A Farmer who talks to himself…

August 4, 2019 (The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Hosea 11:1-11

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Luke 12:13-21

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

12:13 “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21, NRSV)

Let us pray: Generous God, in abundance you give us things both spiritual and physical. Help us to hold lightly the fading things of this earth and grasp tightly the lasting things of your kingdom, so that what we are and do and say may be our gifts to you through Christ, who welcomes all of us to seek the things above, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Do you ever talk to yourself?

Well our farmer in our story today certainly does.

We know he is rich but that doesn’t make him a bad guy.  He has not done anything morally wrong or criminal.  He is a farmer who knows what it Is like to work his fingers to the bone.  He knows what it is like to rise early morning to milk the cows and stay out in the fields until the sun goes down getting the crops ready.

 Clearly, I am not a farmer, but I know that the work of a farmer never ends.  There Is always more work to be done and there is always the disaster waiting to happen— too much rain, not enough rain, a hard freeze, a drought, tractor problems, you name it.  So, when this farmer has a good year, it is time to celebrate.  He grew extra and had plenty to spare.  Eat and drink and be merry he says to himself.

He is just a farmer who had a good year and who talks to himself.  But Jesus calls him a fool.

“Well I have so much, so I will save it for the future and build a big barn to house it.  Then I will be happy and peaceful.  I will be secure.”  Wrong.  It does not work that way.

Have you ever said:

  • if l could just get this car paid off then everything would be fine
  • if I could just have a nice house, then I would be happy
  • if l can just get the kids through college then I will have made it 
  • if l could just have that outfit, I would feel so much better about myself

But we are never satisfied.[1]  We always want more, we always have more debt or want new car or a nicer house or better seats or whatever it is. We are never satisfied. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, state “our problem as humans is not that we are full of desire, burning with unfulfillment. Our problem is that we long for that which is unfulfilling. We attempt to be content with that which never satisfies.”[2] It is like we are on a treadmill and we never reach the finish line.

Jesus does not say that this farmer is immoral or greedy or sinful.  Jesus says he is a fool.  He is a fool in his self-pride and self-satisfaction. There is no gratitude to all the people who helped with the farm, no appreciation of how the weather cooperated and he had a great year, there is no generosity with giving to others out of his blessing, there is no other person mentioned at all.  It Is all about him.  Me, myself and I.  The man is a fool because he believes that all those goods and grains in his big barns will keep his future safe, controllable, predictable.   You fool.   This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  You might be dead tomorrow and what good will those grains do you then?  What does that soul of yours say now?

As I read this parable and have reflected this week, what hits home is the drive this man must secure his future.  This parable is a warning against greed and how it can take over one’s soul.  In theory this is the ultimate successful person, he has done so well he can prepare for the future, he can secure his estate for a rainy day, as a farmer, he will have food to eat when the famine comes and crops stored up for the lean years.  What is not good about prudent planning for the future?  Again, in theory, nothing is wrong with it.  As a matter of fact, it is wise, smart and as —Aristotle is quoted as saying “Saving (Money) is a guarantee that we may have what we want in the future. Though we need nothing at the moment it ensures the possibility of satisfying a new desire when it arises.”[3]  That is not this farmers problem.  His problem is his focus. He is so focused on saving for the rainy day that he has no life.  He is all alone with his stuff and no one to share it with.

His whole identity is wrapped up in his possessions.  Who he is – is defined by what he has?  He is driven to accumulate more and more stuff.   I don’t know about you, but that parable causes me to think about my basement.  And the boxes of stuff down there.  There are a few old football helmets from way back in the day, sports trophies and a computer we no longer use, an electric keyboard for a short-lived piano student and racquetball racquets we haven’t used in years, and boxes, more boxes.  To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what is in them since I haven’t unpacked since we moved two moves ago.  I read a crazy fact this week, that in the United States we have more storage facilities than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. The self-storage industry 48,500 locations across the US and generates $24 billion in revenue.[4]

Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of our own mortality.  Maybe we go to a funeral of someone around our age and we think, “Wow, that could be me!”  Maybe we read an obituary in the morning paper.  Maybe when we go to an Ash Wednesday service and the priest puts ashes on our forehead while she says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Maybe in those moments we get it, we get that we might not be here tomorrow or next year or whenever.  Maybe we grasp that life is truly fleeting.  But those moments pass and then we are back to our regular routines of worrying about if we have enough.  Enough to make ends meet, enough to pay the bills, enough to retire, enough to buy that beach house, enough to take that trip to Europe or whatever it is that makes us talk to ourselves.

At what cost?  This insidious drive for more robs me of the enjoyment of today and the countless blessings I already have.  My family, friends, health, home, food and clothing.  Is it enough?  Do I need to build bigger barns?  We are idolatrous about stuff: the stuff we have, the stuff we want, even the stuff we take to the dump or the resale store.

Big barns, full to overflowing garages, basements full of boxes, storage units or rooms empty of everything but those joy-producing items: We are idolatrous when it comes to material things. We spend a lot of time thinking about, acquiring, getting rid of, curating, obsessing about our stuff.   But let’s be honest, we have the luxury of this obsession. 

There are many who have no barns, no need of barns, no hope to ever own a barn. Stephanie Land in a New York Times blog, “The class politics of decluttering,” notes, “Minimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice.”  That’s when God cries, “Fool!” That is when God interrupts our monologue and reminds us, we get in grave trouble when the only voice we listen to is our own.[5]  If we listen to God and hear God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation, one of the many themes of scripture is that we were created to be in relationship.  And as we continue in those relationships, we add to them, one by one, two by two and we are challenged to keep our eyes open to the needs of those around us.  Therefore, the farmer is called foolish because his whole identity is wrapped up in his stuff.

This whole story of the farmer started because someone came to Jesus complaining about an Inheritance. You know most of the problems in families happen around who gets what.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But Jesus simply won’t go down that path.  Jesus doesn’t care who gets the inheritance.  Jesus has more important things on his mind.  So, he tells them this story instead.

He tells them a story about a man who cared more about storing up treasure for himself than he did about anyone or anything else, especially his relationship with God.

He tells a story about a man who talked to his own soul and thought that he could secure his own future.

He tells a story about a man who does not appear to have any other relationships in his life. He appears to only be concerned for his own welfare.

He tells the story of a fool.

And we too are fools if we ever fall into the trap of thinking that we can secure our own soul. No amount of money or grains or goods can do that. All our stuff is worthless in the eyes of God. God gives us everything that we have: food, clothing, talents to work, brains to think, and on and on and on. And there is nothing wrong with any of them.

There is nothing wrong with having things and money, but they are not what we are striving for. God gives us these things not so that we can protect ourselves and store us treasures, but so that we can live in relationship with one another and with God.

Christ is the one who has laid up treasure for us. Christ is the one who has already secured our soul. So, relax. Eat drink and be merry for none of us knows what tomorrow holds. Eat Christ’s body that has been broken for us. Drink Christ’s blood shed for us.

And if you must keep talking to yourself.  Talk about treasures that last. Talk to yourself the words of Jesus:

“Do not worry about your life. What you will eat or drink, or your body what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. Instead strive for the kingdom, and these things will be given to you. For where your treasure Is there your heart will be also”[6]

Today’s sermon is one that I am really preaching to myself and you get to overhear it.  This is a text that gets me deep down where it hurts, that makes me question and explore and struggle. This is a text that I need to hear, I don’t want to hear it, but I need to hear it.

The rich farmer is a fool because he believes that his barns full of goods will safeguard his future.  So, for you and for me, and that grain in our barns, or that stuff in our basements, that work we are good at, those accounts we manage – they are worthless for the purpose of securing our souls.  Absolutely worthless.   But they were never intended for that.  But know this; you, fellow fools, in the Kingdom of God, our time, our talents and our treasures will not go to waste.  Our time, our talents, our possessions – they are just what God needs to answer our neighbor’s prayer for daily bread.[7] May it be so. Amen and Amen.

Let us pray:

[1] The Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr., A Homily on Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11, August 5, 2007. Sermons Preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church 3900 West End Avenue Nashville, Tennessee

[2] Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, (Nashville: Abington Press, 1999), 130

[3] https://www.success.com/19-wise-money-quotes

[4] https://www.curbed.com/2015/4/20/9969068/in-nation-of-hoarders-self-storage-spots-outnumber-mcdonalds

[5] Jill Duffield, Luke 12:13-21 -July 31/ 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. https://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/

[6] Matthew 6:25-34, NRSV

[7] Mary Hinkle Shore, On Securing the Soul, Luke 12:13-21, Proper 13 Pentecost 10 C July 24, 2010