Don’t be a fool, by Pastor Noel

August 5, 2019    Proper 13C


      My favorite line in Scriptures is in next Sunday’s gospel. Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good will to give you the kingdom.”

      I hope that you will keep that in mind as we wrestle with our readings for today. Today’s gospel is troubling and difficult to hear.

      The last time I preached on it, I compared the fool in this story with the younger son, the “prodigal.”

      The rich fool and the young fool. I did this because I was feeling possessed by my possessions, and didn’t want to deal with what I heard Jesus saying to me.

      I haven’t changed my mind about the seriousness of Jesus’ story of the rich fool. I have remembered my favorite line of Scripture, and pray that I will be counted, in my own way, rich toward God.

      Like the man calling out from the crowd, the young fool asked his father for his share of the inheritance. He didn’t want to store it in barns, he wanted to live it up. He used his inheritance for the high life, until it was gone.

      He trudged back home, hungry, sick, tired, filthy.

      He expected to be chastised, if not punished, for his wasteful life.

      But his father loved him with the kind of love God has for each of us. He ran to meet him and welcomed him home.

      The rich fool—well, I’ll get to him in a bit.

      In the verses before this gospel reading –verses that we don’t get in our lectionary—Jesus is talking about trusting God and not being afraid.

      “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. ..Do not be afraid, for you are of more value than many sparrows.”

      Comforting words—sometimes. But I wonder how comforting they are to folks living on the streets, or having to choose between buying food or medication.

      Even when Jesus’ words are not comforting but strong, urgent, scary, large crowds gathered wherever he was.

      Luke tells us that thousands were gathered. So many that they “trampled on one another.”

      With a crowd like that it’s probably impossible to hear everything Jesus is saying. Still, the man who called out to Jesus must have known about him. Didn’t he realize that his demand would get an answer he didn’t want to hear?

      “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!”

      Jesus’ answer is not comforting. He says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

      Then he tells the parable of the rich fool and all the grain and goods he wants to store away.

      Maybe this man remembered Joseph and the grain he stored away in Egypt to have food in years of famine.

      Maybe he forgot that grain stored away for years gets full of vermin—insects, mice, rats. And it rots.

      The problem is not the storing away.

      The problem is that the rich fool was storing it away for himself. He wasn’t thinking of others who needed food.

      He wasn’t thinking of all the hired hands who worked to make his farm so productive. Or the servants who cared personally for him. He doesn’t even mention family.

      It’s all about him.

      His sin was not the storing or the having, his sin was the greed that made him think only of himself.

      He paid no attention to the “first and great commandment” to love God and love his neighbor.

      He was loving himself, perhaps too much.

      Greed never ends. No matter how much we have, if all we care about is having, we will always want more.

      John D. Rockefeller was once asked (apparently..) how much money he would like to have. The then richest man in the world said, “A little more than I have now.”

      No matter how much money we have, no matter how much grain and goods we can store away, the Psalm reminds us “We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our lives.”

      But remember that line I said is my favorite? “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to GIVE you the kingdom.”

      We can’t buy our way into God’s favor. We can’t buy a ticket to heaven. We can be thankful and generous.

      When I think of what I have, and what I can do with it, I think of a song by Susan Werner:

“I got plenty and then some – what do I do? I go out and help somebody else get plenty & then some, too.

      I got supper on the table, what do I do? I go out and help somebody else get supper & then some, too.

      ‘Cause I got it to give – and when you’ve got enough to give away, well, it’s the only way to live.

      I’m going to heaven, what do I do?

      I go out and help somebody else get to heaven, too.”

      This is what Jesus meant by “being rich toward God.”   

      Sharing, making sure that everyone has enough.

      Enough material everyday stuff, and enough of God’s love. Enough is plenty!

      Brian Stoffregen quotes a story by a social worker in the poorest part of Appalachia. “When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.”

      The rich fool had more than enough. He wouldn’t even think about giving something away. He was poor before God and poor before people.

  I’ve heard it said, “Our life is a gift from God. What we do with our life is our gift to God.”

      And I have heard, “Give ‘til it hurts.”

      Yes, what we do for God and for others should be intentional and noticeable, but here’s a better way to gauge; Give until it feels good.

      What we do with our lives should make us feel good, and make God smile in agreement. God did not condemn the rich fool to death. I think God pitied him.

      Jesus was not saying that God made the man die because he was greedy. Jesus was telling us that life is a precious gift, and unpredictable. 

      Greed will not prolong or enhance our lives.

      Our journey with God is a faith trip, not a guilt trip. We are not working our way to heaven—we are, with God’s help, working to proclaim and share the kingdom of God, the presence of God, the love of God, that is all around us.

      We are generous toward God as we work for justice and fairness in our laws. Jesus worked to transform systems that are oppressive and so can we.

      So, we can even forget the “churchy” stuff—and be rich toward God every day. We can write our government representatives and urge them to vote for better laws. We can let someone in line in the grocery check out, or merge in traffic. We can smile at a stranger, or hold a door for them. We let someone else have the last word.

      Even these seemingly small things are signs of God’s kingdom, God’s presence, — ways we are rich toward God.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details