Faith United Methodist Church

August 27, 2017

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Luke 12:13-21


Prayer for Illumination: (Responsive)

Seek first the things of God.

We are created in God’s own image.

Set your minds on things above.

We are children of eternal life.

Clothe yourselves in this newness of life.

In Christ we have been born anew!


Sermon: How Much is Too Much?

How much is too much?  That’s a good question.  Do you ever look around your homes, your basements, your garages, at all the possessions that you have accumulated over the years, and wonder, where did all this stuff come from?   When Gary and I were packing to move last year we wondered how we could possibly have acquired so much stuff.  It seems to me that belongings have a way of multiplying on their own, almost as if we have no power to control it.  Do you know what I mean?  One day your closet is neatly arranged and organized and the next day it is overflowing with so much stuff that you can’t find anything.

It is a known fact that Americans have an abundance of things ~ more than any other country.  We could rattle off statistics to show how we compare with people in other parts of the world, but all you have to do is go to any mall or shopping center – Taft Corners would do – to see the masses of people whipping out their credit cards and toting their shopping bags.  Americans love to spend money and have nice things.  And in many ways we feel entitled to these things – like it’s somehow our birthright to have the newest car or the latest fashion.  But, as one comedian joked, “You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?”  Well, in true American spirit we have storage unit facilities popping up all over the place.  We pay a monthly fee to store the stuff we can’t fit in our houses. 

Yet we need turn no further than our Bibles to see that questions surrounding possessions are not new, and are surely not unique to Americans.  In the Gospel lesson we see Jesus teaching on the way to Jerusalem.  Suddenly a man from the crowd interrupted his teaching and called to Jesus, saying,  “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”  A classic case of sibling rivalry over Mom and Dad’s estate.  Apparently this man didn’t feel he was getting his fair share and thought Jesus could do something about it.  While Jesus may not have appreciated being pulled into a family squabble, he had just the parable to shed some light on the situation.

There was a farmer, Jesus told the crowd, who had an abundant crop.  In fact, his land yielded so well that he didn’t have enough room to store his harvest.  This turned into quite a dilemma for the man (a good problem to have, some might say).  He felt that he needed to keep every bit of that crop.  So he pulled down his small barns and built larger ones that would accommodate all that he had.  Standing back and surveying all that he done, he said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  Sounds pretty good to me. 

So what’s wrong with that? we might ask.  The man did well and prepared himself for retirement.  It actually sounds like the American success story.   We might even clap the farmer on the back and congratulate him saying, “You sure did good for yourself.”  (While secretly being a little envious of him.) But then, just when the farmer is feeling really good about himself, God gets involved.

Uh-ho!  Do we really want God getting involved when it comes to our finances, our possessions, our belongings?  I mean, Bible Study, our Spiritual lives, sure, we welcome God, but when it comes to our possession, our material worth, do we really want to hear what God has to say?

Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century, described sin as a curving in on one-self.  In Latin “incurvatus in se.”   The door to sin is open when we ignore God, stop turning to the neighbor, and focus solely on our own needs, wants and desires.  In this way ~ if we become too inward focused and judge ourselves by what we have ~ our possessions start to own us.   Instead of looking toward the horizon, the lens through which we view the world becomes “my needs, my problems, my desires, my pain, my things.”

To quote a prayer offered by Bart Simpson, “Dear God, we earned the money that bought the food – so thanks for nothing!”  When we become so invested in our earnings, our possessions, our achievements that we forget that God is truly the source and giver of all our blessings, our attachment to our stuff becomes toxic, our sense of ourselves becomes inward focused, and our relationship with God suffers.  This is what had happened to the farmer in the parable when God stepped in.

“You fool!” God began, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  God simply reminded the farmer of a well-known fact – you can’t take it with you.  When all you value of yourself is what you have, this is a scary thought.  In closing the parable, Jesus does not settle the man’s inheritance dispute with his brother, but instead reminds him of what is important in this life.  Referring to the parable, Jesus says, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Craig Satterlee, Lutheran Professor of Preaching, says, “When we attempt to find life by enslaving ourselves to our possession we wind up dead – not because God turns God’s back on us, but because we empty ourselves of all the real life that God gives.”  The sin of the farmer was not the abundance of the crop.  In fact, God had blessed him with a great harvest.  The sin was his attachment to it, the value he placed on it and his inability to recognize God’s hand in his blessing.  Patting himself on the back, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

We are not called to abandon our barns or to give away all our possessions.  Weare called to place our trust not in things, but in God.  When seeking safety we are not to look to our barns – our stock portfolios, the bottom line on our bank accounts, our overflowing storage units.  We are to turn to the only true protection we can know – trusting the treasure we have stored in heaven through God’s love… given, received, shared.

The questions that we started with:  “How much is too much?” turns out not to be the issue at all.  There is no figure, no equation, no formula to figure out what qualifies as too much.  That would be too easy.  The fact is that money itself is just another neutral thing – how we use it is the key.  So instead we might ask, Do we posses it, or does it posses us?

What I take from this passage is that we are called to make intentional decisions.  Decisions that take us beyond our wants and desires.  Decisions that recognize our ultimate treasure is in heaven.  Decisions that reach out and don’t curve in.  What would have happened if the farmer gave away his surplus crops?  I can imagine a party filled with love and gratitude as widows, orphans, the ill and those down on their luck came and shared in the farmer’s abundance.  Instead of self-satisfaction, the farmer’s last night could have been filled with joy.   Sometimes we need to let go of what we think we want in order to receive the true treasure of our heart.