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Big Barns and Hungry People

April 7, 2013

Sermon:  Big Barns and Hungry People
Text:  Luke 12:13-21

When you came into the Sanctuary this morning you received a brochure informing you that today marks the beginning of our Week of Prayer for North American Missions.  Our hope, of course, is that you will read that information and use it as a prayer guide each day.  I invite you to join us for our special missions program Wednesday night led by the WMU.  During our in-gathering next Sunday you may come forward with your gifts for the Annie Armstrong Offering.  We invite you to take part in this week of prayer emphasis.

Today we come to a parable of Jesus found in Luke 12.  I invite your attention as I begin reading at Verse 13.  Hear now the Word of God.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

Since Thursday of last week two of our grandchildren have been staying with Clare and me while their parents are attending a wedding in Florida.  We love them to death; but we are old, and they are not.  We cannot wait for next Tuesday when their parents return.

When we keep grandchildren Clare and I sort of divide and conquer.  She manages one or two while I handle the other one or two, depending on the number we have.  We divide our labor as well.  Clare maintains the home front, and I act as the mobile unit, running errands while I am out and about town.  That meant grocery duty for me this week.

I find it amusing that some of you who saw me at the store looked into my cart to see what I planned to purchase.  Whenever I see church members in a store, they usually glance over the items in my cart.  It is fine if you want to see my purchases.

Clare has taught me how to shop at the grocery store.  She directs me to avoid the middle of the store if possible and to shop around the outer edges.  If you think about it, her advice makes good sense.  For healthy meals, a shopper should go to the fruits and vegetables display, the meat counter, the dairy products section, and to the orange juice aisle.  Of course, checking out follows a trip to the shelves of bread.

I pretty much followed her advice.  I strolled through the produce section and selected two beautiful crowns of broccoli, which our grandchildren like.  I also picked out strawberries, blueberries, grapes, a bag of small apples, some tiny tomatoes, and other items to make salads.  At the meat counter I added chicken and turkey, which they will eat, then stopped at the dairy products for milk, cottage cheese, regular cheese, yogurt, and plenty of eggs.  I did add a few household and laundry products, then stopped by the bread aisle.

I want you to know that I bought no junk food – no bottled drinks, no candy, no cookies, no cereal.  Why not?  We already have plenty of that at home.  By the time I finished shopping I had one loaded grocery cart, resulting in twelve bags of groceries – one each for the twelve tribes of Israel – and a sizable bill to pay.  The truth is that food costs money, but I do not want to skimp when it comes to my family.

One of our sons and his two children joined our group of four yesterday for a meal since his wife was out of town.  Four grandchildren, one son, Clare, and I were at our table.

In the course of the conversation, our son asked, “What’s the topic of your sermon tomorrow?”

I replied, “My sermon is about hungry children.”

One grandson asked, “Like us, P.K.?”

“Yes, hungry children just like you but hungry children who never have enough to eat.”

He asked, “They don’t have enough to eat?”

“No, they don’t.  What do you think we ought to do about that?”

A second grandson offered, “P.K., just feed them.”

When asked why they do not have enough to eat, I explained, “Their parents don’t have enough money to buy food.”

The older grandson quizzed, “Have their parents made bad choices?”

“Some have but not all.”

“Well,” he suggested, “I know what.  They just need to go to their grandparents’ house and get food.”

The other chimed in, “Yeah, P.K.  They just need to come eat with you.”

In some ways my grandsons’ suggestions are compliments.  I listened carefully to the conversation and wondered, Is feeding hungry children my responsibility?  I gave that question some thought and determined that the answer is yes.  I certainly feel responsible for our eleven grandchildren; and if I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am responsible for other hungry children in the world.

Consider these statistics about the problem of hunger in the United States:

-50,000,000 Americans are hungry, never feeling as though they have enough to eat and often going to bed hungry.  They either do not have the money or the assistance to maintain active, healthy lives.

-17,000,000 of those are children who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis.  That means that one in five children is hungry.

–  Thirty percent of the households with senior adults must sometimes choose between buying food and paying medical costs.  Thirty-five percent must choose between buying food and paying utility bills.

-Nearly 1,000,000 senior adults who live alone do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.  This is one reason that Mobile Meals is such a vital ministry.  It does a wonderful job of providing nutritious meals for senior adults.

-Veterans are twice as likely to need help with food as other Americans.

– The total cost of hunger in America runs about $90,000,000,000 a year.  Contrast that with the amount of money needed to feed everyone well, one ninth as much – about $10-12,000,000,000.

-Hungry adults miss more work and consume more healthcare than those who do not go hungry.  Hungry children are more likely to suffer from severe bouts of anxiety and depression, and they are more likely to cause behavior problems.

-According to a survey recently conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture, every year retailers, restaurants, farmers, and households discard about 96,000,000,000 pounds of food available for human consumption.  About two-thirds of that food consists of fruits, vegetables, fluid milk, and grain products.

-Poor families in our country adopt a variety of survival strategies:  buying discount food that is past the expiration date, getting meals provided by various ministries, and eating pet food.

Do hungry people live in Spartanburg County?  Yes.

On Tuesday morning the Morningside ministerial staff visited Greater Spartanburg Ministries, a wonderful organization that has been greatly upgraded in the last few years.  Kevin Kroger, the director, shared with us how the organization uses a rotation system, allowing hungry people to receive food once per month, some of which comes from Second Harvest.

Many of you have been very involved in the organization T.O.T.A.L. Ministries.  Later in the summer we will help that group with a project called a mobile food pantry.  Church volunteers will have an opportunity to pack and distribute food to people who will actually drive through the area behind the church.  Church members will not only hand the food to those who come, but they will also pause to have prayer.

My grandchildren are right to believe that it is my responsibility to feed the hungry.  I can only do so much, as can you, but think about what could be accomplished if every Christian were keenly aware of the problem.  What if we all took necessary steps to alter our lifestyle, to take part in projects like Stop Hunger Now, and to become more conscious and intentional about addressing the problem and responding to it?

The North American Mission Board’s theme for this week of prayer emphasis is Whatever It Takes.  We need to do whatever it takes to end poverty.

Today as we look at our text, we see Jesus teaching.  A young man from the crowd comes to him and complains, “Listen, rabbi. My brother has received the inheritance, and he has not given me my portion.  I want you to tell him to give me what is rightfully mine.”

The crowd knows that this man, maybe well-dressed, has a legitimate claim.  From the time of Moses, rabbis encouraged the sharing of inheritance; and we might expect Jesus to do the same.  He takes the man’s plea, however, as an opportunity to tell a parable that addresses having more than enough food in the pantry or freezer so that some of it expires or spoils.  It speaks to having more clothes than needed, so many, in fact that some items have not been worn in several years.  It also deals with accumulating money in IRA’s, annuities, and mutual funds.  This parable deals with people who have more money than ninety-five percent of the world’s population.

Mark Twain revealed that the parts of the Bible that bothered him most were not those he could not understand; rather they were the ones he could understand very well.

Today’s parable has a simple message.  The year’s crops have brought in an increase that greatly exceeds a farmer’s expectations.  He realizes that he will have an overflowing amount of grain.  He considers what to do and decides to build bigger barns so that he can store his abundant crops.  You can imagine the farmer hiring a construction crew to build the barns, a project that cost him a good sum of money.

The crew must have observed, “You sure have been blessed,” but their observation falls on deaf ears.  The farmer does not recognize his blessings. He responds, “Will the locks be strong enough to keep out any thief who might try to steal my grain?”

The final day of the harvest is usually a day of celebration.  When the workers finish storing the harvest though, the farmer dismisses them and checks the locks one more time, thinking, I will never be hungry. Let me eat, drink, and be merry! That same evening he dies.

You can imagine Jesus observing the young man’s reaction to this parable, a story that has a clear truth that is hard to accept.

Sometimes I hear televangelists preach sermons, telling their congregation, “Give, and you will get.”  They may even quote the words of Jesus:  “Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and overflowing” (Luke 6:38).  Jesus did make that statement, but those televangelists emphasize that if we give, we will be blessed.  God does not bless us so that we can build bigger barns to store up treasures for ourselves.  That is not at all what God has in mind.

Why does God bless us?  What does He expect in return?

A businessman explained to me, “God does not give to you because you have given to Him.  When you give to God, you show Him that you intend to be faithful.  If you are faithful, God gives you more so that you can give more.  You give.  God blesses.  You give more.  God blesses more.  You give even more.  God blesses even more.  God wants you to use His blessings so that you can become a channel of blessing to others.”

The rich farmer did not understand.  We see an emphasis on self that suggests the farmer worships the wrong God. He wants to store his added wealth for himself.  The parable consists of only forty-six words, yet the farmer uses the words “I,” “my,” and “mine” twelve times.  Scripture tells us that God Himself will call the man a fool who “lays up treasures for himself and is not rich toward God” (Verse 21).

I can imagine someone coming to Jesus, maybe a day after he told this parable, and complaining, “Jesus, I am a big fan of your parables.  Do you realize though how your story about the rich farmer struck people?  Do you realize that it might offend someone?  It sounds as if you are trying to make people who have worked hard and gained wealth, feel guilty.  It sounds as if you are insinuating that somehow they are supposed to be responsible for starving people.  You want people to give, but surely you can find a way to say it so that they will be happy about it instead of feeling guilty.”

I can imagine Jesus answering, “Look, having more grain than is needed and storing it up while others are starving is wrong.  The farmer was indifferent to the needs of others.  He was greedy. Anyone who behaves as he did should feel guilty.”

The story is harsh, especially for people who work hard all of their lives and accumulate little.  It says to them, “The amount that you have is not just for you.  It is intended to be used for all of God’s people.”  The message flies in the face of the great American dream.

When we leave church many of us will choose to eat lunch at a restaurant.  Others who count calories may have only a light lunch.  Regardless of our meal today, could we consider people who do not have enough to eat?  Do you realize that every single day in this world, 27,000 people die from hunger, one every four seconds?  Five hundred to a thousand people will die during the course of this sermon.  Three-fourths of those are children.  Violence committed against children, as in a gunman entering a school and killing students, appalls us. Hunger is also violence that takes the lives of many children.  That, too, should appall us.

What can we do to end hunger?  Everyone in the church was invited to take part in a project sponsored by Stop Hunger Now during the Sunday School time earlier this morning.  The participants actually packed 15,000 bags of food.  Each bag, which cost the church twenty-five cents, feeds six people.  That means that our congregation prepared meals for 90,000 people.

Valerie Lewis spoke during the course of that event, telling us about her trip to Belize this spring with a group from Limestone College.  She shared how grateful the schoolchildren were to receive a meal like the ones we packed, a meal that is the only one they get a day.  Valerie even had an opportunity to eat the food and said it was tasty.  I bet any food tastes good to someone who is starving.

Prior to the event I heard a person say, “I would participate in that project if I did not have to wear a hairnet.”  Really!  Really?

I heard, “I would participate, but our family has planned to have brunch immediately after the early service.”  Really?

Someone even asked, “Why aren’t we having coffee and doughnuts like usual?”  Eating calories and drinking caffeine while packing bags for hungry people?  Really!

Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (6:35).  Is Jesus speaking in spiritual terms only?  No.  Does he expect his disciples to hear the cries of the poor and turn a deaf ear?  No.  Does he mean that everyone should have something to eat?  Yes.  Does he expect us to share our resources rather than hoarding them?  Yes.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached that allowing the hungry to remain hungry would be blasphemy against God and blasphemy against our neighbors.  The one who is hungry is nearest to the heart of God.  The love of Christ that we profess compels us to share our bread with those who are hungry.  Remember Jesus’ message in another parable:  “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Prayer is an important part of our response to the “least of these.”  Prayer is one reason we observe the Week of Prayer for North American Missions.  Prayer helps us put a face on this problem.

As I prayed about Morningside’s participation in the Stop Hunger Now project, the faces of our eleven grandchildren kept coming to mind.  If we put a face on the problem and imagine those children we know and love without enough to eat, our heart will break.  We cannot miss an opportunity to share our resources with God’s children.  Maybe my grandchildren have the right idea: feeding the hungry is my responsibility and your responsibility.  We must do whatever it takes.

Last night I was tucking my grandson into bed after reading a story.  We had prayers together, with him saying some of the prayer and I adding a few sentences.  We prayed through the list of family.  Then he said, “P.K., we need to pray for hungry children.”  We did.

Being a Christian means that we believe in certain truths and behave in certain ways.  We must not only believe in the gospel of Jesus; but we must also live the gospel of Jesus.  Feeding the hungry is a part of our responsibility as Christians.

For some of those here today who need Christ as their Savior, this is an opportunity to make that decision.  We invite you to respond.

Kirk H. Neely

© April 2013

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