Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 Luke 12:13-21
18thSunday after Pentecost
They say that you can’t take it with you, but that doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried. Civil War Confederate Major William Wise was buried with his horse, his favorite hunting dog, and a sword. He was convinced he was going where he could track down and kill Satan. Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley took his red guitar, a Bible, and marijuana with him to his grave. More recently, people are being buried with their cell phone. During the visitation, friends all call the person. I wonder if, when the call goes to voice mail, the caller hears the message, “I’ll be right back.” Some people get so attached to their stuff, it’s hard for them to let go.
This is why self-storage facilities are so popular. The first modern units appeared in Texas in the 1960’s. Today there are more than double the number of self-storage facilities than there are McDonalds and Starbucks combined. Almost 9% of American households rent a storage unit, and 67% of them live in single homes. We like to hold onto our “stuff.”
Jesus’ parable in our readings this morning relates the story of a productive farmer. The farmer has so many crops that he doesn’t know what to do with them. Then he had the brilliant idea to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. He was compelled to hold onto his “stuff.” When would it be enough? This farmer was not planning on sharing his abundance of crops with those who did not have enough to eat. He didn’t try to sell it and give the money to the poor. The bigger and better buildings he built would not provide shelter for the homeless.
But having stored up that much food was not simply greed. Having enough for himself for a gazillian years must have given him some sense of security and allayed some of his fears. I know because I have stacks of an essential paper product in my garage.
Generosity is a gift of the Spirit, and you all are well blessed with that gift! You are extremely generous people! Our endowment and scholarship funds are growing, and our budget for benevolence is large. Thank you! Our financial giving is important! But these words Jesus speaks are ours, too; Take Care! Be on your guard againstall kinds of greed. Jesus speaks to all kinds of things that we hoard, — forgiveness, love, guilt, power, food, shoes, paper products. Jesus speaks to the things we store up and cannot let go of, like grudges, prejudice and hate.
What is it that you hold on to? What do you have trouble letting go of? Why? Is there an underlying fear involved? The man who approached Jesus told him, which is different than asking him, to settle a dispute. “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Was the man the younger or the older brother? Did he want more than his share? If those kinds of details were important, they would have been shared. When we talk about money, it is always about more than just money. If you have ever been part of an estate distribution, it triggers emotions and memories that are rooted in relationships.
The details of this man’s request that are shared reveal that he saw Jesus as a judge, not a savior. He was not interested in a relationship with Jesus based on love and serving. His interest in Jesus had nothing to do with relationship, or forgiveness or salvation. He viewed Jesus as the one who would give him what he wanted, even if it was not what he needed.
This son placed his trust in things, not in God. Jesus responded with a parable that echoed the son’s lack of recognition, let alone gratitude, for all that God had given him. This man and the farmer in the parable both saw life in terms of what they deserve, and they earn. The farmer in Jesus’ story envisions the time when he will have piled up enough. “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat drink and be merry.’”
A similar phase appears in the book of Ecclesiastes [8:15]. Although they both intended to drink champagne and eat hors d’ouevres, their reasons were different. The writer of Ecclesiastes, the “Teacher,” assessed the things we have in life as vanity, or better expressed, emptiness or meaninglessness. He, too, had worked hard and had much. In his search for meaning, he found that working got wearisome, and the search for wisdom brought sorrow. Pleasure ended up as hollow and unsatisfying. Unlike the son and the farmer, the Teacher recognized that we are not promised tomorrow, and the things for which he worked may end up as someone’s inheritance.
While our reading from Ecclesiastes leaves the writing and us in a state of despair, the verses immediately following, which are not part of our reading, shift perspective. “There is nothing better for mortals,” the Teacher writes, “than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is a gift from the hand of God, for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” It is God who gives our work, our lives, our pleasure, meaning. Enjoy today what God has given to us, and give thanks. It is enough.
If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, remember back to the beginning of our sermon when we recalled Jesus saying, Take Care! Be on your guard againstall kinds of greed. We don’t need to hoard all the things that we do, — forgiveness, love, guilt, power, food, shoes, or paper products. Whatever that hole is that we are trying to fill can only be filled by our God, who loves us beyond all measure. We are enough.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
https://www.simplyss.com/storage-options/self-storage-statistics/web accessed August 1, 2019.