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Sermon: Ship of Fools

August 1, 2010

Luke 12:13-21

There is enough self storage space in this great nation of ours for each American man, woman and child to have four square feet.  One in every eleven households rents some type of self storage space, and nationally, the self storage industry makes more money than Hollywood.  All this even though since 1973, the average house size has increased and the average family size has decreased.  (Tom Vanderbilt, “Self Storage Nation,”, July 18, 2005.)  We’ve got a lot of stuff, and we don’t know where to put it.

We Americans are notorious consumers, and I imagine the rest of the world must be having a great laugh at our expense because I can’t stand the idea of throwing out that rusty bicycle or old bread machine still in its original packaging because someday I might want to get in shape and bake my own bread.  So I pay $40 each month for the privilege of storing them in a metal shed.  And the irony of it all is that I never even go visit my belongings.  They sit there alone and lonely, and I don’t even stop by to tell them a bedtime story now and then.

But the truth is that Americans did not invent the self storage dilemma.  Two thousand years ago, Jesus told a story about a man who didn’t have enough room to put all his stuff.  The man was a land owner and he ran his business so well that he didn’t have enough room to store his crops.  He had grain and figs and jars of olive oil spilling out of his old barn.  So the man said, “What should I do about this?”

If you were fortunate enough to be in this rich man’s shoes, there is a lot you could do about the situation.  You could sell off all the extra produce and use it to fund your 401k.  You could donate the extra to the poor in your city.  You could share it with your workers.  You could give it away in the form of gifts to your best friends.  I’m sure we could create a list with dozens of options.  The rich man, however, hit upon the same idea shared by millions of Americans.  “I just need a bigger barn.”

So he tore down the old barn and put up a brand new one, bigger and better than before.  The man put all his grain and all his goods in there, and then he realized that he had more food in there than he could eat in many years.  So he said to himself, “Why knock myself out?  I’ll relax, eat, drink and be merry.”  That is an enviable position to be in, and it was the result of a combination of hard work, good luck and foresight, wise planning for the future.

But there are some things in this life for which we cannot plan.  That night, God said to the rich man, “You are not wise, but you are indeed a fool.  Your time is up, and all these things you have stored away, who will get them?  And all your plans for the future, what will become of them?

*     *     *     *     *

I do not want to leave my children with the legacy of a storage space.  After I die, I do not want them to find the keys to a padlock on a 10-by-10 metal shed in which is all manner of junk.  It seems like a cruel thing for them in their grief (and I assume they’ll be sad when I go!) to have to sort through dusty old books and collections of bottle caps and vinyl records and half-finished airplane models.  “Why did Dad keep all of this?!”

Instead, I want them to sort through fond memories.  I want them to remember the times we went to the beach.  I want them to remember the times we cooked their favorite meals together.  And if there are a few possessions left for them to go through, I want them to smile when they see them—the baseball glove that I used when we played catch, the photograph of fishing on Lake Sabrina, the dried boutonniere I wore at their wedding.  That’s what I want.  But I find myself behaving much more like the rich man who built a bigger barn.  If you doubt me, stop by my office sometime.  It looks like I’m building a fort out of magazines I haven’t read, paperwork I haven’t completed, and unused Vacation Bible School supplies.

God said to the rich man, “You’re a fool.  Why do you bother with all this stuff?”  Jesus wrapped up the parable by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  Now I take that phrase “rich with God” as being about relationship, being in right relationship with our Creator.  And, of course, an important part of being in right relationship with God is being in right relationship with others.  One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.  One’s life consists in the abundance of rich relationships.

We didn’t build a bigger barn here at 6th and Grand, but we did go to some considerable time, effort and expense to refurbish the barn we have.  That we finally did it was prompted by the urgency of safety concerns.  We also did it to present a more welcoming, accessible and attractive “face” to the community.  But the life of a congregation does not consist in the size and beauty of its barn.  Our life as a people of faith is about relationships.  For us, that starts with our worship life, which is our primary way of beginning, building and sustaining our relationship to God and to one another.  This space helps that to happen.  It provides a mood for prayer and hearing the scripture.  It provides a place for rich music.  A single good anthem speaks better than a thousand sermons.  It provides a place for us to share our burdens and our joys as a family.

Beyond that, our job is to be in relationship with our neighbors, and through those relationships to share the love of God.  The relationships are more important than this barn.  That’s why, just a short time after completing the majority of work on the façade and putting in new carpet downstairs, we are inviting in up to 100 children from the community to share Vacation Bible School.  If it were about the building rather than the relationships, we’d have told the kids to go somewhere else.

Material things are not inconsequential.  God was the first materialist.  God has created all the stuff there is.  But more than that, God has shared the richness of life with us, and life is to be shared, not stuffed into barns or metal sheds.  Life is also short and uncertain.  Like the rich man in the parable, we do not know how many days we have left.  So the message of the gospel is throw a party and invite the neighbors—even the ones who own cats—share your time and your goods generously, but share laughter and love even more generously; build relationships, because those are the only things that will persist beyond your life in this world.

Jesus left us with the parable of the rich man and his bigger barn, but he also left us with the parable of his own body that he did not try to preserve to a ripe old age, but that he gave to the world, for the sake of the world, out of his great love for the world.  He gave it away.  He shared it out of a desire for a deep, rich relationship with each one of us.

And while the rich man’s food, stored carefully in his new, bigger barn, was eaten up by mice and rotted away after his death, the body of Jesus Christ  provides life-giving nourishment for us even today, and we take it only one small meal at a time, never stored up for a rainy day, but just a little bread and a little grape juice.  But it is enough.  It is more than enough.

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