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Family Feud

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., November 7, 2010.
Luke 12: 13-21           

Several years ago, I did what Jesus, according to Luke, declined to do. I served as an arbiter between two people at odds over money. The dispute was not over whether money was owed, but how much.

“Would you help resolve this?” the debtor asked me. I agreed and helped them reach a settlement, but later realized it was a mistake. I should have picked up on the fact that the other person participated solely out of respect for me. Her heart was not in it and I later found out why. This was not the first time this man found a way to reduce his debts. From that point on, I followed Jesus’ example described in our text.

It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for someone to approach a rabbi with a request to settle a dispute over money, though. Rabbis were experts in the Law and conflict management. The rich were less likely to seek out rabbis, however, because they had the resources to hire professional arbitrators.

The man that approached Jesus in this story must have been very upset about the dispute he was having with his brother. He interrupted Jesus while he was teaching in front of thousands of people. I suppose it was the early version of the People’s Court or other courtroom dramas so popular these days on television.

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” he openly declared. Evidently, their father died and this child did not feel that the elder brother was distributing the inheritance fairly. Jesus refused to get involved in this dispute, but issued a stern warning to the sibling that approached him.

“Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” Luke 12: 14-15. I wonder if Jesus sensed a less than honorable motive on the part of the man that put him on the spot. If so, he evidently decided that he did not want to decide whose greed was right.

Turning to the crowd, Jesus capitalized upon the moment to tell a parable about a person’s relationship to his or her wealth. A prosperous farmer found himself in the enviable position of having to decide what to do with a harvest that exceeded his expectations. His barns were too small to store it. So, he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, where he could store all his grain and goods.

After declaring that he could live on easy street the rest of his life, God interrupted him with these somber words. “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” Luke 12:21.

You know what disturbs me about this parable? I could easily be this farmer and suspect some of you could, too.

Isn’t this the American dream? Work hard, make a lot of money, retire early and take it easy. Who wouldn’t want this kind of life?

For this reason, I think we need to carefully examine this parable and the lessons Jesus wanted us to learn from it. If this is every person’s dream, then we need to know if it is flawed.

The best way I know to learn the lessons from this parable is to ask what’s missing in this story. What did the farmer not say or do, which would have merited a different response from God? If we can figure this out, then I think we can avoid going down the same road.

What’s missing? It is not ambition, hard work or good management. They all appear to be here and they paid off quite well.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. As a matter of fact, this farmer is to be commended for his good work ethic and skill, if indeed he is responsible for this fruitful harvest.

Furthermore, there is no mention of his being corrupt, dishonest or abusive to his workers. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was a very good man. There is no indication he was anything to the contrary.

What’s missing, then? There is no mention of his being grateful, humble or considerate of others, all things very important to God. Instead, he was incredibly selfish.

Count the number of personal pronouns in this parable, referred to by William Barclay as “aggressive pronouns.”  There are ten.

According to Fred Craddock, this man “lived for himself, talked to himself, planned for himself, congratulated himself and trusted himself.” No mention was made of his gratitude to God for His blessings or accountability to Him for how he used his unexpected bounty.  No thought was even given to sharing his wealth, only ways to hoard it.

In other words, this farmer never saw beyond himself. Instead, his focus was solely upon “my crops, my goods, my grain and my barns.” There was a total disregard for the generosity of God and the needs of others.

Do you enjoy being around “agressive pronoun” people? I didn’t think so.

Like many of you, I was surprised the Giants won the World Series. They became the Cinderella team after people found out about them, though. They had no super stars on their team, at least not before the playoffs began. They played as a team, however, and peaked at just the right time, especially their pitchers.

I’ve heard all my life that good pitching will stop good hitting. It sure did in this series.

After the game last Monday night, I listened to the Giants’ owners, managers and players during their celebration in the locker room. One after another stood in front of the microphone and used words like grateful, humble, honored and fortunate. Tears flowed as freely as champagne.

Sure, they worked hard and deserved to win the World Series, but they were as grateful and humble as they were good on the field. It was so refreshing to see and hear this.

This is what was missing in the parable Jesus told about this successful farmer. And how did God view him? He called him a fool and said the plans he made were going to be cut short.

Fool is a strong word, isn’t it, and used rather sparingly in scripture. I have to believe that Jesus chose it carefully and deliberately. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus connected it to the way this man used his wealth, or didn’t use it.

Why was he a fool? He squandered an opportunity to do a lot of good. He could have used his abundance to heal painful wounds, meet strategic needs and make life better for those who were struggling. He could have been a wonderful role model that inspired others to share their resources and build a better a community. He could have been his generation’s Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or Bono. He missed this opportunity to be grateful and generous, never to come his way again.

On a lesser scale, he also left his family with the same problem facing the brothers at the beginning of this text. Now, his family would fight over his possessions after he was gone. How ironic!

Based upon the way you use your resources, what would God say to you this morning?

This year, our stewardship theme is “Taking the Next Step—Generosity in Action: Giving to God. Giving for Others. Giving with Believers.”

It was “giving for others” that was missing in this farmer’s life. Is it missing in yours, too? You can do something about this, you know. It’s not too late. A wise person would. Hope this will be you.