A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Pentecost 8 ~ Luke 12:13-21 (MSG – The Message)
Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
Jesus replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?”
In other words, “Hey Jesus, solve my problems for me.” Jesus says, “Not my department.”
I know that sounds harsh, and it goes against a lot of the kind of religious language that permeates contemporary Christianity (well, at least the loudest forms of it). “Jesus take the wheel.” “Jesus is the answer.” Well, yes and no. Yes, insofar as the questions are about how we might reorient ourselves and participate in our own spiritual transformation – but ‘no’ if you think Jesus is going to do the heavy lifting for you.
Notice especially what the subject of this request in Luke 12 was. It was about someone feeling like they weren’t getting enough of a share of a family inheritance. It was about money. Greed. The classic word is ‘avarice’ and it was numbered among the so-called ‘seven deadly sins’. Pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. If you’re looking for Jesus to magically sweep any of those away from your life, well, like the guy in Luke 12 you’re going to hear, “Not my department.”
Instead, Jesus offers a teaching. He offers a way to reframe the question to give us a deeper and holier perspective so we can come to a new understanding and have a change of heart and mind more grounded in God’s Way. That is literally what ‘repent’ means! In Greek it’s metanoia – to go beyond the mind/perspective you have now. A transformation.
Luke 12:15Speaking to the people, Jesus went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
That’s great advice, and even if he stopped there it would be potentially life-changing wisdom. Although, it must be said, there’s nothing particularly holy about it. It’s one of those things that everybody says, but then they act differently. “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot. Oh yeah, I forgot to buy my lottery tickets this week!”
The problem with that simple bit of folk wisdom is that it doesn’t go far enough. So Jesus takes it farther. If life is not defined by what you have…what is it defined by? If you let go of one thing it should be in order to grasp a new thing. Jesus is suggesting an alternative. What is it? Or should I say, what is IT?
Last week I talked all about asking for IT. This week we’re wondering what it would be like to be full of IT? Perhaps you’re already thinking I am, full of it. I hope so! IT, not it.
Jesus begins to tell a parable – Luke 12:16 “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’
These days we live in an almost cash-less society. We don’t carry around pockets-full of coins, or wallets full of paper money anymore. Nowadays we carry little plastic cards and wave them over little machines and things magically get paid for. Or we just touch our phones a couple of times and money transfers from one person to another. I love these things! It’s so convenient. However, the downside is we’ve lost an appreciation for what money or wealth looks like. It’s all reduced to abstract numbers devoid of anything tangible (unless you buy a bunch of ‘stuff’).
But in biblical times you could literally see if someone was wealthy. They didn’t have banks – they had barns! And it wasn’t loonies and twonies piled up inside them, it was crops. So if you started to get richer and richer you’d have to build more and more barns to hold your wealth. Well, come to think of it, we do have a modern analogy. We call them garages, but they’re not for cars, they’re for our ‘stuff’ – and when they fill up we move on to storage lockers (which apparently have waiting lists because they’re so in demand). Friends, we are clearly full of it – but it’s the wrong ‘it’.
The rich farmer said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
I know I’m not the only person squirming right now, because this parable hits so close to home. We can all tut-tut the rich farmer, and outline for him several much better things he could have done with his bounty. He could have donated a bunch of it to help those less fortunate. He could have held a grand celebration and invited everyone to come. He could have divided it among his family, like the guy at the start of this passage wanted. We all know how to better spend rich peoples’ money! But what if ‘we’ are the rich ones?
Luke 12:20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
Yikes! Some of Jesus’ parables have a real bite to them! The obvious answer to the ‘who gets it?’ question is that it would be inherited through the family. You may recall that this passage began with a complaint about families and inheritance and greed. It’s all well and good to pass on our wealth to the next generation, but in some ways that just perpetuates this greed cycle.
So Jesus suggests something revolutionary, because he’s Jesus! He doesn’t just quote the folk wisdom that “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” He goes further, with a beautifully pithy and profound sentence – Luke 12:21
“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
What is your ‘barn’ full of?
What are you hungry for?
What are you striving for?
What is your heart’s desire?
What is ‘treasure’ for you?
In other words, “What are you full of?”
It’s not just about greed. All seven of those ‘deadly sins’ are specific ways of saying that your barn is full of Self. The culture we find ourselves in is incredibly ‘self’ centred – self-important, self-assured, self-esteem, self-determination, self-made, self-care, self-worth, self-help. Not all of those are bad. We need to be self-aware. Ironically, even with so much focus on self we still seem to lack self-love. The trouble comes when all we can see is self – when our whole barn is full of self. “Trouble happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
What’s Jesus’ alternative? If not self, what? ‘IT’! He says we should become full of ‘IT’. Full of God.
Ok. Great. How? If you caught last week’s sermon you already know the answer. You ask for ‘IT’. Ask for ‘IT’, seek ‘IT’, knock and the door shall be opened unto you and ‘IT’ will overflow. ‘IT’ is the love of God. ‘IT’ is the presence of God. ‘IT’ is the Way of God. ‘IT’ is the Kingdom of God.
However, asking for ‘IT’ – through prayerfulness – is just the start. Jesus’ inference here is that we need to go way beyond just asking, seeking, and knocking. To fill your barn with ‘IT’ suggests something much more all-encompassing. He’s talking about immersion.
Stay with me here. If you’re thinking that spiritual immersion sounds like a really hard thing, requiring tons of effort, and having to change your life all around, and sacrificially give up a whole lot of stuff, and it would mean you’d need to live a lesser standard of living – then you’re still thinking in terms of Self. God isn’t just another form of stuff. Holiness, or faithfulness, or spirituality isn’t just another commodity that fills up your barn. Church ain’t just an optional add-on. Jesus is suggesting something radically subversive. He wants us to turn our understanding on its head. He’s talking metanoia, repentance, to transform your perspective and change your mind about how the world really works and what’s really important.
Transformation of your heart and mind (which is never fully accomplished by the way – it’s a lifelong journey) is about a paradigm shift that releases you from the captivity of the ‘barn full of Self’ and fills you with the fullness of God’s presence and love. At first it’s going to be a chore. Of course it is. Transformation by immersion doesn’t just happen in an instant.
Here’s an example. Say you want to learn how to speak a different language. As an English speaker I’ve had to study French to learn the language. I took French classes all through high school. I’ve dabbled in it from time to time as an adult. But I’m nowhere near proficient, nowhere near bilingual. For that I’d need to immerse myself in it, and that would require a lot of effort, and determination, and commitment, and passion. I’d need to take more classes, and to listen to the French stations on the radio, and to watch movies and TV in French, and to find patient French speakers to have conversations with – in other words, to immerse myself in French-ness. Until I immerse myself in it I’ll never really learn it. The best would be to fully immerse myself in a culture of French speakers and just absorb it over time. And then, slowly but surely, one day I would realize that I’m not translating in my head anymore, I’m just responding. It would just be part of me. And it wouldn’t mean that I had no use for English anymore, it would simply mean that my worldview and way of being had evolved into something deeper, Something More.
This is why we gather like this every week. This is why we worship. This is why we sing and play spiritual music. This is why we encourage bible study and discussion. This is why we come together to put our words into action through the ministries we share. This is why we form a community of loving-kindness, and mutuality, and care as we support one another in so many ways. By being part of this community called Faith United you are immersing yourself in a culture of spiritual followers of the Way of Jesus. You are filling your barn with God right now! And hopefully, over time, with more and more and more effort, and determination, and commitment, and passion you, and me, and all of us together, will become more and more immersed in peace, and joy, and hope, and Spirit, and love.
My great prayer for you is that you can be full of ‘IT’! Some of you are absolutely full of ‘IT’ already! But unlike the dude in the parable, if your barn is full of ‘IT’ you don’t get to kick back and retire. No, if your barn is full of God then you are overjoyed to be able to share ‘IT’ with everyone you meet. And here’s the greatest part of all – the more you share ‘IT’ the more of ‘IT’ you get – which you of course lovingly share – which of course fills you up with even more of ‘IT’. That’s the paradigm shift! That’s the world turned right-side up. That’s the kingdom of God being revealed. Oh, how I long for us to be so full of ‘IT’! May it be so. Amen.