August 4, 2019 A Richer Harvest
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ
Economic fluctuations …. in the stock market, in housing values, in the interest rates affecting our bank accounts & 401Ks. When everything seems to be safe & sound, something happens: Iran hijacks oil tankers, Muslim terrorists blow something up, a tornado devastates a town, or flooding ruins crops, & our security is shaken. *Does our life ever have long-term material security? Not when wealth or possessions can so quickly be lost.
Then – retired people have to return to work; older workers postpone retirement. And politicians will make more lofty promises; vote for them & you’ll have what you need & someone else will pay for it. If financial//material security is our main focus in life, we will always be subject to worry, anxiety, & disappointment. We’ll worry about not having enough; be anxious guarding what we do have; or we’ll scold ourselves for not achieving the same level as our neighbor.
This is one of the greatest human temptations: to be so focused on the business of seeking fulfilment & security in possessions in life, instead of seeking first the business of our relationship with our life’s Maker & our Redeemer. Fallen human beings have to be reminded -daily- that our wealth or possessions will not bring us /real security, /real peace, /or real life-to-come. One day we’ll die, and leave all ‘things’ behind.
Whether in Ecclesiastes or Luke, OT and NT, God speaks against trying to find life, peace of mind, & security in our possessions; because we’ll lose sight of the bigger picture: the Lord God is The Provider of everything we have == both our physical and spiritual needs == and for that reason, He is The One we should focus on. It seems cliché, but it is Truth: with our sights on God thru Christ, everything else will fall into its rightful place.
So, let’s suppose the field before you offers a rich harvest; *how are you to deal with it in your life? *From what does any human-being draw true life? We heard in vs.15: “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” This does NOT SAY that we may NOT HAVE an abundance of possessions. When the Lord entrusts stewards with possessions to manage well, the real question is not ‘how much’ we have, but ‘how do we view’ those things, and ‘what do we do with them.’
So…. the farm of a certain rich man produced a enormous 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 say: well done, self! You’ve got it made! Take it easy and have the time of our life! But God said, you foolish unbeliever! Your time is now up = tonight! And your barnful of goods = who gets it?
So, *what are WE to do when our field =whatever our field is= yields a rich harvest? This parable does not say that to profit abundantly & possess things is evil; it is not. To work & to profit is part of this life. We know that even if someone were to abandon all his possessions, that may simplify life, but it certainly does not automatically please God.
A lazy or poor person becomes a burden on someone else’s work & money.
The human heart will be selfish & greedy in richness, and it will be covetous & envious in poorness. This parable has no intention to make us feel guilty over any kind of success or belongings; it reminds us that God is our provider, and He is our observer; just as the preacher says in Ecclesiastes = everything is from the Hand of God. Workers are worthy of their wages; but labor without God is meaningless. Earthly richness is no guarantee of anything; the only guarantee is that God is the One who blesses us, thru our own labor, & thru the work of others.
So God reminds us here that it’s a proper Christian thing for us to thank all those involved in bringing food to our table. Food happens because of the hard work of farmers, and the industriousness of those who process, package & sell the food we buy. But especially we thank the One Merciful Creator who oversees all aspects of His creation for the benefit of us creatures. This thankful heart of the Christian applies to all parts of the economy where people work hard to make a good living & profit for themselves & their families while producing goods & services for others. Our FIRST main point is this: Hard work & possessions are not evil in themselves; they’re neutral. Thankfulness to God makes things good.
So, Jesus says, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Here, He does not condemn the task of tearing down old & small barns in order to build bigger & better ones; that’s not wrong in itself. This worldly life moves forward; improvements & advancements are good & necessary.
We can be reminded of Joseph & his time in Egypt. God gave him wisdom to bring the whole country thru 7 years of famine by storing up huge amounts of grain; this was wise & godly. (Gen.41) As viewed from one angle, the rich man in our parable was also planning ahead for the future. So, having possessions is not bad; / having a rich harvest is not bad; / and planning ahead and building & improving is not bad.
*Why, then, is this rich man condemned as a ‘fool’? Because he lives in false security; his possessions have become his focus & life. Not being mindful of God is unbelief = even if one says they believe in God; belief is a ‘living’ thing. James says this in his chp.2: ‘You believe that God is one; fine! Even the demons believe that, and they shudder. Faith without works is dead,’ That is, believing without living is not faith – its dead.
This man is a fool because he neglected the chief thing of life. He left out of the equation HIM from whom he receives his life, and HIM to whom his life belongs. As he calculated the many future years of easy living, it was just simple logic based on the amount of crops he stored; but this life has so many more factors involved! And this kind of godless logic & reason is an offense to the Creator, who gives & defines our life. How quickly a man’s plans & future can come to an end. ‘O foolish one! Tonight you must account for your life to Me. Why were you so worried about your stuff?’ A wise person knows that their life is in the hands of God = they acknowledge it, & they live by it.
The world is filled with fools; not ‘dumb’ but those who live as unbelievers who do not acknowledge, thank or trust in anyone more important than themselves. In Jesus’ parable, the rich man has a ‘monologue’ = he talks to himself: “I will say to my soul, ‘soul’, you did good, you’re smart; now relax & enjoy the ride.” No thanks to God, & no thought of others. It’s just him & his possessions. Yes, he worked hard, but he doesn’t look underneath the rich yield of crops to see that there is an important Someone who was giving him things as gifts; A Master who expects all His creatures to be truly wise stewards = mindful & responsible. But how easily God can be left out of the picture.
Jesus would warn every person, including you & me, that we must not think of the length & quality of our lives only in earthly & material terms. Behind our life, our time & possessions, is a loving Creator, who provides & cares for all people, like a good Father. This rich man is a fool because he doesn’t see his whole life as a gift from God.
And like some in our day, this man has no expectations for a life beyond death. There’s nothing wrong with ‘eating, drinking and being merry’, but that’s not all there is & mankind was meant to have a bigger picture in mind. Sin has clouded & confused our view. The big picture is that every good worldly activity has a godly origin & purpose; and all activities were meant to be enjoyed in communion with our Creator, the Triune God.
Jesus uses a farming example here, but He’s including ALL of life, & industry & economy, & every ‘toil & labor under the sun.’ Agriculture is a good example, because the farmer can’t control the sun & the weather = only God can. But ALL areas of life are conducted by the Creator. Workers make use of stone, metals, chemicals & animals; even within trade & finance, or with the arts & entertainments, thru all goods & services, whether working with things or people, God is the One who blesses. HE is the ruler of all nations, & all the earth. And so this is the lesson: it’s not the goods themselves which keep us alive, body & soul;
but God gives & sustains life thru those things. Those things are not to be adored; God alone is adored.
The laborers in the field, in the factory or store, serve as God’s agents in His creation. You & I serve as channels of God’s goodness thru our labors. So, if we are doing a monologue with ourselves, about what we are to do with our earthly possessions, we are already heading in a wrong direction. It is never a conversation just between us & our possessions; there is always that Divine Person, and it should be a dialogue. That means prayer & supplication, and time of learning from God about our life.
As Jesus came into the world to be our connection with God, so by faith in Christ Jesus, we have an active view of thanks & praise for anything we receive & everything we work with; including our number of days or years. If we grasp that this life is a dialogue, then we’ll understand our living purpose; especially when dealing with material things, which are all gifts from a loving God.
It says in Ps.14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The fool is one who lives like there is no God. What a tragic end for this rich fool. And, Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The true purpose of life is to be ‘rich toward God.’ *What does that mean?
It could mean that we get rid of all our possessions by selling them and giving what we made to the poor; Jesus says that in chapt.12. The early Christians in the Book of Acts did that.
But, *how can we do that without then making others take care of us?
This parable teaches that wealth can come between God and us; that means it’s between us & true life. It’s like a wall that prevents us from seeing & acknowledging Him. As Martin Luther said, “whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”(LC)
Here, what Jesus is warning about is not either having possessions or getting rid of all possessions; but rather warning against having a false god, false security and greed.
The proper view of possessions is a view of eternity & a living faith in God. There is a true freedom in being God’s people who are not so absorbed in what we have now, but are looking forward to the riches of heaven. And so the christian who faces a time of rich harvest, will give thanks to God, and then ask God what He wants us to do with it. God intends us to be a real blessing to those around us.
A final part of Jesus’ parable is that death is a factor in being rich toward God.
We should be prepared for death every day. This is not being morbid; *but how can we be wise, and thank God for our whole life, without acknowledging that our days are numbered by Him, and our time is in His hands?
In Medieval time, with paintings, there was a particular genre called ‘vanitas’ that included somewhere in the painting a skull and an hourglass; called a ‘memento mori’ or a reminder of death. Jesus’ parable has that kind of picture: what seems to define life = namely, earthly possessions, suddenly become meaningless in the face of death. Life is not built on food & drink alone. Suddenly the rich man =who avoided God, & planned a life without God= realizes that God was behind everything, and he’s held accountable.
When times are hard, & people lose their things, they often find their way to church to cry out to God. Only when a person is poor in spirit, and their life seems empty, do they realize that God is the real power behind life; only then does a person begin to be wise.
It’s not easy to lay aside our foolishness, and to stop trusting in our earthly things.
We remember how Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness with worldly things to replace the Father as first & foremost in His life.
St.Paul said the Man of Heaven would come, and “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you, by his poverty, might become rich.” (2Cor.8) Jesus confessed before Governor Pilate that, Yes, he is a king; but his kingdom is not of this world. You & I have been baptized into that same kingdom, and we are eternal citizens; but not of this world. Jesus left all earthly things aside, took up your sins, and went to the cross. And with forgiveness as our chief possession, by grace & thru faith, we are rich beyond any earthly wealth. In Jesus’ death & resurrection, you have been given the eternal riches of heaven.
So, we pray to the Father for our daily bread, but we do not live by bread alone.
This Christian faith makes us wise; we are rich toward God. Whatever we have is from His hands; what we have is meant to be managed by thankfulness, and with love & care toward others. To be rich toward God is to be on guard against all covetousness or greed, to see the spiritual dangers that possessions present, and to make sure we allow nothing to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How truly poor that person is who gains the whole world, yet loses his soul. As people of God in Christ, we will not talk to ourselves about how fulfilled & secure we are by the things we have. Instead, we will speak to our God who gives us life, and gives His gifts. And, we will be wise, using our possessions in thanksgiving and to help our neighbor.