Sermon for July 31
7-31-22 St. John’s
This parable about the rich farmer today reminds me of some folks in my former parish in rural Wisconsin. We had a lot of farmers in that community they were mostly small family farms that struggled along. But there was one family in the congregation, who had a big operation going like the farmer in today’s parable; they had a lot of their own land and they also rented land from their neighbors to grow corn. It was Floyd and Norma who had two grown sons who worked for them; one was a whiz bang mechanic who fixed all the equipment and the other was an MBA financial genius. Norma kept the household going, was a great cook and a homemaker and a host and also helped with the bookkeeping; Floyd worked the fields. It was a major business and it was very lucrative.
I can’t speak for their inner spiritual life but they were faithful members of the congregation and really nice people. Floyd took me out in the field one day and got me drive one of his big beautiful air conditioned combines so I could see what it felt like. It was fun – they were good people.
Whenever I hear this parable about the rich farmer Jesus tells today, I can’t help but think of Floyd. He was a rich farmer – he had so much corn he had to build new build big new silos just like the man in the parable, they had with moisture gauges and dehumidifiers and all the bells and whistles. Is God going to say to Floyd, “You fool. This very night, your life is being demanded of you. And all these things you have prepared – whose will they be?” If Floyd decides to take a nice vacation with his family and, relax, eat, drink and be merry, does God judge him for that?
See, the other people I think of is a family, same congregation, nice young family, twins my sons age. Sunday school, VBS, he was a good guitar player sometimes played in church. But, I guess it was in the fall one year I noticed that they had start to taper off in their attendance and before you knew it, they stopped coming altogether. And when I tried weeks to track them down, they seemed to be avoiding me. I finally caught up with the wife, Donna, at home one day and she said I needed to talk to the husband, Greg. So I waylaid him at the school when we were both picking up our kids and asked him what was going on.
He said, “Pastor I have to be honest with you, we’ve been going to the Congregational church down the street” – there were a whole bunch of churches in this tiny town and I knew all the pastors, and the pastor of this one happened to be a good buddy. I said how come, he said “Well, I just need to hear more about hell. You don’t preach about hell enough.” I said, yeah, I never preach about hell. I just don’t think it does any good.
He said, well that’s the problem. I was dumbfounded, gob smacked. I said “Ok, thanks brother, God bless you.” And we never saw that family in church again. I’d see them around town. And I felt kind of bad about that but it wasn’t enough to make me preach about hell. I try to preach the good news. And I believe that’s biblical. Paul – I’m not ashamed of the gospel – the good news – for it’s the power of God’s salvation for all those who have faith. I know that’s Lutheran.
So I’m thinking about those folks today because this gospel reading would seem to me be a good candidate for a sermon about hell and maybe I could scare Floyd and Norma a little while I was at it. And that does seem to be the type of Christianity that’s most prevalent in the world today. I think we mortals just think about life that way. Tit – for –tat, retribution and punishment and judgment. And that’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such a scandal, the good news that saves us. The message of the cross is a scandal, Paul says. It just doesn’t make sense. God’s absolute love and grace.
And to be fair, there’s a good bit of that in the bible about judgment. There’s a lot more about love and forgiveness and grace and mercy. And then there’s the cross – a God that loves us so much that he dies for us and with us. I guess you have to choose what the bottom line is, and I think the bottom line is the good news. And that’s the news that’s going to save us and free us and strengthen us to serve others. And that is the message that we have for the world.
I’m not too worried about Floyd and Norma. So what about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and those guys who spend their money going into space while people starve and can’t put food on the table? Well, it’s not for us to judge. We’re all rich compared to somebody. If we have a flush toilet we are more well off than 60% of people in the world. And yes, God is demanding our lives from us this very night and every other night, not just when we die, but while we live. That’s why Jesus is concerned about is us thinking that an abundance of possessions is what life consists of. What life consists of is being rich toward God.
So sorry Greg, still no sermon about hell. It’s not that I don’t believe in it necessarily, I just think that’s God’s business.
Our business is not to get too distracted by the shiny objects, they can be a trap. Maybe that’s a trap the rich farmer in the parable fell into. So let’s take Jesus’ advice and put our treasures where our hearts and remember that rich or poor, our lives do not consist of an abundance of riches.