August 4, 2019: "God's Dream For Us"
“God’s Dream For Us”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
August 4, 2019
Have you ever had that dream where you show up for an exam or a speech and you didn’t study or bring your notecards? I had one of those the other night. I was sitting in a room at Louisville Seminary on the day of my dissertation defense and I had neither completed my dissertation nor had I come prepared to defend my work. The dream sort of makes sense since I am less than a year away from completing my studies. But it was scary nonetheless. The room was set up with two long table facing each other. At one table was every member of the faculty at the seminary; I sat at the other table, facing them, with members of my family and mentors I’ve had over the years. Behind me were rows and rows of bleachers like in a football stadium, packed with people I didn’t even know. And everyone was staring at me. Each question the faculty lobbed to me I answered with, “I don’t know,” or, “I’m sorry, I didn’t prepare for that.” Honestly, I would have preferred the type of nightmare with monsters over this. Eventually, I woke up and realized that it was, in fact, just a dream.
At first glance, the parable of Jesus that we’ve heard today seems like one of nightmares. In this parable Jesus tells of a farmer who had quite an abundant harvest. As any good businessman would likely do, the farmer makes the decision to expand his operation so that the bumper crop will not go to waste. The farmer tears down his old barns and builds row after row of the most state-of-the-art crop storage facilities the world had ever seen. When the construction was complete, and the crops were stored safely away, the farmer poured himself a nice tall iced tea, posted up in one of those big comfy rocking chairs on the front porch of his house, and said to himself, “You’ll never have to work again—relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” So far, so good.
But Jesus says that the eating and drinking and merry-making quickly came to an end because that night the farmer had to face the biggest final exam of them all: death. Sadly, this is not a dream the farmer is going to wake from, and even sadder is the fact that he had the wrong answer to life’s big final exam. When the farmer was asked to give an account for his life, the only thing he had to show for his life was all the crops he had stored up in his fancy barns. These things may have earned him some fame and notoriety at the local co-op, but it won’t get him very far with God. The farmer spent his life investing in the wrong things, things that look good in the here and now but won’t last very long. Jesus doesn’t tell us what ultimately happened to the farmer, but there is a clear warning here: put your treasures in the right place.
I believe that today we need to rethink how we understand this parable. I think we need to do that because it can have a significant impact on we approach our lives with God. On the surface, it appears that this parable is meant to incite fear in us. This parable causes us to ask questions like, “What if I have done it wrong?” or, “What if I have been looking at the wrong things?” and “What if I have been valuing the wrong things?” Those questions sow seeds of fear and anxiety into our hearts, fears and anxieties that can very easily leak into our relationship with God. Will God catch us doing what we shouldn’t, like storing up treasures in barns? Will God look down on us for having checking accounts and savings accounts? Does God judge us for retirement savings for 401ks or that we like to collect pottery or jewelry or cars?
But let’s remember how this whole scene unfolded and why Jesus told the parable in the first place. Luke says someone in the crowd asked Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute between two brothers. But Jesus refused to get involved. It is not that Jesus was uninterested—Jesus was not going to play by our rules. Jesus did not come to settle our inheritance disputes or arbitrate our conflicts—Jesus came to alleviate our fears and preach to us the good news of God’s abundant kingdom. Just after this parable in Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to stop worrying about what they will eat and drink and wear. Instead, Jesus points to the birds of the air and lilies of the field as signs of God’s providential care over all things. If God takes care of them, and God loves you so much that God calls you his children, what are you so worried about?
In all of this—the parable about the farmer and the thing about the birds and flowers—Jesus is telling his disciples, and you and me, that our life with God is not another nightmare where we have to wonder if we are getting it right. Our life with God is a place and time where our fears and anxieties are totally unfounded because we live in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom there is always enough and we are always enough. What makes Christians different from everybody else is not that we don’t have bank accounts or hobbies or things that we like to collect. What makes Christians different from everybody else is that we know that our true savings is the salvation of God that Christ lived and died and rose again to make so very real. This means that our lives can and must consist of something more than what we can store up on earth. The truly good news of the gospel today is that everything we need, everything we could possibly want or hunger or thirst for in life—we don’t have to go searching for it. God has already provided it to us. We just have to put all the other things aside to see the gifts God offers to us each day.
I believe that God’s dream for us is that we live each day to discover that we already possess from God everything we need in life. In this parable, Jesus points to the way we can fully discover and realize God’s dream for us. You’ll notice that Jesus does not criticize the man for storing up his treasures. What Jesus is critical of, and where the farmer gets in trouble, is that he had such a narrow and narcissistic understanding of the meaning of his life and he did put all of his faith and trust in his ability to produce. Listen to the farmer’s speech: “I will do this: Iwill pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there Iwill store all mygrain and mygoods.” The farmer is all about me—about my grain, my good, my barns, my easy retirement. It wasn’t even the farmer who produced the crops—it was his land that did so well. In this inward, selfish, all-about-me mentality, the farmer forgot that God blesses us so that we can go and bless each other.
When we use our blessings to bless others, that’s what it means to be rich toward God. In blessing others, we come to see and enjoy even more all that we have. Storing up treasures is fine as far as it goes, but if it prevents us from sharing what we have, if it prevents us from working for better lives for other people, if it prevents us from sharing the good news of our faith, we’ll be in the same nightmare as the farmer. If what we have lulls us into a false sense of security that I provide for all of my needs, I make my own way, I am the master of the world and my destiny, the final exam isn’t going to go too well. But richly blessings others with what we have, loving God and loving our neighbors as Jesus taught us, we need never worry about how we will answer to God when the time comes. When we live into the highest ideals of our faith such as forgiveness, generosity, gentleness, and hospitality, there is never a test we will fail.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I love that today is communion day because all of the good news in Jesus’ parable about the farmer and God’s dream is on display for our eye and our stomachs. The communion table of Jesus is a place where all of our preconceived notions about ourselves and one another are stripped away. The communion table of Jesus is a place where all of our worldly goods and awards are meaningless. The communion table of Jesus is a place where we can lay down the masks we wear and just be ourselves. The communion table of Jesus is set by him and he is host and we don’t have to do anything but eat. The communion table of Jesus is the place where we are all made truly equal because we share this one beautiful thing in common: we all need to eat. At this table there is always enough. At this table you are always enough. At this table the walls of hostility are broken down. The anger, the fear, the resentment, the hostility, the pain—it all melts away in juice, yeast, flour, and a Savior who bids us come and eat and be satisfied.
But this table always comes with an invitation and a challenge. The communion table of Jesus invites us and challenges us to take everything we eat and see and experience here and make it real in the course of our everyday lives. The communion table of Jesus invites us and challenges us to live from a place of abundance and not scarcity, because there is truly enough for everyone—enough food, enough space, enough love for everyone. The communion table of Jesus invites us and challenges us to take our masks off when we come to eat and leave them off when we go away satisfied. The table invites us and challenges us to look at each other with the eyes and heart of God instead of by our awards or what we have. The table invites us and challenges us to allow the barriers and walls to remain broken down. The table invites and challenges us to do what we can to see the best in every person because they, like us, are created in the image of God. And, the table invites and challenges us to define our lives by how we treated others as image-bearers of God and not by who we kept out and how we did it.
As you come to this table today, consider how you will answer when you are faced with the final and biggest exam of them all. Consider how richly God has blessed you and the ways in which you can share those blessings with all of your neighbors. Consider the ways that your things might be preventing you from living fully into the life God desires for you. Consider where your heart is and consider where you treasure is—if they are in any place other than in God, make the choice today to do a little rearranging. Don’t be afraid to give up or walk away from those things that are keeping you from the experiencing the abundance of life Jesus came to give to us all. And remember—you have enough and you are enough. God loves. Live each day in that love. Amen.