by Ken Dale
While I serving as pastor in the small town of Carmel, just outside of Bangor, our church was selected for support to help us move forward. We were contacted through the Maine Conference UCC by a small church in Mass. that had an unexpected, unusual but wonderful dilemma. It was asmall church with a mostly elderly congregation. Someone died and left them a few million dollars. Sudden change from the reality of pinching pennies to get by to how can we spend the money this is going to generate in our life?together. They got creative ? and they did some incredible mission work reaching out to other, even out of state small churches like theirs, to help them move forward. They did some very creative ministry work with music education and created a supportive network for people living with AIDS. The number of their staff increased and the pastor?s package experienced a wonderful increase. And they did some creative work with their building, addressing accessibility issues and even literally turned the sanctuary?around so that everything faced in a different direction. There was quite a?bit of contentment in the church!
Contentment ? that?s a great word and a wonderful feeling. Summer is a time when many of us know contentment. Maybe on the beach, after a wonderful meal ? perhaps a cookout ? surrounded by family and/or friends, relaxed, content, maybe on a long awaited trip. Maybe it?s that wonderful summer experience of not having so many meetings. Or maybe it?s the feeling we get knowing how well the ol? IRA portfolio is looking, or?investments, or that nice low number on the golf scorecard ? how many below?par? Is it that sense of pride that comes when your children have been spoken of in such a way that you feel like an A+ parent ? or maybe the doctor tells you your weight is just right or even just below the average for a person your age and height (I wonder if that?s ever really happened?).
All of that means we?ve done a good job with life ? there?s a good fence around our lives ? full barns, fat retirement account, happy family ? all assurance against life?s ups and downs. That inner voice is saying ?Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, and be merry.?
The man in our parable this morning is sitting pretty ? he must be content. He must have aquired his goods through just means ? no word of criminal activity or even greed. At varying levels of course, we should not have too much trouble finding ourselves in this parable ? though we might be a bit uncomfortable if we do. This man is not Donald Trump type wealth.?Our abundance of possessions ? again at varying levels, is so subtle and culturally acceptable that it goes largely unnoticed. Just out of curiosity I poked around the internet ? 2005 figures revealed that half of the world ? over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day and 80% of humanity less than $10.00 a day. A 2010 UN website 20% world?s population (1.2 billion people) live on less than a dollar a day.
?I?m not here to make us feel guilty about how and where we live. But our well-fed, sedentary, affluent lifestyle too easily can lead us away from being rich toward God which the lessons point us to today. Let?s look at the man in the parable. There is no dialog in the story. The man talks, but he only talks with himself and his problem is then solved by his own self- satisfied action. He fails to see the blessing that has been bestowed upon him?? this miracle of wealth upon wealth ? no chance of it somehow being connected with God. He converses only with himself and he has no responsibility to God.
The catch comes in verse 20 when another voice breaks in. BUT GOD SAID? There is a new voice that intrudes upon his contentment and it is not a voice that judges but rather just reminds him of the limits of life. And God says to him, YOU FOOL! Just imagine! You finally hear God speak?directly, and God says, YOU FOOL.?? YOU FOOL, TONIGHT YOUR LFIE IS BEING DEMANDED OF YOU. Here is a man who has been blessed by God with a barn bursting harvest ? a gift, a blessing. But the blessing becomes a burden, a problem and it poses a question of management. Verse 17: ?What?should I do? ?I have no place to keep all this. I will tear down these old barns and I will store my grain and my goods in my new bigger and better barns. Then I will say to my soul, RELAX, YOU HAVE AMPLE GOODS LAID UP FOR MANY YEARS: EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY.
It has been pointed out that in the Greek it says, ?Fool! This very night they shall demand your life.? Who is ?they?? ?They? are the things. The story closes with the question ?And whose will they (the things) be?? He thought the things were his problem, his opportunity, his insurance for the future, all for him to manage. But the surprise that comes is that he was the?thing to manage as they pleased. He thought he had so many things, but as it turns out, he discovered that his things had him. And all that still- speaking God does is state the facts ? can?t you hear Jack Webb? ?Just the facts, just the facts mam.? God doesn?t punish ? the reality is the punishment.
?This man fails to understand his blessing as coming from God and fails to be in touch with God when it comes to managing that blessing. In all his self-centeredness he sees it as an opportunity to sit back, relax ? eat, drink, and be merry. And what he does is check out of life. Then comes the voice of God ? this night your life is required of you ? maybe the next question would be ?what do you have to offer?? The answer doesn?t begin with ?Let me take you out to the barn and show you what I?ve got??
Scripture is consistent in the theme that we are given to so that we might give to others; we are blessed so that we might be a blessing; we are loved so that we might love; we are reconciled so that we might reconcile; we are forgiven so that we might forgive. The problem with greed and accumulation is that rich fools ? then and now ? forget that blessings are intended to be used to bless others.
Our lesson from Colossians reminds us that we have been raised with Christ ? seek the things that are above — we are to set our minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are of earth. And the wonderful thing is that yes ? you can take it with you. How can I not repeat that great line from George Carlin ? ?I?ve never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it.? Our lesson from Colossians this morning warns us of those earthly things ? but if we were to keep reading in verse 12 and on if we are not managed by our possessions then we are free to live with ?compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another as we have been forgiven by God ? and above all clothing ourselves with love and letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. All actions of life for the benefit of another. These were lacking in the reality of that greatly blessed man who only conversed with himself. What did he have in the end? What was called for was what he was, who he was ? it called for his life. Those gifts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience ? they cannot be purchased ? they are the things of who we are. And again ? I bet we can take them when we go ? you a U-Haul is not needed.
I love it when someone says ?If I ever won the lottery, I would?..? The question is what are you and I doing now? What are you and I ?doing with?life now? What are we doing with the persons we are now ? how are we managing the blessings of material and spiritual gifts that we already have and are? Waiting for a better tomorrow we miss the opportunities we have today. It IS a FAITH question. If that voice of God called to us tonight ? how would we respond?