The other day, I received my pension statement, and for the first time in a long time, I actually smiled when reading it. After the stock market drop in 2008, it was not fun receiving these pieces of paper. In fact, looking at them caused me to believe I would never have the opportunity to retire. But, since at least the stock market has rebounded-the rest of the economy is a little more questionable-so has my pension fund. But does that mean I haven’t stopped worrying about my retirement? No. Not at all.
Like millions of Americans, and probably like those of you who are still working, I am concerned about what will happen to me when I either decide or am unable to work any longer. I hope to have enough packed away so that I can enjoy the golden years without concern or worry. I hope to obtain enough wealth to be able to say to myself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Do you have such a retirement plan?
Perhaps you already see where this is headed. Perhaps you recognized that I quoted a portion of our Gospel lesson in my opening statements, and perhaps you recognize what our Gospel lesson ends with.
Jesus tells a parable about a man who is very much like those of us who slave and save for retirement. Of course, he obtained the lion’s share of his wealth by a stroke of fortune. He was a farmer, and those of you who have worked the land know how tedious being a farmer can be. You know the ups and downs and how oftentimes there are years where you barely break even, sometimes go in the hole, and rarely, but enough times to give you hope, you have a crop that is above and beyond fantastic. We call those crops a bumper crop. Well, the farmer in Jesus’ story has an uber-bumper crop. I mean it’s an absolutely fantastic crop–perhaps along the lines of getting four bales to an acre on dry land cotton farming or having every single cow drop two healthy calves in a single year. We are not talking breaking even on expenses. We are talking major, major profit.
And, perhaps, just perhaps, after many years of just breaking even or going in the hole and barely making it by, the farmer now has the opportunity to relax. All those years of toil and trouble have now paid off. He can indeed enjoy life: relax, eat, drink and be merry. He feels as if he has earned it. I am sure many of Jesus’ hearers would have felt a bit of kindred for the man in the story. After all, many of them were farmers and ranchers and fishermen and those who worked the land. This story would have resonated with them deeply.
Ah, but then, Jesus throws the curve. He continues, “20But 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?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’”
I am sure this would have left folks scratching their heads and pondering things for a few moments. And I hope it makes us ponder such things as well. And now, I am going to share some of my pondering as someone who is a lot like that farmer.
You see, I am pretty conservative when it comes to my finances. I pinch my pennies pretty tightly. My family and I do not go on regular, extensive, expensive vacations. We usually spend that time visiting with family and friends. We do not own the newest vehicles or latest electronic gadgets. We shop for the grocery store brand items all the time. Most of the time, I reason to myself, “I’ve got to save for my children’s education and for my retirement.” Splurging is difficult.
But then I think to myself, “What am I teaching my children about faith? What am I teaching them about life? And what happens if something should happen to me?”
For you see, Jesus hits me like a ton of bricks this morning. He raises the reality of life. We never know when our time is up. We could be slaving away and working and setting aside all we can, and then suddenly a brain aneurysm makes us drop dead. We could work our tails off, spending 70 hours a week at work only to be suddenly diagnosed with cancer. All too often, I have witnessed people who save and claw for retirement suddenly hit with illness and troubles once they quit working, and they all share the same thing with me at that point. “Pastor,” they say, “the golden years ain’t so golden.”
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.
So I find myself pondering what it means to be rich toward God. Does that mean I should stop saving for retirement? Does that mean I should throw caution to the wind and just enjoy life right now with no thought of the future? Does that mean I should focus on making myself happy and my family happy?
That’s the trouble sometimes with only reading a portion of the Bible at church on Sunday mornings. Sometimes we cover only the ground the people of the Revised Common Lectionary want us to cover. But, we are not limited to what we have printed in the bulletin. God’s Word is right before us in the pews, and to end this sermon, I would like to ask you to pull out those Bibles. Please turn in them to Luke chapter 12 because I think it is important to read what Jesus says immediately following this story about the rich fool. It’s on page _________.
Let’s begin reading at verse 22:
22 He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What does it mean to be rich in God? The answer is plain as day, “Strive first for His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Learn it. Live it. Seek it. Have no fear. Amen.