Luke 12:13-21 The Rich Fool
Text: Hattie Buell (1834-1910) Tune: John Sumner (1838-1913)
1 My Father is rich in houses and land, He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands! Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold, His coffers are full, He has riches untold.
R/ I’m a child of the King, A child of the King, With Jesus my Savior, I’m a child of the King.
2 My Father’s own Son, the Savior of men, Once wandered on earth as the poorest of them; But now He is reigning for ever on high, And will give me a home in heav'n by and by.
3 I once was an outcast stranger on earth, A sinner by choice and an alien by birth; But I’ve been adopted, my name’s written down, An heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.
4 A tent or a cottage, why should I care? They’re building a palace for me over there; Though exiled from home, yet still may I sing: All glory to God, I’m a child of the King.
REFLECTION Jesus answers the young man’s question about his inheritance with a parable of the rich fool. We know the parable better than its context in Scripture. It is an answer to the question of what we can inherit. The story of the rich man who has been a prudent and successful farmer filling his barns with the sustenance we need to live isn’t really against being thrifty or wise about what one needs in this life. Today as we hear about food shortages and potential famine around the world, the prudent ones around us have turned into this farmer, stocking their granaries/or cupboards with food. Of course, Jesus knows this—feeding the hungry is one of his concerns. What he is teaching the young man, however, is not about food, but about where one should invest for the future—in the temporal world, or in eternity? Because the farmer only invests in this world, the tradition calls him a rich fool.
Can you cash out the deposits you have made in heaven? You can't go to the bank with your investments in heaven, but even here and now they can sustain you. We all know those people who are poor in worldly things, but seem infinitely rich in what matters, even in their earthly poverty.
There is a freedom that comes from knowing you have nothing but what the Lord provides. It puts your eye on what matters. Without any sustenance, you have to look to the Lord and trust in him. These are lessons I hope we don’t have to learn in what many are predicting will be a year of food shortages.
Out on the Minnesota prairie in Chippewa Country where my great-grandparents homesteaded, their pastor and family ran out of food. Their children had to go to bed hungry. As they retired in the little log cabin that night, they saw their parents kneeling beside the bed praying.
Times were tough. The 1870s are remembered for their bad weather--record blizzards and drought--poor crops, grasshoppers that ate everything, even newspapers. In all of it they had very little. Sometimes the father had to leave for Minneapolis and work to support the family. Disease and famine could ravage a family quickly and frequently did.
The pastor’s family was keenly aware of that. When the children woke up having gone to bed without supper, their mother was making breakfast. Early that morning a neighboring farmer and member of the congregation had come with food. He told them that as they were butchering a pig, his wife had said, "we should bring some of this to pastor, along with other foodstuffs." The children ate greedily, knowing for sure that God had provided all they needed. And they never forgot it. A colleague of mine tells it because it was his great-grandparents who received the food. The story has persisted down to this day as a testimony to God’s providing for us, and the lesson that all good things come from God—provisions for this day and a rich future with him in eternity. Only thinking of what we need here impoverishes us both on earth and in heaven.
I first heard this song at a MotherDaughter banquet at Bethany Fellowship in Minneapolis. A friend of my mother took me to the banquet. The Fellowship had started when my parents were at Augsburg College. Some mission minded friends had decided to join together in a common life to raise money for mission. In doing so, they became "rich toward God."
Over the years they flourished—you may know them from their lefse irons. Somehow, they had made their plan work—very few such visions have succeeded over time. Perhaps it endured because the goal was not to lay up earthly treasures for themselves, but to lay up heavenly treasures by bringing the gospel to millions around the globe. After the meal, a woman favored us with a solo of this hymn. I never forgot it. A lovely song, a truth I saw flourishing in the people around me, and a reminder that God holds the wealth of the world as well as heaven in his hands. And speaking of inheriting, the miracle of our faith is that Jesus died and rose again so we could inherit all that was his."I'm heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown."
Hattie Buell was born in New York, but lived in Washington DC most of her life. Not much is known about her but she did write many hymns. Sumner is not well known either, but this tune has the typical lilt of a Gospel song of the era in it.
Rev. Matthew Mickens
Misssissippi Children’s choir