They remind me a bit of doing children’s sermons, because Beck asks the kids a question, such as, “which is better, bigger or smaller?” and gets random kid answers in response. They are cute commercials, and I smiled when I first heard them.
But then it started to sink in.
The tag line ending each commercial is “It’s not complicated. Bigger is better.”
The quintessential American message.
Bigger is better.
Faster is better.
More is better.
All of advertising and marketing is designed to appeal to this theme – you don’t have what you need, but we do.
Enough is not enough.
Enough is not an option.
Bigger is better – faster is better - More is better.
It is in this context that we hear the story of the rich farmer in today’s gospel lesson.
And it seems like the farmer’s actions make perfect sense.
He has a larger-than-usual crop, and he decides to build new barns to store his newfound wealth.
He is saving towards a secure future, not blowing his windfall on luxuries.
A wise man – a good steward – what’s the problem?
Why is he called a fool?
The rich farmer is a fool because he believes his wealth secure his future.
He trusts his possessions to give him security. And his possessions are of no use to him when, that very night, his life is demanded of him. All his plans come to nothing.
It’s not that wealth is a bad thing.
It’s not that saving for retirement is a bad thing.
It’s just the place those good, useful things take in our lives that makes a difference.
A few weeks ago Sue preached about the story of Mary and Martha, and the One Thing that is necessary for our lives.
Jesus invited Martha to focus on One thing-her relationship with him.
Our lives tend to organize around One vital thing. If that one thing is our retirement savings, or our health, or our career, it may work for a while, but ultimately we will be disappointed. Because all those things are temporary. None of those things will give life the meaning and fullness which God intends for us.
But I think you all know this. I think we all know, in our hearts, that money can’t buy happiness and the meaning of life does not lie on our possessions. The challenge is to live according to what we know.
I was recently talking with a friend of mine about dieting, and she said, “I know just about all there is to know about food and nutrition and balance. I just don’t eat the way I know I should.” With all the easy, inexpensive options for delicious treats and quick food that surround us, it’s hard to eat the way we know we should.
It’s the same with money and possessions. We know that our money and possessions are not our One Necessary Thing. But it is hard to stay focused.
We live fast-paced, complicated lives, and there and hundreds – thousands – of products designed to help us out. To make us look better, feel better, save time, have fun, be at peace – the list goes on, and it is hard to block out the voices.
Preacher and seminary professor David Lose says this story is about living the good life. In his words:
What, then, does the good life consist of?
Read the rest of what Jesus says across the gospels and it becomes pretty clear: relationships -- relationships with each other and with God. And, as you inevitably discover while reading, these two can’t really be separated. Hence Jesus tells stories like the parable of the Good Samaritan that invite us to think more broadly about who we imagine being our neighbor, and he preaches sermons that extol caring for the poor, loving our enemies, and doing good for those in need.
The full life Jesus offers is a life centered in relationships with God and others. Which brings us to the farmer’s other pitfall - his self-centeredness.
When his land produces abundantly he says, to himself,
What should I do? I will do this: I will build larger barns, to store my grain and my goods. I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods.
The farmer does not seem to have any gratitude for the role of anyone else in his newfound wealth – his workers, perhaps. Or gratitude to God and the universe for the conditions that allow rich crops to grow. He has no sense of relationship – of sharing his wealth with others.
Any good Jewish farmer in Jesus time knew what is expected of him, to tithe and to give alms to the poor. It is part of living in community – of being in relationship with God and others. But the rich farmer of the parable overlooks these lessons.
We know that the good life, the faithful life, consists not in gaining and hoarding possessions, but in relationships with God and one another. Our lives are richer when we share ourselves – our time and our resources – with others. We know that our security rests, not in what we have, or what we do, but in being God’s beloved children. But it is hard to live that way. So what can we do?
This is where spiritual practice comes in.
We can practice the things that help us know when enough is enough.
We can practice things like gratitude, and community.
I have a few ideas – and I know that you have many more.
As a community, we have begun to practice gratitude in a variety of ways.
We have gratitude cards in the pews, which we invite you to use by writing down something your are thankful for in your life and putting it in the offering plate.
We have begun a weekly celebrations column in our email noticias. And we have been commissioning lay ministers in a wide variety of church ministries throughout the summer – IPG, altar guild, Vestry, EV’s, and many others. This morning we commission a group of people who give their time at St Martin’s Hospitality Center, Dismas House, and Albuquerque Opportunity Center.
These things remind us of all we have to be grateful for –all the valuable resources we have to share with one another and with the wider community.
Each of us can do similar things in our own lives. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself daily of the blessings you have. Write a thank-you note to someone who’s done something nice for you. Spend some time in silence, clearing your mind of all the to-do’s and pressures which fill your hours, opening yourself to quiet.
And we can practice relationship and community. Talk to someone you don’t know in the parish hall after church. Make a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking of but haven’t talked to for a while. Set aside one-on-one time for someone in your family. Come to worship or a church event even if you don’t feel like it, because your presence builds up the community.
David Lose finishes his blog on today’s lessons with these words:
God wants so much more for us than simply more stuff.
God wants for us life and love and mercy and community.
And God will not stop sharing this message.
Indeed, the same Jesus who warns against greed and invites abundant life and tells us of God’s love carries this message all the way to the cross, so that we can see just how much God loves us.
Thanks be to God.