Luke 12:13-24 “Bigger Barns”
Our story this morning starts with the man who shouts out to Jesus from the crowd, “Teacher, help me to get what I have coming to me!” He wants Jesus to judge over his brother, so that he himself might get the inheritance from his father. We do not know this man’s name, but in fact we do know him. He is the one that thinks that life has been unfair to him. You know him! He is the one who has waited in his life for things to come his way, but then discovered that his brother gets the jackpot, not him. He is the guy who hates his brother because his brother is driving the better car, living in the bigger house, and seems to have had an easier time of it from the very start, though he may not be deserving of this.
We have a word that describes this man. We do not use this word in the vernacular anymore. Maybe we do not use it anymore because we do not think that it is a problem anymore: the word is “covet.” Our text today avoids the word by changing it out to “greed.” It is not the same, though greed is bad.
The very last of the Ten Commandments that Moses took down off mount Sinai directly written by the hand of God says, “Thou shalt not covet.” (Exodus 20:17) You shall not covet your neighbor’s ox, or his wife, and so on! Maybe we do not think that it is wrong today to want what others have, but God thought it was important enough to list it in the Ten Commandments alongside of stealing and murder.
I do not know if you all can recall that scene in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” in which FBI agent Starling is asking Dr. Hannibal Lecter about a serial killer she is trying to find. He asks her, “What is his basic nature? What feeds his need to kill?” She fumbles with the response, and finally he answers the question for her: “He covets what he cannot have.”
Psychologists will tell you that the emotion of anger is caused when we are not getting what we think we need or want. Anger is the basic emotional outcome therefore of coveting. This man who comes before Jesus asking for his inheritance is angry with his brother even though his brother has done nothing to deserve this anger being directed at him.
We look over at others in anger, thinking “Why can’t I live his life? Or, her life?” Why am I stuck with this life when I look over and see others apparently living better off than me?
Of course, I know that this mostly does not apply to us, because we all here know in our hearts how lucky we are to live on Kauai! Just living in this paradise takes that human propensity of coveting right out of us. You see, on the mainland people want to drive those European luxury models—here people avoid them because you cannot get them serviced on this island! Here we are happy with the thirty-year-old rusty pick-up truck and shack with the mango tree in the back!
When Jesus answers this man back saying “Life is not about abundance of possessions!” we all are cheering Him on! We know what life is about. Forrest Gump says that life is like a box of chocolates. We know that that is not really true! Here on Kauai life is about the perfect mango that falls naturally from the tree just as you are walking under it. Life is not about not knowing what you are going to get, but rather knowing for sure that God’s blessings can hit you in any moment.
I want to share something a little personal about inheritance. I have a will in case of my death. And, in that will I have named only one item that is to be given to one particular person upon my untimely demise. That item is an old model railway set from Germany that my twin brother and I used to play with when we were kids. It was my father’s and uncle’s model railway set. Everything else is to be divided equally among heirs, but that Maerklin model railway, that was the greatest joy that my brother and I shared growing up.
Isn’t that just the stupidest thing? It does not matter what my brother has. The fact that I had a brother growing up is that blessing from God that I should not miss! What more could I have ever asked for from God—except I also had two sisters! We should only ever just want our brothers and sisters—not what they have—just their love and care in our lives.
Jesus tells this man a parable. We call it today the parable of the “Rich Fool.” A farmer has a good crop. The mango has fallen upon his head! He has received that blessing from God. Yet, somehow he thinks he has earned himself the right to take early retirement for the rest of his life. He is going to build bigger barns to hold it all. A barn was a huge protected storage house made of stone and surrounded by walls in those days. So, he is going to try to protect what he has for himself.
What is interesting to note is the foolishness of this idea from the very start. If you look in verse 18 of the pew bible it says “grain.” The reality is that the Greek word here is “fruit.”
Remember last week when Clint brought in so many mangoes to share with us all here in the church? Then Margaret brought mangoes, too? Now, I forgot who, but somebody else also brought mangoes. Ruth brought in bananas, as she is wont to do. Sooooo, I decided with all this abundance that I would take my share of the fruit, put it in my hurricane supply closet, and retire! What is wrong with this picture? I know this is Kauai, but it is going to be really hard to retire with just a closet full of mangoes. This man really is a fool to think that his barns will see him through to the end!
I have been quoting some strange sources in this sermon already, but this last week on the radio I heard another preacher quote from the old Andy Griffeth show. That has given me license this morning to do the same! Anybody here remember that episode in which Aunt Bea decides to buy a secondhand chest freezer and a 150 pounds of beef in order to save money. She buys the 150 pounds of beef from a man named “Diamond Jim” who is wholesaler. She does this despite her long term good relationship with her local butcher.
That evening Andy comes home, and Bea serves him his steak dinner. Andy complains that the meat is chewy. In other words, Bea now has a year’s supply of bad beef. Then, the old secondhand freezer quits on them. The only person in town with enough cold storage to save the beef is the butcher. She has to go back and confess to him. Moral of story: “What good is it to have 150 pounds of rotting chewy beef, when you can be friends with the butcher?”
You and I, we live day to day, knowing that we are “friends with a butcher.” Maybe I should say “baker,” because we know we get our daily bread from God in heaven. Our blessings come from our relationship with God! I do not care how big your barns are because I know that God has stored up for me more in heaven then I could ever store up for myself in this life!
I want to focus finally on the last line of today’s scripture: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich with God.”
Have you ever wondered what God’s real name is? Some people say that it is “Jehovah.” But, for sure, our scripture here today tells us that God’s name is “Rich.” I know that I am talking nonsense. Just wanted to make sure you were still listening!
The Greek word here for what has been translated as “rich” is πλουτος. Yes, this is like the dwarf planet Pluto, or Mickey Mouse’s dog. It literally means “plump.” Therefore, the Pastor Olaf translation here runs, “We are not to plump up ourselves, but rather plump up God.”
This man in the parable says he is going to sit back on his haunches and “eat, drink, and be merry.” To be sure, this is a biblical quote from Ecclesiastes 8:15. The people in the crowd around Jesus probably would have recognized it. We still recognize it today as it has been repeated so very often. If you go into a bar, there is usually this quote hanging on a wall somewhere. It is always taken out of context! You have to read everything around this verse. It clearly states that most of life is our toiling in the sun, and that at times God gives us cause to eat, drink, and be merry. The bible does not say that you should stop toiling: “. . .For this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”
This quote does not say that we should sit around plumping up. It says that God has given us work to do. And, God has given us blessings to celebrate. Whatever we do, it is to make God great—not ourselves.
Jesus himself did not come down from heaven and go through his sacrifice for his own sake. Jesus never entertained the idea that he was going to get anything from any harvest except our souls back to God! Please, Lord, let us not forget what the true harvest is all about!
You want to build bigger barns here on earth? Don’t forget, as we read in John 14, God is preparing mansions in heaven for us! Barn or mansion, your choice! Death on earth, or life in heaven. You decide! I am going to commend you to be rich in God!