Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Foolish Farmer - Luke 12:13-21 - A Sermon preached at Quilly LOL Harvest Thanksgiving on 1st October 2006

I wonder if we have any fools here today? You may not like to admit it – no one likes to be called a fool, after all. And yet, the Bible talks about fools quite a lot – especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. In Psalm 14, we read ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’ (Ps 14:1).

Now you might be thinking that that can’t apply to you – you know there’s a God. But do you always remember there is a God? Is he the highest thing in your thoughts? Does the way you live show that you believe in God?

In our New Testament reading today, we heard a parable that Jesus taught. Someone in the crowd had come up to him and asked him to make his brother divide the inheritance with him. The man was acting out of self-interest – he only had his eyes on the money.

Jesus’ reply sets up the parable, and gives us the key to understanding it. ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ Even at the outset, Jesus is saying that your life isn’t about what you earn or own. That there’s more to life than getting all you can. But even more than that – you have to take care and be on your guard – covetousness can creep up on you. Isn’t it so easy to see what your neighbour has and to want it? Yet Jesus calls us to be watchful against it.

He then goes on to tell the parable. It’s probably a familiar one, but let’s hear it again.

"The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' 18And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

At the start of the parable, we are introduced to the rich man, a farmer, whose land produced plentifully. He had been working hard that year, and was pleased to see that he had harvested a bumper crop. And yet there was a problem. The barns he had used in the past suddenly weren’t big enough for all he had produced. He couldn’t store away all he had – what would he do?

So he thought to himself and eventually came up with his plan. Pull down the old barns which were too small, and instead, build new ones. Bigger ones that would hold all his grain and goods. That way, all his goods would be safely stored. Nothing would go to waste. What could possibly go wrong?

Indeed, as he continued to think to himself, I have so much here now that there’s no point in working again. He considered himself so rich that he would never work again. Instead, he would retire early, and take things easy. As he told himself, ‘I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.’ Eat, drink and be merry. What more is there to life than getting enough money and goods so you can retire and take things easy? So you can enjoy the good things of life.

And watch him as he rings the builders and arranges the contract for demolishing the old barns and building the new barns. All seems to be working out well – the builders even promised to come the next day! And yet, he’ll never see them come. Because God said to him that very day, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

After all his plans for the rest of his life, he would see none of them, because God took him that night. And the things he had worked hard for, all his possessions and the grain and goods – he would never see the benefit of them.

Notice how God addressed the man. ‘Fool!’ God called the man a fool. And why was that? The fool says in his heart, there is no God. The man had forgotten God. Firstly, he forgot God who provides all the good things he had – the bumper crop came only because of God’s care and provision. As we heard from Psalm 65 earlier, ‘You provide their grain… You crown the year with your bounty’ (Ps 65:9,11).

Yet the man doesn’t thank God. He doesn’t acknowledge God. He only cares about getting the crops and then storing them up for himself.

He forgets that anything he has comes from God – he views himself as the owner of what he has, rather than a steward, given a trust to manage for a short time. So when he has so much, he only thinks of himself.

Notice also that as he forgot about God, he remembered his soul – or rather, his body. As Jesus summarises at the end of the parable ‘So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’ The man had been so concerned about his own welfare, and taking things easy, that he had forgotten about God, and had taken no steps to be rich toward God. The man remembered he had a soul, but hadn’t put things right with God – he was rich materially, but was spiritually bankrupt.

The man also forgot about God in terms of the future. As the book of James reminds us, we can’t make plans of our own – it is God who holds the future. ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”’ (James 4:13-15).

And in terms of the ultimate future, the man had forgotten about God, who will sit in judgement on each person. And so, when the man would stand in front of the judgement throne, what would he have to show? His wealth counted for nothing, and he was not rich towards God. As Proverbs 11:28 tells us, ‘whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.’

The man had totally forgotten and ignored the first and great commandment – to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Notice that when he came upon his storage problem, he only thought about it himself, he didn’t involved God in it by praying.

But the man also ignored the second commandment – to love his neighbour as himself. Certainly, he was loving himself, as he planned out his life of wealth and ease, making sure he would have nothing but the best. But was he loving his neighbour? Was he thinking of those around him who were less fortunate, who were facing a bleak winter?

Even a quick glance at his thoughts show how selfish he was: ‘what shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul…’ I, my, I my…

He was so concerned with laying up treasure for himself – material wealth, and yet ignored his soul. Did you notice that he thought he was addressing his soul when he told it to eat, drink and be merry? Yet he was mixing up the physical and the spiritual, and was actually neglecting his soul.

So what can we learn from the Lord’s parable? What is God’s word to us today, in Quilly? Jesus’ warning still stands today: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And we need to hear these words today, as materialism seems to be out of control.

Someone has summarised our society as thinking ‘the one with the most toys wins’. What is our response to issues of money, wealth and possessions?

Jesus calls us to be on our guard against covetousness. Yet how often do we compare ourselves to those around us – both looking to see if we have more possessions or the better car, or looking at what others possess and envying them? Have you ever caught yourself wishing it was you had that latest gadget, or the bigger house?

Jesus calls us instead to have a proper perspective on matters of wealth. How do you manage the money God has entrusted to you? Will you worship it, or will you use it for good?

Let’s learn from the man in the parable – firstly in recognising that God provides us with all we need. He had thought the bumper harvest was his alone – but we should remember that all we have comes from God and still belongs to him. So our attitude to money should first be that of thankfulness to God. Today in this harvest service, do we truly mean the thanks we offer?

Which leads us into the next attitude – if the money has been given to us by God, then we should ask how he wants us to use it. We should be using the money for God’s purposes – investing in gospel work. And remembering the needs of those around us.

Our reading isn’t telling us though, that it is wrong to seek to improve your circumstances through hard work – the man was condemned because he wanted to store up all he had earned and only use it for his own desires. He was worshipping money, and ultimately worshipping himself by putting himself at the centre of the universe.

But the key question for us is this – how can we avoid being seen as a ‘fool’ by God? The man was called ‘fool’ because he had stored up treasure for himself, but was not rich toward God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 16, ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?’ (Matt 16:26). These words could have been spoken of the man in the parable – he gained so much, yet forfeited his life, because he was not rich toward God.

You see, we focus so much on this world with its wealth and riches, that we forget about the world to come, and we fail to store up riches for it. How can we shift our focus to the heavenly? How can we be rich toward God?

You see, our pursuit of wealth is setting up idols in God’s rightful place. And our promotion of self as the object of our desires is a rebellion against God – it is removing God from the throne and putting ourselves in his place. Both our idolatry and our rebellion are sin. Sin is so terrible that it demands and deserves the wrath of the Holy God, who cannot abide evil or sin.

But thankfully Jesus came as the sacrifice for our sin, dying in our place as our substitute. By his death, we are made right with God, we are reconciled, forgiven, ransomed, redeemed, liberated and revived. And we receive all these benefits by trusting in Jesus, by putting our faith in him. By trusting in Jesus, we can store up treasure in heaven.

Paul tells us in Ephesians that all these blessings from ‘the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us’ (Eph 1:7-8). Later they are described as the ‘immeasurable riches of the grace’ (Eph 2:7) and the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Eph 3:8). By ourselves, we cannot store up treasure in heaven – we are poor and bankrupt when it comes to the Bank of Heaven. But Jesus offers us the riches of his grace, and provides the means for us to have treasure in heaven.

If you have never trusted in Jesus before, I invite you today to begin trusting in him. Recognise and confess your sin, and God will indeed forgive you, give you new life, and grant you the riches of Christ.

And if you are a Christian, but know that you have disobeyed Christ in worshipping the money God has given you, then confess your sins and return God to the throne of your heart, ruling over all of your life.

And please, don’t be a fool as you leave this hall today.

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