I’m always on the lookout for things that make me laugh or brings a smile to my face. Life is too difficult and challenging to go through these years without a sense of joy and a chance to pause and laugh.
I still have to laugh when I am reminded of a trip to Abbi’s family in Chincoteague, Virginia. Whenever we go to the island, it seems that I have to go to the store to pick up extra food for Noah. Not only does Noah eat like a teenager at times, but he also has a very specific diet that is a result of his autism. He eats the same food nearly every day, and Lord have mercy on the parents who do not have that food readily available.
On this specific trip, however, I made an excursion to the Food Lion that is located off the island. As I did, I happened to look over and noticed the Sonic across the parking lot. It was there that I saw a hearse in the drive-thru. Yes, I said a hearse in the drive-thru line. I couldn’t stop laughing and took a picture that I have somewhere. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that even the dearly departed still want their mozzarella sticks and corn dogs.
That moment has been on my mind this week, as I’ve reflected on our passage from Luke 12:13-21. This imagery connects to what Jesus is saying to these two brothers who approach him to settle a family inheritance dispute. We’ve probably all heard preachers who have shared how you never see a hearse go to the grave with a U-Haul attached – “you can’t take it with you.” We’ll talk about how we shouldn’t be concerned with possessions and then move on without discussing the deeper realities that connect to the life Christ calls us into through these words. This parable is concerned with more than just our possessions. It calls us to consider the anxiety that often holds us back from being the people God calls us to be through faith.
Only the Gospel of Luke gives us this encounter, as well as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see Jesus describe how those who seek to follow him should have their treasures based on heavenly values and not worldly ones. This is also a common theme throughout Luke. More often than not, Jesus brings up money and how it influences our lives. In fact, 16 of the 38 parables found in the Gospels are centered on finances and how we use the resources God has entrusted us with.
Money is an important conversation point with Jesus, and since Luke records many of these conversations, it’s clearly just as important for Luke. This doctor and journalist, who sought to offer a detailed account of Jesus’ life, wrote about how Christ calls to account the rich and powerful, which results in the socio-economic shift that comes in bringing a message of hope, peace, and freedom to the poor and forgotten.
The Gospel message of Jesus is concerned with how those who seek to claim the life of Christ live into Jesus’ values in their lives on earth. It is not about getting us out of the world, but about calling us into the world, where we are to live with a determined, Christ-like focus that challenges us to consider how we live, the values we hold dear, and what it means to be a witness of God’s holy love.
All of this comes to a head with the Parable of the Rich Fool. As a reminder, parables were Jesus’ preferred way to communicate deeper truths about what it meant to follow in his footsteps. This particular parable comes after Jesus was interrupted by two brothers wanting him to settle a family dispute over inheritance. Jesus refuses to do so, but uses the opportunity, as he has many times before, to discuss something deeper.
He gives them the story of a rich man. I like to think of the man as a farmer. One of the blessings of my ministry in Kentucky was serving communities that were connected to farms. This was the case with my last community, where one of our key families lived on a farm of several hundred acres. I remember going out to visit the farm one day, as we were thinking about what it would look like to hold our Christmas Eve services in a barn. That is another story for another day. As I was there, I remember the pride they had in their work, but also the giant silos that filled the farm to hold soybeans and everything else they harvested.
I want to think that the rich man in this parable is considering building a new silo to hold his produce. This is not necessarily to hold until it went to market. His entire conversation is only focused on what he should do with this and how he could take care of his own needs by building something bigger. He’ll never be without again, and he can live peacefully without worry.
We might think of this as sound advice. In fact, if we were talking with the rich man, we may have told him to build the silo and not worry about anything else. Jesus has a different idea. He says the man is a fool. He calls him an idiot, really.
That may sound harsh, but Jesus’ words are not always bumper sticker fare we can purchase from Cokesbury. His words challenge us to consider how we are living and whether our values match God’s values. Jesus calls this man a fool, because he was more concerned for himself than he was anyone else. He never thought about God in his conversation. He never included anyone else in his plans. He never even considered if there were others who might need what he has. The rich man, this fool, was only focused on himself, his own needs, and how to provide for his own sense of security.
Jesus calls this man a fool, because he was living out of a sense of greed. Greed prevents us from growing in our connection with God’s holy love, because it takes us away from a foundation built on trust in God and replaces it with trust in ourselves. This type of greed is defined by a sense of anxiety and fear that we will never have enough. Greed is not necessarily about wanting more and more of what is available in the world. It is about living with a sense of anxiety and fear that what we have will never be enough, and that we have to have more and more to provide for our own needs.
This is what Jesus calls foolishness, because if we are defined by greed, there will never be enough. Even when we have enough, we will still have this fear that something will take away everything we have. It gives us an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and stress. As a result, we allow fear to dominate our conversations and continually push the goal line back, thinking that we still don’t have enough.
Living this way prevents us from being true disciples of Jesus Christ who abandon everything – including fear and anxiety – to follow Christ. When we are wrapped up in our own anxiety and fear, the only thing we are concerned about is ourselves. We are not concerned with the needs of others, nor are we thinking about God. We give lip service about following in the footsteps of God. Our true god is our own self and our need to satisfy the fear that grips us and dominates our every thought.
When this type of living dominates the church, it suffocates us. Fear of never having enough prevents us from living into a vision of Christ-like communities and the mission of making disciples. Why? Because there are never enough people, never enough money, never enough time, never enough of anything for us to live into the purpose of the Church. We prevent the church from being the ongoing witness of Christ’s love when we are defined by anxiety and fear.
Instead of being defined by anxiety and fear, Jesus calls us claim a life of promise and provision. We are called to live like the people of Israel, who learned to trust that in all things God provides, and to live with a sense of joyous trust in the Lord. We are called to move beyond our sense of anxiety and far, so that we can live with confidence and claim the richness of God’s blessings and provisions. In order to do this, we have to let go of our desire to control the narrative and to dictate the terms of when and how we can be the church. Instead, we have to trust in the provisions and blessings of God, which provide more than we can ever imagine.
When we do this, we remember that what we have is not ours. None of what we have is ours. It is given to us by God so that we can be a blessing to others. Stewardship is not about hoarding what we have so one day we will have enough. It is about utilizing what God has blessed us with to share hope, peace, joy, and love with all people. It is about being people who live in the richness and blessings of God.
If we truly want to be the people of God and the church, we must abandon the underlying anxiety and fear that fuels greed. We have to let go of its control over us, so that we can live into the hope of God. That is why communion is so important for us. Since I’ve arrived, one of the frequent questions I’ve heard is this: Are we going to have communion? Let me say this: the answer will always be yes. My belief, like that of Jesus and John Wesley, is that as often as we gather we should come to the table. When we partake in the elements of communion, we are reminded of who we are and the life we are called to embrace as followers of Christ.
The table, my friends, reminds us how anxiety and fear have no place in a life of discipleship. It calls us to confess our desire to trust only in ourselves and to separate ourselves from God. It calls us to be renewed in our life with God, moving from a life of fear and anxiety towards the life of God and His hope and promises.
As we come to the table today, claim the deeper life that Christ calls us to embrace. Stop living foolish lives! Stop thinking there will never be enough! Stop thinking God will not provide what we need to be the church today! Stop allowing fear and anxiety to dominate every conversation we have about what it means to be the church! Instead, claim the promises that God will provide, that God will guide us, that God has given us what we need – not to just keep ourselves going, but to be the hands and feet of God, to be the church, and to be the witness of Christ.
Stop living like fools! Start living like the people of God!