“What’s In Your Barn” – August 4, 2013
What’s In Your Barn? – Sermon August 4th
Luke 12: 13-21
In reading our Gospel text for today, I continue to marvel at how Jesus handles all of his interruptions. As we spoke about a few weeks ago, Jesus has ‘set his face to Jerusalem’ and is now journeying with his entourage from village to village. They are traveling over hill and dale; past shepherds and farmers and fishermen; all the while gathering these huge crowds, probably in the 1,000’s, who are eager to hear his teaching or just ask him a question.
Earlier we heard from a lawyer who wanted to know how to get eternal life. We heard from Martha who tried to put Jesus in the middle of a sisterly confrontation, “Jesus, tell Mary to get in the kitchen and help me”. And this week, we are hearing from a random person, probably a male with an older brother, who wants Jesus to arbitrate in an estate matter. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide up our family inheritance”.
Now under Jewish law of that time, it was common for the eldest son to keep 2/3’s and divide the remaining 1/3rd among the other siblings. Just as today, conflicts arise with the different parties feeling that they are not getting their fair share of the pie. Rabbis were often called in to settle these disputes. So the question today is really not as random as it might seem. Jesus though will not be sucked in and uses this as another teaching moment.
He dismisses the question and tells the crowd, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”. But wait, I thought our motto was life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and isn’t happiness about having a few things? Come on Jesus, this inheritance is due to me and I want what is rightfully mine! Come on, I worked hard for this. Jesus is warning us about greed. All kinds of greed. But what does that look like? What is “all kinds of greed”?
Many of you might have seen on the news this past Monday, when hundreds of fast food workers, mostly from Wendy’s but including a few from KFC, Taco Bell, Burger King and McDonalds, went on strike demanding an increase in the minimum wage. Currently, the minimum wage is $7.35/hr. These workers were demanding that the wage be doubled to $15/hr. Strikers were apparently chanting, “We can’t survive on $7.35”. But isn’t doubling the wage in one fell swoop being a bit greedy? And aren’t we talking about whiney teenagers anyway, who don’t really seem to care if they get my order right?
According to an economic report out from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, today’s average age of a fast food worker is not 18 but 32, which carries with it different implications. This are all not just part time jobs. Quoting, “If a worker today is employed full time for a full 52 weeks, she or he is making $15,080. This is 19 percent below the official poverty line for a family of three”. Hummm.
One the other hand, just two years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission noted in their annual filing, that Wendy’s President and CEO Emil Brolick, the former CEO of Taco Bell, earned total compensation valued at $4.6 million. That’s a lot of hamburgers and Frosty’s. Is this greed? Isn’t he just receiving what the market has determined is a fair wage for a CEO? Is that wrong? What would Jesus say?
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. I know what I will do, I will tear these barns down and build BIGGER barns . . . that’s what I’ll do”. So he does it. He tears down the old barns and hires a local contractor to build a bigger barn. He opens up a 401(k); put’s the windfall in an “irrevocable trust” and tells himself . . . ahh! “Soul, now we can relax . . . eat, drink, and be merry. We have it all saved up now”. Then he dies the next night.
Okay, is Jesus telling us that saving for a rainy day is greedy? What about the story of Joseph that we have read about in Genesis chapter 41. Remember that Joseph was sold off by his brothers and ended up in Egypt. He became known as the interpreter of dreams so when the Pharaoh was troubled by these terrible dreams about cows eating other cows he called on Joseph who realized that the dreams were from God and that they predicted 7 good years of crops and 7 years of famine so let’s save a bit in each year of plenty so that we will be okay during the famine. And that’s what happened, so isn’t saving in times of plenty a good thing?
Listen again to the parable, “I have no place for the crops; I will do this; I will pull down my barns; I will store all my grain; I will say to my soul”. Do you hear it? I, I, I. It’s a totally egocentric conversation that he is having with himself. This is why God call’s him a fool. Not because he was saving but because he was only focused on himself.
We heard a couple weeks ago about Martha who was distracted. Jesus told her that she was distracted “about many things”. This rich man is distracted too. But he is not distracted about many things. No, he is distracted about one thing and one thing only and that is with accumulating more possessions and then hording them for himself. But I wonder if there is more. Maybe he was distracted by his past experience or by his own insecurity of life.
Context is important and I find it interesting that Luke has placed this story in-between telling us about the Lord’s prayer where we “ask each day for our daily bread” and right before where Jesus will tell us not to “worry about what we will eat or drink; that worry will not add a single minute to our life”. Maybe the reason that we build bigger barns is because we are filled with anxiety and worry. We worry about yesterday and fret about tomorrow to the point that we can no longer be present now. How did we get this way?
I remember having a couple conversations with my Grandparents about living during the depression. It was interesting in that they never really perseverated on it with story after story. Oh, life was so hard or it was so terrible. No, the stories were few. But what was really interesting was to see how their lifestyle grew out of that experience. You bought something and you used it forever (so much so that Tracie and I still have the waffle iron they got as a wedding present!).
Nothing was ever thrown away because you never knew how you might reuse it again. My grandmother keep closet’s full of old stuff. I still can see my Grandfather using his pocket knife to open a present on Christmas Day. It would take him a full 5 minutes to carefully remove the tape so that the paper could be folded up and used again.
So, experience in the past might be one factor that leads to our anxiety about the future. Another culprit is Madison Avenue. Just watch T.V. for a short time and you will see what I mean. We are constantly being fed a message of insecurity and how to solve it. Some have called this type of marketing, the deadly two-step waltz. First, they identify something that you are insecure about; say how your body looks or your social status. This gets exaggerated so that you really start to feel bad and then they hit you with the solution. Try this new weight-loss plan or enhancement pill. Or buy this new car and you can race around at be the envy of all your neighbors. This will make you feel good again.
It’s a vicious trap. As soon as we start to feel bad again we start searching for the next thing that will fix it. Before we know it we are basing our self-worth on what we own and possess, instead of who we are as human-beings, created in the image of God. And this I believe is the crux of the matter. Our possessions begin to own us and we become inseparable from them. Now does this mean that we all need to develop a “Franciscan” lifestyle and give up all of our earthly possessions? No, I don’t think so. Jesus told the rich young ruler to “sell all he had and follow him” which he was not able to do. The lesson was not about selling his stuff that Jesus was concerned about. It’s about not being possessed by your stuff.
The late comedian George Carlin once said that the meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff. “Houses”, he said, “are just piles of stuff with a cover on it. They are places where we can keep our stuff while we go out and buy more stuff.” He pokes fun at our building more and more “barns” for all of our stuff. Bigger houses, bigger garages, and storage units . . . all for our possessions. I think Jesus would chuckle and say, “right”. Don’t store your treasures here on earth but be rich toward God.
Jesus does not define specifically what being “rich toward God” means at this time. But I think we get some pretty good clues from other things he has said. Being rich toward God is using one’s resources for the benefit of one’s neighbor in need as we saw in the story of the Good Samaritan. Being rich toward God might mean being present in all that we do. Being rich toward God might be realizing that we all are in this together, as a community. Not lone rangers, greedily hording everything for ourselves. Maybe being rich toward God is going on strike so that you and your family might be able to have a living wage. You might be able to think of some others.
Is 4.6 million a year too much money for one person to make? I don’t know. I think it’s easy for us to hear this parable and only hear the words, “a rich man”. That can set our bias. We might say, “I’m not rich, so this does not apply to me”. This guy was a huge landowner, what we might call a corporate farmer today, so it’s easy to just write is off as a lesson for someone else. But the temptation to build a bigger barn and to fill it with our treasured possessions belongs to all of us, young or old, rich or poor.
Jesus will say that it’s easier for a camel to get thorough the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. Dramatic imagery when you picture a camel, loaded down with possessions heading to the eye of the needle or city gate. Then all of the belongings are unstrapped and taken off. Then the camel gets down on its knees to be led through the gate. It’s not the possessions themselves, but an attachment to possessions.
The rich man in our story was not greedy because he was rich and had a field full of barns. He was greedy because he was saving for all the wrong reasons. He has forgotten about stewardship; about helping those in need. We don’t know why, but for whatever reason, he had lost sight of the one “from whom all blessings flow”. He adores the idea of success thinking that his possessions will satisfy his soul. He becomes a barn-building fool. So, what’s in your barn?
Thanks be to God!
Let us pray,
God, we thank you for your Word which goes before us to lead, to guide, and to illumine our path. Help us to be doer’s of your Word and not just hearers. In Christ Name, Amen.