“Don’t Hoard the Harvest” Colchester Federated Church, July 31, 2022, (Luke 12:13-21) Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

A friend (and fellow minister) serves a church that has been going through transitions.  The congregation voted to sell their building and move in with another congregation.  This happened in our own church’s history when the Colchester Borough Baptist Church sold their building and parsonage (having gotten down to 12 members as the Colchester Historical Society helpfully notes on one of their placards we saw last Sunday).  Anyway, this sometimes happens in the history of churches and my friend was explaining how her congregation is nesting with another congregation, but not necessarily joining together as our congregation did with the Baptists and Congregationalists. 

She is now sharing an office and when I joked about where all her books could possibly live my friend related that since she was working from home because of Covid and her congregation was getting ready to sell the building she gave away most of her ministry books and now has just two shelves (not counting Commentaries).  I had to have made such a face as she laughed and said, “We graduated from Seminary twelve years ago.  How many books are sitting on your shelf that you haven’t opened since?”  That question cut me deep.  I have done several purges of books including when I moved here to Colchester.  Her teasing made me do another this week and donate books to the library (that probably no one will want to buy)!  Still, many of us have stuff that we collect.  And wow, can we get attached to that stuff.

Now today we heard the warning against greed found in Luke’s Gospel and Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool in response to what seems to be a family disagreement about an inheritance.  Jesus advises, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.”[1]  To further clarify his teaching, Jesus launches into the parable of the rich fool.

In the story, there is a rich man who has land that is producing abundantly during a time of harvest.  The man wonders what he should do about this abundance because now he doesn’t have anywhere to store all these crops.  The man contemplates pulling down his barns to build bigger ones for storage.  The man will say to himself, “You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years.  Take it easy!  Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”[2]  Though God ends up saying, “Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?”[3]  Jesus concludes the parable by saying that this is how it will be for those who hoard things for themselves, yet aren’t rich toward God.

This is not exactly an easy parable to interpret.  Because it seems that the rich man does not act in egregious, selfish ways.  In many ways, he is being responsible.  This is someone who seems to work hard and have land that produces in abundance when it comes time to harvest the crops.  It takes hard work to farm.  So the man is working (probably with other folks) and planning for what is yet to be. 

This way of life seems better than some alternatives.  He could have been reckless with his resources, wasting them in “dissolute living” like the Prodigal Son.  He could have not cared about anyone who may depend on him and not saved at all for the future, living for the moment with no thought to times that could get harder (future famines come to mind).  The rich man also could have been lazy.  He could have let that land lie fallow and produce nothing.  Thus, the alternative ways could have been wasting resources, failing to plan, and laziness.  The rich man does not do any of those things.

So why is Jesus so hard on him?  Well, the man appears to be consumed by his possessions.  The very meaning and value of his life depends on those possessions.  New Testament Professor Arland Hultgren points out, “The man and his possessions are so intimately tied together that they are inseparable.  In English translation the personal pronoun ‘I’ shows up six times and the possessive ‘my’ five times (‘my crops,’ ‘my barns,’ ‘my grain,’ ‘my goods,’ and ‘my soul’) in the six verses of the parable.”[4]  The rich fool’s identity is so tied up with the things he owns (and possibly his status and achievements).  He appears to be driven by acquiring those possessions, status, and achievements to the exclusion of other pursuits.  Because of this life orientation, the rich fool can end up not paying attention to the calls of God and the needs of his neighbor.  Because he’s simply too busy paying attention to gaining and maintaining his crops, barns, grains, goods, and even his soul.  The rich fool is placing all his trust in those temporary possessions as opposed to the permanent grace of God.  That makes him foolish.  He is hoarding the harvest to the detriment of his soul.

There was an article in The Atlantic about the relationship between wealth and happiness.  This is not a new issue to ponder, but Atlantic staff writer Joe Pinsker sought to better understand why those who are considered ultrarich are often not satisfied with their wealth.  The list of people in our world who are millionaires and billionaires keeps growing.  Though at that level of wealth getting another million dollars doesn’t tend to have an effect on peoples’ life satisfaction.  Can you imagine? 

What Harvard Business Professor Andrew Norton discovered when studying the ultrarich is that people (even people like you and me) tend to ask two questions when contemplating one’s life satisfaction— “Am I doing better than I was before? and Am I doing better than other people?”[5]  Wealth has a particular allure because people can measure with a quantifiable number if they are doing better than they were before and if they are doing better than other people.  Is there more money in my bank and investment accounts, is my house bigger, and do I have more than one house?  These possessions can be measured. 

Though this is where people get into the comparison game and that leads to all sorts of trouble.  Northwestern Professor Jeffrey Winters reflects, “For those of us who make wages and have expenditures that we are trying to meet—a mortgage, pay our health insurance, food, whatever happens to be our kid’s tuition—we link the making of money to our expenses” but those who are ultra-wealthy “use their money to make money.”[6]  This ends up being about enhancing one’s status.  Because who needs one large house in an attractive zip code when somebody could have five large houses and a mega-yacht all throughout the world?  The bottom line in this research about wealth and happiness seems to be that people develop this warped thinking that one never has enough.  Because if the whole point of life is to do better than you did before and do better than other people, when does it end?  The concept of having enough doesn’t exist.

Devotion to stuff as opposed to devotion to God and loving one’s neighbor created a reaction in Jesus.  Let us not forget that Jesus launched into his warning about greed and the parable of the rich fool after somebody asked him to intervene in a family conflict about an inheritance.  That could be a whole separate train of thought in this sermon—how families deal with dividing up a loved one’s estate and the complications that this can bring up.  Jesus reminds us that we are not supposed to hoard things for ourselves and not be rich toward God.  Jesus often told his followers to give to those in need because this showed that one’s values line up with God’s values.  Don’t hoard the harvest (or books you haven’t opened in twelve years) or whatever stuff we cling to when we are invited to know in our hearts that our lives aren’t about accumulating more stuff at all.  Because we are enough and God’s love is more than enough.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 12:15, CEB.
[2] Luke 12:19.
[3] Luke 12:20.
[4] Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, 109.
[5] Michael Norton as quoted by Joe Pinsker, “The Reason Many Ultrarich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth” in The Atlantic, December 4, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/12/rich-people-happy-money/577231/
[6] Jeffrey Winters as quoted by Pinsker, “The Reason Many Ultrarich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth” in The Atlantic, December 4, 2018.

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash