Rich Toward God
A Meditation on Luke 12: 13 – 21
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church February 11, 2018
Do you ever wonder how Jesus got anything done? Seriously. Think about it. His life was a series of interruptions, some small, like today’s encounter, and others ridiculously dramatic. The man goes into the wilderness to fast and pray as he begins his ministry, and the first thing that happens is that the evil one interrupts his prayers with temptations and distractions that only the son of God could counter.
He is interrupted when he tries to catch a quick nap in his friends’ boat. They were afraid of a little storm. They couldn’t believe he was sleeping through it while they were losing their lunch over the side.
Interrupted from sleep, interrupted from prayer, even interrupted when trying to attend a wedding. His own mother wouldn’t allow him to be a guest, but instead insisted that he be who he was sent to be: the host. The world’s host.
Interruption after interruption. Yet he never loses his temper. Parent of the Year Award right here. Don’t you remember your parent getting you settled – with a book or a movie, maybe a game (something that should keep you busy for 10 whole minutes at least) so that they could make that incredibly important phone call (which could be calling their own mother) or read that work document they have been needing to edit for a week? It was the rare child who made it beyond the first two minutes without needing something. When my boys were school age, I would say, “I need 10 minutes. Do not interrupt me unless someone is missing, bleeding or broken.” I think sometimes they bled on purpose.
Today’s story is one of those “annoying” interruptions, and we can hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice when he responds. He is bringing a powerful word in what our Bibles record as the first twelve verses of this chapter. He’s saying things like: “watch out for a disconnect between your heart and your life.” “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill your body.” “God knows how many sparrows fill the sky, and you are worth more than any one of them!” And then there is that mysterious comment about “insulting the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus is on fire. He is bringing words of challenge and comfort, but this guy in the crowd? He hasn’t heard a word. All he has been thinking about is this: “I will get this guy Jesus to tell my brother to give me my money!” So before Jesus can even open the floor for questions, this guy interrupts him.
It’s the teacher’s nightmare. It’s the response that shows that this person hasn’t heard a word the teacher has said. It’s even worse than asking “Is this going to be on the test?” (At least when a student asks this, it is probable that they have been taking notes, or at least realize they may need to borrow someone else’s notes.) Jesus is talking about the power of being in relationship with God, the depth of God’s love for humanity, and all this guy can think about is money.
So Jesus responds to the man: Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?” Even as the words leave his mouth, he is readily aware that the man has raised an issue – money – which everyone in that crowd probably struggles with every single day. Jesus alters the direction of his teaching; shifting from encouragement in the face of persecution to the realities of daily living.
He tells the brief but carefully crafted story of the greedy farmer.
“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ (The Message)
But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God. (CEB)
Was it wrong for this farmer to grow a bountiful crop? Absolutely not. It just shows he was a good farmer! Was it wrong for him to celebrate the harvest? Not at all…Nor was it wrong to save for a rainy day. It wasn’t even wrong to build a bigger barn to keep the grain dry so that it wouldn’t go to waste. None of that was wrong in God’s eyes. The problem here is that the farmer only thought of himself. What can I do?? I’ll plant. I’ll build. I’ll gather. The man even talks to himself!
The problem here is that the farmer forgot about his connection with all the earth, with all humanity and, most especially, with God. The earth that comes from God, the grain which God created, the sun and rain which nurtured the plants: all from God. The farmer did a fine job tilling and planting and harvesting and building, but the farmer had more than enough. The farmer had an abundance, and while all this grain was tucked tidily away, others were hungry.
The farmer’s problem? His world consisted of one person: the farmer. No one else’s needs mattered. No one else’s sufferings or trials. For the farmer, life is a neat and tidy. Work hard. Earn your rewards. Except that it doesn’t always work that way, and when the farmer dies unexpectedly, the hungry neighbors will be the ones who benefit from all his hard work.
God calls the farmer a “fool.” Harsh language coming from God. It has much the same effect as when your parent says “I am SOOOO disappointed in you.” (Especially when combined with the “disappointed face.”) The farmer had time and energy for possessions, and they were wise possessions. He hoarded grain, not gold or jewels. But he hoarded. He held on to more than he could use in a life time, especially since his life ended up being much briefer than he had anticipated.
How might his life have been different if he had been rich in relationship? Whose life might have been changed? Whose life might have been saved from despair? Whose life might have been saved from starvation? We can only imagine, but as we imagine, we need to include his life in the list of those which would have been rescued.
Many of you received a letter this week, asking you to consider making a pledge to Grace Presbyterian, a pledge of time or ability or finances. It wouldn’t be a stretch to understand that our church does not function without your time and talents. Without cooks and shoppers and drivers, we couldn’t do Meals on Wheels. Without the dedication of your time, we couldn’t participate in the Unity March, the Pride Fest, or Alabama Arise. Without your leadership, we couldn’t offer Sunday school classes for children, youth and adults. Without you, we wouldn’t have delicious meals, where all are fed, and none are turned away. Without your voices, we would have no choir to lead and support our worship. Volunteers cut the grass and make the coffee. Turn on the lights and the air so that our building is comfortable on Sundays. And a very important volunteer turns off my microphone when we sing! Your time and energy are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
And then there’s money. Because we do have to pay the light bill, and help others with theirs. We want to pay our staff fairly, and assist those who are unemployed or underemployed. We want to feed the hungry. We want to send kids to Living River camp. There is so much we are called to do.
But the question that you may want to ask, but are unsure how to ask, is this: “Didn’t we get a truck load of money from selling the University Presbyterian Church property?” To which the answer would be “yes.” Of that money, we returned a significant portion to our local UKirk campus ministry, since it had originally been gifted to us for campus ministry. We also purchased that strip of land in front of our parking lot, both as a way to support Arts ‘n Autism, who owned the land, and to anchor our little corner at Hargrove and Prince Avenue.
The rest is sitting in “barns,” (investments), which were carefully researched. Half our proceeds are invested through the Presbyterian Foundation.
The Foundation employs both positive and negative screens. We avoid investments in companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, and gambling, along with for-profit prisons, and some companies related to weapons production. In addition, a company involved in serious human rights violations may also be screened. The Foundation-sponsored New Covenant Funds use positive screens actively seeking out companies with good environmental, social and governance practices. https://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/faith-based-investing/
Similarly, our funds invested with Raymond James, undergo a responsible investment practice.
So, why are we asking for you to make a pledge? Because we don’t need to leave our grain sitting in barns. The proceeds off the sale of the University Property will help us ensure the future of our physical plant, and allow us to make necessary upgrades and improvements. Those proceeds can also be the seed money of life changing ministry.
What if, like First Presbyterian in Auburn, we could establish a no-interest loan program to help fight the horrific abuses of payday and title loans companies here in Tuscaloosa? They have been doing in for twenty years in Auburn…surely our competitive side could kick in here?? (We are going to let Auburn do something better than T-town? Come on!)
Another concern that often leaves me tossing and turning at night? When we sold the University property, we sold the old Presbyterian House, which provided affordable housing to graduate students at the university, many of them international students. While it was time to let go of that house, due to significant safety concerns, what if we explored replacing that with a new form of affordable housing?
The possibilities for ministry to our Tuscaloosa community are endless, and we have been blessed with an overflowing barn. We also know, from this parable, how Jesus feels about oversized barns…
I encourage you to give to our operating budget, so that we can continue to do the daily and weekly ministry that takes place here. Your pledge will help make it possible for us to dream God’s dreams for what all that grain in our barns could become.
I? Me? My? God, protect us from sounding like that farmer. God, protect us from saying our church, our money, our future. God protect us from only talking to ourselves about how happy we can be and how long we will live with all our grain in our great big barns. Your church, your money, your dreams for the future, God. Your dreams for a world where all are fed, all are housed, all are loved…all are welcomed home to You. Amen.