Harvest 2015 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Harvest 2015


The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12:13-21

Do you remember any of those history lessons you sat through in schooldays? If you do you will probably have heard of the Irish potato famine. As far as I can tell that was the last major famine to have been experienced in these islands of ours. And those famines took place well over 150 years ago in the late 1840s.

Whether or not you remember your lessons you will be aware of the existence of food banks in our day. But did you know that each year we in the UK throw away from our homes more than 7 million tons of food and drink. More than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten. This waste costs the average household around £470 a year, a figure that rises to £700 for a family with children, that is the equivalent of around £60 a month. (That's enough to have three Mars bars a day every day of the year!)

The type of food we throw away most is fresh fruit and veg. along with bakery items such as bread and cakes. We simply prepare more than we can eat or we don't use it in time.

And this actually represents an improvement on the situation just a few years ago! We throw away a million tons less than we used to – and that's the equivalent of 23 million wheelie bins full of food waste! Back in 2004 there was an article in The Daily Telegraph which pointed out that even amongst the less well-off in the UK the major nutritional problem was not hunger but obesity.

While these statistics show us just how careless and wasteful we can be with the food we have we should not let it hide from our view just how generous God is towards us. We can only waste so much food because God has made a world that is so remarkably productive and the harvests keep on coming in year after year.

Most of us don't live particularly close to the land any more and we're only remotely aware of harvests - when prices tumble in the supermarkets we realise that a bumper crop has forced the market down.

The temptation we face is simply to take the provision of all that food for granted. If we're gardeners we may brag about our successes – and I did have so many tomatoes this year!! Or on the other hand lament our failures but neither is likely to affect in any truly significant way whether we have food to eat or not.

In Bible times people lived their lives in much closer contact to the land and understood in a much more hands-on-way than we do about the agriculture of growing things. So when Jesus taught the ordinary people about spiritual truths it should come as no surprise to us that he often referred to farming etc. in his parables. The people could easily understand him. It might take us a little more mental effort than them but his teaching is still easy enough for us who live in the 21 st century to understand him.

Some of Jesus' best known parables are about farming and about harvests: the Parable of the Sower, the Parable about the Wheat and the Tares (Weeds), the Parable of the Mustard Seed. A cursory look at Jesus' teaching would show that he drew upon many aspects of farming life: ploughing, sowing, planting, growing, harvesting or gathering, threshing or separating the wheat from the chaff. He spoke about farm labourers, those who sowed and those who reaped. He spoke about ploughs and he spoke about winnowing forks.

The use of such language only really makes sense because of the major truth that underlies it all: we live on a planet where things grow and grow well. Soil is prepared in the full expectation of a subsequent harvest. The farmer sows and fully expects to see a return for his efforts. And this expectation is a constant one – year after year it's exactly the same. (Even in my garden when I plant my seeds I expect something to grow and this year the tomatoes did!)

Jesus' Parable
This morning our Harvest Thanksgiving Service provides us with the opportunity of pausing for a moment so that we can think about our attitude towards the food we have and to the One who gave us not only so much to enjoy but in such variety too.  

We're going to do so by considering Jesus' story about a rich man who was no better than a fool.

  • Point One of Jesus' parable focuses on self-centredness

Another crowd had gathered around Jesus and some in that crowd were experiencing some family tensions. Not much has changed over the centuries has it – family members still fall out with each other and finances are often the cause. One brother had received an inheritance and another wanted him to share it with him. It could have been an article taken from a newspaper this week couldn't it? How wealth can divide people! That was the occasion that led to Jesus telling his story. You see one brother wanted to try to use Jesus in order to promote his own financial well-being. Sadly there are still plenty of folk around in the world who try to use religion to serve their own very selfish agenda.

So the man pressed Jesus – tell my brother to give me a share too!

Jesus' response was a story to illustrate the danger of covetousness, that is, the danger of having a great desire to possess something belonging to someone else. Covetousness suggests that possession is what counts and Jesus went on to say that life is about much more than simply possessing things.

Jesus story begins so simply and he paints a scenario that everyone could understand. The situation Jesus described doesn't seem strange to us at all.

v.16 A certain rich man had land which produced a plentiful crop.

We hear it and nothing really strikes us as being out of the ordinary, it is all so normal, nothing unusual there. Isn't Jesus just setting the scene for what will follow next?

Well, yes, he is but the scene he wants to set must a believable one. And his believable scenario is one where there is a plentiful crop! Now do you see? Crops are normal affairs and plentiful crops are common enough for us not even to notice them as unusual. And the reason is that God is so exceedingly generous. Crops often are plentiful – my tomatoes this summer have been plentiful.

How should we react to such bounty? Shouldn't we be grateful to God for the rich provisions he makes for us? Many of us were taught as children (and have taught our own children to mind our p's & q's) When God gives and gives generously isn't it appropriate to respond with a "thank you" of our own? Shouldn't this rich man turn to God with a heartfelt thank-you? But sadly men and women don't always react as they ought. They didn't in Bible times and we still don't today.

The rich man in Jesus' story sounds like so many modern men today – he would seem to fit right in don't you think? Just look at how he speaks in vv.18-19:

"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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’"

I wonder what you make of his reply. I wonder if you follow his logic. I wonder whether if you were that man you think you'd respond the same way. After all the size of the harvest called for some sort of action didn't it?

But wait a moment - listen again:

"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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’"

Did you get that? "I...I...my...I...my...my...I...my..."

How do you think that matches up to God's Commandments? When Jesus was asked about the most important of God's commands this is how he replied:

Mt.22:37-39 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself."

How did the rich man match up? Was it really possible for him to be any further from fulfilling God's command that this? How self-centred can you get?! Yes, and this man would fit right into our world today right into the "me" generation! He is a man who has allowed himself to become totally self-absorbed. All he can think about is himself and what he can do to further what he perceives to be in his own personal interest.

His reaction to a bumper harvest is a simple one – he determines to build some bigger and better barns for himself. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with having new barns, bigger barns even state-of-the-art barns but this man's focus is fixed upon his personal comfort – he really is an early follower of the health, wealth and prosperity movement.

In focusing exclusively upon himself he has no time or thought to give to thanking God or to set about helping others.

The time of harvest thanksgiving is just that a time for giving thanks. It is a time for us to stop and think and not just to think about ourselves. How generous God has been to us in our lives!

Is there any place in your life for thankfulness towards God who provides for you?

  • Point Two of Jesus' parable highlights how leaving God out of the picture leads to serious errors of judgment

The rich man doesn't bother to thank God and finds it easy to go on leaving God out of the picture as he plans for the future. His plan is simple, with newer, bigger barns he'll be able to keep everything he's acquired and so be set up for the remainder of his life. And, of course, he assumes he's in for a long and comfortable retirement. He's got his pension pot nicely filled – what more could a man ask for?

You see this rich man has become dangerously complacent. Having material prosperity he simply assumes that he has all that he needs. The future as he sees it will be one long cruise in the Caribbean. He acts as though a man's life is to be summed up in the abundance of his possessions. He behaves as though a man can indeed live by bread alone.

And of course he's not at all alone in his thinking.  His example and pattern has been repeated and copied by so many down through the centuries! Perhaps you have the same mind-set that he had.

But there are problems. You see, this man looks toward the future assuming it'll be a long one. He looks towards the future as though all he needs to do is make provision for his own material prosperity and well-being. And as he contemplates his dreams of an idyllic future he does not make the slightest provision for any eventual encounter with God, the very God who has given him all he has and the God who will hold him responsible for the way in which he has lived his life upon earth.

Jesus continued his story. So far we have seen things from the rich man's perspective now we are given God's assessment:

v.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?’"

What a shock! The rich man has carefully laid his plans for a long future but finds that his future will not be long at all. For him the appointment God has made is for that very same day. The rich man had made his plans but won't benefit from them at all. Ah but has he made any provision for that appointment with his Creator and his judge? That is the question and what a question it is! And how is it with you?

It is sensible for us to think about how we will live in the future and it is a wise thing in doing so to make some financial provision for that future. But the only thing that is absolutely certain about our futures is that one day, whether that day come sooner or later, God will require our souls of us.

It would be utter madness for us to invest all our time and energy in making material provision for an uncertain future and yet to take no spiritual interest in the one thing that is certain!

God does not call the rich man a fool because he doesn't know the moment when he is going to be called to give an account to God. The word fool is used in the Bible not so much for someone who is ignorant of certain information but of someone who wilfully refuses to acknowledge God in his life and behaviour. This rich man is a fool: the way he has ordered his life is all the evidence we need to see that. His behaviour shows that in his heart he has said that there is no God.

What does your behaviour reveal of your heart?

Jesus ended his little story with these words:

v.21 "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

This isn't just an interesting little story about an imaginary rich man somewhere in the M.E. long, long ago. Jesus makes it clear that his story illustrates a general truth. Thus the personal questions that we have been asking ourselves as we've looked at the story were just the kind of questions Jesus wants us to face up to.

It is possible to live our lives in this wonderful world chasing after entirely the wrong goals. Our lives are not meant to be measured in terms of our bank balance or the extent of our material possessions. We are men and women made in God's image which means amongst other things we are made for a living relationship with God.

Are you rich towards God?

How is it possible to be rich towards God?

The answer is not to be found in a long list of dos and don't of trying desperately to be better people all the time. To try to become rich toward God that way would be like a forger trying to become rich by paying his counterfeit notes into his bank account!

No, the answer is to be found in becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to deal with our sins and was raised from the dead so that all those who put their trust in him might be declared to be in a right standing with God. God offers us life in his Son and all we have to do is receive Jesus by faith.

Harvest seasons and other times of special blessing are opportunities and reminders to us to give thanks to God. At such times we are reminded of his existence and the question of our relationship with him is brought to our attention. How kind God is to send us such lovely reminders – may we learn from them! And may we all put our trust in Jesus.


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