A Sermon for 31 July 2016
A reading from the gospel of Luke 12:13-21. Listen for God’s word to us as we continue to hear of Jesus’ final journey from Galilee to what lie ahead in Jerusalem.
“Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘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 Jesus 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.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Has anybody ever meddled into what you make in a year? It happened to a school teacher at a dinner party. Perhaps you’ve read the story. It goes that a CEO was leading the conversation – waxing on about the problems of education in America. Maybe he genuinely wanted to know, though it seemed more like a smug turn in the conversation. Looking directly to the school teacher sitting across the fancy table from him, he said: “You’re a teacher Bonnie. Be honest: what do you make?” The room fell silent as all the guests were shocked by the condescending nature of the CEO’s question. Bonnie, ever a teacher, took a deep breath and frankly replied: “You want to know what I make? Well . . . I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner. I make kids sit through forty minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for five minutes without an IPod, Game Cube, or movie rental. Do you really want to know what I make?” The story goes that she paused to look at each and every person sitting at the table, then continued: “I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions. I teach them how to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math. They use their God-given brain, not the man-made calculator. I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe and secure. Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts; they can succeed in life. Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are so ignorant. You want to know what I make?” The teacher said. “I make a difference in all your lives, educating your children (and grandchildren) and preparing them” to become who they will become. Returning her gaze to the man across the table from her, the teacher went on: “What do you make Mr. CEO?” The story ends by stating: “Don’t educate your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy, so they know the value of things, not the price. (For source, search: Funny Videos and More).
We may know plenty of teachers who don’t approach what they make in this way. And, there are CEOs who aren’t just in it for the money. But the story gets the point across. Too many of us have our values all messed up. We labor for a paycheck instead of the contributions we are making for the betterment of the world. We choose our life’s path according to the bottom line of the good old American buck and all we believe will come with it. We work hard to store up whatever we think we will need – experiences, products, larger sums in the stock market. . . . I’m sorry to sound as if I’m meddling now, but the text before us makes it pretty clear. Long the church has remained silent or apologetic in the area of life in which Americans today just might need the most faith-based guidance. That which we value – that for which we will toil; giving our blood, sweat, and tears. The way we define abundance. . . . It’s obvious from Jesus’ words here – and his words throughout the gospels. In fact, read through the gospels – especially the gospel of Luke and you will see that Jesus preaches and teaches about money, possessions, abundance, value more than any other hot button topic of the day. He’s most concerned with what to do with what we have. How to put God before that which we can get in this world. How to put our trust not in what we can earn or how much we have saved up. None of that makes us secure. Only in God are we truly secure. . . . If I was brave today, I’d have us all take out our check book registers – or for those of us who no longer keep such a thing, get online to look at our bank account expenditures. Take a good look. Then ask yourself: what is it you value? Or pull out your weekly calendar, if you feel like your money doesn’t deserve the scrutiny of your faith. Take a good look and ask again: what is it you value?
“Take care!” Jesus said. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” . . . What does your life consist of? What do you store up? In other words, how do you define abundance? . . . A whole world around us has very clearly defined it for us: get more. Make more. Take more for yourself. . . . It sounds a lot like the man in Jesus’ parable. The rich fool. I mean, just listening to the story it makes you wonder what was wrong with him. The land produces so much more than he ever could imagine. He had barns, but they obviously already were full or could only hold so much of that amazing bumper crop, which he seems to think he made happen all by himself. And the ONLY solution he can imagine is to build himself a bigger place for storage? . . . It reminds me of the day my house in Chicago sold and I still was living here in the guest room at a friend’s house. Panicked about what would happen the day my moving truck arrived in Nashville and I had no home yet in which to unload; I went to one of the MANY storage places nearby to look into having a place for my things to be until I would be in the position to move out of the guest room into a house. The man at the storage rental told me he had just one unit left the size I needed. I knew Nashville had a lot of new people moving in but I was a bit shocked his HUGE storage complex could be so incredibly full. Curious, I asked him if that many people were in transition like me – in a temporary housing situation that required their possessions to be stored for a while. He looked at me as if I was the dumbest person on the planet. But still trying to be kind to get my business, he said: “Not really. Most of our units are people permanently needing extra storage. A lot of people have more stuff than can fit in their homes. We stay busy year-round.” . . . One look at my office and you can see I too have a lot of stuff. Jesus’ parable messes with every one of us. And I realize some of us have storage units for all sorts of good reasons: maybe it’s to store the belongings of a loved one whose house sold after they died sooner than we could sort through it all. Maybe we only have a closet or two at home – or no place for special seasonal items that we love. Maybe it’s the grown kids’ stuff while they’re away at college – or not yet in a home large enough for their personal belongings. Whatever. Jesus’ isn’t trying to judge us – he even says to the sibling trying to get him involved: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” He doesn’t intend to judge; he intends to keep us on the path with him.
Couldn’t that man in the parable have thought of ONE other option for his accumulated crops? “You fool!” Jesus says. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” . . . What if he threw a grand, week-long feast? Invited friends and family. Neighbors and strangers too. Imagine the fun! The laughter and love around one great big table as whoever arrived to enjoy a celebration together. When at last he laid his head on his pillow that night, never to wake again; a smile would have been on his lips, the voices of new friends still lingering in his ears. That would have been an amazing way to go out! . . . Could he have valued the immediate needs of the widows, orphans, and sojourners in the land over his own future situation? Maybe just put what he could in his existing barns and instead of trying to stock-pile more, just give the rest to the ones God long has commanded us to tend – the most vulnerable in our midst? . . . Presumably he didn’t do all that work in the fields himself. Did he have employees or day laborers who might have enjoyed an extra basket or two of the crops themselves? . . . Could he define abundance in no other way? Shown he valued anything else more than himself? Things like generosity. Kindness. Connection with others. Sharing because we know nothing comes to us all by our own efforts. We are NOT self-sufficient, no matter how much we want to live in the illusion that we are. Is storing up for ourselves really the only way to be in this world?
Long, long ago, Jesus said: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” . . . With the way we’re saturated in our consumer culture each day, we would do well to keep Jesus’ words as a mantra in our hearts. Life in Christ does NOT consist in the abundance of possessions. Guided by his way, we get to define what we value – what abundance means to each one of us each day – because of what he values; how his life defined abundance. . . . Take care, followers of Christ. Take care.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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