Saturday, August 3, 2013

Gathering into barns: Proper 13 C

I have always thought I was a person of fairly simple tastes.  I like to think that I don't have much, money, things, toys.  But then I had help from many of you to move me last fall and I know that my secret is out!  

J and I have often had to keep two houses, rectories or living spaces over the years.  We are also loath to throw away things that are still serviceable.  Both of us are the children of parents that survived the Great Depression by being abstemious and careful of their possessions.  And what is so ridiculous is that we have moved 40 years of accumulation all across this country, so today's Gospel speaks loudly to me.

The passage speaks of greed and acquisition.  And in this passage we find Jesus responding to someone who is asking for more than his share.  In first century society, the older brother inherited.  And if the younger brothers received anything it was gift.  To us it seems unfair, but that was the way that the land was not parceled out into meaningless tiny plots over the generations.  It was the eldest's responsibility to see after the needs of all of his family.  Jesus warned his petitioner of one of the continuing ethical problems in human society--greed.  We have stories from the earliest forms of literature about greed.  And yet it still is a problem.  The acquisition of whatever has been a problem since Cane and Able.  And Jesus tells a parable that puts it in no uncertain terms--to try to keep aggrandizing has a deleterious affect on the soul.  J.  studied economics at Harvard as an undergraduate and when she found that we could sustain the whole world with what the earth produced, but that it wasn't expedient to do so, she decided it was time to go to  seminary.  The problem was not economics; the problem was ethics.

The phrase "You can't take it with you." comes from this passage we have in Luke.  And we have been warned about it all our lives. And yet we are constantly being badgered by ads on TV or on the Internet to gather our savings into 'barns'. 

 I have always found it amusing that this part of Jesus' teaching is buried deep in August when
we have the fewest people in our pews.  We don't like hearing this hard saying of Jesus.  But we need to.  We need to hear that Jesus isn't even 'nice' about this parable.  He uses harsh language:    `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you."  He doesn't mince words.  This is one of the most important issues in the message of Jesus because gathering into barns and bigger barns tears at the fabric of faith more than anything save dishonesty.  Humans anesthetize themselves by accumulating stuff.  Whether it is grain in barns or Imeda Marcos' 800 pairs of shoes.  And what finally happens is that people then fail to trust God to provide for them.

When I was working in a poor section of the mountains in Mexico back in my 20's I was bowled over at the incredible faith that the people in those little villages had.  They HAD to trust in God.
 There was nothing that they could save up.  I also remember a parish I was called to that boasted of $3M in their endowment fund.  But they couldn't pay their staff a decent salary or social security.  The had not understood that saving and hoarding were not part of the Gospel message. As a congregation that was the most uncaring parish I ever served.  There were some wonderful people in the parish but as a church, they couldn't afford to care.  They had to 'protect' what they had accumulated.   The couldn't have a school or large youth activities because they 'were a deep pocket' and couldn't put themselves in that position.  They were frozen by protecting what had been given to them by a little old lady who left her whole fortune to the loving community that she had been a part of.  The gift had made them misers.  They had not worked for that gift.  But they invested in the stock market, and we all know where that got them in  2007.

One of the things that has happened with modern economics is that we now need to buy to support our nation's economy.  It is unpatriotic not to be acquisitive.  And this is a very bad place for us to be both as a nation and as a Christian.  We put our trust in military might to protect our 'way of life,', unregulated economies that do not  produce but manipulate finance, retirement funds that are speculative at best and fail to hear Jesus' warning about trusting in what is gathered into barns.  And if there is anything more ludicrous, it is the "in God We Trust" on our currency.

Even when we do produce, we make such variances that we have multitudinous choices from which we can pick but often with a diminishing  of original.  We may get pink tomatoes all year long.  We have different varieties but most of them are tasteless because agribusiness has developed genetically altered food that are long expediency and short on taste and nutrition.  

I had to take some time with this passage because it was so at my doorstep.  I needed to figure out what was happening to me spiritually because my barn
(garage) was full.    I had so much stuff that I couldn't see the needs of people here in Ft. Worth that are in need of what I have extra.  I needed to see that I was becoming unaware of the needs of others because I couldn't let go of what I had stored..  And as I began to really look at what I had stored in my garage, it was useless.  Clothes I could no longer wear, would never be worn in TX.  I certainly didn't need 14 ice scrapers!  We had more pots and pans that we would ever need in retirement.  We finally gave a way the place setting for 60 that J had inherited from her mother.  

But there was another level of learning how to trust in God.  It had to do with time.  I need to
learn how to be more available to people.  I needed to be able to drop what I was doing so that I could help others.  One of the real banes of the Church is that we waste so much time planning that which cannot ever happen. In a program-sized parish it is the easiest to fall into this because everyone knows 'how busy the clergy are'.  But have we become so busy that we cannot be available to what happens in people's lives?  Retirement makes me see how I often failed to be available to my parish because I had filled it with meetings rather than with prayer over coffee or a glass of tea with those who need a kind face or a listening ear.

Sometimes we build bigger barns to avoid taking the time with people.  We also build bigger barns because want to look spiffy and yet never live into the well-lived places that remind us of whose we are.   

I find it amusing also that people buy 'starter' houses.  My folks bought a house for $7,000 in 1949 and live in it until Mom moved to a retirement center when she became blind.  I have never bought a home partially because I lived in church owned housing and because moving every 8 years or so doesn't encourage setting down roots.  But now  buying a house is not something I want to invest in.  I want to invest in people, in loved ones, in community, not property.  

I would suggest that perhaps something that this passage does: it helps us re-evaluate the barns that we have built.  We need to see where the insidious sin of greed attacks us all in this
world.  If you think that you are immune I would invite you to check out the statistics of how much of the world's wealth we live with in this nation and how it affects the rest of the world's economies.  Taking the time to be aware of our greediness allows us to be humbled before God.  It is the only true way to go to God in prayer anyway.    

Meanwhile, if anybody needs me, I will be in the garage.



Grandmère Mimi said...

Skewered! I try to simplify, but there's so much that could go, there's seemingly no end to to the process.

Terri said...

I have moved many times and in each of these moves I have purged...then I was unemployed for 18 months, on top of my husband having been underemployed, post 9-11 for almost five years. We represent the dwindling middle class, and we have nothing. At retirement we will have a small pension each. I hear these readings from a different place....and yet, even I still live a privileged life compared to many! But I do know how easy it is to slip into poverty....thus I give thanks every day for the blessings in my life.