We use the vocabulary of being “blessed” when things go well in our lives. When we have more than enough food on the table. When we land that new job we’ve been wanting. When the crops come in despite a difficult spring. When something good happens regarding our health. Having an abundance is a good thing. It’s a reminder of the goodness of God, and using the vocabulary of “blessed” to describe these good things really helps us reorient toward God in that goodness.
In fact, abundance shows up again and again as a way to describe God’s goodness throughout the Bible. Isaiah’s vision of the world when God makes all things new is pictured as a feast: fine wines, rich food, abundant bread for everyone. Jesus promises us that God will provide abundantly for all of our needs. Having a lot, having an abundance, is part of God’s good will for our lives.
So why is the rich man, who has enough abundance to need bigger barns, called a fool? Let’s take a look at this parable.
This man is described as a “rich man,” which means the abundant yield this year wasn’t what made him rich. He already had a lot, and now he had even more. The harvest was so big, in fact, that he didn’t have room to store it. So he does what any wise person would do: he builds a bigger storage facility. It says that the “land” produced abundantly, so we can assume that everyone had a good year—like any wise farmer he was probably holding back on selling it all because if everyone had a bumper crop, trying to sell it on a flooded market would fetch a pretty low price. By all accounts, this rich man was a very astute businessman and that’s what made him so successful.
But in the midst of his plans, he dies. All of his success, his huge harvest, his abundance, does him absolutely no good in the end. Is this a parable condemning the desire to be successful? That wouldn’t make much sense; God is the one who provides the produce of the land. Success was a reminder of God’s blessings. So is it a condemnation of saving up for retirement? After all, the man made plans to have an abundance for many years when he could relax—which sounds like retirement to me. I’m not sure it’s entirely that either.
Notice the words the rich man uses. “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? 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.”
Now, I’m not a farmer, but how many of y’all plow, plant, harvest, and everything else in between all by yourself? There’s a lot of other input, isn’t there? Forecasts that market experts have done to help determine what crops to plant. Insurance options and seed price controls made by decades of predecessors fighting for fair treatment. Hired workers, family, and friends to help run the combines and the trucks and other equipment. The blessings of good rain and sunshine that make the crops grow. Like everything else in life, you can’t do it alone.
The sin of the rich man wasn’t that he was successful, or that he planned for a future he never got. His sin was that he imagined he did it all by himself, and that made it all for his own personal benefit. He assumed God’s blessing of abundance was something he made happen, and even more, something he could enjoy without any thought to what God wanted him to do with it. He did not treat his abundance as an opportunity to share God’s blessings with others.
As a congregation, I think we’re pretty good at sharing in our abundance. We share the blessing of our ballfield with the community, welcoming people to come and use it. We share the blessing of our commercially-certified kitchen for people whose kitchens just aren’t big enough to cook for all the company. The abundance of our pantries and wallets and watches makes its way to donated items for the food shelf, Christmas gifts for needy families, and call coordinators for the Area Resource Center. Later this week the generosity of this congregation will show up once again when we feed people at the county fair.
The thing is, we have all been incredibly blessed by God with so much—in our families, our health, our homes, our skills, our jobs, our connections with each other. And we would all, in a heartbeat, acknowledge that our blessings come from God. So it should only be right that we then ask, “what does God want me to do with the blessings I’ve been given?” “What is the purpose behind the blessings God gives me?” “How are my blessings meant to be a shared blessing for others?”
And while blessings include money, they aren’t just money. God gives us time on this earth. God gives us unique skills like being good at public speaking or a friendly attitude or a good singing voice or a mechanical mind. God gives us our support network of family and friends. And God gives us all of these blessings for a reason—a reason that we are called to discern together, to figure out what God wants you to do with the blessings that you have, and how you are called to share your blessings for the good of the kingdom.
But it’s not just you.
The problem with the rich fool is that he imagined he was the only person he had to think about. He ignored the whole network of people, events, and ideas that helped him as much as he ignored God’s intentions for the blessings he received. And like how the rich fool’s overemphasis on himself was at the root of his problems, we aren’t called to just focus on ourselves when it comes to our generosity. We are called to be part of God building the kingdom in the world, not just in our hearts.
God’s gifts are in abundance in this country. We live in the richest nation in the history of the planet, with comforts and conveniences that were completely unimaginable just a century ago. But we also live in a country filled with rich fools building barns, where one man alone has enough wealth to give every single homeless person a $200,000 home and could still pay to give Flint, Michigan clean water over twenty-five times. And yet there are still homeless people. We are called to shape our country to live by the generosity of God, because God doesn’t give blessings without a purpose.
So do cultivate your own generosity. Ask God to help you find out what you are called to do with the innumerable blessings you’ve received—whether it looks like your offering to the church, or mentoring a colleague in need of your wisdom and support, or inspiring students to value their achievements, or growing an abundance of crops. Acknowledge the ways God has blessed you, and discern what those blessings are for.
And also cultivate a spirit of generosity in the world. Engage and encourage your neighbors to discover what God’s blessings for them are for. Vote for leaders who are guided by the generosity of God to discern what to do with the blessings of this country. Build up the kingdom by making God’s own generosity a cornerstone of what you want the world to look like.
We are so incredibly blessed in every way, and we have been blessed so that we can be generous with others. So let the generosity God has first shown you be reflected in the way you are generous with God’s blessings in your life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.