Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon on 2/21--Barn Builder

The Barn Builder
13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness,[a] for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

The movie begins with two men, both ill with cancer, stuck in a hospital room together. One, a man named Carter and played by Morgan Freeman, is a gifted historian who has worked in a garage fixing cars his whole career. The other man named Edward, and played by Jack Nicolson, is a four-time divorced health care tycoon who is alone except for his personal assistant, who he never calls by name. At first, they begin by needling one another. But the two men eventually become friends.
One day, while sitting in bed, Carter scribbles out a list. He writes out a list of dreams. Being a man of limited resources, in the middle of writing out the list he throws it on the floor in disgust. He will never get to see his dreams realized. He will most likely be dead soon.
The ornery Edward picks up this piece of paper. On the top of the paper is the list entitled “bucket list”. Edward quizzes Carter about the list. Carter eventually reveals that the list in things that he would like to do before he “kicks the bucket”. Edward has the means to allow Carter to accomplish many of these goals.
The second part of the movie sees Carter and Edward jet setting around the world, doing things like climbing the pyramids and skydiving. Edward has a few wishes. But really he is typical of many Jack Nicolson characters of late, a man who has all he needs except right relationships with friends and family. Carter’s friendship subtly becomes a big part of Edward’s bucket list. This is unknown to both of them.
Finally, when Carter is faced with temptation to cheat on his wife, he realizes that what he really wants is to be home with his friends and family. They both fly back to California.
It is then that we learn the truth about Edward. He has jets that can fly him around the world, but he cannot find a way to make it through his daughter’s front door, and has never met his granddaughter. He has built homes and barns if you will, but the deepest desires of his heart are unmet. He is alone without friends and unable to relate to his family. Although he has every worldly pleasure at his fingertips, he is utterly miserable.
He is, like the man who yelled at Jesus demanding justice on an inheritance or the man that built all sorts of barns, focused on wealth and power instead of being in right relationship with those he values, loves and misses.
The Bible says that there was this man in the crowd that wanted Jesus to adjudicate a conflict between him and his brother. Well, not so much be a judge between them and rule in his favor against his brother. In effect the brother cried out, “My brother is the executor of my parent’s estate. He is not dividing the wealth quickly. Could you make my brother give me my share of my inheritance and do it now”.
This kind of request was not unheard of for a teacher. Teachers were often asked to arbitrate or mediate conflicts. Jesus did not like the request though.
You always hope things go well when a relative passes away, but that is not always the case. My mom gave me a call a few years back telling me that her grandmother, and my great-grandmother had passed away. We all felt the loss immediately. She was a wonderful woman. Then I got a call the next day. My aunt Mary was executor of the estate. She was running over to Grandma Pearl’s house early in the morning to replace the locks. Even as she went to do that, relatives had been puttering around the house looking for the jewelry they thought they were entitled to. In addition, they were measuring the furniture to see which pieces would fit in the house. Grandma Pearl wasn’t even off the morticians slab yet and they were hovering like vultures. Still makes me angry.
I wish this behavior was uncommon. It is not. As often as people come closer after the death of a loved one, they often pull further away. Fighting for their rights. Harboring grudges. Its sad really. Because in moments like that, more than anything, what we need to know is that we are not alone.
No wonder Jesus wanted no part of this dispute. He had more important things to tend to in his ministry. Besides, getting in the middle of a conflict like that makes as much sense as trying to arbitrate the politics in a clique of junior high girls. It is a no win situation.
Even though Jesus was not going to be a lawyer, he did have some words of wisdom for this anonymous man from Scripture. He told the man to beware of covetousness. Then he told him that life was about more than what you can possess. What you can own.
Then he told them a story. He said that there was this guy that a fertile farm. The farm produced fine crops. He had a bumper harvest. More than he could store even.
Now, in that day, there were several options at his disposal. And the thing that people generally liked to do was to visit with other folks in the village. Especially the elders. Because crops, as you know, notoriously vary from year to year. Maybe someone would have some barns to store the food in. Maybe there was someone in need. Maybe he could trade with someone who needed what he had.
This man had only himself to talk to. To Jesus and the Mediterranean mind at that time this is very sad. Only himself to talk to. No family. No friends. Just stuff.
So he decided that he is going to have bigger barns built. Then he is going to store all of his crop in the barns for years to come. He will live on easy street he says to himself. He will eat drink and be merry he tells himself. Alone. Just him and his stuff.
One of my favorite TV shows to watch is Hoarders, which is preceded by Intervention. Intervention is an hour long documentary each week about someone who is addicted to something, and how their families try and help them recover. Hoarders, my favorite of the two, is about people whose homes and yards are full of clutter because they cannot let go of stuff that they have.
They share one thing in common. Both shows document people who have gotten to a point in life where they have a chosen a thing or things as their primary source of relationship instead of persons or living beings. And even when they have living beings that they hoard (like cats and dogs), they don’t care for them as much as they own them and use them to meet their emotional “needs”.
In Intervention, when a person is in full-on addiction mode, they do not care about the persons around them at all. They just care about their fix. It does not matter who they have to lie to or manipulate, they are going to get their drugs. And it is only when they are confronted with how much they are hurting others and have a mirror held up to their emotional and spiritual lives that people acknowledge that they need help.

Hoarders has this relation to things in even clearer display. The people have piles upon piles of stuff that they are relating to because they are lonely. They lost a loved one, and so they keep everything that reminds them of it. They are having marital problems, and the things they buy at the thrift store meets emotional needs. Their kids leave home, and they hold on to everything. They keep things to entertain people with, but the things they hoard leads to the person pushing people further and further away. An old man has hundreds of old washing machines in the front yard because the scrap metal might mean that he can pay for his grandkids education. And the more they get into their stuff, the further they get away from those that they love. The more isolated they become from their communities. Many of these people are not rich. In our society, it doesn’t take much in the way of dumpster diving and garage sale purchases to fill your place with junk. And so the hoarders build their barns full of the things that make them think they will be happy, and feel emptier than ever.
So the farmer tears down his barns and builds new ones the Bible says. And he seems pleased with himself. And then that night, God comes to this rich farmer. He calls him a fool. He tells him that that night his life will end, and he will go into eternity. “What good will your wealth be now?” Jesus says, “Who is going to inherit all your crops and enjoy all you have earned?”
Jesus goes on to say, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God”.
The farmer put all his security in his stuff. Jesus says he has chosen poorly.
None of us here, to my knowledge, are rich. Most of us can still struggle in putting our security in things and stuff instead of investing in relationships with those God has put in our path. Most of us can place our security in stuff, and forget that our ultimate security should be in the Lord Almighty.
We want our kids and grandkids to be happy. So we buy them the name brand clothes that they want so that they will be liked by others. But there is always a new pair of shoes that are cooler, or a new pair of jeans that they must have.
We are not content with what we have been provided. So we put a new television or a new gun we want or that new outfit on the credit card. Then we end up out of work, wondering how to pay the bills. We think stuff can make us happy and satisfy our souls.
We can even live frugally, and spend years worried from month to month that we might not have enough to get by in a rainy day. And so we are miserly, and ungenerous toward everyone around us. Then we go into the nursing home and realize that everything we worked for is eaten up in about 6 months in medical cost and nursing home expenses.
Both the word “be merry” (or enjoy) and “fool” have the same root word. The root word has to do with the diaphragm. Be merry could be translated in a more literal way, “breathe easy”. The word fool speaks about having breathe taken away. He thought he could breathe easy, the word picture seems to say, but then he had his breathe taken away. Powerful stuff.
We hoard all sorts of things. We fill our barns of memories of the way it used to be and the way it should be today, and we get bitter and alone. We fill our lives with all sorts of noise on the television that makes us uncomfortable going out the door. We fill our lives full of activities so that we never have to slow down enough to actually relate to someone. We fill our lives running from experience to experience, sensation to sensation, one high to another, not wanting to miss out on anything, and in the process missing everything.
The greatest things in our lives are not the trucks we have in front of the house, the experience we had last night that we are too drunk to remember, the heirloom we have on our shelves, or the flat-screen television we see the world through. No, the greatest joys in our lives are the prayers of a child around a dinner table, a good hearty belly laugh at a well-spoken joke, a hug from someone we love, a sense of God’s presence even in the darkest hour.
The greatest things we have in our lives are not things at all. They are the people and the God we give our lives to. When we give away our time to our grandkids, and spend time truly listening to someone we love, we find we feel rich. When we experience the hope that God gives us when we least deserve it, the blessings that we receive when we give and don’t expect anything in return. That is when we find we have the treasures that everyone would want, but nobody can buy.

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