Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 07/31/2016

Over the last two Sundays, we’ve listened to the story of Mary and Martha one week, and then the next, we heard the disciples’ requesting that Jesus teach them how to pray. There were themes of relationship shared both Sundays: Jesus gently nudging Martha away from her distractions and toward a deeper connection with the Lord; and then Jesus wanting the disciples – really all of us – to feel comfortable asking and searching and knocking, even to the point of persisting in our prayer, because it’s in that persistence that the relationship actually develops, the connection with God who has so many good gifts and promises.

At the beginning of our reading today, we hear from “a someone” – one person in the thousands of people following Jesus – wanting Jesus to get in the middle of a family matter. This man is at odds with his brother – about money. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” And Jesus refuses to get directly involved. Obviously, there’s a problem here, but what the fellow is NOT saying is, “Jesus, my brother and I are fighting about this, and I’m worried that it’s going to break up my family. Will you help fix this, help bring us together?” No. It’s past that point. The man’s demand to Jesus, “tell my brother” suggests that the damage has already been done; the brothers are no longer talking.

The relationship is broken. And the teacher knows that this is what’s actually beneath the money issue (in all likelihood a property issue). Of course money and property are critically important – and a matter of social justice – but Jesus, through a story, aims to heal the underlying cause – the fracture between the brothers – as he goes on to tell the parable of the Rich Fool. This parable is about a man who has been deeply blessed, to the point of his land producing so abundantly, he has nowhere to store his harvest surplus. Too much grain! What a problem to have, right … but evidently he has a dilemma. And to solve this, does he go to his trusted advisors – family members or employees? People known for their wise guidance? Apparently, there is no one. The rich man needs no one and depends on no one. He is just fine with going it alone in life.

So he dialogues with himself, he has a one-sided conversation, thinking, “Self, what should I do?” And this vain, self-centered man comes up with what he thinks is a great plan: I’ll build bigger barns to store up my wealth, and then sit back and relax: eat, drink, and be merry. Now there’s a plan!

… And actually maybe not that different from the plan most of us have for retirement! … Amassing as much as possible in each of our Individual Retirement Accounts and 401ks, 403bs, and pensions … and then kicking back and enjoying life. In this parable we are introduced to a man who is not that different from the self-made, successful American – one who has worked hard in this life – toiling away for long hours, taking risks – sometimes experiencing a bit of luck – but generally prosperous thanks to a driven work ethic. And when a person works hard, why wouldn’t he or she expect abundance, expect to be able to enjoy some benefits from a lifetime of good choices?

“Self-made” individuals. Those whose identities are wrapped up in the power of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and the material rewards that go along with it: all the collected possessions, stored abundance. All mine and on my account, my resourcefulness … Quite the delusion.

This reminds me of a story I recently read about a group of rich and powerful men who in 1923 met at Chicago’s famous Edgewater Beach Hotel. Among those present were a multimillionaire steel magnate; the greatest wheat speculator of the time; a president of the New York Stock Exchange; and a member of President Harding’s cabinet. All self-made, rich, and powerful. Their fate? Well, thanks to greed and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the steel mogul died in debt; the wheat speculator died in obscurity; the financial guy did time in Sing Sing; and the politician was disgraced in a bribery scandal.

Delusions of greatness. On top of this world one day, and it’s all taken away the next.

Just like the man in today’s reading, the man whose life is to be taken from him this very night. There will be no barns for him to store grain, and no relaxing, no eating, drinking, and being merry.

The Rich Man is a Fool! And in the Biblical wisdom tradition, a fool isn’t simply one who acts unwisely, but instead one who believes he or she can go through life alone, refusing to acknowledge dependence on God. Someone who always knows what’s best. This man – alone with his thoughts – has come to the conclusion that storing away the crop makes sense. He chooses to hoard the grain, and it apparently never occurs to him to give to others that which will become the bread of life, the staff of life: a surplus of grain. He decides not to give, but to deprive the community of the life-giving possibilities available in this abundance.

We can only imagine how things might have turned out if this foolish man had chosen to be in conversation with God … rather than talking to himself, a prayerful relationship with God could have transformed the situation. But, there is no connection with either God or community here! This poor man is so isolated in his existence that he has no conception or understanding that all material things, all things are God’s. They are not ours. And it isn’t that God wants us to live as paupers or live without enjoying the things of this world, but God has not created us to be receivers only, to store up what has been given to us, to build bigger and better barns.

The world around us has needs, and when we are in relationship with God, we begin to see these needs. When we are part of our communities rather than in isolation, we recognize the hungry and the hurting and we think differently about the blessings bestowed upon us. Interdependence and mutual service make sense as we become part of the life of the community. It is then that we no longer believe we’re the final destination in the flow of God’s gifts but people who are midstream and channels along the way to our neighbors.

We give because God first gave to us the gift of Christ, God’s Son. That gift was firmly rooted in God’s love for us, the love that gives us new life. We in turn, in gratefulness, now give to others, just as God gave Christ to the whole world.

Our giving is not an isolated part of our life that has nothing to do with any other aspect of life. Giving is a spiritual matter that visibly demonstrates our relationship with God. And in relationship with God, listening to God, a fair question to consider is how much stockpiling and accumulating God wants us to do in this life. Certainly, God doesn’t expect us to give away all our possessions in an indiscriminate and unwise manner. It’s a natural thing to want to store up our goods, just like the man in this parable. We worry about those rainy days, or on the heels of 2008, we wonder whether there will be another nosedive in the stock market. We want to build up our bottom lines, our balance sheets so we can leave a generous inheritance to our loved ones, don’t we? But how much is enough? … How much?

God can help us answer this question.

All around us, there are those in need. Right now. And when we’re in relationship with God, we are a bit more in tune with the needs of the world, and we can see how our gifts can make a difference now. The Rich Fool doesn’t see it, but in hearing this parable, we get the chance to see things differently.

Jesus Christ, through his life and death and resurrection, has freed us from our inward orientation, the one that keeps us isolated from God and from others, and that freedom opens us up to gratefully accepting all the gifts God bestows on us, and to letting them flow through us as we turn to our neighbors, to our church, to pass on these gifts in love.

Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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