The Barn Builder
by Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
“What do you think it is that drives people to want far more than they could ever use or need? I frankly think it's insecurity. How do we let the world know that the trappings of this life are not the things that are ultimately important for being accepted?” Fred Rogers
The Barn Builder
Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is a time we prepare for the events that take place in Jerusalem during Holy Week – especially the cross and the resurrection. Jesus spent most of his life and ministry in Galilee, in Northern Israel. At a point in time he travelled to Jerusalem. In chapter 9 Luke tell us that “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
To get from Galilee to Jerusalem Jesus had to walk 60-80 miles through Samaria. Samaria was unfamiliar territory and not the friendliest of places. Jews and Samaritans were not on the best of terms. They had different religions and different cultures. Luke actually has ten chapters with Jesus traveling through Samaria. In those chapters Jesus told many parables. He used these parables, told in Samaria, to teach his disciples how to live faithfully in God’s kingdom, even as they lived in a culture that does not support living faithfully.
What I’d like to suggest is that we live most of our lives in Samaria. It’s easy to be a Christian on Sunday morning, when you are at church. It’s easy to be faithful when you are surrounded by other Christians. The challenge for us is how we live from Monday through Saturday. How do we follow Jesus faithfully when we are surrounded by people who have different beliefs, different customs, and different goals than we do? During Lent I want us to look at some of these parables that Jesus used to teach the disciples, and see how they speak to us.
Our parable for today is about the Rich Fool, or as I called him, the Barn Builder. Listen to our story. “Luke 12:13-21.”
The request from this anonymous man wasn’t out of place. In the previous chapter Jesus had taught about prayer. “Ask, when you need help. Seek for the things you desire. Knock on God’s door and he will answer your prayers.” The man was doing exactly what Jesus had said and his request was in line with biblical laws about dividing up an inheritance. However, Jesus recognized that behind this request for justice there was a greater problem – greed, covetousness.
Jesus responds by giving us one of those wonderful sayings that we all know, yet we need to spend a lifetime learning. “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Your life is not defined by what you own.
In 1999 John Travolta was in a movie called “Civil Action.” He played a lawyer who represented some people who were suing a large corporation. This corporation was dumping chemical wastes into a river and people were getting sick and dying. Unfortunately this lawyer and his small firm couldn’t match the millions of dollars that this corporation put into their defense. Travolta’s character used up all his financial resources. At one point he stood before a bankruptcy judge and declared that all he owned was fourteen dollars and a portable radio. The judge was amazed and he said this, “Where are all the things that you should accumulate in life in order to give you your identity?” We live in a world that tells us that we are defined by the things we own.
There is a story of a very wealthy man who went to his funeral director to make plans for his burial. He wanted to be buried in gold Cadillac. Not gold paint – solid gold. Years later the man died and the funeral director followed his plans. A gold Cadillac was made. A large whole was dug. The man was placed in the front seat behind the steering wheel, with a $25 cigar in his hand. As a crane lowered the Cadillac down into the hole a bystander watched and said “Man, that is really living!” Life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. We know that, but we need to keep learning that lesson.
Jesus told a parable about a rich man who kept making more money. Everything he did turned out great. He planted his crops. It rained at just the right time. The sun was just right and the soil was perfect. His crop came in way beyond what he ever imagined. He built a bigger barn and figured that he had plenty to live out the rest of his life, so he retired. He bought himself a Lexus, a winter home down in Florida, figured he’d travel a bit, eat a bit, drink a bit, relax a bit, and enjoy himself. That night he died. The first words he heard from God were “You fool.” Not a very comforting message as you enter God’s presence.
This man was not condemned for being rich. He was not condemned for being mean or unfair, for cheating or for doing anything illegal. He was condemned for one main reason. He only thought about how he would use his money for himself and not how he could use it to help others. This parable is only five verses long, yet in it this man refers to himself at least twelve times – I, me, my, myself. His problem was that he only thought about himself. He was at the center of his own world.
One idea that is often missed in this parable is that God is very generous. The rich man in the parable was rich because God had blessed him. That’s who God is. That is what God does. We have also been blessed. We live in a world of great wealth, and let’s be honest, we are rich. Most of us don’t think of ourselves that way. We compare ourselves to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. We may not be rich compared to the richest 1%, but compared to the other 99% of the world we have an abundance.
I don’t know how much money anyone here makes or how much anyone gives. But I am convinced that Sharon church does not have a money problem. I know that last year there was anxiety about whether we’d meet our budget, and this year is not much different. But it isn’t a money problem. There is plenty of money in this church. The problem is a stewardship problem, a faith problem. It is a question of whether or not we trust God enough to give generously to the work of God through the Sharon Church.
A man saved up a great sum of money. He dug a hole in his backyard and buried the money. For months, every afternoon he went out to his backyard, dug up his money, counted it, and buried it again. One afternoon he was shocked to find that his money was gone. He began to cry out in despair. His neighbor heard him crying and came over to see what the problem was. When he explained the situation the neighbor said, “I don’t get all the fuss. Maybe the person who took the money will use it for something good.
How are we using the abundance that God has given to us? Are we using it for our own glory and our own enjoyment? Or, are we using it to share God’s love and the material blessings of our lives with those who are less fortunate? Are we using our wealth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ? Are we using our wealth to support the work of God through Sharon church or any other organization? Will we use our money to become rich toward God?
Jesus ends this parable with another one of those pithy sayings. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). By the world’s standards we are rich! God’s grace in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to be rich toward God. I think we all have some idea what it means to store up treasures for ourselves. I have a bank account, an IRA and a pension. What does it mean to be rich toward God?
If you look back over our passage you will see that Luke doesn’t tell us how the man who asked for justice with his brother responds. Jesus doesn’t tell us how the rich man in the parable responds. It’s left open-ended, so that we can decide how we will respond. Will we store up treasures for ourselves? Will we find our identity in the things we own? Or, will we be generous, as God has been generous with us, and learn to be rich toward God? How will you end the story?
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Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 4:1-11
By Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
“Repent” is among the stock imperatives in the spiritual life… It simply means “turn around” or “change your mind.” In the biblical story repentance cannot be narrowed down to something private, such as being sorry for your sins and ready to make amends. The call is to return to God and the ways of God with his people… It has to do with entering a new way of life, taking up membership in the kingdom of God.
Eugene Peterson, Tell It Slant,” p118-119
Repentance: Who? When? What? Why? How?
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent was the time that the early church used to prepare new converts to join the church. It is a time when we remember the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan, the story I just read from Matthew. It is also a time to prepare for Holy Week as we remember Jesus death and resurrection. One of the traditional practices used to prepare involves a word with deep Biblical roots, yet a word that has fallen out of favor in our modern world – repentance. Our passage from Joel, which is often read on Ash Wednesday, is essentially a call to repent. Listen to the word of God from the second chapter of Joel.
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
I want to explore this passage with five questions: Who? When? What? Why? And How?
First of all, who is God calling to repent? Joel was very clear. Everyone was expected to repent. It wasn’t just the obvious sinners and the blatantly rebellious people. All the people of Israel needed to turn their lives back toward God. He talks about gathering the people, the whole congregation. He even includes people who are not normally included. The aged, old people who might not be able to leave their homes. Children, even infants. The bride and the groom. Normally, a newlywed couple was excused from any public service. They were not required to participate in the public festivals. Joel, realizing how serious the problem was, said that even those who are not usually expected to participate must join in the repentance.
All of us are called to repent. I think that is difficult for many of us to understand. Most of us are basically good people. We know we aren’t perfect, but we aren’t terrorists. We aren’t raping and pillaging. We aren’t robbing banks or pushing drugs. Yet the truth is, all of us are sinners. All of us sin. And so the question of who should repent includes you and it includes me. All of us need to take an honest look at our lives and change, turning away from our sin.
The second question is when? When should we repent? Joel gave a very simple answer. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.” The situation in Joel was urgent. A plague of locusts had just come through and wiped out all their crops. They were facing the possibility of a famine. They were also expecting the Day of the Lord to come at any moment. It would bring judgment and punishment. Joel said, one disaster has already come, another one, even worse, might come at any time. Therefore, repent now, today?
I think this sense of urgency is difficult for those of us who live in a relatively safe, affluent, and comfortable world. After September 11th there was an increase in spiritual interest. For several weeks after 911, attendance at worship was up. But it didn’t last long. We’ve waited 2000 years for the return of Christ, and let’s be honest, it is hard to keep the expectation that Jesus could return at any moment at the front of our life and faith. However, I would suggest that the call to repentance is just as valid and just as urgent today. We don’t know what the future holds, so turn back to God now, today, before it is too late.
Third is the question what? What should we expect if we repent? For Joel, this was a difficult question, and he offered no guarantees. “Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind” (Joel 2:14). Maybe God will change his mind and not bring the disaster. Maybe he won’t.
As Christians, I think this is the most difficult, and disturbing, part of the passage. Yet I think it really does fit our experiences. We’ve probably all had times when we have prayed urgently for something, and God didn’t seem to answer our prayer, or at least the way we had hoped. Our lives sometimes are filled with pain and struggles, even when we have repented of our sin and turned our hearts to God. There are times when God acts in ways that we do not understand. And so, we can join with Joel in saying, “Maybe God will bless us and protect us. Maybe He won’t. There is no guarantee.”
Yet, as Christians, I believe we do have some promises we can cling to, promises we can rely upon.
- If we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- Jesus said, I am with you always, even to the close of the age. And so we believe the promise that he will never leave us nor forsake us.
- If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.
We must recognize, with Joel, that we can’t control God. Our acts of repentance, or love, or speaking words of truth can’t make God act in a certain way. Yet in Jesus Christ we do have the promise of God’s love and the hope of eternal life.
Why should we repent? That is the fourth question and the meaning of the word “repent” is part of the answer. To repent means to turn around. You are going this direction, on this path, and you are headed in the wrong way. You’re headed away from God. Therefore you need to turn around and head toward God.
It is easy for us to claim that God is the most important part of our lives and that we are on the right path to God. It is quite another thing to actually live that out in the reality of our lives. It takes some honest self-reflection. Look at your calendar. Does the way you spend your time show that God is the most important part of your life? Could someone look at your wallet or your checkbook, at how you spend your money, and say that it is obvious that you were a Christian? If you looked at all your thoughts, the things you spend your time thinking about, would it be obvious that your relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important relationship in your life?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus calls us to “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.” If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that we are not perfect. We are not 100% faithful and obedient. Therefore we need to repent, by turning away from our sins and turning toward Jesus Christ. Why repent? So that the ultimate goal of your life, your final outcome, is the kingdom of God, and a relationship with the King.
There is another, even better, reason why we can and should repent. Joel says, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” This description of God has some of the great biblical words. Grace is more common in the New Testament, but the basic idea includes feeling sympathy or compassion. It involves granting someone a favor. The Hebrew word mercy has its root in the word for a mother’s womb. In other words, God’s mercy is like a mother’s love for her children. God is slow to anger. The Hebrew word for anger actually means large nostrils. When you get angry your nostrils tend to flare. God goes a long time before he gets angry. It is another way of saying that God is patient with us, even when we sin and turn away from God. Steadfast love is one of the great words of the Old Testament. It describes God’s covenant relationship, his commitment to us. This is who God is. We may not know exactly what God is going to do, but we do know that our God is full of grace and mercy. God is patient and abounding in steadfast love. Therefore repent. Turn away from your sin, turn away from anything and everything that keeps you from focusing your attention on God’s love for you in Jesus Christ.
Finally, how? How should we repent? Joel gives many examples of how to repent. It includes fasting, weeping and mourning. He talks about gathering for worship, praying and humbling ourselves before God. Joel is very clear, however, that the primary concern is not with visible actions. I heard a story years ago ab out a five-year-old boy who was filled with energy and couldn’t sit still. One time he went on a plane ride with his mother. She was not a strong enough mom to make him sit still. He ran up and down the aisles creating havoc amongst the passengers and with the crew. Finally the flight attendant put him in his seat, fastened his seat belt and made him stay put. A few minutes later she walked back down the aisle and he sat there, glowering. He looked at her and said “You can make me sit here. I’m sitting on the outside but I’m running and yelling on the inside.”
God desires not just outward actions, but an inward change. God is concerned with the condition of our hearts, so he tells us to return with all our heart, to rend our hearts, not our clothes. Repentance includes something we do, that others can see. It also involves a change of attitude and outlook.
I can’t tell you how you need to repent, or what you need to do. That is between you and God. It will be different for all of us. It should include some sort of formal and outward, action; fasting, spending extra time in prayer or reading scripture, serving the poor, the helpless, the lonely, giving extra money to the church. Your repentance should also include some sort of self-reflection; listening to what God wants to say to you. Ask God to show you if there is any sin that is keeping you from God, sins that are keeping you from the path of eternal life. Ask God to reveal to you if there are good things in your life that you have made more important than God. However you sense that God is calling you to repent I encourage you to use Lent as a time to prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Repent by returning to the Lord with all your heart. “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
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Thought for Meditation:
Piety (spiritual practices) that does not produce a passion for God-exalting social justice and practical mercy is worthless…. God promises that we will break forth like the dawn if our piety produces a passion for social justice and practical mercy. John Piper
Stepping Out, Staying With, Looking To
Our New Testament passage this morning is a familiar story – Jesus walking on the water. This story follows immediately after the feeding of the 5000. Because this passage is so familiar I’d like to do something a little bit different. Usually I like to encourage people to follow along as I read the passage, either in your own Bible or up on the screen. I’m going to invite you not to do that today. Instead, I’d like you to get a mental picture of the story. There is a picture on the screen that might help you. It is a picture of the Sea of Galilee. Or you could close your eyes and picture a lake. Either way, imagine yourself in the story, not as a neutral observer but as a participant.
Picture a grassy field on a warm spring day. There are mountains behind you and a big lake. It is a beautiful setting. There is a huge crowd there, at least 5000 people who have just been fed with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus and the disciples are in the midst of the crowd. Then he leads the disciples down to the shore of the lake.
“Matthew 14:22-33” (The Message)
Where were you in the story? Were you part of the crowds on the shore, enjoying a full stomach and the time with Jesus? Were you with the disciples on the boat, out in the middle of the storm? Were you Peter, climbing out of the boat and walking on the water? Remember where you were. We will come back to that.
This story is easy to understand. There is nothing complicated about it. Let me share with you three reflections from it.
First, the Christian life is filled with storms. The timing of this story is important. It starts in the evening, with the disciples getting into the boat. It was probably 6:00 or 7:00 pm. Jesus comes out to them early in the morning, about 4:00 am. They had been in the boat, fighting the storm, for 8 – 10 hours. They were exhausted.
Notice that the disciples were right where Jesus wanted them. Jesus made them get into the boat. He insisted that they get into the boat. I think that he knew that there was a storm coming.
The storms of life come to us sometimes because we are right where God wants us to be. That isn’t always true. Jonah got into a storm because he was running away and disobeying God. However, when you are going through a storm don’t assume that God is punishing you for some terrible sin. You may be right where God wants you to be.
What are the storms in your life? Maybe someone you love has died, or is dying. Maybe it’s the storm of conflict and a broken relationship, or financial struggles, or the loss of a job. Maybe it’s the storm of dealing with your children or your parents or your health. Whatever storm you are in, know that you may be right where God wants you. It may be that when the storm came on Sharon church over the past several years, this church was right where God wanted it to be. God wanted to do something in your own individual lives and in the life of this congregation, and only a storm could bring about the results God wanted. When you are in a storm, it may be the result of being faithful and obedient and God wants to use the storm to transform your life.
The second reflection has to do with faith, and the reality that all of us are a combination of faith and doubt. Peter is a fun character. He’s impulsive and bold. He acts without thinking. He leaps and then he looks. He speaks and then he thinks. Yet throughout the gospels Peter is lifted up as an example of what it means to be a Christian. He often speaks for the other disciples, giving voice to what they were thinking or feeling. Sometimes Peter has amazing successes and other times complete failures. Peter has great faith and great doubt.
Our story this morning shows both sides. Peter is the only disciple who got out of the boat. He is the only disciple who had enough faith in Jesus to walk on water. He is also the only one who sank in the water. He took his eyes off Jesus and let his fears get the best of him. Peter is a man of faith and doubt.
To be honest, I’m a lot like that too. Sometimes I’m good at faith. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I completely trust God. Other times I don’t trust anyone and I’m filled with fear and anxiety. Sometimes I’m bold and courageous. Sometimes I’m a coward and a wimp. I have a sense that describes all of us. We are like Peter, a mixture of faith and doubt, success and failure. That’s okay, because just as God used Peter God can and will use us. And because God is at work in our lives he will use the storms to strengthen our faith.
Our passage is an invitation to faith. We are called to a risky faith. Faith is not primarily mental agreement with certain ideas. Faith is getting out of the boat and stepping out onto the water. Faith is looking to Jesus and trusting in him.
The third reflection has to do with the boat. The sanctuary of my home church is very similar to this one. They were built at about the same time. I think this was a common style back then. The sanctuary in my home church has an even steeper roofline. It’s almost an A-frame. When I was a child one of my Sunday school teachers said that it was Noah’s Ark turned upside down. I remember sitting in the sanctuary thinking “I can see how this could be a boat. But how did they get it turned upside down?” I was still literal enough in my thinking that it caused me years of confusion.
Throughout history the boat has been used as a symbol of the church. However, the boat is not a cruise ship. It is not a luxury liner intended for the comfort of the passengers who are on vacation. The boat is an ark, a safe haven from the storms of the world. The boat is on a mission. It exists to carry the gospel of Jesus to people who have never heard of him. The passengers of the boat are expected to invite other people to get on board where they can meet the captain.
Matthew points to the idea of the boat as the church. Matthew was written at a time when Christians were persecuted. Followers of Jesus were being attacked, jailed, and tortured, even martyred. Note how Matthew says that the boat was being battered by the waves. The word battered is sometimes translated “tormented” or “tortured.” It was out in the middle of the lake, far from the safety of the land and was fighting against the wind. That is what the church was experiencing. At the end of the story, after Peter walks on the water and Jesus rescues him, they climb back into the boat. In verse 33 Matthew saws that “those in the boat worshipped Jesus.” He could have said “The disciples worshipped him.” Instead, he made it vague enough and broad enough that it includes all of us.
I hope the message is clear. We need to stay with the boat. Our salvation depends on being in the boat. We need the church. For some Christians the church is insignificant. They go to church – when it is convenient. They hop from church to church, looking for the one that will best meet their needs. And when the church they go to now doesn’t meet their needs they look for another one.
Others move from church to church to church. They stay at one church until they get unhappy. Then they look for a new church and stay there until they get unhappy. And the process repeats itself again and again. Sometimes they are unhappy with the pastor, or with the denomination that the church belongs to, or a change in the style of worship, or any number of other issues. Sometimes they just don’t want to be around the messiness of the conflict in a church. Let’s be honest, there are times when it would be easier to be a Christian if you didn’t have to deal with other Christians.
Let me be blunt with you. Sharon Community Presbyterian Church is not a perfect church. It never has been and never will be. None of your pastor’s has ever been perfect. None of them ever will be. I know this is going to be a shock to you, but the members of this church are a bunch of sinners.
We need each other as much as we need the grace of God. In fact, we experience God’s grace through the church. We need the church so that we can learn how to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need the church so we can learn how to forgive those who hurt us and how to work toward reconciliation. We need the church so that we can learn how to use the gifts that God has given to us and serve other people. We need the church because it is the body of Christ. It is here that we meet Jesus. It is in the church that Jesus comes to us and saves us. [16:00]
So, where were you in the story? Were you in the crowds that stayed on the shore, part of the 5000 who were well fed and happy? If you are on the shore you missed the action of Jesus walking on the water. Is Jesus inviting you into the boat?
Were you with the disciples in the boat? You watched Peter get out of the boat and walk on water. Is Jesus inviting you to get out of the boat and have a risky faith?
Were you Peter? You got out of the boat and walked on the water. But you took your eyes off Jesus and needed to be rescued. Is Jesus calling you to turn to him again and ask for help?
What is the storm in your life right now? What is it in your life that makes your knees shake and your heart tremble? In what way is the world battering against you? Jesus is walking to you, saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid (v27). I love you. I’m here to save you. Come, walk on the water. Come, join the others in my boat.”
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