Text: Luke 12:16-24 The Parable of the Rich Fool
Proper 13C/ Ordinary 18C
There is so much good news in this story. One piece of good news is that it is time to downsize. Another piece of good news is that it is God who is calling me to live a simplifying life. God is calling me to be a good steward of the good news of Jesus Christ. God is calling me to enjoy being more generous in serving and glorifying God and building up the body of Christ.
Storage: Simplifying Our Lives
Ed Kruse, Director for Stewardship ELCA
Luke 12:16-24 -- Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 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. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 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?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
The first year we opened a small family business we bought used furniture. Later, when we could afford new furniture, we didn't want to throw away the old furniture, so we rented public storage. As we look back on it, we paid more for storing that used furniture than it was worth. We learned that bigger is not necessarily better.
Jesus' story of the man who built bigger barns to store his crop does not speak against planning ahead; God does not forbid having a Plan B. In our culture, however, we have often capitulated to the Plan B's out of fear instead of having faith in Plan A. Commercials have messed with our minds, seducing us into believing the propaganda, "You only go around once in life. Grab all you can even if you don't need it." Life insurance and retirement plans and health care are good things, in moderation. But any good thing, in excess, is dangerous. Any blessing of God can become a curse when we live it in excess. Sunlight is a wonderful and vital gift of God, but in excess, it manifests itself in sunburn and skin cancer. Water is a wonderful and vital gift of God; in excess, it manifests itself in drowning and widespread flooding disaster.
There have been times when I barely got by financially, and there have been times when I had plenty. In my experience, my most challenging times to live in Christ were not when I barely got by, but when I had more than enough. In my "more than enough" days, I started asking questions that never bothered me before. Questions like, "How can I maintain this standard of living?" "How shall I protect what I have?" "What is enough?" Jesus' story of the man who built more storage for his possessions is an example of the temptations that confront us when we become affluent. Having more gives us more to worry about.
Gary Langness says, "The greatest threat to Christians in our day is the denial of our affluence." John DeGraaf has written a book that names a sickness, a disease, that is epidemic today in nations that have too much. He calls the disease "Affluenza." His book is titled, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. Wikipedia defines affluenza as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." How do we live in Christ when we are affluent? How does a rural or urban or suburban steward make decisions in affluent times? Jesus says the farmer decided "bigger is better." Bigger storage for grain, bigger barns for hay. I was a farmer for a short time. I know that temptation. City folks have similar challenges when they are affluent. Affluence surfaces attitudes that challenge a steward's faith.
Have you noticed that the longer we live in the same house, the more we tend to accumulate? Moving to a different house doesn't help. I remember moving to a different house, and we asked, "What are we going to do with all this stuff? We decided to sell or give or throw away many things. We also decided to pack some things and haul them with us. But some of those boxes did not get opened or used for a long time. That's an example of affluenza. It can be dangerous as well as wasteful to accumulate.
Have you ever said, "My closet is so full that..."? "I don't have enough room in my garage for..."? "When I move to my next house I want more room for..."? "I need to increase my investments." "I could use a bigger jewelry box, or perhaps an armoire." Storage is not the problem. The problem, the big problem, is the reason behind the storage. We put the used furniture into public storage for our own benefit, rather than for the welfare of others. Once we store it away does it even benefit us anymore?
God's Word gives examples of storage that are stories of generosity and other stories of storage that are selfish. Joseph, the son of Jacob, organized one of the biggest storage projects in history in Egypt when he stored grain from the seven good years in order to feed the people during the seven years of drought and famine that God revealed to him.
On the other hand, when the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness, and God provided daily food in manna and quail, the one rule was, "Storage is forbidden." Don't take any more than you need for today. It will rot and get moldy. My experience is that the bigger the grain bin, or the barn, or even the bale of hay, the greater the chance it will rot or get moldy. The bigger the congregational endowment fund, the greater the temptation to protect it. The more a retirement fund earns, the more it becomes important to accumulate more.
So what's at the heart of all this? The heart of the issue is that in affluence it seems to be easier to forget that we are God's stewards, and we focus on accumulating, even to the point of renting public storage for things that are not even ours. Foster McCurley wrote a book called, I Have Something That Belongs to You. Please say aloud, "Everything I have accumulated, Lord God, belongs to you."
Jesus' story of the farmer, in today's language, might read something like this: "I have the report of your medical tests and tonight you are going to die." This is not about when Jesus returns again on the last day, though that applies as well. This is more like Jesus is coming tonight, and the only two people he's coming for are you and me. Suddenly the bigger barn, stock portfolio, or retirement plan is off our screen; you can't exactly take it with you.
More serious is the point that when we are affluent we are tempted into focusing on works instead of grace. When we do so, the danger is that we forget about God, God's purpose, and God's mission.
What's missing in the story Jesus tells? What's missing is giving. It didn't even cross the farmer's mind. An affluent person might not even think about being a good steward. If you and I remember that we are God's stewards, we will ask, "What can I give back to God and to others?" The farmer in Jesus' story simply said to himself, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said, "You fool! Tonight your life is over."
When Jesus returns one day everyone will get the message: "Time's up. Your earthly life is over." As I understand it, on that day one of the things that is going to happen is that the earth will be consumed by fire ; all my stuff in public storage and all your stuff overflowing in the attick and basement. I don't think it will be all that comforting for me to say to you on that day, "My ash pile is bigger than your ash pile."
The next verse after this story is the first verse of Jesus' next story, but it a perfect P.S. to this story -- "Don't worry about having something to eat or wear. 23Life is more than food or clothing. 24Look at the crows! They don't plant or harvest, and they don't have storehouses or barns. But God takes care of them. You are much more important than any birds." (v. 24). Did you notice that there are no barns?
For me, there is so much good news in this story. One piece of good news is that it is time to downsize. Another piece of good news is that it is God who is calling me to live a simplifying life. God is calling me to be a good steward of the good news of Jesus Christ. God is calling me to enjoy being more generous in serving and glorifying God and building up the body of Christ.
My prayer is that God will give me the wisdom to learn when bigger is not better. And my prayer is that God help me to "lay up treasures in heaven," (Matthew 6) where nothing will rot or get moldy
Dr. Ed Kruse, Director for Stewardship Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.