Summary: This sermon challenges the attitudes of most congregations in America towards material possessions in the light of the parable of the rich fool.

Sermon on Luke 12.13-21

Preached at Christ Boulevard United Methodist Church

August 1, 2004

Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 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." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ’What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, ’Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 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?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

As I am sure you are all aware, my wife and I are moving to England where I will be the pastor of five Methodist Churches in a mere two weeks. The big day when we fly out is quickly approaching, but we have been planning furiously since November. You can imagine what has gone into this move…Thoughts about what to do with our cars, thoughts about do we take the dog or not, thoughts about how much this will cost us, but mostly thoughts about where to put our stuff. Eight years ago everything I owned would fit in my little car. One year ago, everything I owned quadrupled almost overnight when Jennifer and I were married. If only the stock market saw the increases that our closets and cabinets have seen.

Stuff. A popular cartoon that comes on the television dealt with the theme once of the end of the world. The character was speaking with a figure who was bent on destroying the world. When the character heard the plan of the evil villain, he remarked, “But you can’t destroy the world—that’s where I keep all my stuff!”

When Jennifer and I were busy planning the wedding, we looked for an apartment together, and the one thing that made us decide to rent the apartment we chose was the fact that it had a closet as large as many of the rooms we saw in other apartments. We are not alone in our accumulation crisis. We all have the same problem—we never have enough room for all our stuff.

This accumulation crisis really hit home when we decided that the majority of our stuff we would need to put in storage for the year we are abroad. You don’t realize how much stuff you have accumulated until you try to lift it and store it somewhere else. Hear now my translation of verse 17 of our gospel text this morning:

“And he [the rich man] said, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store all the fruits of my labor’ (Luke 12.17).”

The translation you may have probably reads something like, “for I have nowhere to store my crops…” but, as anyone who is forced to listen to my words long would tell you, every translation of the Bible is an interpretation. The actual Greek word here is not the term “crop.” It is the term “fruit.” And, as we all know, fruit is a metaphor for many things other than agricultural produce. The fruits of our labor can refer to the things we own, it can refer to the things we have been able to accomplish in our lives. It can refer to a whole range of things other than apples and kiwi and grapes.

“And he [the rich man] said, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store all the fruits of my labor’ (Luke 12.17).”

Such it seems is the perennial question for all of us. We never have enough space for our stuff. No amount of yard sales or donations to the Goodwill Store ever seems to get rid of enough of it either.

When we read a parable in the Bible about a rich man, we think of a man who is very wealthy for his time and place in society. The term itself, “rich,” seems to conjure up in our minds this image of a guy wearing a silk smoking jacket, drinking the finest cognac, delivered to him by his personal butler “Jives.” When Jesus tells us this parable of the rich fool in our gospel lesson this morning, this is where our mind travels. Granted, we place this rich man in a different cultural and temporal context, that of ancient Israel instead of a mansion in the Hamptons. But, nonetheless, we cannot help but imagine rich as having the connotation of owning and consuming the best, nicest, and most expensive things.

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