Thursday, August 4, 2016

Barns and Blessings
A Sermon on Luke 12:13-21
For the Community of First Baptist Church of Austin
On the Eleventh Sunday following Pentecost
July 31, 2016
God of Incarnation, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. Amen. 
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver ends her poem, “One Summer Day” with a fairly good question: what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life? It’s a question that is more than worthy of much contemplation on our behalf. It’s a question I would like to pose for us this morning and put it right next to our calendars, our bank accounts and our credit card statements. Are the things we want to do with our one wild and precious life reflected accurately in the way we handle our finances and time? 
Because my thought is that if we sat and asked what it is we truly want to do with our wild, precious lives, well we would have some great responses…. We want to create beautiful works of art, we want to write something that will outlast us, we want to help others, we want to enjoy all the beauty this world has to offer, we want to create a better world, we want to enjoy life, we want to slow down and savor. 
And yet most of us live our lives consumed with two verbs, work and spend…work and spend… work and spend. And I think those two verbs are slowly and completely destroying us. 
In 1930 a well-known economist John Maynard Keyes wrote an essay on the future of America and the world his assumed his great-grandchildren would live in, in this essay he predicted by 2030 we would have ample finances to generously live life and our work week would be 15 hours long so that we could “have time to enjoy the hour and the day virtuously and well.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a lot of folks who are living that just yet. 
Let’s just start with the workweek. We are a people who clock a lot of hours at work.  The average person in our country works 47 hours a week, which for a five-day work schedule amounts to 9.5 hours a day. This is a figure which continues to increase every year and is currently seeing dramatic increases because with email on our phones, most of us are never away from the office. Did you know that the average person checks their smart phone every 7- 10 minutes? (This is a sick addiction.. if there was any other behavior in our life that we did every 7-10 minutes, we would be in therapy for it.)
And even when we are supposed to leave the office we don’t. As a country we are at the bottom of the list of the amount of vacation time offered and we are at the top of the list for those who don’t use their vacation days.
And then outside of that, we are busy. Just ask people this week how they are doing and see how many times their answer is either simply the word busy or some description of busyness. 
Or maybe it’s better put to say we feel busy. What’s really sad about time today is that recent studies of time have actually shown that the average person has 40 hours of free time a week, we are just really bad stewards of that and we end up binge watching TV, staying on the internet, staying at work when we don’t have to or filling our calendars with things which impress others but we don’t really want to do.
The truth is we don’t have a time problem- we have a stewardship of time problem. 
Work and spend… work and spend… work and spend…
Let’s look at our spending habits and the picture there is not so different either, it’s a stewardship problem. For most of us (again middle class and upper class) our bank accounts are fine, we have enough money we just don’t spend it wisely.
Just 35 years ago the show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous focused on folks who had a few million. Today those folks are not considered rich or famous. We don’t see it as a problem to buy a $1,000 grill or a $40,000 car or a $100 haircut or a $10 cocktail or a $4 coffee or a $1.50 bottle of water. Today this is not seen as excessive in our world. 
We live in a world in which the last 30 years we have seen a 60% increase in the number of shopping centers. A world where children ages 6-19 influenced $485 billions of purchase decisions. A world where we spend $60 billion on our pets and $450 billion on Christmas gifts.
It’s a simple as this: today financially we have moved from an “I need” mentality to an “I want” mentality and this mentality has led us to an unhealthy, wasteful and largely unstable economic situation. 
Work and spend… work and spend… work and spend…
I don’t know about you but work and spend is not what I want to do with my one wild and precious life. Even more behind the verbs of work and spend I think there lies a really horrible theology of whom we really trust and what we can control- and that trust and control is all about self.
And I think that is the heart of Jesus’ parable this morning. 
There once was a farmer, a really good farmer who knows how to work the land. He was good with the soil, he had a good read on the weather and he knew how the land worked and he made it work for him. Each year he had a wonderful harvest: heirloom tomatoes, squash and zucchini, potatoes, sushito peppers, egg plants and that was only the start. His barns were always full and he never lacked. 
But one summer the harvest was especially good. So good in fact that it caused him a problem, he had no place to store his crops. So he thought about it and pretty soon he came up with a good solution- “Self” he though “we are going to build a bigger barn. We will knock down the old ones and build a bigger one to sore all our abundance. And then we will celebrate and I will wake up every day to this thought: self, you have ample good stored up for years: relax, eat, drink and be merry.”
And all is fine and well until the voice of God steps into the parable and simply says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
And at this point Jesus ends the parable and turns and looks at each of us and says, “So it will be with those who store up treasures for themselves and are not rich towards God.” Or maybe today Jesus would say, “So it is with those who work and spend and work and spend and are not generous with God.”
There is something really interesting about this parable and that’s the pronouns, those little words that help us identify who is speaking or performing the action. The pronous of this parable are really telling…. “And he thought to himself, what should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grains and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years…”
This is essentially the Keeping up with the Kardashians of parables… it’s about as self centered as it gets. In three simple verses made up of 63 words, 15 of them the farmer uses to refer back to himself. In fact in this parable, the farmer is the only character. There is no mention of his family, his friends, his neighbors, those working the farm with him, any church congregation, any farmer’s union…. It’s just him until God breaks in. 
And that’s the problem of building bigger barns, bigger barns invite us to think more only about ourselves and not about the God who created us and the world around us. Bigger barns allow us to hide in their shadow and not see the bigger world. And our two verbs this morning, work and spend- work and spend, well they seem to do the same thing- focus our eyes on us and not on the bigger world. 
It does not matter if it’s bigger barns or iphone calendars that are full of events that not only fill our time but fill our egos or bank accounts that are full enough for three of our lifetimes, they all help us to trust ourselves, believe in our control, and to be the centers of our own story. 
They allow us to hold on and to grip and grab and that is always the worst thing we can to- gripping and grabbing. Because when we are gripping and grabbing, we have clenched fists and closed hands. And clinched fists and closed hands are the exact opposite posture we are to have… our theology calls for us to have open hands which can receive all the blessings God has for us and which can offer all we have to the world around us. Our theology calls for a posture not of clinched fists, but of open hands.
Which is why tithing matters so much for us as a church. I won’t act like I don’t know that tithing supports this place and even that tithing is how I am paid, but that is not why tithing matters. Tithing matters because the only answer to clinched fists, to bigger barns, to too full calendars and bank accounts, to the sins of selfishness and materialism and greed, the only response to that is stewardship and sharing. We give because we were given to and we give to remind ourselves that it is not ours. 
We give to step out of the shadow of the barns we have built and to set our eyes on the God who has given to us and to the world who needs us to share. 
And then we saw it with our students who in the sacrament of baptism, showed us the ultimate act of letting go.. when (list students) stood in front of us to say, “it’s no longer my life.. my life belongs to our God.”
This morning we saw the perfect picture of that giving, with Ginny and Dan as they dedicated Vienne. I have come to know Ginny and Dan and I know this was not something they did simply because that is what church folks do or because they really wanted to stand up here and be seen by everyone. They did it because they knew it was what they needed to do, as difficult as it was. 
Because it’s not easy to stand up here with the one you love with all your heart and to say, we understand she’s not ours. It’s the words of Paula D’Arcy when she dedicated her child, “She is not mine to posses, she is mine to hold.” 
If only those had been the words of our farmer this morning, if only looking at his bumper crop, he had realized, “these are not mine to posses… these are mine to simply hold until it’s time to give them…. Until it’s time to help the whole world relax, eat, drink and be merry.”
Since we started this morning with the poet Mary Oliver, let’s end the morning with her as well. One of her most recent objects of wrath is the storage unit, which is as uniquely American sin. As a country these might very well be our bigger barns. As a country we have 2.3 billion square feet of storage, which averages out to a little more than 7 square feet for every American. In her newest collection Mary Oliver reflects on her recent move to Florida: 
When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
Fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing- the reason they can fly.
May we all finally open our barn doors, make space on our calendars, reflect on our accounts, reflect on if those verbs- work and spend are owning us, and may we make room in our hearts for love. 


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