Immanuel Presbyterian Church
“On Being Rich Toward God”
Let us pray
Open our hearts to be attentive
is the last time I will be preaching at Immanuel for a while. As many of you know, I have accepted the
position of Interim Pastor at
Both First Congregational and Immanuel Presbyterian are entering a year with some major work on their agendas. It’s not just a matter of selecting a spiritual leader for the future. We, and they, have to plan for the immediate present. Both church families will be working on such matters as following up on visitors, inviting old friends back to church, and making beautiful music together in more ways than one. In other words, we will be loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our God. It’s a tall order, but as People of God, it’s our calling.
The Scripture readings for any given Sunday are supposed to speak in some way to the challenges at hand. Let’s see if we can find some guidance in what Gale Smoke has read for us this morning.
Hebrew Scripture from Hosea speaks of God’s love for his children, the people
I would not think that God is angry with Immanuel, but I will say that we can get a little irritated with each other. Or maybe our anger is with something or someone outside the church. I bet each one of us has been put out with someone this year and that whatever caused the friction may still be eating at us. At least once a year I find it helpful to re-assess these situations in my life, toss out some lingering, unhelpful attitudes and to start over where possible, with the faith that God really is in charge, not me. But Hosea reminds us that even God gets frustrated and angry, threatening to break up the whole mess -- but out of unceasing love, changes His mind, and starts over, yet again, to build a relationship with us.
This enduring-love theme for a wandering people, is the message of Psalm 107, as well. Again, we have a people on the move, looking for a city in which to settle. God leads them, feeds them, and gives them all manner of good things. Verse 43 says:
“Whoever is wise, let him or her heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.”
The message in the Gospel of Luke seems pretty consistent. The Lord God’s desire and intent is to provide us with good things. She sends the rain, grows the crops, builds us cities, loves us, protects us, but, stop -- for God, this relationship is supposed to be a two-way street. She doesn’t treat us like a bunch of fish in an aquarium where she feeds us, cleans up after us, and is happy as long as we just swim around in circles not doing much of anything in return. No, the Lord God, wants more active participation in life from us than that. In fact, She demands it.
The Luke story this morning opens with a man who is angry with his brother. The brother has hoarded the family inheritance and the man shouts out to Jesus for some help in getting his share of the money. Not an unfamiliar scenario, unfortunate to say. Anyone among us with more than one child, or a sibling or two, know what these inheritance issues can do, even if we are just dividing up the family photographs. Somebody told me this week, that his children sometimes felt like a flock of vultures – circling and waiting….
What must God feel like as we scurry around hoarding up as much as we can for ourselves without a moment’s thought for Him or each other? True, this is the same God who wants to provide all good things for His children. But a little sharing and a little gratitude, please.
I meet with a writers’ group on Thursday evenings. And this week, I shared the first draft of this sermon with them. One woman wrote a note back to me, offering a Zen Buddhist saying she has posted on her refrigerator.
“If the only words you say in this life are ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Back to the story. Luke tells us that Jesus refuses to arbitrate between the greedy brothers arguing over the inheritance, but he does offer a story about a rich farmer to whom God has shown great favor. I mean this guy’s crops grow like crazy, he keeps building bigger and better barns, and fills them up time and again. Finally, the farmer decides it’s time to retire, take life easy, eat, drink and be merry….
Not so fast, interrupts the Lord God. “You’re an idiot. This very night you will die, and then what will it all have been about?” Dear me.
“Now, wait a minute, God!” I find myself saying. “You’re the one who provided this man his wealth. You made his crops to grow. You helped him build the bigger barns. We know from other stories, you are pleased with those of us who take the talents you have given us, invest those talents, and make them grow.”
Those of us from Congregationalist or Presbyterian heritage even sometimes get the feeling that our good fortune is a sign of God’s favor. The story doesn’t tell us that our farmer was a thief, or a drunk, or beat his children. He just built barns. What did he do so wrong?
“It’s not what he did, it’s what he didn’t do. He didn’t do anything wrong, he just didn’t do much right, except hoard up stuff. This is how it will be with anyone, we’re told, who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
it have helped if he’d tithed ten percent of his wheat and ten percent of his
corn to the
“Probably, but even that’s not the total point. What does ‘being rich toward God’ mean?” That’s an important question. "Being rich toward God", hat’s what the Luke passage says was missing. Maybe it is time for one of those moments of silence. What does ‘rich toward God’ really mean for you? For me?
“Take Time to be Holy." Take time to be thankful. Take time to be loving. Take time to be generous. Take time to be forgiving. Take time to be gentle. Don’t wait. Take time now.
This past week, I’ve given more than a little thought to this reading and how it might apply to me – a relatively well-educated woman whom the Lord has blessed with many barns. Did I take enough time to be thankful? Did I take enough time to be generous? During my working life, I built barns and built barns but as I recall now, it seemed like I took time for little else. When I retired almost three years ago, I figured I’d earned some down time. The Lord must have agreed because She gave me that time. But now I find that I’m being nudged, maybe even shoved, to do something for which I have been trained for almost twenty-five years, yet have never really done – pastor a church, if only for a year. It’s my “coming out” – “coming out of retirement,” in this case. Maybe there is something more I should be doing for or giving to God.
get the online version of The Onion, a satirical publication on life and
current events. This past week, there
was a dispatch posted from “The Heavens” indicating that the Supreme Ruler of
All Things was hinting that He would
soon be stepping down, retiring, if you will, so that He could catch up on some
unanswered prayers, putter around in his workshop building stuff, and maybe
even do some traveling. He was thinking
In order to make his retirement plan work, the Lord God of All the Heavens and the Earth had been delegating responsibilities to others, such as the Holy Ghost, and in the future God would be working on a consulting basis only.
I don’t think God is going to retire soon, but the whole silly story made me start thinking – maybe there is something more left for me to do. Maybe I should be doing a little more speaking out, for instance, maybe providing a little more emphasis on what the Lord trained me up to do – help people feel loved, help people find their purpose, help people be grateful, help people find joy in sharing with one another, help people take time to be holy.
author of the Letter to the Christians at Colossus took time to come up with a
whole laundry list of ways to be holy, or rich toward God. Down deep, we know what we’re supposed to do
– resist our pent up angers, rage, resentfulness; turn out backs on malice,
slander, and other damaging aspects of our earthly natures. As a
he finishes with his list of shalt-nots, Paul continues with some positive
The point of Jesus message? The Lord wants us to have a barn with enough grain to feed our families. The Lord wants us to have a safe place to live. But the Lord also wants a little recognition for our gifts. While we are filling our barns with good things, we should also be filling the heavens with our praise – being rich toward God, our Father and our Mother, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. And when we do this, God will smile upon us, now and forevermore. Amen.