The scripture message for today was Luke 12:13-21 and Colossians 3:1-11. The title used was, “Teach us to share.”
As you mostly know, our oldest two daughters are fairly close in age, and they almost share a birthday. Jessica was born on Jan. 24 and Victoria was born on Jan. 25. When they were younger we tried to be good parents and give them each their own separate birthday celebrations. The one year in particular that I remember is when Victoria was 1 and Jessica was 3. Being in the middle of winter, and the days falling in the middle of the week, we did not invite any family over or go anyplace, but had their parties at home with just the four of us having a quiet supper and cake and ice cream followed by them opening their gifts, Jessica’s on Tuesday and Victoria’s on Wednesday. I know these things not so much because I have a good memory, but because we have old video tapes and have watched them quite often.
Part of why I am telling this story this morning is to tell a prominent family joke, which developed out of Jessica’s reaction when Victoria opened her gifts that year. One thing we were quite careful to do was to have each girl open one gift on the other’s birthday. Now this wasn’t such a big deal to Victoria being only one, but on that second day when Victoria had three or four really interesting looking gifts and Jessica only had one, well her reaction to everything that Victoria opened was to look at it and say, “We can share.” The other reason that I bring up this story is to give you the central idea of our focus scripture lesson this morning. The idea that “we can share,” the idea that we should share is the main point Jesus was making in the parable about the rich man who built himself some new barns.
But let’s back up a minute here. Let’s look at this from a farming perspective and try to figure out what is the problem in this story. The parable, if you just focus in a minute on that story, that idea. There is a man, a landowning farmer, who has a good year. Well, ok so not just a good year, but a really, really good year, and as the harvest is being brought in, he realizes that there is no place to store this fantastic harvest. We have all seen what happens when the elevator doesn’t have enough room for what comes in. I don’t remember if there was a pile here in Eureka last fall, but both Herreid and Strasburg each had an astronomical corn pile. I remember way back when that happened in Jud, ND, and in order to keep the mice and rats off it, they laid poison all around the pile. It didn’t take too long for nearly every cat in town to get sick and die as a result.
Building a barn or several barns sounds like a reasonable thing to do after a good harvest. I can remember one year that we added a small round grain bin to our farm, and now as I look at the huge round steel bins near the elevator where I live, I have to laugh at the size of that little thing we thought was such a big deal so many years ago. But we have to look closely at what this parable was really saying in order to understand the point Jesus was getting at. This was not about storing the harvest for the future. This was about hoarding the harvest.
I want to take you off subject, or perhaps just on a different turn for a little bit. Some of you may have thought of another Old Testament Biblical figure who built barns after a good harvest. I don’t think I clued in on it myself, but it certainly was in a couple of things I read. Go back to ancient Egypt when a man named Joseph was in charge of a few things. He came to power after interpreting a dream for the Pharaoh, something about seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows and seven blighted ears of grain taking over seven good ears. Joseph understood the dream to mean that seven good years of harvest would be followed by seven years of draught and that something needed to be done so that the people could survive the drought. He listened to God’s warning and set out a plan, an elaborate plan to store away the excess so that during the hard times there would be enough for everyone, even those from outside of Egypt and that is how he saved his own family and the people of Israel.
Jesus’ parable about the man with the good harvest wasn’t a story against those who do well. It wasn’t a story about being a good manager or a good farmer or even good at anything you do and prospering. It was a story about and against greed. I don’t know how many times as I am working on a message I pause to consider how it will be accepted. Who will think that I might be writing with them in mind, and I want to be clear, I have only one person in my mind, one human-physically present in the church person in mind as I am sitting at the computer and putting together the message for any given Sunday, and that is ME. As Miss Piggy would say, Moi!
Jesus told this parable to let the young man with the question about inheritance, to let those listening around him, to let us know that we are to share our bounty and our abundance with those around us. Love thy neighbor as thyself. And as much as I like to think that I do some of the things we are commanded by the scriptures, I know that sharing with others is the one I need to work on the most. And don’t try to tell me that I share. I don’t—not enough. Sharing with others, giving to others should not come from our excess, though that is a start. Real giving is when we cut our sandwich in half or give it up completely to feed someone else.
If we really look at that passage from beginning to end, we see it started with a young man who wanted some leader or teacher or someone to validate his claim to an inheritance. From the reading we get the point that this man’s brother was not sharing or dividing what has been left behind by their parents, and he wants what is his. He wants his fair share, so he asks Jesus hoping to find someone who will take his side in the matter.
Well we all know from other stories and other readings how that will work. Jesus does not bite on those types of questions. Jesus doesn’t settle legal disputes. He did not come to earth to be a worldly leader. He wasn’t running for any office, he wasn’t trying to build an army to overthrow the Romans or even to take over the temple. Jesus came to teach morals of right and wrong and what is needed to enter the kingdom of God.
Instead of giving him the legal answer that he so badly wanted Jesus tells the young man about another man. One who had great plenty, but rather than use it for good, he decided to hoard it all for himself and sit back and relax for the rest of his life, and ironically that is pretty much what he did, though his life was a little shorter than he anticipated.
In our Epistle lesson today, Paul is writing from prison in Rome to a church that was having internal difficulties surrounding what exactly they believed. Paul was writing to remind them that Jesus was the head of the church and it was the teachings of Christ that they were to follow. In verse 5 he tells them to put to death the earthly parts of themselves and Paul gives them a list of what he means, and at the end of the list he puts the word: Greed and in parenthesis it says, which is idolatry. To be greedy as the man in the parable was is to worship something other than Christ. For such a short and seemingly simple parable, I would say Jesus’ point pack a pretty hard punch.
As we finish today, I want to share with you a wonderful example I found on the national United Church of Christ website this week. It was in the related quotation section and has a bit of a historical piece in it. This is: A story about the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the American colonists during our War of Independence from Britain, 18th century:
When he [Lafayette] returned home to France, he lived on his big estates and did very well. He was in the same social class as the rich man in Jesus’ parable, but acted very differently. In 1783, after a poor harvest, Lafayette’s workers were still able to fill his barns with wheat. “The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat,” said one of his workers. “This is the time to sell.” Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages. “No,” he replied, “this is the time to give.”
In the weeks ahead we will be gathering a few times to have some fellowship, maybe share a little Bible story, perhaps even have a cup of something and munch on this or that, and either sew a little on some quilts or gather up some school supplies. We will do all of that, but mostly we will be looking into ways to be about the business of really being the church; we will be looking into ways to share what we have with others. I hope you take the time to join us. Amen!