What is Enough?
My grandfather Devine died from lung at home under excellent Hospice care when I was in my mid-20’s. My aunt called when they believed he was at the end of his life and I drove over the Harrodsburg to sit vigil with the family as my grandfather transitioned from this life to the next. I love the tradition of sitting vigil with people – when we are simply present in the hospital or at home with people we love at important times in their lives. So each of us said our good-byes to my grandfather and then we sat around talking quietly, drinking coffee and tea, waiting for him to die and waiting and waiting—but he held on. Some of the family had to go home, and I finally went to sleep in the guest room and the next morning, my grandfather had surprised us all and had made it through the night. There was no reason he should have still been alive. It was like he was waiting for something. One of my aunts asked if Lucille had been called. “Who is Lucille,” I said? His sister. “He has a sister? Where does she live?” About 10 minutes from here, they have not spoken or seen each other since their mother died. They had a disagreement about the settling of the estate.
No one had ever mentioned Lucille to me, I did not know she existed until my grandfather was at death’s door. The good news is that, Lucille was contacted and did come to visit and say goodbye and then my grandfather died. He had been waiting for her. The bad news is that we were not able to get back the 30 plus years that greed took away from my family. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”My family is not the first or last to struggle with dividing of inheritance, the man in the crowd around Jesus and his brother were struggling with it as well. I have heard too many stories of relatives who ended their relationship with other family members because they did not receive a particular valuable item or land or sum of money or did not think things were divided fairly. It was true in Jesus time as well. He talks about money more than most any other subject. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” —-
A pastor from Brazil traveled through Indiana to present at a conference I attended a few years ago. It was not his first time to the United States but it was the first time in many years. As they drove he looked out that window and noticed something he had never seen before – rows of large metal buildings. He asked the driver, “what are those?” The driver said, “Oh, those are storage facilities.” What do they hold, he asked? Anything really, they are climate controlled so they have heat and air conditioning. Are they storing food or machinery for the state or federal government? Oh, no they are storage units for private people’s stuff – for families’ stuff. Why don’t the people keep their stuff in their homes? Are they homeless? No, this is the stuff that won’t fit in their homes. It’s the stuff they do not have room for. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
The human propensity toward greed stands in striking contrast to God’s providential care. Isn’t it interesting how similar our American culture is to the Roman culture of Jesus’ time. In the news there are always stories surround greed. A woman murders her partner to get the insurance money. In the Wall Street scandals a few made bunch of money while others lost their life savings totaling billions of dollars. We are also entertained by greed. We watch shows and movies about the lives of the rich and famous because of all the material wealth they have accumulated, there is even a show called American Greed. We read books that include greed in the plotlines and listen to music that idolizes wealth. I am sure that every person in this room could share a story about someone who is could be the man in the parable.
He is called a rich man. This is not a farmer, working hard in the hot sun to grow a crop. This is a rich man, an agribusiness man who owned much land and had much control over agriculture in an entire region or district. He would have paid low wages to laborers who did all actual the hard farm work.
This man is called rich which reminds us of God’s attitude toward the rich and lofty given to us in Mary’s song at the end of chapter one. He is labeled rich right off so that we read the rest of the parable through that lens.
When we wear our “rich” lenses, we immediately notice how self-absorbed the rich man is in his thoughts. The words “I”, “me”, and “my” dominate the story. “What should I do for I have no place for my crops. I will do this: I will pull down my barn and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” In his thoughts he does not even acknowledge the blessings that have come from God. He does not acknowledge that the work of tearing down the old barn and building a new one would not be done by himself, but by laborers. He does not acknowledge that all things come from and are the property of God.
With our “rich” lenses on, we see that he thinks he is deserving. Because of the blessings of God through the hard work of others, the good weather, his good fortune that he somehow deserves to “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
The rich man’s barns are already bursting to overflowing when the parable begins. What more does he need than barns that are full? He desires to keep the bounty for himself, maybe to save it for a later time when there is a drought or bad weather and he can get a premium price for it. He has become so focused on himself that he has forgotten both the God who caused the earth’s bounty and the neighbor without access to that bounty. He has forgotten to be thankful and humble. He has forgotten who he is and whose he is. He has forgotten that God is the author of life and the author of death. His life has not been a prayer, he has not prayed without ceasing, it appears he has not even been praying at all.
I know that many frugal-minded folks struggle with this parable and others like it. People who have grown up in times of want see the benefit and good thinking behind “saving for a rainy day,” behind “putting up for the future,” behind “saving more than you spend.” And there are many Scripture passages that support doing just that. But appropriate concern for the future must be balanced with the desire to give glory to God and to care for our neighbor. Appropriate concern for the future must be balanced with care for the poor, the marginalized, and those without access to the basic needs of survival. Appropriate concern for the future must be balanced with protection and restoration of creation. Appropriate concern for the future must be balanced with being rich toward God.
What is enough? What does it take for us to be satisfied with what we have, with where we are, with how much we make? What does it take for us to stop looking at ads or commercials or television shows or our neighbors with greener grass and be satisfied with what we have?
We live in a culture of greed, where we are constantly being bombarded with messages to spend more, have more, and use more. From the time children are very small they know that Golden Arches means McDonalds and McDonalds means a toy. If children don’t take to greed easily, we force it on them.
True story: a father saved in order to take his family to Disney World. They went during summer vacation, the hottest time in Orlando. The family had already been in the park for several hours, standing in line, walking on hot asphalt and dodging the crowds. A line formed to see Mickey Mouse and this child was starting to melt, literally and figuratively. She no longer wanted to be at Disney and she did not want to stand in another line. The father who was equally tired and frustrated, pulled his daughter’s face close to his and said, “we have been saving for this trip for 9 months and we are finally here and YOU are going to straighten up and stand in line to see Mickey Mouse.” The other parents in line clapped. We live in a culture of greed.
Jesus calls us, through this parable, to reflect on what we have, on what we want, on why we want it and to decide whether or not what we want brings us closer to God. Money matters often reveal the true heart of an organization, of a family, and of an individual.
This was not an easy sermon to write because I am convicted – yet again. I am not living richly toward God. I have much work to do. I don’t know about you, but I do not identify with the rich man in this parable. For me the rich man of today is RJ Corman or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, the one percent in the U.S., who make over $370, 000 a year. But Jesus is concerned with ME and in truth, anyone who makes $34,000 a year or more is a member of the top 1% in the world. In global terms, I am the rich man. If you are not in the top one percent in the world, Jesus still asks you to examine your life and asks if you are living richly toward God or building a new barn to store your stuff.
Toby Mac, a Christian singer has a song that came to me over and over as I wrote this sermon. “I don’t wanna gain the whole world and lose my soul.” It is very, very difficult to be a rich man or rich woman in material wealth, while at the same time, be rich toward God, in fact it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Christ said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily…what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose themselves?” I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul.
As followers of Christ, we are called to be anti-cultural. We are to look at the world through Christ’s eyes. We are to look at every choice, every decision in terms of who we are and who we follow, to live an abundant life and not one of scarcity?
Christ calls us to be rich toward God and each of us have to figure out what that means for ourselves. Each of us have to figure out how we will answer Christ’s call to be rich toward God. Luke helps us through his Gospel to begin to figure that out. He says that being rich toward God entails using our resources for the benefit of our neighbor in need, like the Samaritan. Luke says that being rich toward God includes intentionally listening to Jesus’ word, as Martha’s sister Mary did, to not being distracted by worldly things. Luke says that being rich toward God consists of prayerfully trusting that God will provide for the necessities of life. Luke says that being rich toward God involves selling possessions and giving alms as a means of establishing a lasting treasure in heaven. Luke says that being rich toward God acknowledges the blessings we have already been given from God and giving thanks and giving thanks. Let us live richly toward God.