13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from our incarnate God revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t think of a good way to start this sermon. So let me begin with three short statements that hopefully connect.
Number 1. About 8 years ago, when I was buying Lauren’s engagement ring, as I was talking with the clerk at the counter and looking at different diamonds and considering what I wanted to spend, she said to me, “Well, this can always be just a starter ring. In 5 or 10 years, you can upgrade and get a bigger one!”
Number 2. This past week on NPR, they interviewed a real estate agent who was wildly successful just before the housing market crashed. Basically, she said she always encouraged her clients to use their equity to upgrade their home. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, she said. That was the goal people had for their homes.
Finally, number 3. According to the internet, which never lies, at best, it is going to cost $210,000. At worst, somewhere around $500,000. That is the price tag that will be dangling off the college application forms for my son Elliot in 17 years. And that…is so depressing. That’s basically my entire paycheck for the next 17 years. Oh yeah, and then there is that thing called retirement.
I mention all of this because in our gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who needs a bigger barn for all of his stuff and sometimes I think our culture is all about bigger barns. If you don’t have a barn, then you need one. If you have a barn, then you need a bigger one. If you really love your fiancé, you’ll buy her a big ol’ diamond ring, or at least you’ll buy her a bigger one down the road, since this one is so pathetic. And make sure you are always looking to upgrade your house because bigger is better. And you better have a big barn to store away all of that money you’ll need for college and retirement too.
We like stuff in our culture. Stuff equals status. If you don’t believe me, just go home and watch tv for 5 minutes and the commercials will tell you. They will tell you what kind of stuff you need in order to fix the problem you have. You need minty fresh mouthwash for that disgusting breath of yours. You need a workout machine for your flabby body. You need the right kind of shoes to make sure you’re cool for school. Our cultures loves to tell us when our barns are too small, too old, too out of style, and to tell us when to tear them down and build up a bigger barn for all our stuff. What can I say, we like big barns and we cannot lie.
While all of this often looks like selfishness and greed, the truth is that it isn’t all that. It is that we are just trying to make meaning out of our life. It is in us to want to make meaning in this life. To be able to look around at this world and understand it and to feel like we have purpose in it. And sometimes the only way to see that is to have something tangible that we can touch with our hands. All of our stuff, that is. But let’s be honest, our tendency is to go overboard. And when we do this, we begin to think that our value as a person rests in all of the stuff we have or don’t have.
All of this is to say that I understand the guy in the parable. I think we all do. We know the need to store up and save, the need to upgrade. It is not hard to start to believe that the point of life is the one with the most toys at the end wins, right? I mean this guy has achieved what everyone is striving for, a place in life where we can sit back, relax, eat, drink and be merry.
And did you notice who helped him achieve all that he has? No one. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ This guy is a self-made man. He has done it all on his own. He has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and did whatever he set his mind to.
But then God calls this guy a fool. And to be honest, we’re not all that surprised. Most of us have learned or will learn that material things are only things. In the end, they don’t really matter. I mean, when life has beaten us up and we lay awake at night because of any number of fears, its not as if our stuff is what comforts us. When a friend has died, none of us go into our living room and hug our flat screen tv to soothe us. When our house is in foreclosure it’s not like a new haircut is really going to make us feel better. And as we all know, it is not like we can bring our possessions with us when we die, right?
So what is it then? If storing up treasures in this life is not what matters, then what does matter? According to Jesus, being rich toward God is what matters. But what does that mean? I mean, seriously, when I hear “being rich towards God” all that does is just send me down a whole other spiral of building bigger barns, only this time it is spiritual barns. It becomes the spiritual rat race of who prays more. Who has more faith. Who goes to church more, who has a stronger faith. It makes me think that I had better do, do, do, all of these Jesus-y things in my life in order to please God – you know to accumulate and store up all of these spiritual possessions, like a good Sunday School attendance record and a strong faith that never doubts and a good prayer life and to read the Bible all the time and know the perfect thing to say when someone is lying in a hospital bed suffering. And then all I can remember is that I totally botched the Lord’s Prayer last week at Monday’s worship. I complete forgot a line and then it threw everyone else off for a moment, and then you start thinking, “What kind of pastor are you? Who forgets the Lord’s prayer? You must not be a very good Christian.” And suddenly, I stop and I look around and I realize I must not have enough spiritual possessions and achievements. I don’t have a big enough spiritual barn.
Is that what it means to be rich towards God? Having enough spiritual possessions? Then I am afraid I will never have a big spiritual barn because I can hardly fill the one I got. Which makes me think, maybe that’s not what Jesus meant when he talked about being rich toward God.
I mean, if we can’t take our possessions with us, then who is to say we can take our spiritual possessions either? I mean, maybe when we come before God, we come with absolutely nothing. Maybe none of the stuff, good or bad, material or spiritual, that we store up here gets to come with us.
And maybe that’s the best news of this text. Not so much to be told that I am a fool for trying to find my value in all of my stuff. I already know that. But to be told that in the eyes of God, I come with nothing. Absolutely nothing. I don’t get to bring my big barns before God. I don’t get to bring all of my achievements. I don’t get to bring my gpa or my diplomas or my bank accounts or my big mansion or my nice car or my charming wit or my lusciously full beard. I don’t get to bring my trophies or awards or anything that says I am better than someone else. There is no showing off in heaven before God. But guess what. If I don’t get to bring that stuff, then maybe I don’t get to bring my faults or my failures either. Did you hear that list of things that the Apostle Paul called ‘earthly’ the reading from Collosians- fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. All those things are earthly, Paul says. Let’s just add a few on there – arrogance, pride, self-centeredness, hatred, insecurity. Anyone else been plagued by those things before? Yeah, me too. Well, guess what, if all of that is earthly, then when we stand before God, all of that dies and falls away. Our achievements and our failures. Everything is stripped away, Paul says, and we stand before God with absolutely nothing. And that is the greatest news because that means God looks at me and you with absolutely nothing in our hands and God says, “Yup. That’ll do.” To be rich before God, to have enough. In fact, to have more than enough…before God… is to come with absolutely nothing in your hands.
So friends, maybe, the way to life…real life…here and now, when you leave here this morning is to leave knowing and trusting that in the eyes of God you have nothing. And neither does the person in front of you or behind you or the people who aren’t even here. And yet God looks at each one of us with our naked and empty hands and God says, “You are enough.” You came into this world with nothing and you will leave this world with absolutely nothing and that is what it means to be rich towards God. Your nothing is enough for God to consider you the most valuable creature ever made. Thanks be to God. AMEN.