Updated: Sep 7, 2022
Sermon Bishop Larry Kochendorfer Synod of Alberta and the Territories It was one of those blessed summer holiday moments. Picture this: a marvellously warm, summer afternoon in my backyard. The grass freshly mowed; the garden of beans, peas, sunflowers, gladiola, potatoes, beets and carrots reaching for the bright, brilliant, warm sun; the perennials blooming majestically in pinks and reds and golds and purples; the hydrangea which had survived another Edmonton winter in our unheated garage was producing leaves and soon flowers would grace the branches; the birdhouse next to the garage was an active home with the parents constantly flying to and fro, busy with the activity of mouths to feed and chicks to raise; our grandchild playing contentedly, running back and forth in the backyard; an excellent book in my hands, a hat on my head, a cold beverage beside me, relaxed, content, several days of holiday before me – all was right in my world. I considered my life…my family…healthy and happy. And it was good. It was very good! “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” I grabbed another beverage and settled back on my plush, extremely comfortable, outdoor lawn furniture. Summer – with the family at relatives, or on a long-awaited post-pandemic trip, or just relaxing on the deck in the backyard – is a time for visions of contentment. I hope that your summer has blessed you with similar moments. If not on a beautiful beach, or hiking in the mountains, or kayaking on the nearby lake, then maybe when you witnessed your child graduate from university, or when you romped with a grandchild on the living room carpet, or when you were lazing around the backyard with good friends, or when you pondered your golf score – pleased to be only a few strokes over par. “Soul…relax, eat, drink, be merry.” This morning’s parable begins, not in contentment, but in a quandary. A rich landowner has a problem. The landowner has received a spectacular harvest, a harvest so great that he has nowhere to store all of the grain. “He thought to himself,” Jesus says, “he deliberated with himself…he had a discussion with himself, saying, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’” And then, still talking to himself, he says, “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. He doesn’t just plan to build new barns to augment his old ones, he plans to tear down his old barns and to build new barns, huge barns…this was some harvest! If the rich landowner has enough from this harvest to need larger barns…to be tearing down the old and building new, larger barns…then the harvest must have been nothing short of miraculous. The rich landowner hasn’t just done well, he has done very well! Miraculously well! And still talking to himself, he says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” We most often call this parable, name this parable, the parable of the rich landowner…but Jesus doesn’t. Jesus begins the story, not with talk about the man, but with talk about the land and its’ bounty. “The land of a rich man produced abundantly,” Jesus tells the hearer. What Jesus first noted is the miraculous barn-bursting harvest. A gift. A miracle. “The land…produced abundantly.” Recently I was visiting family in northwestern Alberta on the family farm. A farm of several generations now. A farm on which my elderly parents still live, and which my twin brother and sister-in-law farm, and now, farm with their son and daughter-in-law and family. The fields were lush and green. The rains in that part of Alberta have come at just the right times. The day my brother finished seeding the rain began. Ideal weather for germination, and growth, and hope-filled harvest. My father, perhaps the typical, stereotypical farmer, is never one to count the chickens before they’re hatched, never one to count the harvest before the crop is harvested and the grain dry and in the bin; or in a good year, a very good year, when the crop is harvested and augered on to the ground in an ever-growing mountain of grain when there is no room in the bins. The weather is never quite perfect for my father, the stereotypical farmer. “How are the crops?” I ask regularly. And he is never satisfied. There is always a need for a bit slower snowmelt in the spring or there has been too much snowmelt together with the spring rain. It has been too dry, and the crops are withering or its been too wet, and the crops are turning yellow. “How are the crops?” I ask. And in his telling of the weather, he isn’t complaining…no, not complaining if you listen closely. No, my father is telling the reality of farming, of planting seed and waiting and wondering and hoping…and trusting…that again a miracle will take place…that again there will be a crop to harvest. No, he isn’t complaining, he is affirming a belief, his trust, in the creator of all, who has provided and continues to provide…he is speaking the language of faith…of trust and belief in the wonder of the land which provides…a gift…a miracle. My father’s focus, his witness, begins with the creator, and with the land and its’ bounty. But not this rich landowner. Just notice how the blessings become a burden. The gift becomes a problem…a huge problem. And the story becomes not, “what a miraculous gift” and gratitude and thanks to the creator, but “how do I manage my miracle? What should I do? I have no place to store my crops. I will pull down my barns. I will store my grain and my goods. I will say to my soul, ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” If we take a closer look at today’s text we will discover that this rich landowner uses “I” a multitude of times, and “my” several times, and even the word “you” refers to himself. All of the talk in this parable, thus far, has been the monologue of the landowner. He talks to himself, plans for himself, congratulates himself, celebrates himself. The rich landowner manages by “I” and “my.” It is only at the end, at the very end, that another voice speaks into the parable…the voice of God. This voice doesn’t accuse the landowner of injustice, or immorality, or even greed. This voice simply says, “You fool!” “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” End of story. In the Greek of this text this verse says something like this: “Fool, this very night they shall demand your life.” They. These things themselves…are the they. The landowner thought these things were his miracle – what am I going to do with my grain and my goods. He thought these things were his. Surprise! He was the thing to manage as they pleased. This parable tells the story…the irony of a landowner who thought he had so many things, only to discover that his things had him. That he had nothing…and that nothing was his. If your life is like mine, and like the rich landowners, we often think, we are managing our modern lives quite well…with all that we cannot live without…and all that the world, its media and management, tell us we must have to be successful, even to have an identity, only to discover that things are managing us. And it all becomes a monologue as we pat ourselves on our backs for our great progress, our miracles, our great work, our great contributions, our homes, our vocations, our health – our lives. And just when we get it all fenced in, hedged in, insured, locked in, there comes a voice from the outside, that intrusive, instructive, truthtelling voice – “these things you have prepared, whose will they be?” A voice…the voice…which states only the facts… “Fool.” Today, once again this voice speaks into my own false sense of security, my own smug contentment, and I am addressed, called “fool” by the One who is the source of all that I am and all that I will ever be. “Fool!” “Fool.” But there is more today…more for us who are caught up in this back-patting, congratulatory, self-centered, turned-in-on-self, I and my – this voice continues to speak words of grace, hope, new life, new beginnings into our lives…for us fools; this voice…the One who is the source of all that we are and all that we will ever be… speaks to us in the words of forgiveness following our own words of confession…of foolishness: “Almighty God, rich in mercy, abundant in love, forgives you all your sin and grants you newness of life in Jesus Christ.” And again, we will hear this voice…the voice of the One who is the source of all that we are and all that we will ever be…when we gather for a simple meal…for fools: “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the voice of the One who is source of all that we are and all that we will ever be. Fool. Grace. Hope. New life. New beginnings. Mercy. Love. Forgiveness…as we move again and again, even daily, from “I and my”, to seeking to hear and know and follow; seeking to trust and believe and serve this One in our neighbour and in all of creation. Amen.