July 31, 2022

"You Can’t Take it with You” OR “There are No Storage Units in Heavene"

Rev. Scott Landis

Luke 12:13-21

“So, that’s what happens when you fill you barn with Self and not with God.”

I love that translation by the Rev. Eugene Peterson in his Message version of the Bible. It simply has more teeth in it than perhaps the more familiar NRSV translation, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Both get us to the same place and remind us that our perspective and that which we value will ultimately determine our lot in life, but let’s see how Jesus got us there. [Pause]

This often-overlooked vignette in Luke’s gospel parallels some of his other stories and is in keeping with Luke’s overall understanding that the world’s values and standards are not necessarily God’s. [Pause]

The setting is another teaching moment for Jesus. Earlier in the chapter we read that a very large crowd had gathered as Jesus levied harsh criticism against the hypocrisy so evident in the Pharisees whose teaching and lifestyles were often contradictory. He told the crowd that they had to “stand strong in opposition to such hypocrisy.” In doing so they would be standing up for Jesus and his ministry. Even if they were dragged into the Pharisaic meeting places or courts to testify. If they remained faithful God, the Holy Spirit, would give them the strength they needed and the words necessary to defend themselves. [Pause]

But then the unexpected happened. Right in the middle of his impassioned speech, someone in the crowd stood and shouted out a complete non sequitur. “Teacher, order my brother to give me my fair share of the family inheritance.”

A demand that sounded a lot like Luke’s story of the Prodigal Son, “Father, give me my share of the inheritance – that which rightfully belongs to me.” In both cases, everyone knew there were strict rules – clearly spelled out in this culture – that determined inheritance. The older brother ALWAYS received twice as much as the younger AND it was the responsibility of the eldest son to try and keep the family property intact. Not just sell it off to build condos or hotels or whatever.

Jesus wisely did not fall for the trap of offering his legal wisdom in this matter. He instead took what was beneath the question to a whole new level. It was really a story about greed. A story he incorporated into a parable known as “The Rich Fool.”

It’s a story of internal wrestling to determine for oneself – “when do I know that what I have is enough OR too much?” How much do I really need in life? How do I know that my savings will hold out for the future? How much am I willing (or do I feel able) to share with others, the church, my family?

These are not unimportant questions. And not ones to be taken lightly. But Jesus provided a helpful perspective that we have to keep in mind.

He told them the story of a rather wealthy farmer. He obviously had plenty and was living a comfortable life. But this particular year he was doubly-blessed and harvested a bumper crop. So much grain he didn’t know what to do with it all. He thought about it for a while and came up with a terrific solution. “I know what I’ll do. Since my barns are too small to store all this grain, I’ll just tear ‘em down. Build bigger barns. That way I can store it all up and retire in luxury. No worries. I’ll have it made for the rest of my life.

What he didn’t know, was that “the rest of his life” was right around the corner.

God showed up and confronted him. “You fool! Tonight, you die. And your barnful of goods – who gets it? [Pause]

He kind of missed the point – didn’t he? No, you can’t take it with you – nor are there any storage units in heaven, but was that really his problem? [Pause]

Too often this parable is read with the idea that “to those who are given much – much will be required.” Or “woe to you who are wealthy” (You know — Itʻs easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get to heaven - and all that) as if material possessions themselves were the problem. But I don’t think that’s the case nor is it the issue Jesus highlighted.

What Jesus pointed out time and again – in all of his teachings – was a new emphasis in religious faith. They were being called not just “to love and worship God.” They were also being called to “Love their neighbor.” To take care of their neighbor – just like they took care of themselves. [Pause]

We don’t know whether or not the greedy farmer ever gave to those in need. Apparently not. He, instead, wanted to keep it all for himself. Build bigger barns. Stuff ‘em full. Eat, drink, and be merry. Retire and live the good life. All of which became a distraction inhibiting his ability to see those who were in need and were obviously all around him.

You see, his possessions were not the problem – it was his heart that became hardened as he focused all his life energy inward thereby – “filling his barn with Self and not with God.”

It’s a dilemma each one of us struggle with as we seek to navigate a way forward that is compassionate and demonstrates concern for something and someone other than ourselves. And it’s not an easy one nor is there an across-the-board correct answer for everyone and every situation. But it’s an important issue which taps into our core values as persons of faith as we seek to serve with generosity – even extravagance – rather than hoarding or being controlled by an overriding fear of scarcity.

It’s a dilemma we must face individually and one we must face collectively as a church. [Pause]

This is not an easy time for churches. The Pandemic – now referred to as an Endemic – has made our heads spin as we continue to face successive variants and frankly have no idea what the future holds.

Even Dr. Fauci said the other day when asked whether we should get new booster or wait for what he referred to as a “pan-vaccine” that is slated to treat all past and future variants, “I don’t know.” He went on to admit, “If we have learned anything over the last 2 ½ years it is the fact that this virus has confounded us all.

The future of all our churches is in jeopardy. But as I have told our Church Council – and have stated repeatedly since – our church will not die due to lack of funds. If people love this church and believe in its mission – the dollars will come. But it WILL die if we turn inward, lose our focus, and seek to serve only ourselves – that is when we move into survival mode rather than seek to thrive. And we will only thrive when we maintain the ability to share the resources we have with those in need. Being clear about our mission and demonstrating well-founded and genuine enthusiasm about our future – that’s our way forward – filling our lives and OUR barn – our hale pule with God – not Self.

That doesn’t mean that we throw money away indiscriminately. Stewardship demands that we are as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves in all our ways including our finances. But we have to keep our eyes – our focus – on Jesus – the pioneer and perfector of our faith. To live as he lived. To love our neighbor which will likely entail risk. To share and not to hoard.

So that when our earthly journey ultimately comes to an end – which it will for each and every one of us – we can close our eyes in gratitude and in hope that we have lived a faithful life abounding in grace. [Pause]

In the past two weeks I have had the privilege of officiating at two ash dispensations at Mākena Landing. In both cases, after the ashes were released, and as the remnants of the pu’olo and pua are floating into the sea, I was again reminded of just how transitory life is AND that you can’t take anything with you.

From dust we have come and to dust we shall return. But during the time that we are given, how will we live? By filling our barns with self or God?

The invitation – indeed the challenge is to live fully today which means sharing what we have with glad and generous hearts. That is what will bring us peace now and, in the realm, to come.


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