This is the first sermon in a series titled, “Promises, Promises.” At this time of year, we hear all kinds of promises from political candidates. Who can we trust? Do promises matter anymore? And what does God promise us?
SCRIPTURE – Luke 12:13-21 – Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull 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, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Promises, Promises Sermon Series
#1 – The Promise of Security
October 9, 2016
Well, starting with this sermon, for the next several weeks I’m going to be breaking one of my own rules about preaching. A wise man and mentor of mine named Nelson Irving told me, “There are two things you never talk about in church: politics and religion.” And this morning, we’ll be talking about both. A pastor once asked the chair of the Elders, “Will you still love me if I preach a political sermon?” The Elders chair responded, “Yes, we’ll still love you, but we’ll miss you.”
I recognize that this sermon series treads on dangerous ground. I’ve been warned my more than one person that I should leave well enough alone and not preach anything even close to political from the pulpit. I get it the concerns, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship we share. So as I embark on this sermon series called “Promises, Promises,” on behalf of your ministers, let us promise a few things to you. First of all, we will not endorse or condemn either candidate. That’s not our place nor our desire. We promise to be as even-handed as possible in dealing with the promises that are made to us by our political leaders. If we mention one candidate, we’ll mention the other. And we promise to be open to your feedback if you feel we haven’t lived up to my promises.
So if this is such a mine field, why step in it? It seems like this year, more than any other, the political discourse around this country is electrically charged with hatred and vitriol. More than any other time, it seems as if we can’t have a civil discussion about the issues. To honor this current climate, Trish and I considered doing this as a dialogue sermon where we interrupted and talked over each other for 15 minutes. Seems fitting, right?
So why preach about promises at this time of year? Because it’s vitally important that the church models for the world around us what it means to be in authentic dialogue with each other. We have to be able to talk about issues we disagree about without being disagreeable. We have to show that world that we can be on opposite sides of the aisle but still come to the table together. But the real reason we wanted to preach about promises is that, in this season when promises will be thrown at us at an increasing rate, it’s crucial we remember that the true promises we can believe in don’t come from the left or the right; they come from the Bible. In an age when promises are made, then broken, then made again, we become skeptical about them. But God’s promises are good and trustworthy. If preachers don’t address these issues from a spiritual standpoint, who’s going to do that? I’m so thankful you trust Trish and me enough to be in dialogue with us as we navigate these waters.
The first promise we’ll be looking at is the promise of security. In our world, which seems to grow increasingly violent and chaotic every day, security is quite the buzzword. We hear candidates bemoan the lack of security in our country. They boast about the terrorists they’ve killed to make us safer or their plans to keep people out who might be a threat to us. They wrangle over who should have guns and what kind of guns and how you should be able to get or not get guns. And no one has an answer to the growing divide between law enforcement and minority groups. It feels as if our security is under constant threat.
So what do we do when that happens? We respond with our primitive fight-or-flight principle. We take whatever measures necessary to ensure our security. We turn inward. That’s what happens to the man in our story today. But before we even get to him, Jesus is confronted by a man who wants his help in dividing an inheritance with his brother, because apparently the siblings can’t figure it out for themselves. It’s sad to note that when this man’s father died, all the son wanted was his stuff. And it’s even sadder to think the only legacy the father left was the promise of more stuff. And Jesus wanted no part of it.
Instead, he chastises the man for his greed, reminds him that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” and tells the parable of the rich farmer. In this parable, here is a man who works hard, earns an honest living, doesn’t cheat or hurt anyone, and gains an abundance. He then does the prudent thing, putting it all back to safeguard his future and well-being. Aren’t we all doing that with our savings accounts, our stock portfolios, our IRAs and pension fund contributions? Aren’t we all doing what we can to secure our future? Isn’t that the right thing to do? And yet, God calls this man a fool. Why?
The man has a conversation with himself, then decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to hold all his stuff. You see, the more stuff we have, the more protective we become of it, the more focused we become on security. We are very protective of our freedoms, our country, our possessions. That’s not a bad thing. It only becomes a bad thing when that sense of security overrides our calling as followers of Christ.
So this man stores away everything for the future. But wouldn’t you know it? As soon as he starts to take it easy, the rope on his hammock snapped, he tumbled down his manicured lawn, spilled his mimosa with the little umbrella in it, hit his head on his brick firepit, rolled into his in-ground pool, and drowned. And Jesus drives the last nail in his coffin by saying, “That’s what happens when we put our security in our crops rather than in God.”
In my hometown of Jeffersonville, back in the 1990s a trend started with housing developments in the area. Builders were putting up houses that were completely encircled by brick walls so that no one could see the actual house. No front porch, no front lawn, just a driveway, a garage, and a wall. I almost expected to see knights with bows and arrows patrolling the perimeter. Why? Security. We have stuff and we have to protect our stuff from those who want our stuff.
But here’s the thing. The people who lived in those houses still got divorced. They still got cancer. They still ran up debt and had wayward children. We can go to great lengths and spend a lot of money to protect ourselves and our country from real and perceived threats, but we need to be really honest about the illusion of security. Killing Al-Qaeda leaders or keeping out refugees isn’t going to keep us safe from the vicissitudes and capriciousness of life. If we think either candidate can protect us from life, we’re fooling ourselves
This man wasn’t a fool because he had an abundance. He was a fool because he thought he was responsible for it and could use it to secure his future. Remember how the parable started? “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” The man didn’t do it. God did it. And yet did you hear the first-person pronouns? “My barns, my grain, my goods, my things.” The more we think we deserve what we have, the more possessive we become of it. But God never gives us an abundance to hoard. When our cups overflow, our only response is to share it with others, not to build bigger barns to keep and protect it.
I’m willing to bet that this farmer was not from Kentucky. First of all, the Bible doesn’t tell us he liked sweet tea, which is a sure giveaway. But here’s another reason. Kentucky is one of four states in our country that was originally known as a commonwealth. Now think about that phrase for a second – the commonwealth. The idea that whatever I have belongs to everyone else as well, that whatever wealth I have is shared with those around me. But the farmer lived only for himself, and Jesus calls him a fool.
That’s the great irony of the promise of security God gives us. God says the more we share what we have with others, the more we open ourselves up to another’s presence, the more we connect with another’s need, the safer we are. Our as Jesus says it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” That’s security.
In the prudence of planning for tomorrow, Jesus warns us against sacrificing today. The life we have been given as a gift is for living now, not for storing away until we retire or when the kids move out. We save and store up and hope that we’ll finally come to a point in our lives when we’ll find true meaning, beyond the responsibilities of a job and mortgage and raising kids. But our lives have meaning now, and that meaning comes from how we share the gifts we have been given. In the end, God will not ask how big our barns were, but how we used the gifts were given to serve others.
Can either of our candidates really promise that we’ll be secure? Can we find security in anything in this world? As soon as we try, it crumbles. We build our barns on seemingly steady ground, only to find it was actually shifting sand. We put our trust in people only to be let down. We put our trust in doctors only to find they can’t work miracles. We put our trust in ourselves, only to fall short. There is no true security in this world.
Instead, our security is found in God. It is found in a faith that isn’t vulnerable to the whims of this life. Our security comes from our growing relationship with the One who was, and is, and is to come, the One who we call our rock and our fortress, the one who is from everlasting to everlasting. And as we do this, we begin to build something much greater than a place to store our stuff. Jesus doesn’t encourage us to avoid a life of success, but to choose a life of significance, a life which is balanced and meaningful, a life where the dominant pronouns are “we” and “our,” not “me” and “mine.”
God comes to this farmer and tells him, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” Every day, our life is demanded of us. Every day, we are called to give our lives to the work of God’s kingdom. It’s so tempting to turn inward, to protect what we have, to buy into the illusion of security. Every day we make that choice. We can choose to build bigger barns, or we can choose to build the kingdom of God here on earth. So what you are building?