The parable of God tearing down barns and giving grain away

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 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?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

We have been hitting a highlight reel of the gospel of Luke lately. We have heard very well known and familiar stories like the story of the Geresene Demoniac and Jesus exorcizing the demon called legion. We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. We stopped in for dinner at Mary and Martha’s. We learned the Lord’s Prayer along with the disciples who wanted to know how to pray. 

But today, we step off the highlight reel to touch on a much more taboo topic. No, not sex. Not even politics. 

Today, Luke has laid upon us the issue of money and how we value it. The way we understand money and wealth in the Church has a varied history. Some have said that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Others would say wealth that is not used to help the poor is one of the greatest sins imaginable. Either way, money and its place in our lives and world elicits strong feelings for all of us. We know that money holds power over us, and we also know that putting money in its place is something we struggle with. 

Jesus is standing in a crowd teaching his disciples when two brothers come forward and ask Jesus the teacher to settle a dispute over inheritance. Inheritance was a complicated issue in the ancient world, like it is now. The eldest son of the family received a double portion of the wealth, compared to other sons. And the assets, the land, the buildings, the servants would belong more the clan or tribe than the particular  landowner.

But what passes us by quickly, is that most people wouldn’t be landowners in Jesus’ day. Most people were day labourers, or might have been lucky enough to have the skill to make something to sell. Landowners were wealthy, and often they were the economic drivers of a community. Their land produced food, jobs, provided places to live. They were responsible for their communities. 

So when these two brothers are seeking to divide their inheritance, it is possible that they will be dividing a whole community. The estate that they look after together might not be able to adequately provide for their community once divided. But the two brothers, aren’t thinking about that. They are probably thinking about controlling their wealth themselves. 

And so Jesus will have none of it. He refuses to arbitrate their dispute as a respected teacher. 

Instead, he offers a scathing parable about greed.

Often in Biblical parables, the rich are portrayed as having acquired their wealth in unethical, even illegal ways. But the farmer in today’s parable has done nothing wrong. He does not steal, or cheat, or break the law. He simply is the owner of land that produces abundantly. 

In fact, the farmer’s wealth is not at issue in the parable. It is what the farmer says that seems to be the problem. Listen to his words: “I do, I have, my crops, I will do, I will pull down, my barns, my grain, my goods, I will say, my soul, Soul you have ample”. In the short 3 sentences that this farmer speaks, he makes reference to himself 10 times. It is easy to see that this farmer is rather self-centred, and that he sees the land and grain as belonging to him. 

Yet, the land would truly belong to his family. His wealth would then belong to his community and all of his relatives that would be working the fields along with him. But our farmer only considers storing his grain — his wealth. He does not consider other options like providing for the poor, giving his workers a bonus or sharing with relatives whose land did not produce as well. 

The farmer in this parable is a caricature. He is the extreme version of our human instinct to create security for ourselves.

We know very well the thought process that is being outlined in this parable. In times where there is even a small amount of extra, saving it for when there is not enough is important. Today’s farmers could use some harvests with extra, some years when next year’s crop wasn’t already being used to pay this year’s. 

It isn’t the actions of the farmer in this parable that are brought into question. Rather, as God demands the life of this wealthy farmer today, the issue is about the proper place of money in the world. It isn’t just that those big grain barns won’t do this farmer any good once he is dead. But more importantly, that storing all this grain, all this wealth hasn’t done anyone any good. 

Who is remembered at a funeral for the size of their grain bins? Or house? Or wardrobe? Or bank account? Or car collection?

Jesus is making a point not just about the next life, but about this one. This absurd farmer and all his wealth has missed an opportunity to build something far more valuable than money and wealth. The farmer has missed what it means to build relationships with people. 

People are more valuable than any amount money. Full grain bins mean nothing when there are people starving next door. And yet our world routinely chooses wealth ahead of people. Our world is full of overflowing grain bins and starving people. 

These past two years  we have been regularly reminded of how easily it is forget to consider our neighbour. As people have railed against pandemic restrictions, economic insecurity, as nations have gone to war to satisfy the grandiose visions of man dictators… we have seen money and power being put before people. 

When Jesus scolds these two brothers for wanting to divide their inheritance, it is because when he looks arounds his world is full of people just like our new refugee family. People whom have been left behind by the world in our struggle to have more money and wealth. People who are forgotten by those with riches. People who could benefit from some of that extra and abundant grain. 

But it isn’t just that Jesus reminds these brothers and us that those with more than enough can afford to share with those with not enough. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, on the night when our life is demanded of us, that we too are refugees with nothing. All the wealth and money and power and security in the world means nothing in the face of death. 

And how lucky are we, when we forget the proper place of money and the value of people, that God does not. That God places people above money, wealth, power and security. That God is willing to give up all those things for our sake. How lucky are we that God is into loving the neighbour and sponsoring refugees in a big way? That God welcomes and provides for us, for us with nothing to offer, with nothing of true value to our names. God gives us the most valuable name of all – beloved child. 

And if we were to retell the parable that Jesus tells today, but with God as the main character instead of an absurdly rich landowner, it would sound very different:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: “The land of God produced abundantly. And God thought to Godself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then God said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and instead of building larger ones, I will give my grain and my goods to those who are hungry, to those who are in need. And [then] I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods to feed all who are hungry and all who are thirsty; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But then sinful humanity said to God, `You fool! This very night you will be betrayed’ And God said, “Then take my life, take my body broken for you. Take my blood shed for you.” 

And then Jesus explaining this new parable said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God, for God does not store up treasures for Godself, but has been poured out for you, and is rich towards all.

Take some some time for Outdoor Ministry this summer – Pastor Thoughts

Greetings from Luther Village!

I am sitting in our cabin at at “The Village” writing to you this week. 

As some of you may know, outdoor ministry and camp is something that I have in my background, though not at Luther Village. 

Lutheran Outdoor Ministry has a long and extensive history in Canada and the US. In many parts of the upper mid-western United States, such as Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin, you can hardly throw a rock without it landing on a Lutheran Bible Camp. 

In my home province of Alberta, there are four Lutheran camps. Camp Kuriakos on Sylvan Lake (the old Danish Camp), Hastings Lake Lutheran Bible Camp on Hastings Lake (the old Norwegian Camp), Mulhurst Lutheran Church Camp on Pigeon Lake (the old German camp) and Wilderness Ranch down in the foothills of Southern Alberta near the Livingston Mountain Range. 

For about 30 years now, some combination of the four camps have been doing their 10 days of staff training together (Joint Staff Training or JST), and supporting one another in their common work of outdoor ministry. 

I was lucky enough to work for two summers at Mulhurst, one at Hastings Lake and two at Wilderness Ranch. After that I continued serving on the Alberta Synod’s outdoor ministry committee (LOMAN) and participated in nine JSTs altogether. I also was fortunate enough to meet the then Executive Director of Luther Village back in 2004 at a Lutheran Outdoor Ministry in Canada gathering. I have served on the boards of two camps and have also served as a resource pastor in Alberta, Saskatchewan and now the MNO at 5 different camps. 

Suffice it to say, since I showed up for work my first summer of camp back in 2002, Outdoor Ministry has been an important part of my life. 

While pastors get most of the training, skills and knowledge they need at seminary, I also credit camp with teaching me a lot of the skills and leadership qualities that I still use in parish ministry today. Camp has a way of turning young adults into life long leaders in the church, whether ordained or lay. 

Camps and outdoor ministries are often important places of faith formation for the folk to who attend. Getting away from the hustle of everyday life and out into nature, participating in intentional Christian community, taking the time to worship, to learn, to play and to grow together is rooted in scripture. God commanded the people of Israel to spend two weeks each year living in tents in the wilderness in order to connect with God, as a reminder of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years – trusting and relying on God to provide. 

These days most camps work hard to provide a relaxing, activity-filled, worship- filled, community environment for campers to come and experience. To make this all happen, camp staff are often running a behind-the-scenes operation with military precision and planning. It takes long days and exhausting work to be on camp staff. And after my summers of working at camp, there was no going back. Camp won’t ever be relaxing and easy for me again, but that isn’t the point. I love seeing how the camp community and experience can receive someone on Sunday and send them home a changed and renewed person by Friday. 

It has been my privilege to work with the LV staff this week as they, too, reset again in this pandemic world. With new Executive Directors (Ad and Lisa Van Dijk!) and a new staff, there is lots to learn after two pandemic summers where things were scaled back dramatically. Being here to provide some of my knowledge and experience to the staff has been a great chance to relive my camp staff days. The callouses on my fingers are getting thicker again playing guitar at Morning Jam and Campfire every day, but thankfully the morning staff meeting is a lot easier to wake up for at 39 year old (and with two small early-rising kids) than it was at 19. Leading daily adult study sessions has been a great change to talk with folks from across the Synod about faith and life. 

As I look forward to the last few days of camp for us, I would encourage you to pray for Luther Village and all outdoor ministries across the ELCIC. And if it is something that still fits into your summer’s plans, I think there are still open spots this summer to attend family camp (whatever your family looks like!) so come on out and be changed too!

See you Sunday!