08.01.10

8.1.10 sermon notes

Luke 1213-21

When we lived in Nashville, we had a very old house.  It was a 1920’s-era bungalow with a deep front porch and interesting architecture throughout.  Some updates had been made here and there over the years, but one thing that was painfully historically accurate was the closet space.  They were tiny!  I remember in Julia’s room, the closet wasn’t even deep enough for a hanger – just some small shelves.

In contrast, we came here to Chattanooga and are now living in a much newer house.  People in the 21st century love their closet space, and this house was built with an almost ridiculous abundance of them.  Of course, coming from our Nashville house and our teensy closets, we were ecstatic.  We quickly began to imagine all of the things we could store up in our big closets.  We each had our own, so there was no reason to pare down our belongings or find better uses for them.  In fact, much like the famous George Carlin bit about “stuff” the existence of ample storage space simply makes us seek more stuff to fill it.

Our farmer in the parable from Luke today did not have issues with closet space.  He was fortunate enough to have a bumper crop one year on top of what seemed to be a fairly financially secure existence (after all, he had money to tear down a perfectly good barn and build a bigger one).  As the farmer thinks about what to do with his excess crop he seems to have concern for himself alone, “What should I do? For I have no place to store my crops?”  So the solution he comes up with serves himself alone, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, there I will store all my grain and goods.”  Some say that the farmer has “fallen prey to worshiping the most popular of gods: the Unholy Trinity of ‘me, myself and I’” (Davis Lose, “Stewardship Season Already”).

Now, before we rush too quickly to judge our farmer, we must remember that the scriptures do not speak against saving for the future. All you have to do is read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (or see the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat), to see how storing up excess in the fat years to carry a community through the lean years is a part of proper stewardship of God’s bounty.  However, in the case of the rich farmer in the parable we find that he is not concerned with proper stewardship that takes into account well being for all of God’s creation. Instead he seems more concerned with his own need to accumulate in excess, to keep more than he needs so that one day he can “relax, eat, drink and be merry.” It is noted that “He is not foolish because he is making provision for the future; he is foolish because he thinks his wealth can secure his future” (Feasting). Then the parable takes a sharp turn and we are told that the rich farmer dies.  God says to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  Interestingly, this is the only parable in which God directly addresses a character.  This is a serious misstep on the part of the farmer.  Basically the rich man is a fool because he put his possessions in place of God or as Luke would say, the rich man was not being “rich toward God.”

This parable would be a nice moral lesson to preach and move on from if it did not make us all so uncomfortable.  Because as much as we hate to admit it, we are the wealthy farmers.  As I ponder the excess on the shelves of my closets, I see more of myself than I care to admit in the wealthy farmer. After all, he’s not a cheat, or a thief, or even particularly greedy. He’s just worked hard and made a lot of money: kind of like most of us dream about. His mistake, in the end, doesn’t have to do with the wealth; rather, he goes astray by believing that his wealth can secure his future, can make him independent – from others, from need, from God. And I catch myself dreaming that, too: “If I just had a little more in the bank, or if the mortgage were paid off, or if the cash for the kids’ college education was already saved, or (fill in the blank),…everything would be okay.” The allure of money is that it creates the illusion of independence. It promises us that we can transcend the everyday vulnerabilities and needs that remind us that we’re mortal, created beings ultimately and always dependent on others and, most especially, on God.
And while Jesus does not out and out condemn money and wealth in this parable, he has a lot to say about how we use it and its effect on those who possess it and are possessed by it.  In fact, Jesus talks a LOT more about money than sex or marriage or most of what we spend our time arguing about in the church today.  Funny how we have lost sight of what was scandalous to Jesus.  We prefer to listen to the voices of our consumer culture that tell us that our life is all wrapped up in what we possess. We fill our pantries and our bank accounts and our unnecessarily-large closets with more than we need, without pausing to give thanks to God for the bounty and then considering how we might share it with others.

I was talking with Marina, the director of Bridge Refugee Services here the other day.  She said that as a result of her years of work as a social worker with refugee families first coming to this country, she now has very little excess in her home.  As she encounters families who arrive here with no sheets or towels or plates or chairs, she realizes that perhaps she does not need as much of each of those things.  She has given away all but what she needs to various refugee families, knowing she really only needs 2 sets of sheets, and just enough dishes for her family and a few guests, and enough towels for everyone in the family to have a clean one at any given moment – not enough so that they can go months without doing laundry.  She learned what our wealthy farmer could not see – there was no sense in accumulating so much when there were people who could use them right now.

Last week, we spent a lot of time exploring the words of the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus taught it to his disciples in Luke.  And Jesus tells this parable not too long after teaching that prayer, so I imagine the disciples would have made some uncomfortable connections, as should we.  Remember what Jesus told us to pray?  “Give us each day our daily bread.”  Or as one translation of the prayer puts it:  “With the bread we need for today, feed us” (New Zealand Prayer Book).  Jesus reminds us that we all should seek no more than what is needed for today, and we should make sure that everyone has access to it, not just us.  And then, here we have this wealthy farmer, seemingly oblivious to the needs of others around him and selfishly securing his own well-being, neglecting to acknowledge that it is God who we rely on for our daily bread, not our over-stuffed barns.

Now, this is not a sermon about giving away everything you own and live solely on faith that God will provide.  But I hope that you will consider how much you really need, and discern ways in which you can share what you have with others.  Ultimately, Jesus calls us into lives of discipleship in which we realize that the things that matter most are those things that are worthless to store up – love, generosity, forgiveness, justice.  They mean nothing if they are not shared with others.  . . .

We spend our money on that which fails to satisfy.  We have a God-sized void and try to fill it with everything but that which will make us whole.  And here, with an abundance that only God can offer, we meet Christ here at this table.  We receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation, a simple meal that is more than enough for the journey ahead, provided we travel with good company and return to this table often.  Here at this table we are fed so that we can go out and feed others.  Let us be bread for a hungry world that yearns for the righteousness of God.  Let us be the cup of hope, offering others a taste the sweetness of God’s amazing grace.                      Amen.

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