August 4, 2019 – Sermon

Pentecost 8 August 4, 2019 (Psalm 107, Isaiah 58:10-12, Colossians 3:1-5)
Luke 12:13-31 Life made simple
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Jesus is teaching a crowd of people, when a man interrupts, asking Jesus, “tell my brother to share our family inheritance with me.” But rather than offering help (or even answering yes or no) – here’s Jesus, warning against any kind of greed, and telling a story in which a rich man has prospered and plans to build bigger barns to store his wealth, and now he’s talking to himself, saying, “Soul, you’ve got plenty stored up now. Relax! Eat, drink, be merry!

And if I didn’t know it was Jesus telling this parable I’d be thinking – what’s wrong with feasting, celebrating, and resting from our labors when we’ve been blessed with success? This guy probably worked hard to get his land to produce bountiful harvests. So what if he’s planning to tear down old barns and build bigger barns to store the abundance? So what if he wants to rest and enjoy life. Maybe he’s earned it?

Yet here’s Jesus, telling this story, in which now God comes on the scene, saying “Fool! I’m calling in the loan of the soul you call yours. No matter how big a barn you build – no matter how much wealth you pile up – it will never even begin to cover what you owe me.” (God doesn’t use the word ‘loan’ – that’s translating into language the rich man knows.) But scripture clearly says: everything in heaven and earth belongs to God. We’re God’s servants, entrusted for life’s little while with whatever we have. It’s what the parable says.

Still, we might wonder – is this even a little practical? And – how seriously do we need to take Jesus, here? Isn’t he exaggerating a lot to make his point? Does he really understand economic realities? If we don’t keep building bigger barns, houses, and buildings of all kinds – and if we don’t keep filling them with more things of every kind – isn’t our economy going to go down the tubes? Isn’t our culture’s perpetual need for more possessions and bigger buildings what makes our economy tick?

But somehow Jesus doesn’t seem concerned about the health of our economy – as he warns – how very dangerous it is – to store up riches for ourselves – without being rich toward God. And if we think Jesus is tough on the rich man in this parable – check-out again Luke chapter sixteen – where we meet the only person in the bible we’re ever told is in hell – a rich man who didn’t share with Lazarus, his impoverished neighbor. Then in Luke 18 a rich man goes away sorrowful when Jesus says ‘sell all, give to the poor, store up treasure in heaven, and follow me….’ And tells disciples, ‘it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’
What Jesus says today is part of a consistent pattern of strong warnings about the dangers of accumulating wealth and having many possessions. All part of Jesus’ campaign to protect us against what Martin Luther 500 years ago called the world’s most popular idol – the love of money – also known as greed. A disease we’re heavily exposed to every day if we tune-in even a little to tv, radio, the internet and whatever else runs on advertizing and peddles endless variations on ancient mythologies and folklore in which our heroes start off with virtually nothing, and through hard work and diligence, go from digging coal to owning the coal mine, from selling newspapers to buying the newspaper business…from rags to riches, poverty to plenty. The American Dream. The Global Dream…In which some is good, more is better, and enough is never quite enough…

Yet even our folklore and fairy tales teach us to beware of greed – warning us of the deadly danger of the Midas touch. And all manner of cautionary tales of the desperately depressing lives of so many of the rich and famous are on always display on the magazine covers, anytime we go through the supermarket checkout line…So we’re almost forced to be aware of the dangers of pursuing wealth…

Yet still the culture in which we live is obsessed with creating and fulfilling desire for more and better…. Almost noone comes right out and says it directly, but of course the theory of perpetually increasing, ever upward, always bigger and better prosperity-without-end is built entirely on the idea that Jesus got it wrong. Happiness can be (if not actually) bought – be leased, rented, or borrowed. And as long as we keep wanting more and more things, there will be work for everyone… and we can keep wanting and having, having and wanting…more and yet more… more-or-less forever…

Some is good – more is better – enough is never enough… The average new home built in America was 1000 square feet in 1950, today the average new house is nearly 2700 square feet. The size of an average American household shrank during these same years, and now we average much more space per person. Yet a new growth-industry has emerged in rental storage space, making it easier to keep the overflow of our new stuff around as we build bigger houses and yet bigger barns…

And so soon…. even if we don’t hear God literally telling us our time is up – still so soon we so often find ourselves… either getting tired of taking care of all our stuff – or needing to move into smaller living quarters due to reduced mobility. Either way – so soon it’s time to start divesting all those possessions that took so long to accumulate.

I watched my parents down-size three times – first to fit into an assisted living apartment for my dad, then when he died, an apartment for mom – finally getting mom into a room in my sister’s house.
I’ve begun pondering our family’s eventual move – which, when it comes, will be from the wonderful spacious parsonage we live in… into smaller space somewhere. I don’t even mind having less space. It’s the thought of going through our possessions – and making decisions about what’s to be given away, thrown away, or kept. (If only it was easier to get rid of books…)

Yet another reason for me to be studying all Jesus teaches about possessions and… how much is enough… And how to start giving my extras away – sooner rather than later…

I don’t have any theoretical problems with what Jesus says about our need to live simply and be rich toward God. I like when he says – Consider the ravens, who neither sow nor reap nor store up in barns and basements. I like watching birds, so it’s a comfort to hear Jesus reminding us – God feeds them all, and you’re worth more than the black birds.
I like looking at flowers… I like hearing Jesus say – Consider the lilies of the field – they neither toil nor spin, and they’re better dressed than King Solomon in his glory and whoever’s hot in Hollywood… And again, it’s a comfort to hear Jesus remind us – If God dresses the wild-flowers so beautifully– won’t he meet all your needs for clothing and shelter too?

By now it doesn’t really even take much faith to know this… Because God has taken such excellent care of me and my family, all this time we’ve been alive…
So I don’t have any problem in theory with Jesus summarizing all the economics of God’s kingdom in one verse – Seek first the kingdom of God – and all the other stuff God knows you need will be given to you also.
It’s only the doing of this every day…that can still be challenging…especially if I think too hard about it…

So I’m spending more time in our home garden and over at Valley Farms Community Garden, where I’ve got small gardens also, where our small vegetable gardens are thriving, growing abundantly, surrounded by beautiful flowering borders… that remind us of what Jesus says to consider…
I’m even practicing the economics of Jesus while fishing – as I consider the striped bass of the sea… who neither pound nails nor type on keyboards, yet God feeds them and keeps them looking beautiful…And if God feeds and clothes the bass of the sea… Surely God will take even better care of us…

My wife Reah learned “seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be given to you also” as a memory verse while she was a little girl – and she’s always made sure we’ve had that last verse of today’s gospel posted on our refrigerator, everywhere we’ve lived… Our daughter Rohi also learned this memory verse from the time she was maybe three or four years old…

So I’ll keep practicing my memory verses too. I’ll keep considering the flowers of the field – keep watching the birds – and not worrying.
Even though the high priests of the world’s economies keep telling us to want ever more stuff and worry all the more till we get it… I’m determined… To keep watching the birds – keep gazing at the garden – keep fishing for fish…and fishing for people… Telling the world about the good life with Jesus. Where enough is always enough – and there’s enough time, always, for everything that really matters…
Where flowers blossom, birds eat well, and God takes care of us all…as we take care of each other… And life is good because God is very good…

Thanks be to God. Amen.