Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 13

No Bigger Barns Needed

The first summer Tom and I ever planted a garden
we planted about three long—I mean really long---rows
of zucchini.
We thought you only got one zucchini from each plant.

Needless to say by the end of the summer
we had A LOT of zucchini—
some about the size of small submarines!
If you want to understand abundance,
plant zucchini!

Now even novice gardeners don’t think of building newer, bigger barns
to house all their zucchini--
but we also don’t live in a country
that knows famine—
at least not in our lifetime.

I think this is important to understand
lest we be too judgmental
of the man who thinks he needs to build bigger barns
to house his abundance of crops.

This man has no doubt seen crops fail and people starve.
He doesn’t want that to happen to him.

Yes, we know this story as the parable of the rich fool.
And indeed, he is rich
and Jesus is quick to point out his foolishness.
But he is not a bad man.
He no doubt worked hard to produce these crops.

What Jesus wants us to understand from this parable
is that what we really need,
what we really long for,
what will make us truly happy has nothing to do with bigger barns.
Jesus is reminding us that life is short and unpredictable.
Keeping the abundance all to ourselves
will not lengthen our lives or make us happy.

It is easy to hear the parable and think “Oh, that man is so greedy!
I can’t believe he isn’t going to share.
How foolish to even think about tearing down his barns
just to build bigger ones!”

It is much more difficult to see our own greed and foolishness.
Our own “looking for love in all the wrong places.”

But parables are never about other people—
parables are always about us.
When Jesus starts in on a parable,
the hair on our arms should stand up and prickle,
because the truth is,
Jesus is saying,
Let me hold up this mirror right in front of your face.
Oh, Look! It’s you in this story!

Most of us have at least flirted with
the enticing prospect of winning the lottery
or being named the new American Idol--
suddenly having more money
than we know what to do with!

Our 21st century barns are not the type to hold extra grain—
our barn expansions are bigger houses, newer cars,
the latest toys and technology,
a rock-solid pension plan--
everything that money can buy!

It makes us extremely nervous and fearful
when we think we might not have enough—
for now or for the future.

That same anxiety and fear about the future
is probably what prompted the man to approach Jesus
and ask him to settle a dispute over an inheritance.
He wanted more. He wanted to feel secure.

Jesus doesn’t step into that triangle of family dispute
but instead tells a story—a parable—to try to help the man
(and us)
see the danger of caring so much about material possessions.

I don’t think Jesus is saying that material things are all bad.
We do live in a material world
and in a sense we are all, as Madonna pointed out,
material girls—and boys!

Some of the best work we do,
as individuals and as the church,
is outreach done to improve the material lives
of people in need—
to build and repair houses,
to provide food and clothing.
to purchase medical supplies
for those hit by disaster.
There are very real material needs in our community and in the world.
Material needs that are not one bit frivolous.

But the way we worry and fret over material things—
especially our own material things--
often distracts us from what really matters.

Sit across from a doctor who tells you or someone you love
that you have stage IV cancer,
and I imagine the last thing on your mind
will be what kind of car you drive,
or whether you should upgrade your mobile smartphone
or even your 401(k).

I think as Christians this is a very familiar message:
we are called to live believing in God’s abundance
not scarcity.
And we are called to give and to share accordingly.

Yet it is a struggle.
A daily struggle.

We tend to think of people like Bill Gates and Donald Trump
and Lady Gaga as the “rich” ones.
I’m not rich.
And then Jesus holds up that mirror.

The mirror asks hard questions.

Was having breakfast this morning a choice for you?
Were you able to get the needed loan to buy a car?
Do you have cable tv? Internet? TIVO?
Do you have clean and safe water to drink?
Do we have so much food that we let mold grow on the leftovers—
you know that bowl that got pushed to the back of the refrigerator—
and then hold our nose as we dump it out?

I remember my first week at seminary.
There was a garbage can just outside the door
where we put our lunch trays and dishes to be washed.
There was a student from Tanzania
who stood at that garbage can weeping that first week.
When asked what was wrong,
he replied,
“There is enough food being thrown away
to feed my entire village.”

Indeed we are rich.

Tom and I recently saw the movie “Winter’s Bone.”
If you are a lover of movies,
I highly recommend it though I will warn you that it is hard to watch.
It was a powerful reminder to me
that there are families right now, in our own communities,
who are hungry,
who live daily with the reality of violence,
who do not have enough
and no one seems to really notice.

In one scene the little boy asks his older sister—
knowing that their neighbors have just killed a deer and have meat—
“Couldn’t we just ask them to give us some?”

The sister replies, “No. You don’t ask for what should be offered.”

I have thought a lot about that line.
When I first heard it I thought it was just the older sister’s pride speaking.
And probably that is part of it.

But I think there is a powerful spiritual truth to that statement.
Why should she have to ask?
When there is plenty—why are we—the neighbors—not offering?
Are we so completely blinded by our overflowing barns?

The Greek word is pleonexia—it translates literally as
“the yearning to have more.”

The yearning to have more.
Pleonexia sounds nicer than greed, doesn’t it?
But it is really the same beast.
It is a beast we know too well.
We are too often dissatisfied with the manna of enough;
we yearn for the more and the more and the more.

This may be the way of the world,
but it is clearly not the way of God.

Why must we be asked to be generous?
Why must we be prodded to share?
Shouldn’t we just do that automatically as people of God?

We fool ourselves in believing
that if we can just get enough money in the bank
and food on our shelves
and possessions in our houses
then we will be safe.
THEN we can be generous.
THEN we can give.

Jesus tells this parable to remind us that it is always later than we think.

The way to real life is to give our lives away,
to offer before we are asked,
to share all we have, all we are.
to put aside our rich and foolish ways.

Bigger barns are not needed..
Only bigger hearts.

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