July 31, 2022 – Bigger Hearts not Bigger Barns, Luke 12:13-21 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Ever since we got married and bought our first house, lo those many, many years ago, in every house we have lived in, we made a garden. It’s what makes home, home, for us. So, when we lived in Potsdam a few years ago, just before we moved to Norwood, we did what we always do – we made a garden. We made the whole front yard into an herb garden and built a fence around it, and as much of the backyard as we could we made into a garden with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, and a brick path down the middle of the beds. It was a really nice garden. Then, of course, when we found our house here in Norwood, we sold the house in Potsdam. And the new owners of our Potsdam house took down our fence and dug up all our gardens and planted grass – and rented the house out to students. We felt more than a little grief, I have to admit, and maybe a little resentment.
And that experience gives me real sympathy for King Solomon in the reading from Ecclesiastes today. Solomon, who reigned in the afterglow of his father David’s glory, who built the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, who was given great wisdom as well as incredible riches – King Solomon says, “I hate all the work I’ve done. It’s all vanity, meaninglessness. What is the use of all the labors we human beings pour our hearts into? Who knows who will sit in my place after me, whether he will be a wise man or a complete moron? This is vanity and a great evil,” declares Solomon.
The readings today all seem to weave together nicely into a teaching about attachments – about the human tendency to hang onto the things of this world, the material things, “abundance of possessions,” as Jesus says, but also our accomplishments. Like King Solomon, we have a very natural feeling of ownership of the things we create and the things we acquire. And Jesus gives that feeling a name – a very ugly name. He calls it “greed.”
And we might want to disagree. Most of us, I think, would think of greed as something extreme – a greedy person is the guy who heaps up more stuff than he could ever use, who hoards it, who is so selfish and heartless that he can’t bring himself to share it. When we think of a greedy person, we think of Mr. Scrooge before the three Spirits straightened him out – or Mr. Potter, the mean, nasty owner of the bank in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But the man who calls out to Jesus in the crowd, in the gospel reading, doesn’t seem to be particularly greedy, or even particularly rich. As far as we can tell, he is simply asking for justice. Why should his brother not share the inheritance with him? It’s a simple question of fairness, not greed – or so it would seem to us. And we human creatures are all about fairness. But Jesus sees something else – something dangerous, maybe something poisonous – in this man’s anxiety about his inheritance. “Watch out!” he says. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Because abundant life isn’t about having an abundance of possessions.” And he goes on to tell the story about the farmer with his abundant crop and his plans to build bigger barns.
The climax of the parable, the dramatic moment, is when God reveals to the self-satisfied hero that he’s living his last day on this good earth. And, like Solomon says, he’s got absolutely no control over what happens to all the grain he harvested from his own fields. He’s got no control over any of the stuff he holds so tightly and confidently right now. As we say in the modern era, “you can’t take it with you.”
But the message of the parable isn’t really about death – it’s about life. Because the problem with our very natural tendency toward attachment to the things of this world and the works of our hands – what Jesus disturbingly calls “greed” – well, the problem with it is that being tied to an abundance of the things of this world robs us of the freedom to live abundantly while we are in this world. And abundant life is the very gift Jesus came to give to us. In his list of things we need to put out of our lives, Paul mentions greed, and then he qualifies that word “which is idolatry” – literally “idol worship.” Greed has to do with who and what is the boss over us – because, as Jesus pointed out, a person can’t serve two masters. “Either you hate the one and love the other,” he says, “or you hold onto the one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and money.” And the truth is, you can’t serve God and anything.
I had a wonderful visit this week with one of my very favorite people, and we talked a lot about how my friend’s perspective was changing in these latter years of her life. Things and accomplishments, financial matters and old resentments, she sees so clearly now, are just not worth hanging onto or worrying about. I think a lot of people – maybe not all – begin to grow out of greed as they reach the end of their lives. As they are forced to let go of the world, bit by bit, in their old age – and, as you might have noticed, growing old is very much a progression of losses – people often come to an entirely new sense of freedom. At the end of their lives, people often find an abundance of life that they had never experienced before.
On their death beds people so often find the wisdom to see the things of the world in perspective, to value what is valuable and to let go of what is not. And it is a wonderful thing for a person to pass out of this world in peace. But why would we wait for the wisdom of our death beds? “You’ve already died to all those things,” Paul writes to the Colossians, “and your life, all that is most precious, is safely hid with Christ in God. So, you can stop worrying about the things of this world, you can be released from all those attachments, and you can set your mind on the things that are above…” Which does NOT mean spending all our time thinking about “going to heaven” and ignoring everything around us. It means that we are set free, right in the here and now, to set our minds and hearts on the things that matter to God – love, and compassion, and kindness, and mercy, and justice.
I think Jesus is saying to each one of us today, “You fools! All those things you are holding onto so tightly, all those things you spend so much time taking care of and worrying about, all those things you are so afraid of losing – they’re going to pass into other hands, sooner or later…they are going to be lost, sooner or later…they will crumble into dust, sooner or later.” Tonight, maybe. Or tomorrow. Or next year. But certainly. Without fail. Death comes to us all in time. But abundant life is here for us right now – today – this very minute. Build bigger hearts, not bigger barns. +
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