11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – July 31, 2016
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14,2:18-23, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Pastor Evan Davis
I am most definitely not our congregation’s foremost expert on barns. Could someone tell me, what is the purpose of a barn? [to store hay/crops, maybe shelter animals…] And what is the purpose of storing all that hay and crops? [to feed the animals!] That’s right! And we feed the animals to feed us, don’t we? So that hay doesn’t do any good if it stays in the barn, right? Tell me one more thing – how long can grain or crops last, stored in a barn? [not forever!] Perhaps this fortunate farmer in Jesus’ story has discovered preservatives or dehydration techniques or something!
It’s not like he’s putting away money in a retirement account. That’s what we do – those of us privileged enough to make more money than we need right now to live on. We put some away in 401(k)’s or 403(b)’s or IRA’s or, if you’re really lucky, you might have a pension. Are you ready to start a conversation with yourself like this man and say, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” Maybe your financial barns aren’t quite so full! Now would Jesus come and tell you to empty your retirement accounts today and stop saving? No, I don’t think so. Y’all know that I’m not only a pastor, I’m also an accountant and I believe in saving for retirement. In fact, if you’d like to discuss the upsides of a variety of tax-advantaged accounts, I’d be happy to speak with you after the service today… 🙂
What does the man ask Jesus? Nothing – rather, he demands that Jesus tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Give me this wealth that has been stored up. Jesus wisely does not allow himself to be triangulated and forced in the middle of this family dispute. Instead he warns…be careful, greed can take over your life in an instant, and life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
It’s so easy to believe that we are in control. You know, to think, “I worked hard for those abundant crops.” And surely he did. Surely you work hard for whatever abundance you may have. I like to think I have a plan for our retirement, Brett and me. I do have a pretty good plan, actually. But this very night my life may be demanded of me. This very year the devastating diagnosis may come. It’s tempting to think that we are the difference makers in our lives. We do work hard and that does impact what we’re able to contribute to the common good or what we can achieve, but we can’t pretend that means we are the source of our own blessings or guarantors of our own futures.
The real question here is “who is your God?” Your God is whomever you trust for all your good, all your future and your present. Do we trust in our best laid plans, our honest hard work, our achievements, or how much we can store up in our barns? Maybe – our culture encourages us to. But there is only one God – and everything else we worship is an idol. Jesus in the gospel of Luke has a name for the god of barn-storing wealth: “Mammon” (Lk 16:13). Where do we put our trust? In what does life consist? Where do we find the LIFE God intends for us?
Let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes. It’s a fascinating book. The actual Hebrew name of the book is Qohelet, which means “Teacher.” The Teacher cries out with a singular voice in scripture that there is nothing in this worldly life you can depend on. Nothing that is rock solid. Rather, it’s all a chasing after wind. The first thing the Teacher says is hevel hevalim, which we translate “vanity of vanities!” It literally means vapor, mist, or air. It can all blow away or evaporate in a second. She says: what do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? It’s all hevel hevalim, an unhappy business God has given to human beings to be busy with. Pleasure will fade. Houses will rot. Gold and possessions will decay or lose their value, or before too long, they sure won’t be yours anymore! No, the righteous and wise do not fare better than the dull and stupid – we all meet the end of our days. The god of wealth (or power, beauty, achievement, fame) will always disappoint.
Stuff is not our life. It is not our God. It will not save us. So what is the place of stuff or wealth or work in our Christian lives?
Here’s what the Teacher suggests: “I know that there is nothing better for [mortals] than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (Eccle. 3:12-13). Look around: God has made all this wonderful earth. God provides everything we need for life – some of us just take too much and store it up in our barns so that others don’t have enough. None of it is going to last forever, so just enjoy what God gives you, whatever it is. Enjoy your work – please do work hard and save for what you need. Enjoy food and drink – but don’t trust in any of this for your good. And by all means, if you have a surplus of anything, share it with those who don’t have enough!
We can take Paul’s advice too: “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” In Baptism we die to this life of chasing after wind, and we’re raised with Christ to a new and different life. Life springs from God’s love for you. It springs from your love for each other. There’s your salvation – there’s your reason for existing – God loves you and God wants you to be part of this flourishing web of life God’s creation, and God will keep that going and restore you and it no matter our best efforts to destroy it all! Life is the relationships and connections you have with other people. There’s something that is rock solid, that will never vanish. Life is trusting that whatever lies ahead, it will be ok because God isn’t going anywhere. Even if our life comes to an end – and that’s definitely going to happen one day – this too is simply part of God’s design of the universe, and even when we die, God still doesn’t go anywhere…God takes you with him into the resurrection.
Trust God. Enjoy your life. Enjoy what you have, don’t worry about what you don’t, but cherish the people God has given you. Treasure the love of God. Worship only God. Or in the eternal words of Bobby McFerrin, “don’t worry, be happy.” Amen.