Jesus used stories as a way of teaching – which was common for the wandering Jewish rabbis of his day. His disciples have written down roughly 40 of them: Some are similar themes told in different ways. Some are well known and told over and over again – while others are less well known. Today we read a story that is not told as often:
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (ESV)
So here is a parable that is elegant in its simplicity: it is the kind of parable that needs no explanation: it challenges the idea of building bigger and bigger barns to store your wealth.
But this is not really a story about wealth – it is a story about greed: there is a back story:
Jesus is approached by an unhappy family member who says to Jesus: “Tell my brother to share the inheritance”. We must presume that the brother is standing there too. And they wait for Jesus adjudicate their dispute – and instead Jesus tells a story… .
Jesus tells of a man who becomes wealthy, and he builds bigger barns to store his wealth. Then he discovers that his life is coming to an end, and death will strip him of all his wealth.
This story was originally intended for the two brothers standing in front of Jesus: This story asks a question of each of these brothers
But beyond the two brothers – this parable has haunted our consciences for the past 2000 years. It asks the essential question of human existence:
“How much is enough?”
At this point it is easy to see why this parable is often avoided: It is an uncomfortable story.
I find this story difficult to preach – because this parable contradicts our culture:
We live in a world that makes heroes of wealthy people. We put their faces on the covers of magazines – and we take photographs of their houses, and their yachts, and their vehicles.
Ours is a culture that believes storing up grain in bigger barns is praise-worthy.
And Jesus cuts across this and says – this is not a Godly way of living. In fact Jesus issues a warning: (in vs 21): beware “the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Here’s the thing: Some are blessed with much – because God chose them to manage wealth:
God gives some people financial ability
God gives some people opportunities to gain wealth
God gives some the ability to make wealth
But Wealth is not for collecting – it is given to serve God.
Jesus elaborates on this a few verses later: in vs 48: Of the one to whom much is given, much is required.
In other words – you can fill a barn with wealth – but expect God to call on that wealth for God’s blessings to the community.
Allow me a prophetic word:
It is just plain evil that there are some people who have more wealth than they could ever spend in a lifetime – while others do not have enough to get to the end of the week.
It is wrong that there are nations that spend more on protecting their wealth than they do on assisting people who are starving.
I go to the words of one of the great evangelical teachers of our time: Dr Ron Sider. He influenced my life and thinking – and I am saddened that he died this week. Ron Sider, who grew up in the Mennonite tradition, gave his time and passion to challenging Christians to be uncomfortable with the inherent greed of our culture. “Great economic inequality inevitably produces injustice in a fallen world; therefore Christians must oppose it.”
― Ronald J. Sider, Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement
Jesus says that this lesson begins at home – he speaks to the two brothers and says to them: When you fight over inheritance, you no longer follow the way of God. The fact is that
Challenge us to become generous people: who are willing to share what we have. And to do this with joy:
Let us learn to live more simply – so that others may simply live.
To illustrate this I want to take us to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus: it would seem that they were personal friends with Jesus – and that he often stopped here to rest.
Jesus has been training disciples – sent out 72 of them, and received their reports from the work they have done.
Now he needs a break – and goes to Bethany.
And at this point the story gets interesting: because we see Jesus taking on the culture of the day:
Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus culture was patriarchal: there were clear rules for men and for women.
The men hunted, fished, did business, and discussed the political and religious affairs of the day: In fact it was commonly thought that women were not able to comprehend the complicated things of God – so they were not allowed to lead prayers or read the scriptures in the temple.
The women had children, cleaned the house, cooked the food – and stayed out of the business of the men.
And then Luke tells a story that contradicts this:
Martha is in the kitchen preparing food for their guests – as was expected of a woman.
Mary, on the other hand, went to sit at the feet of Jesus: She took the place normally reserved for a disciple of Jesus. Mary ignored her cultural role – and stepped over the cultural boundaries of the men: she sat in the circle of the men, and discussed religious beliefs with the rabbi.
Now: normally the rabbi would rebuke this woman and tell her to know her place. But we have to assume that the only reason that Mary she did this is because she knew Jesus – and she knew that he welcomed women into his circle.
• Mary knew that Jesus had sat with a woman at Jacob’s well and discussed religious belief with her.
• Mary knew that Jesus had protected a woman caught in adultery
• Mary knew that Jesus had healed a women in a crowd, and had prayed with a little girl who was ill
And so she had confidence to sit at his feet and trust that he would not chase her away.
This is the good news of Jesus – both men and women are welcome to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Want to stress this point – because somehow, 2000 years later, Christians still have not got it!
There are many, many people who follow Jesus who want to separate men and women at the feet of Jesus:
Men assume that their place is in the pulpit while the place of women is pouring the coffee and providing treats after the service.
Some compromise this – and allow women to speak to women’s meetings…but never to the whole church.
And even for us liberated Methodists who have women pastors, perhaps somewhere in our unconscious prejudices we still think that a male preacher is better than a female preacher!
Be clear – Jesus said that Mary was welcome to sit at his feet:
Luke 10:42 Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Let me add one more thought:
Jesus did not say that Martha was wrong for being in the kitchen.
Jesus does not condemn Martha’s call to be hospitable.
When Martha complains that Mary should be helping her – Jesus speaks about calling:
In effect he is saying: “Martha, you live out your calling – but beware of hearing Mary’s calling. You are doing what you are called to do – let Mary do what she has been called to do.”
Think about it – Martha was not complaining that she needed help: she had other help available to her: she had her brother Lazarus who could have helped her: but she specifically wanted Mary! You see Martha had discerned Mary’s tasks, based on the culture of the day.
Allow me to speak bluntly: Every woman is designed by God: and God has placed specific skills in her. And she should be able to hear the call of God on her life to become what Jesus calls her to be.
And she should be able to do this without us being like Martha and talking her out of the dreams that God places in her: Can I wonder aloud?
- What is your reaction when you hear that a woman drives an 18 wheeler truck?
- Or how do you react to a woman being nominated to be the president of our country?
Beware of the temptation to be like Martha: where we allow our history and our culture to limit what a woman can do.
And if you would allow me to digress for a moment and speak about the way men have made decisions about the reproductive rights of women:
We men would protest if a woman governor should pass legislation to sterilize men who father unwanted babies.
We men would be very uncomfortable if a woman legislator would call for men to be castrated for rape or for incest
So let us men pause of speaking about whether a woman should be forced to give birth or not. Instead of trying to take over the voice of God, we can encourage women to hear the call of God in their life choices.
Both Mary and Martha were loved by Jesus…each living into the call of God on their lives. Our task is to encourage each person to discover God’s call and to obey it.
Let me take you back to the text for today: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, 1 Peter 4:10
The US Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. From this moment the idea of freedom was deeply imbedded in the American soul – and conversation on being free rages across cultural and geographic divides. The American people cherish their freedom – it is seen in public political conversation, it is written on T-shirts, and even used to name fireworks and beer. I understand this, because I come from a country that went through its own struggle for freedom: South Africa freed itself first from the British Empire, and then from the politics of Afrikander apartheid.
Today seems a good time to reflect on freedom – which does not begin as a political idea: freedom is a deeply help Christian belief. I want to offer a text for today – and then go on to ground this text in a context:.
The text comes from St Paul, and the context from the Gospel of Luke as he tells of the life and teaching of Jesus
Our text for today:
Gal 5:13 As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you. Instead, let love make you serve one another..
St Paul says that freedom is a calling:. “You were called to be free”. God calls us to live life as free people. Freedom is this gift from God that threads its way though the Bible with the story of God leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to freedom. The promise of Freedom is found in the prayers of the Psalms and in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. Freedom is the theological foundation of the writings of St Paul. And Jesus comes to preach of the freedom of the Kingdom of God.
This is the at the heart of the story we read today in the Gospel of Luke: Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples with this one message:
“The Kingdom of God is near you”
This was a very difficult message at the time, because the people Jesus speaks to are living under the Kingdom of Rome – a Kingdom that ruled the people with an iron fist!
Jesus preaches that there is a Kingdom greater than Rome – the Kingdom of God. Remember that to be preaching that there was a higher authority was dangerous. Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of Rome needed to hear its accountability to the Kingdom of God – and when Rome took away the freedom of people, they were to be reminded that the Kingdom of God is near. This Kingdom of God is a kingdom that sets people free. And wherever we see signs of people being set free – we see signs of God at work.
And so it is appropriate for us, as people faith, to celebrate freedom as God’s gift to humanity.
And I congratulate you on the celebration of your national birthday tomorrow.
That said: freedom is not permission to behave without restraint. There are conditions that come with it:
As St Paul reminds us: do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Jesus has more to say about this – Jesus is quite clear about the way freedom looks: when he sends his disciples out they are to preach the freedom of God:
Luke 10:9; “say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
But along with this Good news of freedom, Jesus adds these instructions:
• Declare peace on each house you enter.
• Look after the sick
• Be content with what you have been given and do not become greedy for more.
Freedom is not about satisfying the cravings of my soul – freedom is a calling to extend the blessings I have received to everyone else. As Paul reminds us: “through love serve one another”
The 72 disciples were not just to celebrate their own freedom they have been given by Jesus – they had a responsibility to share this good news with the people around them.
So in the same way as I congratulate you on your Independence Day, I would urge you to remember that the task is not yet over. While there is someone else who does not have the same freedoms that You and I have, we have a calling the bring the Kingdom of God near to them too.
This can range from the great vision for a world where people are free from tyranny and want, to us being vigilant in our families to protect those who are weaker and less able to live freely.
At the same time as we support the right of Ukraine to be free from Russian dominance, we also need to look out for the people in our own neighbourhood who are bullied and pushed aside.
Allow me to return to my own roots:
A key figure in the struggle for freedom in South Africa was Nelson Mandela. He was a leader in the liberation movement, and became the first President of a newly constituted South Africa. As he thought about the new freedom that millions of South African’s had gained, he offered this wisdom:
“To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,”
So: celebrate with family – eat food – enjoy the warm weather:
But remember these words of Paul:
Gal 5:13 As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you. Instead, let love make you serve one another..
Three dedicated followers, all wanting to be with Jesus, say “YES” to following him; and each comes with expectations or loose ends needing tied up. To each of them, Jesus responds; “clear the deck. It’s time to let go of your expectations and obligations and focus on your mission.” It seems extreme, and maybe it is; but these are the words of Jesus. And so, they beckon us to explore with curiosity and openness, what Jesus might be trying to tell these disciples, and by extension, us, about the nature of the kingdom of God.
John Wesley’s prayer; prayed every year at the Celebration of Life in Ministry service. It is prayed by everyone in attendance; a radical re-dedication of faith. As I begin I want to read this prayer for us, in light of today’s scripture:
● Our itinerant system
● Ed Coates; memories of earlier annual conferences, when it was routine for pastors to come not knowing whether or where they might be going in just a few weeks’ time. And in the days of John Wesley it was an even more more dangerous vocation.
● From an article dated March 7, 2018 on umc.org, the following depicts some of the challenges faced by early Methodist circuit riders:
○ Methodist Church records from 1844 record a church membership of over 1 million, with 4,000 ministers riding circuits in the U.S.
○ …one could travel days before reaching a town, and a day or so from one farm to the next, and that wasn’t even in frontier territories, which were often even more sparsely populated.
○ Some of their mementos give us a glimpse into their unusual circumstances.
○ A circuit preacher had to carry everything he might need; fishing lines in case he needed to go fishing, wax to seal letters, even bleeding instruments."
○ Typically, circuit riders traveled 200 to 500 mile routes on horseback. At times, they preached every day. Sometimes circuits were so large that it took six weeks to complete a cycle. Exhaustion, illness, animal attacks, and unfriendly encounters were constant threats.
○ Days and nights were spent in the elements, hunting or fishing for food and depending on the hospitality of strangers.
○ Barbara Duffin: "Circuit riders would have to spend the night with any family that would put them up and eat whatever was available to eat."
○ Ministers rarely served longer than two years on the same circuit. Theirs was a difficult and often short life. Prior to 1847, nearly half of Methodist circuit riding preachers died before the age of 30. But their passion for saving souls was unprecedented, then and now.
○ Wesley was famous for having said that Methodist preachers must be ready to preach, pray or die on a moment’s notice.
Somehow, Jesus’ words don’t seem quite so extreme now, do they?
Most Methodist preachers don’t have it quite so tough these days in North America. But we must not forget that ours is a global denomination, with churches spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe, where clergy serve in war-torn and conflict-ridden places, where danger is an ever-present reality. In recent months we have been reminded of this as United Methodists clergy and laity have worshiped and engaged in mission together from dark bomb shelters, and in the midst of active warfare.
So let us not allow the discomfort we may feel in our relatively comfortable pews, here in Brookings South Dakota to drive us away from these words of Jesus; we are messengers of the good news of the Kingdom of God.
It is ironic, isn’t it, that in a sermon titled “Brought Home in the Spirit” we hear Jesus’ words; “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
It seems as though Jesus, with his fiery, controversial rhetoric, is trying to convey to these passionate, sold-out followers that there are some hard truths that come with a life of dedication to God’s kingdom. And he does it by giving surprising responses to these three disciples; all of whom agree to follow him, but with certain assumptions, or conditions. Let’s look a little more closely at these three disciples.
The first disciple promises to follow Jesus “wherever you go” in verse 57. Jesus responds cryptically, with an almost nursery-rhyme like phrase; “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (v. 58)
The second and third disciples ask for allowances that, in any culture, seem totally reasonable, even commendable; to attend to the burial of a parent and to bid farewell to one’s family before committing to this total and complete act of personal sacrifice. To both of these disciples, Jesus offers a surprisingly stark rebuke; to the first he says, “let the dead bury their own dead but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God,”
(v. 60) and to the second; “no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom.” (v. 62)
There are times in life when we must hear a hard truth.; times when we must be disabused of our romantic notions of glory and our lofty visions of success must be tempered by the stark light of reality. Perhaps this is that sort of moment for the disciples. Taken in by the excitement of a new possibility, perhaps they hold expectations that this following Jesus thing is going to be like a pleasant road trip with their buddies. Knowing what is ahead of them, perhaps Jesus is preparing them for what really lies in store; suffering, conflict, hardship, even persecution and for many of them, death.
The words of John Wesley again come to mind; “Every Methodist pastor must be ready to preach, pray or die at a moment’s notice.”
It is a sobering thing to say “yes” to that kind of invitation.
It is true that this is my last Sunday with you here at Brookings First United Methodist. I have been so grateful for the time I’ve spent with you these past two years. Jim, Lucas and I have been blessed by your fellowship and care, and we have been able to participate in amazing ministry together.
And, I am called to move; like Jesus and his disciples, the nature of Methodist ministry is itinerant; we are in some ways, always mindful that at a moment’s notice (or maybe a few months’ notice, as it happens these days), we may again be on the move. This is a gift! It is a gift because it is a constant reminder that our security lies not in any place, or position, or in the opinions of others, but in the realization that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not called to be comfortable. The work of the Kingdom is an urgent, patient work. It requires our dedication and focus, as well as a keen grasp of the hard realities in which we live. It is not glamorous, or trendy. It is hard, holy work; and it is work that matters not just today, but for eternity.
But this way of ministry is not only a gift to us pastors; it is a gift to you. You also are given the opportunity to grow and strengthen in your faith. Like the disciples, you may come to recognize your own agency in ministry--you are empowered in mission and ministry. Think about it; what is the constant in a United Methodist church? It’s not the pastor--it is the congregation. Like Paul, who traveled from church to church throughout the ancient near East, the constant presence were the believers in each city, town and home who remained, who continued the mission, who endured the hardships and saw, day after month after year, the faithfulness of God as they continued on empowered by the Holy Spirit, in sharing the good news of Christ.
Pastor Pete will continue to lead this congregation as long as God calls him to this place; I am moving into a different role, and am already seeing how God is providing for your needs, inviting others to step into leadership roles in creative and innovative ways. You are continuing to deepen and grow as you fulfill the mission God has given you through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not always easy; sometimes it requires a level of sacrifice that stretches and challenges you. But God is faithful. Continue to put your hand to the plow. Keep stepping out in faith on the path God has set before you. Let the Spirit guide you. And as you do, may you recognize that your home--your true home--is with the One who calls you out with the same words he called those first disciples; “follow me.”
The text doesn’t tell us what these three disciples decided to do; we don’t know whether they dropped everything and followed Jesus, or whether they decided the price was too high. Maybe the stark reality sunk in; maybe it scared them away. We don’t know. But one thing we do know is this; as followers of Jesus, we have the same choice. Will we follow Jesus when things get real?
As we close I want to invite us to stand and say together the prayer I shared at the beginning; it is a prayer that applies not just to pastors, but to any of us who accept Jesus’ call to follow him. As you pray the words, I invite you to give your heart wholly to God; in radical surrender to God’s will and way in your life.
Intro: Jesus and an extended group of disciples have been travelling through Galilee – this group included both men and women. This was a period of teaching, telling parables and explaining them. The crowds grew so big that when Jesus family came to visit – they could not get to him. It seems like Jesus wanted a break – so he asks his disciples to get a boat and sail him across the sea of Galilee to the other side:
Luke 8:26-39 : 26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes,[a] which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus[b] had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed[c] man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
A man has been chased out of his home because he seems to have become crazy.. perhaps today we might call him schizophrenic, or subject to psychotic episodes, or even a victim of dementia. But in the time of Jesus there was no such explanation: he was strange – and people explained it as demon possessed.
And he was driven out of his community, and eventually found himself in the graveyard of the town. And when you live with the dead you were considered unclean / literally cursed by both God and man. Here is someone who is alive, but considered dead by his community.
And Luke tells us that Jesus finds him: and Jesus heals him. And he is “clothed and in his right mind”…… So imagine that you had been part of this story: you had seen this man’s mental health deteriorate, you had seen him driven out of town, and watched his family take food to a place at the edge of the graveyard so that he did not starve – and then Jesus comes to town and this man is healed: you saw that he had his clothes back on and was talking rationally….. What would your response be:
Surely your first words would have been “Praise God”… probably followed by a great big celebration in Main Street.
But that is not what happened:
35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.
The people were afraid! This made such an impression on Luke that he repeats it two verses later: . 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked (Jesus) to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.
Why is it such a fearful thing when madness is replaced by stillness?
And it is right here that I believe that this story has been remembered – and keeps nagging at us 2000 years later. It seems that we can cope with madness – but we will do everything to avoid stillness.
The stillness of our hearts contain all the things we do not want to think about – and so we cultivate madness in an effort to shut out our thoughts.
Let me unpack this a bit: summer is advertised as an opportunity for us to recover our souls: life has been busy – this is the time to …
• escape to the Black Hills and enjoy the stillness of nature
• Go out into the prairies and enjoy the stillness of a sunset
• Go to the Nature Park and walk in the stillness of an early morning
But this is really not true: We take our noise with us…. We turn up the volume of the music in our vehicles / we look for a television in the Black Hills / when we leave home – we madly fill our time with activities / even when out walking we talk incessantly with each other.
Allow me to be a bit more pointed:
Today contains a number of invitations to pause from our business and be still to remember:
Today June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tex., to inform enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were free. Today is a moment to sit with our thoughts and reflect on what we can do to continue to ensure the freedom of everyone who lives here….. but we so easily allow the political madness of this country to drown out the still small voice of reason.
Today is Father’s day: a happy day of barbeques, and socks, and family – but this can become a way of drowning out the opportunity to have a real conversation with our fathers. We make today busy – so that we do not have to go to that stillness where we tell them that we love them.
The reason that we keep the madness going is because we are afraid of the silence. Like the Gerasene villagers described in the Gospel of Luke: we discover that silence is frightening. Because when we stop our madness – we have to face our own thoughts. But we will only find healing for our troubled spirits when we do so.
Today – is an invitation: pause for a moment in your day – and make some space for silence: switch off the Television / stop the music / pause the talking – and listen for the Spirit of God. Perhaps you can make this the invitation for summer:
Watch a sunset / listen to the wind / discover the sound of a bird – and in this moment see if the Spirit of God will engage your troubles spirit – and you can find healing.