others, in Jesus' name. Amen.