Sermon
November 23, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable:

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘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.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

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Sermon: The Man Who Was A Fool (with apologies to MLK)


Can you imagine a situation in which thankfulness is a dangerous thing? There is one story in the Bible where a self-righteous man thanks God that he is not like other men, and especially not like the tax collector who is praying near him in the synagogue. Jesus doesn’t think much of his thankfulness.

And this morning we read a story in the Gospel about a man who was very blessed and had every reason to be thankful. And yet his thankfulness was so self-centered that Jesus called him a fool. He did this in the context of brothers who were arguing over an inheritance, but as with many of Jesus’ parables, the story has a universal character that allows it to be applied in many circumstances.

In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King used this parable as his text for a sermon at a Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. That was in the context of a widening civil rights movement. I’d like to draw from that sermon this morning as we think about thankfulness that is full of wisdom rather than foolishness. My apologies to Dr. King because his original sermon is close to 6,000 words long and since my sermons are usually closer to 1,500 words I had to do some serious cutting. If anyone would like to read the full text, I have a copy.

Dr. King begins; I want to share with you a dramatic little story from the gospel –a story of a man who by all standards of measurement would be considered highly successful, and yet Jesus called him a fool. This man was so rich that his farm yielded tremendous crops, crops so great that he didn’t know what to do. It occurred to him that he had only one alternative and that was to build some new and bigger barns so he could store all of his bounty. And then as he thought about this, he said, he said, "I’m going to store my goods and my fruit there, and then I’m going to say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods, laid up for many years. Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’" That brother thought that was the end of life.

But the parable doesn’t end with that man making his statement. It ends by saying that God said to him, "Thou fool. Not next year, not next week, not tomorrow, but this night, thy soul is required of thee."

I’d like for you to look at this parable with me and try to decipher the real reasons that Jesus called this man a fool.

Number one, Jesus called this man a fool because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Each of us lives in two realms, the within and the without. Now the within of our lives is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, religion, and morality. The without of our lives is that complex of devices, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. The house we live in—that’s a part of the means by which we live. The car we drive, the clothes we wear, the money that we are able to accumulate—in short, the physical stuff that’s necessary for us to exist.

Now the problem is that we must always keep a line of demarcation between the two. This man was a fool because he didn’t do that.

The other day in Atlanta, the wife of a man had an automobile accident. He received a call that the accident had taken place on the expressway. The first question he asked when he received the call: "How much damage did it do to my Cadillac?" He never asked how his wife was doing. Now that man was a fool, because he had allowed an automobile to become more significant than a person. He wasn’t a fool because he had a Cadillac, he was a fool because he worshiped his Cadillac.

Now number two, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others. Now if you read that parable in the book of Luke, you will discover that this man utters about sixty words. And do you know in sixty words he said "I" and "my" more than fifteen times? This man was a fool because he said "I" and "my" so much until he lost the capacity to say "we" and "our." He failed to realize that he couldn’t do anything by himself. This man talked like he could build the barns by himself, like he could till the soil by himself. And he failed to realize that personal wealth is always a result of the commonwealth.

There is a magnificent lady, with all of the beauty of blackness and black culture by the name of Marian Anderson that you’ve heard about and read about and some of you have seen. She started out as a little girl singing in the choir of the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And then came that glad day when she made it. And she stood in Carnegie Hall, with the Philharmonic Orchestra in the background in New York, singing with the beauty that is matchless. And her mother was sitting out in the audience, and she started crying; tears were flowing down her cheeks. And the person next to her said, "Mrs. Anderson, why are you crying?

And Mrs. Anderson looked over with tears still flowing and said, "I’m crying for joy. You may not remember; you wouldn’t know. But I remember when Marian was growing up, and I was working in a kitchen till my hands were all but parched, my eyebrows all but scalded. I was working there to make it possible for my daughter to get an education.

And I remember one day Marian came to me and said, ‘Mother, I don’t want to see you having to work like this.’ And I looked down and said, ‘Honey, I don’t mind it. I’m doing it for you and I expect great things of you.’"

And finally one day somebody asked Marian Anderson in later years, "Miss Anderson, what has been the happiest moment of your life? Was it the moment that you had your debut in Carnegie Hall in New York?" She said, "No, that wasn’t it."

"Was it the moment you stood before the kings and queens of Europe?" "No, that wasn’t it." "Miss Anderson, was it the moment that Toscanini said that a voice like yours comes only once in a century?" "No, that wasn’t it." "What was it then, Miss Anderson?"

And she looked up and said quietly, "The happiest moment in my life was the moment that I could say, ‘Mother, you can stop working now.’" Marian Anderson realized that she was where she was because somebody helped her to get there.

There are a lot of fools around because they fail to realize their dependence on others.

Finally, this man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. Do you know that man talked like he regulated the seasons? He talked like he gave the rain to grapple with the fertility of the soil. That man talked like he provided the dew. He was a fool because he ended up acting like he was the Creator, instead of a creature.

You know, a lot of people are forgetting God. They haven’t done it theoretically — but a lot of people just get involved in other things. And so many people become so involved in their big bank accounts and in their beautiful automobiles that they unconsciously forget God.

But I tell you this morning, my friends, there’s no way to get rid of him. God is still around. One day, you’re going to need him. The problems of life will begin to overwhelm you; disappointments will begin to beat upon the door like a tidal wave. And if you don’t have a deep and patient faith, you aren’t going to be able to make it.

I know this, said Dr. King, from my own experience. The first twenty-five years of my life were very comfortable years, very happy years; I didn’t have to worry about anything. I have a marvelous mother and father. They went out of the way to provide everything for their children. I went right on through school; I never had to drop out to work or anything. And you know, I was about to conclude that life had been wrapped up for me in a Christmas package.

But after finishing school, I was called to a little church down in Montgomery, Alabama, and I started preaching there. Things were going well in that church; it was a marvelous experience. But a year later, a lady by the name of Rosa Parks decided that she wasn’t going to take it any longer. She stayed in a bus seat, and you may not remember it because it’s way back now several years, but it was the beginning of a movement where fifty thousand black men and women refused absolutely to ride the city buses. And the people of Montgomery asked me to serve as the president of the new organization—the Montgomery Improvement Association that came into being to lead the boycott. I couldn’t say no. And then we started our struggle together.

After the white people in Montgomery knew that we meant business, they started doing some nasty things. I never will forget one night very late. I had been out at a meeting, and I came home, and my wife was in the bed and I crawled into bed to get some rest to get up early the next morning. And immediately the telephone started ringing and I picked it up. On the other end was an ugly voice. That voice said to me, in substance, "Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house."

I’d heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I went back to the kitchen and started warming some coffee. And then I started thinking about many things. I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born about a month earlier. She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted, and loyal wife who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer; I was weak.

Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now; he’s up in Atlanta a hundred and seventy-five miles away. You can’t even call on Mama now. You’ve got to call on that something in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about: That power that can make a way out of no way.

And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee—I never will forget it. And oh yes, I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, "Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. But I must confess that I’m weak now; I’m faltering; I’m losing my courage.

And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, "Martin, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And I will be with you, even until the end of the world."

And I’ll tell you, I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. And I’m going on in believing in him. You’d better know him, and know his name, and know how to call his name.

Don’t be a fool. Recognize your dependence on God. As the days become dark and the nights become dreary, realize that there is a God who rules above.

Well, that is the substance of what Dr. King had to say that day – and it’s a good guide to a wise Thanksgiving. Give thanks for the life of the spirit and keep first things first, give thanks for the others who serve us in love and look upon the world with compassion, and give thanks for the merciful help of God and remember we are never alone. Be wise, and have a happy thanksgiving.
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