As I prepared for this morning, studying the text, praying about what to write and preach, I held you in my heart. Such is always my goal but this week, it felt I carried you with me a bit more than usual. I carried you with me for you are a generous people and this text, this parable and lesson given to us by Jesus, is a direct challenge to those with much to give. I carried you with me for all I know of you is outrageous giving and a constant stream of sharing what you have.
I carried you with me because this weekend marks my five-year anniversary with you, when you welcomed me and Blair with open and loving arms. You gathered a group of youth to unpack our van, Lucy Stokes rented us a beautiful house, Rayner England lent us a bedroom set that Kevin Rosemond drove over. Walt Beckwith showed up with a dining room table and chairs that was once Julie’s because he heard we were eating at our countertop. You gave us enough non-perishable food that it took us at least that first year to use every bean and grain of flour. And such bountiful and beautiful behavior has yet to cease. The generosity you daily give me and my family and others is remarkable. We mention a collection is happening and boom – the boxes are full of supplies for the Denson Apartments or medicine to take to Haiti or food for weekend Meals on Wheels routes. We announce our Easter or Christmas Eve Offering and droves of checks come in, providing possibilities to what were once the dreams of local organizations. I carried you with me because I know your heart beats the steady sound of giving, giving, giving.
And yet, I carried you in my heart because we live in a culture that tries to belie this very truth about you. We live in a culture that prides itself not on what we give but on what we have. Everywhere we turn, we’re berated with the idea that we need more, bigger, better. It impacts all ages and stages of life: wanting the latest shoes for that first week of school even though your pair from June are still as good as new; trying to get in to the “best” school to get the “best” job you can; working longer hours than you ever imagined to get a promotion; moving into a neighborhood with low crime rates and high resale value; deciding which type of room at the assisted living facility will give you the best care available. It seems that once we have enough, we need more. The race, the clamor, the ceaseless rolling the stone up the steep hill. And yet – you resist all such “of this world” nonsense gallantly. And yet – this steady sound and fury will continue to work every angle to drown out the giving, giving, giving that is you.
This me-mine-bigger-better-now-have-to-have-it culture that beats on our hearts and our sensibilities is trying to bind us to a way of life that is antithetical to the way of Christ, to the way he teaches in our parable from this morning. But oh, how enticing it is to store up our abundance, to keep it and treasure it. I have my own litany of abundant possessions that I store for no Christ-like reason: like the bottles of wine my uncle gives Blair and I for Christmas every year. They collect dust in our cabinet, waiting for us to “have an occasion” in which to uncork them. Is not every day of life reason enough to celebrate and give thanks? Or like the absolutely gorgeous collection of vintage dresses I have amassed over the years and have not been able to wear since before I was pregnant with Hank and yet – I searched high and low for them! Who else would wear them? Won’t they fit again one day? Or like my habit of watching real estate and dreaming of a house with just a few more closets and a slightly bigger kitchen and an extra bedroom when our house is a safe, warm, and dry shelter in a city where not everyone can say they have the same.
We have enough love and grace and hope to outnumber the stars in the sky. We have enough abundance of goods and possessions, too. What will we hold on to?
Last time I checked, not many of us were farmers and so this parable of the farmer with his bumper crop, while easy to follow, might be even easier to grasp in our urban, modern culture. Let’s look at it this way: there once was a woman. She was hard-working, showed up on time, did as she was asked. She landed on a good project at work and because of her skill and finesse, she earned a large promotion. She did no one harm on the way up the corporate ladder – she spoke only kind words and refrained from office gossip. She welcomed feedback and provided stimulating questions to move along her team. And – because of all of this – she was rewarded and rewarded abundantly. What she did next, though, is where Jesus would interject with his biting term “fool” and where, quite frankly, the woman’s behavior is deemed sensible in our modern understanding. She takes her money and stores it away, saving plenty for her retirement and putting the rest in low-risk investments. She buys a bigger house and upgrades her car. But she also begins working 80-hour weeks, missing dinner with her family and recharging her phone three times a day to keep up with all her calls and emails. She knows that hard work pays off so she just works harder, seemingly stuck on a hamster wheel of “success.” She’s in it now, she feels, and there’s no way out – I’ve worked hard and now that I have this abundance, everyone depends on it. I have to keep providing. I have to keep storing away these earnings. Have to, have to, have to.
When Christ opens his parable, he gives this warning: Take care! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. The Greek for “greed” is pleonexia, translated also as covetousness and the desire for advantage. It can be explained in this context as the “lusting for a greater number of temporal things that go beyond what God determines is eternally best.” (Strong’s Greek, entry 4124) Greed was considered quite aggressive and destructive in Greco-Roman times and while Jesus only refers to greed once in the Gospel, his consistent message of caring for the poor could be considered an antidote to such egregious behavior. So, be careful, Jesus says – this kind of greed by having an abundance of possessions is particularly dangerous.
The man in Jesus’ parable is neither cruel nor deceitful. For all we know, he simply had a good year on the farm. The rains fell at the right time and the temperature was primed for growing. His land was well-kept and he profited from his planning and hard work. None of that seems to bother Jesus and that is important to note. The parable turns when the man decides what to do with his abundance and then decides to hold on to it. Not once does the man give thanks to God for such an abundance. Not once does the man consider the laborers who likely aided in his good fortune. Not once does the man consider his community’s needs. Instead, he gives a sixty-word interior monologue where twelve of the words – so 20% – are self-directed – my, I. No other pronoun is used. Not once is consideration given to anyone but himself and he instead orbits in his own world, bereft of influence from God or of observation of his broader context. And that’s when Christ calls him a fool. Placing all his trust and energy in what he considered his own doing, his own wealth, his own possession, the man relied on himself and patted himself on the back for the good fortune he’d found. He lusted after temporal, earthly things – grain, larger storehouses, wealth – that vanished that very night. And for the brief moments when he had plenty to share, plenty to go around, he chose to consider how he’d hold on to it rather than sharing it. This orbit he created cut himself off from all else – from God and from community, robbing his own soul of the goodness that comes when we give thanks to God and return our thanks through the holy and sacred act of giving, giving, giving. We come into this world carrying nothing and we leave this world empty-handed, too. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if this man realized the abundance he held in God before it was too late?
This text may come as gift to you but for me, it came as difficult reckoning for the life that I live and the things I hold on to. It called me to consider all that I have and all that I don’t – that is to say – all my many worldly possessions and the seemingly slim trust that my security comes from God and not from the wealth I keep. It called me to think about what I do with what I have – do I store it up? Do I share it? Do I squirrel some away for an unseen future? Do I really trust in God’s sure and steady provision? To say that I belong to God, heart – body – soul; to say that I worship and serve God alone; to stand up here and preach the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to say that I then also – however hard it is – must take seriously the demand that Christ places on our life: that all we have then, is God’s. Not ours. Not now, not ever. No matter how hard I work or no matter how wise I invest it. It is not mine to keep but instead, is mine to offer back again and again without ceasing and to give and give from a place of abundant thanksgiving to God and outrageous belief that anything I have is therefore my neighbor’s.
This text came as a reckoning to me, too, because I recognize that to even consider these questions means I come from a place of profound privilege. To imagine what I could do with all my extra possessions, do with my savings, do with my land is to stand in a position of power that is not shared by the majority of God’s people. And to realize that I am blessed beyond measure demands that I must also realize my blessings come hand-in-hand with a charge: what will we do with all that we have? Will we hold on to it? Will we trust that we have plenty to share? Will we give thanks to God rather than pat ourselves on the back? Will we believe that God’s steadfast love does not run out but will stream in endless mercies? Will we hold on to what is good and true and eternal – love, grace, hope – and give up our grasp on this perpetual wheel of keeping up with everyone else? Will we be fools or will we be followers of Christ? I believe we know the answer in our hearts. I’ve heard and seen it beating in your lives with such humility and purity that I do not think this material world can hold it down. But I do think it will try. So, friends, be not discouraged but be of the faith that you abundantly hold and hold fast – the work of sharing all that we’ve been given is ever upon us. In the name of Christ, Amen.