11th Sunday after Pentecost
4 August 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Do you know how much money I have spent in the last month? Andrew’s fall tuition for college came due. Two ten year old AC units in our house needed replacement. If I stop to think about how much money we have spent and what that money could have done for the poor, I wonder just what God is trying to teach me, as I work on this parable of the rich fool. Now it is not that I think I should not pay for my children’s college education. It is not that I think I should live without air conditioning in Florida. But what choices can I make in my own life that will enable me to be generous toward others. It is troubling to me that our Mission Beth-El is having to close its Mission Peniel, a ministry to migrant farmworkers in Immokalee where at 400-700 people would come for a hot meal of beans and rice every Friday night – due to a shortage of funds. We who live in middle-upper class USA, are caught up in a vicious cycle of bigger/better supersize me foolishness that makes us prisoners of a lifestyle that is more complicated and decadent than it needs to be. We are trapped in sin by the extravagance of our lifestyle and competitive drive and luxurious desires, but the good news is God’s forgives us and invites us to be transformed, day-by-day, into people whose generosity is greater than our sin, whose freedom and joy is found in giving not getting.
Hear the Gospel: Luke 12:13-31
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he 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."
16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'
20 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?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 22 He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you -- you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
(New Revised Standard Version)
Hymn – Bigger Barns
You ever think about what it will be like to share an eternal life with children who died early, due to simple diseases we could have prevented or cured, with the kind of medical attention we consider a given? You ever wonder what it will be like to sit at Christ’s banqueting table in the heavenly realm and eat with people who spent their entire lives consuming daily mush while we were going to fancy restaurants eating rich food, and letting good vegetables spoil in our refrigerators? You ever wonder how it will be to converse in an eternal dialogue with those who lived in mud huts while we lived in extravagant, carefully decorated houses? I do, and I think that my conversations about AC trouble or closets too small or garages too crowded will be sort of awkward in that context.
Stop and think with me for a moment about what attitude Jesus challenges in the scripture we read. A man wants Jesus to intercede for him – to get his brother to share the inheritance. Remember in the first century, a first-born son would have nearly total control over the inheritance. So it seems this younger brother wants his fair share. His mistake was to think Jesus preferred him to his brother. And Jesus says to the crowd, not just the man, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Whether your context is a village mud huts or a gated community of houses valued at half a million and up, greed is a potential. One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. I expect God will have more to say to me about greed than the person who lived in the mud hut. I figure God’s love will be overwhelming, and my sin, well, I’ll wish I’d been more generous. So why not start today. The parable is about a farmer who produces more than food than expected, or we might say an investment that produced more than expected, or a family that had more than needed. Do the farmer, the investor, and the family, increase their own capacity to keep the extras, or do the farmer, the investor, and the family say, “Wow, God has given me more than I actually need. Instead of a bigger barn, bigger house or bigger retirement account, perhaps there is someone who needs this more than I do.”
Some of you did just that when you decided to give to the Peace building fund. You saw that God could use to accomplish far greater more, if you shared what you had, rather than guarding your life’s earnings so zealously. More people will find peace with God through your generous giving, and you yourselves will have more peace because of trusting God enough to let go and give.
The parable says the rich fool dies right after building his super-sized barn. And Jesus comments, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." It is not that God smited him for building the bigger barn, but that those who aspire to “eat, drink, and be merry” find that what they were trying to achieve – this perfect lifestyle of ease – is not really going to happen. How many celebrities who are dripping with money, seem very content? Their lives are usually a mess. Much money is made by the gossipy news created by rich people’s messy lives. It’s sad, really, but we all keep buying the myth that with enough money we’d be happy.
It is really a matter of being both content with what you have and generous to share with others. We should be concerned with collecting meaningful experiences, memorable moments, special friends, not stuff, not things.
This brings us to the second half of the passage, the part where Jesus is talking to his disciples and he says, “Don’t worry about your life – what you will eat or drink – what you will wear.” It is not a bad thing to eat cereal for dinner. It is not a bad thing to wear clothing that is out of style. Styles are so crazy, you can wear nearly anthing with anything these days, so who really cares. Find your freedom. Find some contentment. Be more like the sparrows and ravens and the beautiful lilies of the field.
Start somewhere and simplify a little piece of your life. Simplify your possessions by giving away stuff so you have less to keep organized, less to manage. Get rid of stuff while someone else might actually want it. If you hang on too long, it is of no use to anyone. Simplify your time commitments, so that the people and things that really matter get your focus. Just like you cannot have it all, you cannot do it all. Simplify, so that you have time for what really matters. Simplify your debt. If you are paying too much interest because of previous judgment errors, stop and re-organize your budget, so you have more control. There are experts who can help with that – for free. Ask me, if you don’t know who. Simplify so you’re not stressed out always about money.
Simplify your pleasures – not everything that is fun and relaxing costs money. Stop entertaining yourself with purchases – that’s a bottomless pit. You will never be satisfied. If you find shopping for things you don’t need tempting, stay away from stores and internet shopping. Find ways to enjoy what you already have at your fingertips.
Simplify your eating and exercising. Eat more real food than processed. Eat proteins and veggies and if the ingredient list is long, don’t eat it. Walk places – even if inside your own home. Get up and move, bend over and stretch, and stop keeping unhealthy things in your house to tempt you. Simplify your screen time. I don’t know how to tell you what that looks like for you, but for me it is stopping all computer time for a full day every week, and making sure I’m not watching much tv news or tv garbage during the week. Limit yourself to certain times of the day or night, but don’t leave that screen running all the time. Take a short walk. Make contact with a friend. Pray for fifteen minutes. Simplify your life.
And when you’ve simplified, you will have more energy for what matters, which includes being generous of spirit, generous of time, generous with money. That is a life of abundance. When I first looked the scripture this week, I thought, “Oh my, how do we approach this? The simple life is not simple. But simplifying life is liberating. It gives life to others. We cannot change overnight, but with daily adjustments, we grow into the glory of Jesus Christ, who was willing to give us his all.
So don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed with what you have, the decisions and choices you have already made, the financial traps in which you presently find yourself. But begin today to trust God and be more generous, because with God you are free to be different going forward. With God you have everything you need, so you do not have to be trapped in anxiety. With God you have forgiveness and healing and the potential for transformation and peace. With God you always have hope, because what seems impossible is possible with God. With God, sacrifice and simplicity leads to abundance, not scarcity.
So instead of living loaded with shame over our crowded closets and garages, instead of living loaded with shame over our lifestyle choices, our poor eating and exercise habits or our lame tv watching and internet surfing, let us keep turning to God and being generous with God’s people in need. Consciously and daily give up worrying about having a perfect meal, or having a perfect wardrobe or perfect house or car or yard or vacation or retirement plan. Join me as I commit again today to find in God my refuge and my strength, to find in God the contentment that always seems to elude me. With God I can say to myself, I am content. I have everything I need, so “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”