We are in the second week of our worship series, A Wonder-Full Life. Have you been looking around at your life trying to see the wonder? We have had the opportunity to see the stark beauty of the cold and snow with some brilliant blue skies. We have had the opportunity to turn to others for help, love, and support when we were scared. We have had the opportunity to share in the celebration of joy that we are still able to take in oxygen and share a smile with our friends. I have found that I am not the only one who feels a special connection with their furry companions. Animals of all kinds are a wonder aren’t they? Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a little squabble between some bald and golden eagles. (No animals were injured in the squabble.)
Part of what we are doing with this series is noticing the wonder that already exists in our lives, things that we may not think about on a regular basis because we are so used to it being around that we have become blind to it.
Last week, we looked back. We looked at what in our history might have had an effect on how we interact with the world especially when it comes to money. We used characters from the film It’s a Wonderful Life to illustrate different categories and types. If you wanted to look at them more, the list with descriptions on are the table at the back of the Sanctuary.
This week, we are looking in. We are looking at our attitudes. How those attitudes affect what we are doing right now. How are we living out our faith. Again, we are using the movie It’s a Wonderful Life to jumpstart us.
But first, we will be looking at our Scripture passage out of the Gospel of Luke. A young man from the crowd asks Jesus to tell his brother to split his inheritance with him. At that time the oldest son would get a double portion of what the other brothers received. Jesus responds that he is not getting in the middle of this family dispute, but then he tells this parable known as “The Rich Fool.” It is in Luke 12:6-21.
Hear the Word of the Lord:
6 And [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The first question you might ask when hearing or reading this parable: Why is this man called a fool? At first glance, he may simply appear prudent. He’s had a windfall. He wants to save it and live a comfortable retirement. What’s wrong with that? It sounds ideal in many ways.
He doesn’t appear to have done anything wicked. The fact that he has wealth is not a problem. He didn’t gain it by stealing or taking advantage of others. And yet, he can’t seem to stop talking about himself in the midst of this. “What shall I do? … This is what I’ll, do. I will tear down my barns … I will store all my grain …” We see all of these first person pronouns. We see no gratitude towards God. He is worshiping one of the most popular gods, which some call the “Unholy Trinity,” me, myself, and I.
This leads to another problem. He is not foolish because he wants to save for his future. He is foolish because he thinks that his new found wealth can secure his future. “And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'”
He has not considered the fact that his life is not his own, and God can retrieve it at any time. That can be both a scary and a comforting thought at the same time. Comforting because it is something outside of our control, so really we don’t need to worry about it … but we do. That’s what makes it scary. Maybe the scary part is not the dying but that we will outlive our savings. So much more reason for building bigger barns, right?
Because of the fear of the future that society has trained us to have, we are told over and over again that we must make provision. We must save. We must be prepared, but in the end, no matter how financially prepared we are, we will leave this life. Then, the treasures stored in heaven, as Jesus mentions in Matthew 6, will be more important. It is what is referred to in today’s Scripture as richness towards God. It is the intangibles that many would say makes life worth living. Can material possessions make us more comfortable? Yes. Can they give us the confidence that we are worthy of love and honor and in right relationship with God and neighbor? Can they provide us with the joy we seek? No.
In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is given the opportunity to find out whether he has had a rich life. Before he experiences this, he thinks his life is worthless. He goes on to find out that even the difficult and painful parts of his life has made a tremendously positive impact on the people around him and his community. His guardian angel, Clarence tells him:
You’ve been given a great gift, George: a chance to see what the world would be like without you. … Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
For a short time George is given the opportunity to escape the life in which he feels trapped. I remember when I was in a very difficult job in a hospital business office. The corporate office was asking, no commanding, me to do things that I thought were not right. They weren’t illegal, but they just didn’t seem right. I was not happy there, but I didn’t feel like I had any options. One day though, I gave myself what I later termed a “safety valve.” I gave myself permission to quit my job if it got to the point where I didn’t think that I could do it anymore. It gave me the freedom of not having to worry about it every day. I didn’t have to panic about looking for another job at the moment. The interesting thing was that once I gave myself this safety valve, I found that I could endure the unpleasantness much longer.
As we look in at ourselves we can give ourselves a safety valve by considering how we would be living now if we knew that Jesus would be coming to see us tomorrow, like the man in the parable. It’s kind of the reverse of what George Bailey did, but it has its similarities too. It also reminds me of a couple of weeks ago, when I asked you to consider something else. How would you feel when watching TV, reading, working on a hobby, whatever, if Jesus came and sat down next to you. “What are you reading?” He’d ask. “Oh, a Jackie Collins novel.”
What are our priorities? Are we building bigger barns, or are we rich towards God?
Perspective. As I was thinking about all of this a country song from 2004 came to mind, “Live Like You Were Dying,” sung by Tim McGraw. You know there are people and their loved ones in this room that are dealing with serious medical issues, and this is a serious thing. It also gets a person thinking about what’s really important in life. It’s less about building bigger barns, and it more about what we would call richness towards God.
If you want to know about richness towards God, these lyrics are a good start:
“I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying” …
“I was finally the husband
That most of the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have
And all of a sudden going fishin’
Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again”
So, I don’t know about the bull riding part. But, would you be living differently if you lived like it could end tonight?
Of course, Jesus can be talking to us individually on a personal level. He could be answering the man’s question about his inheritance by effectively saying, “You are worried or concerned about the wrong things.” Yet, I’ve never known Jesus to limit himself to one level of meaning in any of his teachings. As he was talking to this man, he was also talking about the nation of Israel hoarding the riches of what they saw as their exclusive relationship with God. After all they saw themselves as special to God and expected to be restored to a self-governing powerful nation. What they were looking for in a Messiah was one who would shove the Romans out and preserve their special relationship with God. Jesus says, No, the point is not to make “bigger barns” to preserve and store up, but break open those barns, so everyone has a chance at this special relationship. I’m going to change the Roman Empire from the inside out just like I transform a person. If you look at history, that’s exactly what happened. It took hundreds of years, but that’s what happened. They were changed from the inside out. Then, over the centuries, the church became hoarders of the relationship with God too.
So, what if we expanded this to the church today? I could mean the whole worldwide church, but let us talk about our little outpost here on the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness for a moment. What if this church was no longer here? Would anyone notice? What are we doing for our community that demonstrates a life rich towards God? The truth is that we do many things. We are a beacon in our community starting with the ringing of the bell on Sunday mornings. It reminds people that we are here, and for some it helps them to remember God even if it is just for a moment. We help people with food ministries be they collecting for the Food Bank, the Magic Garden, the Blessing Box, or as a food distribution point for Fresh Alliance. We host meetings that help people dealing with alcoholism. That’s just for a start. These things help individual people every day. Did you know that your support of this church helps people every single day. We often don’t see them face to face, but their lives are better because of what this church is doing, and if we stopped doing it, it would be missed.
We do have impact in our community, but there is so much more that we can do. I’m not talking about anything that will take a lot more time or money. Many of us are at our limit. As I have been known to say, “There are only 24 hours a day, and we have to sleep for 8 of them.” It has more to do with attitude. We shouldn’t be hoarding it all in here or hide in these buildings, as helpful and great as they are. We need to meet our neighbors as friends and lovers of God and share what we have learned by living it out.
When I worked in healthcare, both in the home health field and at a hospital, we had something called Quality Assurance. It is a part of many industries, businesses, and non-profits. With Quality Assurance or QA, procedures, processes, and paperwork were constantly reviewed to make sure that we were doing the right things in the right way for the best care for the patient … And so we wouldn’t be fined by Medicare or fail an accreditation inspection.
But over time QA changed into Continuous Quality Improvement, and it was better for the organization and for patient care. This is because it didn’t say that anyone was necessarily doing anything wrong, but perhaps there was a way for it to be done better. And, that is the kind of thing that I am suggesting for our church. What we have is good. How can we connect with people, show God’s love to the community, make disciples better.
We do many things well. As I said before, we help lots of people both here locally, around the country, and around the world (though it’s mostly here). I talked about just a few of the things we do a little earlier. If I listed them all right now, we’d be here all day. All of that is good, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve. We could engage with the members of our community better. There are so many people that need the love or riches of God that we could share.
Let’s make sure that we are not just building bigger barns. Let’s be creative about sharing the love of God. In churchy language, this is called outreach, reaching out to encounter the people who may need the love of God … No, wait. May need? Is there anyone who does not need the love of God in their lives (even if they don’t realize it yet). Reaching out to encounter the people who need the love of God in their lives. We can help them find the wonder as we get to experience new wonder in our own lives.
Thanks be to God!