Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Building Bigger Barns: a modern parable

Remember the parable Jesus told about the rich man who had a super abundant crop?  (Luke 12:13-21.)  He had to build bigger barns to store it all.  But once he had the barns built and the harvest in, he was set.  He had his responsibilities finished so that he could simply kick back, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry," he said to himself.  But God had other plans.  God said, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?"

Many of my readers might already know this, but Joe has accepted a call to serve a congregation in kind of southern Minnesota.  It feels south compared to here at least.  The tentative arrangement is that we'll stay up here to get these churches through the Lenten rush.  And then shortly after Easter we'll be moving to Clara City, MN, where Joe will serve as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church. 

And so we're beginning the process of cleaning out our barns.  And, oh boy, have we built up earthly wealth.  Our barns are much fuller than they were when we moved here 12 years ago.  I feel as though God has said to us, "You fools!  What good is all this?  This spring, a move is required of you.  And then what good is all this stuff?"

Which brought me to contemplate this parable and the whole concept of material goods.  In today's world, most of us live in relative ease.  I'm not saying life is easy.  But I am saying that many of those things which cause us stress, those things with which we busy ourselves day to day, many of those things are discretionary.  We choose to do them.  Most of us are not eking our very survival from day to day.  If we're hungry we go to the cupboard.  We hit a few switches and we have food.  If the cupboard is empty, we go to the store.  Same with our clothing.  

Our basic needs are pretty easy to provide.  It's all the extras that cause the stress and work.  But we do it anyway.  And somehow, amidst all this busy lifestyle, we still have time to build up our barns.  Our home get fuller and fuller with things that we are home less and less to enjoy.  Or if we are home, we can't find them, because the house is too full.

One episode particularly yesterday made me think of the parable of the Rich Fool.   Ever since Christmas I've had this stack of Christmas wrapping paraphernalia sitting at the foot of my bed and surrounding area.  A box of neatly stacked and unused tissue paper and gift bags.  A box of refolded and stacked used gift bags.  Several gift bags of used tissue paper, in various stages of being straightened and re-folded.  

I always seem to procrastinate getting the Christmas stuff put away.  After the rush and bustle of Christmas, I'm tired.  And so it sits.  But usually I don't have this much.  In the past, in the name of being frugal, I have had a handful of used gift bags, some used gift wrap in various shapes and sizes, and perhaps, after a good salvage year, a small pile of used tissue paper to straighten out.  

But this year was different.  During my summer and fall thrift store shopping sprees, I had consciously looked for things to use to make our Christmas gift wrapping easier.  At one store, I hit the jackpot.  I had  found many gift bags for 25¢ each and several packages of unopened tissue paper.  And at various times for the fall birthdays, I had even paid full price and picked up a couple packages of brand spanking new gift wrap in pretty colors at Wal-mart and the dollar store.  So I thought I was pretty much ready.  

But just in case, one evening after an exhausting last minute shopping rush, I had the girls run into the dollar store and pick up a bunch of gift bags.  I think I gave them ten dollars and said, "Just get whatever you can get in a variety of sizes."  Wow, can a person get tons of gift bags for a dollar!  I had no idea.  Suddenly my 25¢ thrift store bags didn't seem so special.  

So I was well stocked up for the busy holiday season.  No more finding just the right size of left over paper to fit a gift.  No more putting plastic grocery bags as padding in last year's gift bags.  We we set for an easy Christmas.  

And then Joe's mom gave us more.  She had gotten a bunch of freebies from her sister who got them from someone else.  A whole large bag full of gift wrap.  

Our gift wrap barn was really big.  Bigger and bigger.  

After we Christmas, we faithfully saved all our gift bags and packaging as always.  We also had still about half or more even of what we started with that was still unused.  I felt such wealth of wrapping materials.  "Soul," said I, "You don't need to worry about getting gift wrap for many years to come.  Take your ease.  Eat, drink, and be Mary."  

But I have found that God had other plans.  God said, "You foolish girl.  What good is all that?  Guess what.  You have to move.  Are you really going to have the movers haul around four or five bags of gift wrapping stuff?"

And of course, the answer is no.

But is the parable Jesus told focused simply on the having of things?  Is it foolish to save and prepare for the future?  Is it wrong to enjoy the fruits of one's labor?

Jesus told this parable in response to someone from the crowd who asked Jesus to arbitrate a squabble over material goods, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."  The exhortation is against letting material goods be the goal, the end-all.  This listener was loving his potential inheritance more than he was loving his brother.  

But for me, the idol isn't the things that I love.  It's the security that comes with having things.  I was feeling quite smug and self-satisified about something as inane as being stocked up on gift wrap supply.  But our security, our satisfaction isn't about our own accomplishments.  It's not about the success of our harvests or size of our stockpiles.  

Jesus sums it up in His final exhortation to the crowd, "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."  We are not to seek our pleasure, security, satisfaction, or worth in those accomplishments we achieve or the wealth we attain or here on earth.  Those things come from God alone, through His Son, Jesus. 

St. Paul prays for the Ephesians that they continue to recognize and esteem the importance of this eternal wealth.  (Ephesians 1:15-21)
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. ~Ephesians 1:15-21

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