Barns and Bigger Barns
It’s amazing to
me that I have been a preacher for many years now, and have never
preached a focused sermon on this specific text.
In the past, when I approached this Bible passage for today
about barns and bigger barns, I jumped off onto the bigger topic
called “money” or Luke’s understanding of wealth and didn’t
stay focused within the Biblical story for the day.
That is a goal of mine today; to stay focused within the
Gospel story itself; within those eight Bible verses from Luke 12:
13-21 which were read as today’s Gospel. ....
It’s kind of like milking a cow in the old fashioned way.
Today, I want to stay in one stall with one cow and milk
those udders, those specific verses.
My temptation is to go to the cow on either side and milk
those other cows, rather than the Bible verses designated for today.
So we begin this
sermon for today with conversation about inheritance.
Who gets what after death?
Death is painful, but often a delicate issue surrounding
death is where the money goes and who gets the goods.
It’s the issue of inheritance.
So, to avoid
conflicts, we make our wills, planning that the money and property
goes to the right people, trying to avoid conflicts.
So we also make our lists:
going from room to room, putting names on specific lamps or
pictures as to who gets what from each of the rooms in the house.
For example, mothers go through the whole house, marking the names
of specific children and grandchildren on specific items.
We make our wills and we make our lists.
We don’t want any conflicts or confusions. Death brings out
enough tension as it is, so we plan for who gets what.
These are often
delicate times. Why? Often
Grandpa Greed, an old, old sin, often slips out so quietly.
Noses get bent out of shape so easily.
There are jealousies, irritations, keeping score of who is
getting what. These are
delicate moments, ripe for family conflict.
Old conflicts and old jealousies and old tapes are easily
aroused. Old wounds get reopened.
Grandpa Greed and “keeping score” are present.
For example, when
my Mom died, there wasn’t any money left.
Their savings had been gobbled up by the high costs of living
in a nursing home/retirement home.
It was a little estate.
But there were those special items left in her apartment.
So there we were one day; the whole family in Mom’s
apartment; going around the circle, each person getting a choice,
beginning with the oldest and working on down.
Mom had already designated something, not many:
a grand daughter-in-law, not even one of her own
granddaughters was to get her china, and that caused a little
unspoken tension, but we handled it; Yes, some of us children
thought it should go to granddaughter, but we could live with it. Yes, we kept track of who got Mother’s diamond ring and how
much that was worth. Yes,
we watched. Yes, we
counted. Yes, we calculated. It
all went well, and only a few times was their tension, but we all
are aware from our own history or other people’s stories that the
dispersement of an inheritance has potential for conflict.
It brings out all kinds of greed in us.
And then there are
big estates, worth a million. So
a father dies and leaves a family farm, a family business, and a
family house to three kids. They each have a third, but one of the three kids wants his
money out. The other
two don’t want to sell; the timing isn’t right, but the third
kid insists. He wants his money now. You got to sell the family farm, the
family business, the old family home...now.
The result? Conflict.
It’s with these
images about tensions with inheritance that we approach the gospel
lesson for today. A
man comes up to Jesus, the famous rabbi, and asks:
“Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with
tapes. A simple line
states, “Tell my
brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Let’s read between the lines and draw some conclusions.
So…we know the man’s father has died.
Right? It probably had been a time of sadness and sorrow.
So, there are two
boys in the family. Right?
He doesn’t say brothers, plural,
“tell my brothers to divide the inheritance with me”.
Simply, brother. One brother. Tell
my brother. So we know that there are two boys now men.
So, Jewish law
dictated that the oldest boy received a double portion of the
inheritance, and the other brother a single portion.
So, reading between the lines, the oldest boy got two thirds;
the youngest got one third. The younger got half as much as the older.
Maybe there is jealousy, resentment.
So, the oldest son
has control of the property. “Jesus, tell my brother what to
do.” This means that
the oldest son can do what he wants.
People usually resent it when someone else has control of
what you feel is yours.
So, the youngest
has asked the oldest for his portion of the inheritance, before.
They have had this conversation perhaps more than one time.
So, you can tell
that the youngest brother is frustrated with his older brother; he
is trying to put pressure on him.
There is tension in the air; tension between them. Right?
Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.
So, for some
reason, the older brother is resistant to dividing the inheritance
at this time. Maybe he
can’t afford to buy his younger brother out; maybe he is afraid
his younger brother will take the inheritance and waste it. For some reason, the oldest brother is resistant to dividing
the inheritance. Right?
So, the youngest
brother must have believed that Jesus would support his position or
he wouldn’t have asked Jesus to be involved.
So, from this
simple line, “Jesus,
tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” we can make
several deductions about their relationship.
So, what does Jesus
do? There are many
people who approach Jesus for many things during his life, and his
response is what is called a “teachable moment.”
This is a teachable moment, so what does Jesus say to the
man? Jesus had this
uncanny ability to read people’s hearts and understand their
hidden motives behind their questions, and this is a teachable
moment in his life. Jesus
knows your heart just as well; God in Christ is able to read your
heart better than any other. God
knows the insides of your heart, the insides of your motives better
than you do. And Jesus
knew the inside motives of this young brother as well.
Jesus, knowing the
heart of this young brother, said to him:
Be careful, be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for
a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
I’ll tell you a parable, a story:
a rich man had really good land and it produced abundantly,
so much so the rich man didn’t know what to do.
What a nice problem to have.
He thought to himself: “Why,
I will tear down my old barns and build bigger ones, so I have a
place to store all my grain and all my goods and all my toys.” So
he did. And he said to himself: “Soul, you have plenty of grain and goods laid up for many
years to come. Sweet
deal. Take it easy. Eat, drink and enjoy.”
But God said to him: “Fool,
tonight your soul will be required of you, and then what will happen
to all your grain and all your goods?”
So it is with anyone who stores up riches for himself but is
not rich towards God.
So what is the
issue here? What was
Jesus trying to communicate to the young man who wanted his part of
his inheritance now? What
did Jesus know about his heart?
What was he saying to the young man’s heart?
It seems to be, by
reading between the lines of Jesus’ advice to the young man; we
discover that he made three mistakes with money.
People make mistakes with money all the time.
Mistakes like they get too far in debt with credit cards.
Mistakes like they spend more than they earn. Mistakes like
they don’t know how to save.
But if you read Jesus’ answer, between the lines, you
discover three mistakes with money that this man made, mistakes that
you and I also make so easily.
So what are these three mistakes he made with money and you
and I often make with money.
The first mistake:
the purpose of money is to buy a life of “eat, drink and be
merry.” By what Jesus said to him, you have the feeling that when
he received his money, he was going to use it to eat, drink, and be
merry. Maybe that is why the oldest brother wasn’t going to give
him his part of the estate. The
young man is similar to the other parable about an inheritance, the
prodigal son, where the younger son took his part of the inheritance
and wasted it all, simply using it to eat, drink and be merry.
Please complete the
following statement for me. You
will be able to do this. This
is a common quotation within our culture.
“Eat, drink and be merry, for … tomorrow you die.”
Yes, you all know it. Eat,
drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.
We all know it well.
It is part of our American philosophy of life.
It is one of our options for living.
This philosophy has been woven into human history from the
beginning and is still present today.
It is called, “hedonism” or Epicureanism.
Live for today. There
is no tomorrow. Enjoy
yourself today. There
is no tomorrow. There is no God.
Don’t worry. Be happy. Don’t
worry about others. Don’t
worry about commitments. Live
life pleasure fully today. It’s
a deeply imbedded philosophy of living, present at the time of Jesus
and is here in America and throughout the world today.
Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.
Now, that line,
“eat, drink and be merry,” has a totally different sound to it,
if you say it with smiling and happily tones such as:
“Eat, drink and be merry.”
But God said in darker tones:
“You fool, tonight your soul will be required of you.”
Now, there is a different mood to this sentence.
A different feel. A
different sound. It
suggests: there is a God; there is a judgment by God:
there is an insane material madness. There is accountability;
that to simply eat, drink and be merry is a dangerous way to live
today if you are to meet God face to face later on tonight.
It is a dangerous way to live if you believe that you may
meet God immediately when you die. God doesn’t seem to be too happy with this “eat, drink
and be merry” philosophy. Foolish is this philosophy that
encourages us to “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
Now, why is this
foolish? Why is it
foolish to live like this? Why
is it foolish to simply use money to eat, drink and be merry?
I would like you to answer the following question for me:
“Why is it foolish, to primarily live for oneself and
Answers from the
congregation? l) Develops narcissism; self-centeredness.
2) Lose your soul 3) Lose capacity to love
4) Destroy your family 5)
Ruin your kids 6) Have a life with no great purpose other than pleasure
7) Never accomplish anything for the human race?
(People in the congregation had relevant answers very
And this temptation
is real for all of us today. Eat,
drink and be merry. Have
a good time today. Life
is short. Enjoy it to the fullest.
The primary purpose of my life is the pursuit of my
pleasures. It is in all
of our advertising; it is in all of our movies and TV; it totally
saturates our culture. The
primary purpose of life is the pursuit of my pleasures.
It is tough being a committed Christian in today’s
hedonistic culture. And so Jesus says so clearly to us: be on guard, be careful about all kinds of greed, for life
does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
Mistake #1 of the
young man: the purpose of money is to provide resources for him, for us,
to fulfill a philosophy of life called “hedonism,” eat, drink
and be merry, for tomorrow you die.
A second mistake of
the young man was this: accumulation
of things equals happiness. The
more you have, the happier you are.
When Jesus said, “life does not consist in the abundance of
possessions,” you had the feeling that this man saw the purpose of
money was to accumulate possessions for himself, as a way of finding
happiness. It is a common mistake, back then and today.
The purpose of money is the accumulation of possessions that
will bring me greater happiness.
Please complete the
following sentence with one word.
You know this sentence well; it is part of American culture
and American bumper stickers: Whoever
dies with the most toys....”wins.” Yes, we all know it. Whoever
dies with the most toys, wins.
Whoever dies with the most trips, wins.
Whoever dies with the most wealth, wins.
Yet, we all know
that it is not true. Way down deep inside, we are all keenly aware
that the most valuable things in life are invisible.
They are not trinkets or money or tangible things.
My mom died; she
didn’t have any toys; but she was the richest person I knew and it
had nothing to do with money. She
didn’t leave me any of her money, her jewelry, her books, and her
fur coat. What material
do I have from her? I
have her letter opener, which I treasure every time I open a letter,
and I have her big old calculator that she used to balance her
checking account. But
do I have an inheritance from my mother, an intangible, non-material
inheritance? Yes, you
better believe it. I didn’t get any toys buy I got the best
substance possible from her. I have her love in me, her zest for life, her delight
in living, her divine spirituality, her understanding of all true
religion as being defined in love, her tolerance for other points of
view, her values, her work ethic, her drive.
I got all the good stuff; I didn’t get any toys.
The best things in life are not material; they are not
tangible; they are not physical toys; but they are spiritual and
emotional and invisible. You
know that and so do I. Jesus
said it simply: “A
person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I love the
following quotation from Danker’s book, Jesus
and the New Age, on this text:
“In 1923, a group of the world’s most successful men met
at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago.
Assembled there were: the
president of the largest steel corporation in America; the greatest
wheat speculator; a man who was to be president of the New York
Stock Exchange; a member of the President’s cabinet; the canniest
investor on Wall Street; a future director of the World Bank for
International Settlements; and the head of the world’s largest
monopoly. A few years
later, this was their fate: Charles
Schwab died in debt; Arthur Cutten died abroad in obscurity; Richard
Whitney did time in Sing Sing prison and was blotted out of Who’s
Who; Albert Fall was pardoned from prison in order than he could die
at home; Jesse Livermore, Leon Fraser and Ivar Kreuger, the match
king, all committed suicide. ....
All of these people learned how to make money; none of them
learned how to live. All
the bulls became lambs, and Schwab’s bleating in 1930 was the most
pitiful of all: “I’m
afraid; every man is afraid. I
don’t know, we don’t know, whether the values we have are going
to be real next month or not.”
At the peak of
these men’s lives, they were on the top of the hill in American
life. They knew how to
make a living, but they didn’t now how to live.
None of them were very happy.
I suspect that
Jesus would have said to these men the same thing that he said to
the young man: “Be careful, keep your guard up against all kinds
of greed, for life does not consist in the accumulation of
Mistake with money
number two: whoever dies with the most toys and most trips wins. That’s
false. It was a
common mistake then and a common mistake with money today.
And what was the
third mistake with money that Jesus found in the young man’s
heart? Financial wealth
gives you security for the future, gives you a sense of false
security for the future. In his parable for the young man, Jesus
said: “The rich
farmer had a great year with a bumper crop, and so he had barns and
bigger barns, saying to himself:
‘I have stored up many goods for years to come.
How sweet. How
secure I am.’”
It is a very subtle
thing, but many people find security in their financial nest eggs.
The retirement programs, the investments, the IRAs, the
401ks, the 403bs, etc. They
think to themselves, “I have it all set up for years to come,”
and whoosh, they die tonight. Again and again in the Bible, God warns us not to find our
security in money, wealth and bank accounts.
In the very next Bible verses for today, right after the
barns and bigger barns, Jesus says:
“Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.
The birds sing their songs; they don’t fret and worry about
their financial security. And
the lilies of the field: they
don’t fret and worry about what they are going to wear.
And if God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies
of the field, won’t God take care of you, o people of little
faith?” Don’t put your trust in your financial nest eggs, in money,
in bank accounts.
Of course, we have
our retirement programs, our IRAs, our 40lks and 403bs, but when you
die, what good do they do you as you prepare to live for all
eternity? They make no
down payment on eternal life at all. The rich man in the parable for
today; he had a big IRA, a big retirement; he thought he was set for
years to come; but he died that night.
The biggest IRA in the world gives you no security at all
beyond the grave, and that is the biggest issue of our life.
The biggest issue facing your life and mine is what happens
to us when we die, and no IRA or 401K makes one shred of difference
about your eternal future.
Yes, by reading
this story of Jesus carefully and reading the specific advice that
Jesus gave to him, you sense that Jesus felt the young man was
making three mistakes with money:
Mistake one: the
purpose of money is to make it easy to eat, drink and be merry. Mistake two: whoever
dies with the most toys and trips wins.
Mistake three: financial
wealth gives you security for the future.
Like many people, the young man didn’t know how to handle
money and so money handled him.
He didn’t know how to control money, so money controlled
him. Like many of
people, he didn’t know that money could be the central controlling
influence in his life.
That’s what I
think the Bible story for today is all about.