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Hello-Goodbye sermon series - June 27, 2021


Luke 12: 13-21

Every day we get closer and closer to more people being vaccinated from Covid-19 and one of the things I am most excited to do is visit grandparents. Grandparents are awesome as they often times comfort us with inspiration, candy, and good old-fashioned stories of gumption. Sometimes they are the only ones allowed to share their wisdom through their bias and unfiltered lenses because if grandma survived a pandemic, a war, and birthed 19 kids through the depression she can pretty much get away with any colorful language she chooses. Likewise, Grandpa Jesus survived infanticide, racism, and starvation in the desert so if he calls someone a fool, you better listen up. Yep, our charismatic, miracle-working die for you on the cross

incarnated logos occasionally calls us a few disparaging names in front of our friends.

To be fair, Jesus is telling this story to a frustrated brother who wants the only son of God to stop his ministry of healing people and overturning thousands of years of oppression and come straight to his home and make sure his brother shares their inheritance. Perhaps when their father died there was no man in the home to keep things honest between them. My own motherly bias in interpreting the man who interrupted Jesus that day is that the women tried for years to help the brothers get along but when their father died, the last person they planned to listen to is their mom. Adding to insult, rather than stay at home and mourn the life of their father, one brother runs out into the community and airs their dirty laundry for everyone in the town to hear. Jesus responds somewhat annoyed and in true kind grandparent fashion, tells the story of something that happened long ago.

The Parable of the Rich Fool is a pretty simple straightforward story Grandpa Jesus tells this man who just lost his father. Once upon a time, there was a farmer, and he was getting super-rich. One night he talks only to himself and plans to tear down the old silos and build even bigger ones. The farmer feels that when he is even richer than he is now, he will finally be able to enjoy his life. The farmer continues in his dreaming because his soul didn’t seem very excited about building new bigger storage units for the extra grain. So, the farmer presents his soul some strange peace offering of a big party down the road. The farmer tells his soul that it will be a huge feast for everyone in the community and it will even have an open bar! They might even string party lights for the dancers from his new silo. The farmer tells his soul that once all of this happens, they will finally be happy. At this point, God chimes in. Because when we do finally sit with our souls and listen for a moment to spirit, only God can help us soothe. But the words God offers are not soothing words to the rich man. Nope, just some straightforward, salt in the wound, you’ve done it now, reality check. Tonight, the rich man loses his soul, and it will never be comforted.

It seems that the rich man lost his soul that night because he died. After all, only God has the power to kill a person by taking their soul, right? Umm, I am not sure. I think we are missing something more that is happening here. Why would the healing and caring Jesus depicted especially in the Gospel of Luke, be now describing a vengeful God calling people names and murdering them in the night as they dream? Something is amiss. We need to take a second look. Like all good crime detectives, we need to retrace our steps and follow the money! Who knew Grandpa Jesus would bless all of us here today with a good old-fashioned mystery to solve!

This murder mystery begins with the rich landowner who has a surplus of crops. What is a rich landowner? An ancient listener sitting in the time square, listening at the feet of Jesus would have preconceived knowledge and perhaps biases based alone on that title. A common bias would be that the rich man had a family, that he did not work the land himself, and that he had slaves or tenants work the land.

The next scene in our mystery says that the murdered landowner (not the actual farmers) was problem-solving about what to do with his extra crops. Where did the extra crops come from? Well, they came from the land that God created. Okay, that tracks. Bonus point to you! But to the ancient listeners at the feet of Jesus, they would know that surplus income from farming was often gained by exploiting those who worked the land.[1] We even have historical recounts from that era of farmers being reduced to extreme hunger and recorded as eating vetch, bulbs, and other inedible plant matter. We have ancient poems and songs encouraging such revolts. So, a rich landowner became rich back then by exploiting other desperate people who have fewer rights and less wealth than them. Not too different from how we get rich today.

We also know that the farmers in Rome did not have big tractors, chemicals, or almanacs to support them. Farming was a community operation back then and still is in many places around the world today. This community of farmers would have been made up of slaves, tenants, and other people who lost their farms due to debt, but now only work the land they once owned. These people had very few rights, were abused, and had no securities in life.

To really paint the crime scene, we can imagine that those laborers farming see vividly the already tall towers of grain as their stomachs growl and their skinny children die. These towers were primarily used to drive up the prices and sell when it is the most profitable for the owner of the grains. That market reality is both cruel and devastating. If we imagine the worse happened, and perhaps someone listening at the feet of Jesus did, then perhaps they would interpret that the landowner was murdered by the farmers. After all, we have many historical recounts of angry starving mobs murdering wealthy people and mobs still attack to this day. Perhaps the crowd of starving farmers did snap when they heard of the landowners' plans for the surplus grain and larger silos. If this recount were true, then it was not God who murdered the rich landowner but the starving people.

This might explain why the man decides to tell his soul that he will throw a party with food and drinks another day. Maybe the scene isn’t the man talking to his “soul” per se. Maybe the well-fed and well-clothed rich landowner was now describing a new construction project to tear down the old silos and build new bigger ones? Maybe the unrest he felt was from the crowd. When Jesus said, “The man talked to his soul”, maybe Jesus used the soul to illustrate the community of farmers dependant on the rich landowner? That they were unhappy with the plans and to appease them he said, “We will have a big feast another day. But for now, I need you to work hard and fast so none of my old crops in the old silo and none of my new crops intended for the new silo go bad. Yes, I know you are all tired because the harvest just finished and that is why we have extra crops, but you all need to get back to work because I own you.”

Anybody here try to bully another person into working more and get bad results? Not going to lie, I am guilty of this. I use mom guilt like butter on bread. But the thing is, kids are smart. Kids decide what they will do, and only do what they want to do, when they feel like doing it. You can guilt them all you like but at the end of the day, they have free will and depending on the child’s personality they might take full advantage of it their entire life, past puberty. Our souls are a lot like our children and us as children. They are innocent and caring and they say whatever is on their minds. Our souls are our closest link to God, to humanity, and hope for the future.

The rich farmer had a soul and his soul was unhappy. Whether he died that night in his sleep physically comfortable or murdered by the starving tenants out of options, the point is that he was foolish to think that he could bribe his soul or deceive his dying starving community. The word foolish to Jesus had nothing to do with a person's education or mental capabilities. See to the ancient listeners of Jesus, the word fool meant that someone had bad morals, that they were wicked, that a fool is not to be trusted nor confided in. Much like grandparents calling their adult children fools for working too much and not spending enough time at home with their spouse, children, and fur babies.

I suspect that since Jesus came to save humanity his parable spoke to both the flesh and the soul. The man who interrupted Jesus about inheritance was not home with his grieving family. He was not being patient until the estate could be divided. Jesus looked at him and had two concerns. First, that he was committing idolatry because here the man is literally in the presence of God’s son and miracle worker. What a blessing and rather than listen to his soul and feel the peace and calm emanating from Jesus, the grieving son’s full attention was on his lust for money and his fear that he would have none of it. Second, that if the man continued to commit idolatry by focusing on money instead of God and his family, then he would die before ever being truly happy.

Grandpa Jesus used strong language but it wasn’t derogatory because it was spoken with love to the true nature of that man's current morality. It was a language that spoke to other rich people only focused on getting richer at the expense of the community. Jesus shared this wisdom in story form so that the man would not be directly insulted, nor would his embarrassed and grieving family be insulted. The hard-to-swallow gut-honest wisdom in the story had to be said or Jesus wouldn’t have told it. Likewise, I think sometimes grandparents knowing that their days are limited and so they burst out and say things that aren’t filtered is because they love us. Because they care and because they wish they could go back and fix their own mistakes. When we listen to our grandparents we have to put things in perspective and take with us what is meant out of love and let the rest be as it is for them. Likewise, I hope that no one who hears the story of the Rich Fool finds it appropriate to start name-calling at the dinner table no matter how morally justified their fragile ego emplores.

Part of healing our community begins with us healing our families. When it is safe for your family to come back together, please come back listening to each other. To be slow to anger. To stay together and work things out before airing all your family drama on public social media platforms. To listen to the young children at the table, to listen and be grateful for the meal served by the tired working class, to listen to your inner child, and to listen to the wisdom of our elders. Maybe even stretch the summer nights a little longer with a board game and sneak a little monopoly money to the one behind. To go to bed with your soul at peace and wake up with divine hope. To make no bargains or false promises. Have your Sabbath today, have it tomorrow, and have it every day for the rest of your life. Rest assured if you become too self-consumed your soul will be uneasy and bring you right back to where you belong. God will intercede but you have to consciously choose love and plan for compassion every day.

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