A TYRANNY OF THINGS
Luke 12:13-21 October 23, 2016, Harvest Thanksgiving
“So, Pastor,” you may ask, “What did this farmer do that was so terrible. Didn't you tell us last week that if we pray for a good crop we should get out and hoe the fields? And isn't that just what the farmer did?”
Well, I guess it is. But the farmer forgot the second rule of Discipleship: “Avoid the tyranny of things.” That is: “Don't let the things you own, own you.” The farmer in the parable had too much. "What can I do?” he said, “I don't have a place large enough to store everything." Later, he said, "Now I know what I'll do. I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods.”
So far So good. Makes sense to store the grain for another season. Makes sense to keep your goods dry and safe from thieves and vermin.
You may remember the TV ad some years ago for those big plastic bins we store stuff in. This family is looking at all the stuff
jammed into their house and garage and wondering what to do. They purchase a bunch of the advertised tubs and put all their stuff in them. Looking at the neatness around her, the mother says:”Look at all this space! We need to buy more stuff!”
The tyranny of things. When our possessions take over our lives, and we are so busy keeping, caring for, and protecting them, we have no time to enjoy life. We become so fearful of loosing them, we are even afraid to use them.
I saw an article several weeks ago about the pros and cons of investing in precious metals: gold and silver bullion. The article pointed out that many folks invest in coins and bullion fearing the disintegration of the economic system. (Remember the millennial bug?) Although the writer felt such a scenario was extremely unlikely, If they are right, their investments may be the only viable currency. The article then went on to discuss the cons of such investments. First, are you actually getting what you pay for? How can you know? The metals must be assayed for purity and coins must be validated. The investments must be stored in a secure, yet available place; are you ready to pay for storage? Or purchase and install a safe in your home?
It reminded me of the story of a demon who kept watch over a large treasure buried under and old house. One day he was called to another part of the world from where he would not be able to return for 20 years. The demon considered what he should do with the,” treasure as it was too large and too heavy to take with him. He considered hiring a watchman, but that would cost a lot of money. If he left it under the house, someone could dig it up and steal it. What was he to do? Then he hit on an idea. He took his treasure to the home of a miser. “Good sir” the demon began, “I wish to give you this gift before I depart for a far away land. I have always admired you and trust you will accept this gift. You may do with it as you wish, spend it for whatever you want or need. I only ask that when you die, I be named the sole heir of your estate.” Of course the miser jumped at the thought of all that gold, and the demon departed, his deal made.
Twenty years later, having completed his assignment, the demon returned to find the miser had died of starvation. The demon found the treasure, still intact in its strong box, and not a penny missing. He carried his treasure home laughing, knowing that he had found a guardian who didn't cost him a thing!
The farmer determined would build a safe place for his things, but listen to what he says next: Then I'll say to myself, 'You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.' " There are two faults with his reasoning. First, like far too many folks, the farmer believes that his good fortune is all his own doing. He fails to see the hand of God, or the work of his employers having contributed to his wealth. He's like the businessman who brags “I did it all by myself, with no help from anyone. “ Unless you count hi the grants, scholarships, and student loans that got him through college; The Small Business Administration Loan that got him started in business; the tax breaks he gets from various governmental bodies, and so on. Like the businessman who fails to recognize the help he has received, the farmer in our story has left God out of the equation. Nowhere, not once, does he mention God, let alone thank God for what he has.
Let's get this straight: the farmer is not faulted for amassing his wealth. John Wesley's first rule of money was: “earn all you can.” Jesus is not anti-wealthy. Remember when A woman came in with a bottle of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus' head? When his disciples saw this, they became angry and complained, "Why such a waste? We could have sold this perfume for a lot of money and given it to the poor." Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said: Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing for me. (Mat 26:7-10) John tell us that: After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. The soldiers said to each other, "Let's not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it." His cloak was a fine piece of clothing, it was the Brooks Brothers suit of the day. What Jesus objected to was not that we have property, but that we fail to realize we have it only in trust.
Which brings us to the farmers second mis-reasoning. ll that we have comes from God. When God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, "Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat; (Gen 1:27-29) As we celebrate the harvest, it is appropriate that we give thanks. And is so doing, we remember that thanksgiving includes giving. Giving thanks, and sharing the abundance/
In Deuteronomy God not only commands:
The LORD is giving you the land, and soon you will conquer it, settle down, and plant crops. And when you begin harvesting each of your crops, the very first things you pick must be put in a basket. Take them to the place where the LORD your God chooses to be worshiped, and tell the priest, "Long ago the LORD our God promised our ancestors that he would give us this land. And today, I thank him for keeping his promise and giving me a share of the land." The priest will take the basket and set it in front of the LORD's altar. Then, standing there in front of the place of worship, you must pray: My ancestor was homeless, an Aramean who went to live in Egypt. There were only a few in his family then, but they became great and powerful, a nation of many people. The Egyptians were cruel and had no pity on us. They mistreated our people and forced us into slavery. We called out for help to you, the LORD God of our ancestors. You heard our cries; you knew we were in trouble and abused. Then you terrified the Egyptians with your mighty miracles and rescued us from Egypt. You brought us here and gave us this land rich with milk and honey. Now, LORD, I bring to you the best of the crops that you have given me. After you say these things, place the basket in front of the LORD's altar and bow down to worship him. Then you and your family must celebrate by eating a meal at the place of worship to thank the LORD your God for giving you such a good harvest. And remember to invite the Levites and the foreigners who live in your town.
But also: “Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the LORD. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That way, they will have enough to eat.” (Deu 26:12)
The harvest for which we give thanks, the food we produce, is sacred. Hence, the World Council of Churches has proposed The Ten Commandments of Food.
I Give thanks for the food you eat.
II. Eat food grown as close as possible to where you live.
III. Strive for all people to have knowledge about and access to affordable, nutritious food.
IV. Eat mindfully and in moderation.
V. Do not waste food.
VI. Be grateful to those who grow and prepare food for your table.
VII. Support fair wages for farm workers, farmers and food workers.
VIII. Reduce the environmental damage of land, water and air from food production and the food system.
IX. Protect the biodiversity of seeds, soils, ecosystems and the cultures of food producers.
X. Rejoice and share the sacred gift of food with all.
According to FeedingAmerica.org, the food insecurity rate right here in Jackson County is between 15 and 19% of households. Food insecurity is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. That means that on any given day, as many as 12,000 Jackson County homes are without adequate food. This is a disgrace a state that produces huge amounts of beef, potatoes, Green peas, onions, snap beans, sweet corn, filberts are other Oregon crops berries, pears, plums and cherries and Apples, to name a few. America leads the world in food production, yet one in eight Americans, including 5 million seniors and 13 million children face hunger every day. I can't help but wonder how much of that is due to people like the farmer in today's story: How much in due to the lack of generosity? How much is due what I call the “I got mine” mentality that looks no further than the dining room table?
The farmer's failure to acknowledge, or be generous to God; his stinginess toward other people, cost him his life. Jesus concludes the story with: “But 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?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
As we celebrate the harvest, let us celebrate with Thanks and with Giving. AMEN.