“Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot. “
Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods–who gets it?’
That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
He continued this subject with his disciples. “Don’t fuss about whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than your outer
appearance. Look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you?”
“What I am trying to say here is relax, don’t be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both Goc and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out.”
Luke 12 (The Message)
When I first read this passage, I was struck by the thought that it is awkward and
difficult to talk about wealth. It is particularly challenging to talk about greed, especially from the pulpit, but there is great wisdom to be gleaned from this passage and I have found that it resonates with me. The literal meaning of the Greek word that Jesus uses and we translate as “greed” is yearning for more. It hits home when Jesus says, “Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” I have often found myself struggling with that yearning for more even when I already have more than enough.
In Holy Textures, David Ewart notes, “This parable is reflective of a consistent
theme of Jesus’ teachings: Possessions possess us. Care for possessions makes it more difficult to truly care for what God cares for. Possessions distract us from the fullness of life.” I find those to be some very powerful statements. In all honesty, I have often experienced how possessions can be distractions from the fullness of life and from what really matters.
As most of you know, I got married last September. My husband and I have spent this past year trying to merge our belongings and what we have realized is, we have a lot of stuff. It is currently in boxes and piles all around our home. When we look at the boxes we wonder why and how it is that we came to have so many things. We unpack and sort but still it seems there is always more. We have too much. At one time or another we believed that we needed each one of these items. How do we decide what to get rid of? It’s been an interesting, sometimes challenging and very time consuming process trying to figure that out. I find myself making the case that I need a particular possession even though I haven’t used it in years and don’t know when I would use it again. We have spent countless hours absorbed in our possessions.
The passage from Luke makes me feel kind of guilty about how much we have and how much time we’ve spent collecting and then trying to rid ourselves of these belongings. I see that the time spent worrying about all the objects in our home can distract me from what really counts, which is building my marriage. There are times when we face the tensions of working through a difficult issue or needing to communicate more, when it is easier to focus on the objects around us than it is to focus on each other, which is what we really need to be doing. In the midst of this transition, as I grow into being a wife and partner, it can be hard to see that I do not need all the things from my past to stay grounded in who I am. The things just create an allusion of stability in the midst of change. In my heart, I yearn to build the foundation of my future, not on knick knacks but on love, trust and communication, all of which take a great deal of time and energy to grow.
When I take a close look at my life, I see a trend. Often when I have faced uncertainty or major changes, I have turned to things for comfort and distraction instead of turning to God or to my relationships. For example, when I first came to KUC, for months I spent hours almost every week shopping for a new outfit to wear on Sunday mornings. The shopping and the clothes were distractions from the anxiety and loneliness I was experiencing during this transition. When I remember the preoccupation I had with clothes I regret the wasted time. My fashion statement was never going to fix the loneliness I felt living in a new place. Rather than putting so much of my energy into finding the right outfit, I wish I had put more of it into creating connections with people, because that was what I really needed to nourish and calm me.
Jesus offers great wisdom for people who find themselves in a situation like the one I faced. He told his disciples “Don’t fuss about whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than your outer appearance. Look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you?” Now I don’t think Jesus meant that we shouldn’t care about our appearance or that we shouldn’t bother to try to look good, but too often I let my self-consciousness get the better of me and that stops me from being who I am and hinders me from exploring and enjoying the fullness of life.
Can you identify with the issues raised in the passage from Luke that we have been exploring? It seems that most of us at some point or another get caught up in such distractions. Why? New Testament Professor David Lose believes that it is because of human vulnerability and our sense of insecurity about the future. He writes, “Whatever our technological advances each of us remains vulnerable. Human life is fraught with uncertainty and insecurity, and perhaps for this very reason we are tempted to strive for control over the vagaries of life through our own efforts. Most of us have hoped that if we can just earn, or buy a little more we will be okay. The false promise that we can meet our deepest needs materially has been embedded deeply in our culture. Only as we recognize that the gifts of ultimate worth, meaning, and relationship are just that – gifts from God – can we hope to place our relative wealth in perspective and be generous with it toward others.” I found this to be a very elegant and insightful understanding of the message of this gospel story. Haven’t we all tried to earn our way to happiness and security? Here we are reminded that what we are really seeking is an intangible treasure, a fullness that can only come from faith.
While some try to assuage their anxieties and fears by focusing on possessions, others turn to creations of their imagination. Did you know that Superman was created by Jerry Siegel after a devastating life event that left him longing for a greater sense of security about the future? His father was tragically shot and killed and the police were never able find the murderer. To cope, Siegel created in his mind a bullet-proof father-figure who would go around the world restoring good and destroying evil. The creation of Superman met that almost universal need to have security and protection in the face of insecurity. It is normal for all of us to seek ways to protect ourselves from pain and suffering when confronted with the harshness of loss. Jesus’ parable of the rich fool reveals a yearning for certainty and security in the face of the unknown future. The message of our faith is countercultural. It tells us that we will not find true fulfillment or security in possessions or purchases. Our greed, our yearning for more, is the result of our fear in the face of insecurity. The gospel stories provide us inspiration to live by faith and not by fear. If we believe what we have learned about Jesus then we know that the future is not uncertain. Ultimately life triumphs over death. Love is stronger than hate and God’s goodness awaits us all. Even when we fear the future, we can embrace the hope we find in our faith in God who was, is, and always will be. Let us live by faith and find the fullness and fulfillment of life in the knowledge that we are always cared for by God who is infinite, all-powerful, and whose love is more valuable than anything else we can ever possess. Amen.