Our western culture is fascinated with things; with collecting them and having the biggest or best. They say that the second biggest selling book next to the Bible, is the Guinness Book of records, a chronicle of biggests, and collections.
Some of us gather little bits of paper that someone else has licked, we call it stamp collecting. Some try to gather stocks, some cars, some of us gather toys, hobbies, crafts, books, and all manner of things. There is nothing bad in any of these, by themselves. I even have a few stamps in a book that I last opened some 20 years ago! The problem comes when our possessions start to possess us, or our drive to "have" begins to drive our lives.
The parable Jesus told in todays reading hits his listeners in the face with a stark reality of Life and its message is perhaps even more timely today than when Jesus told it. You fool!, he says, "Life is more than possessions," things are only worth so much, having can lead to being had by what we have. Having is potentially very hazardous, Jesus warns.
Jesus story challenges us with the question "what then do our lives consist of ?" And Paul, in his letter to the Colossians offers some timely advice for us on where to look for answers and what not to do.
Paul was always good on what not to do!
"You fool," says God to the rich farmer in the gospel reading,
"This night is the end of the game and what's going to happen to all your plans, the barns, the stock, the holidays and all those things?"
Try to imagine for a moment or two, what this mans dying wish might have been. Would he have wanted an even bigger barn, "please God, another year and Ill have it all done" or wished for a better farm a bigger acreage, a bigger investment portfolio, a bigger workforce, bigger anything? I dont think so, somehow! Ive had the privilege to minister with quite a few dying people, church members and not, in hospital and at home. Not one has ever wished for bigger assets, no one wished to have spent more time at work! Not one ever said, "I wish I had more things." But the man in Jesus story was not a bad man. No Jesus just calls him a fool. In Pauls terms, he had not put an end to his greed; he hadnt raised his vision to concentrate on the things from above. So what had he done?
"There was a rich man whose land yielded heavy crops"
It looks as if he had the advantage of owning the best quality land, able to employ the best farming practices, and having the good luck of a few bumper seasons. I suspect that like many well off people, he assumed that his success was well deserved, that his special character, or skill, or hard work, or even his righteous prayers, were being justly rewarded.
And notice next that there is no suggestion of any impropriety. Jesus does not even hint at anything wrong with his business code of practice. This is an honest man. No, this is a fellow who would have been happy and respected at the Hillsong Synagogue of his day. Success is a sign of Gods blessing they say.
Jesus says the only thing wrong with this rich farmer was that he was stupid. With all his property and all his big plans, he had missed the real point of life. He threw all his energies into physical prosperity and planned for greater physical self indulgences. He did not stop to ask: "Is this all there is to life?" So he died as a spiritual pauper.
Imagine his funeral.
It would be a large send off I am sure, Ive noticed through my ministry that people who build big barns (of one sort or another!) usually get a big "send off". There would be the suppliers, traders, competitors and the office bearers of the "bigger barns society."
What was the eulogy about? Success and big barns, I suppose. Afterwards, outside the church would the mourners swap stories about his big barns? Would they say to his widow: "Hell be greatly missed. He set a standard in big barns that he will be remembered for."
I wonder how his children felt? Had he been a good father or was he so busy that he gave them scant attention? Did they really know him? Maybe he gave them lavish pocket money, but how much love?
And what about his wife? Did she feature in his allocation of time and energy? Was her advice ever sought? How does a marriage go when one partner is engrossed with building bigger barns?
The fact is that he was a fool. He left unexplored the whole spiritual dimension, the whole "seeking the things that are above" business of loving God and loving others. He had ceased to be alert to the precious nature of life, the wonder of the gift of each new day, the incredible miracle of love, and the exceptional potential of his own soul.
I think theres a second reason to label the man foolish. The scriptures tell us plainly of Gods concern for the poor, the exploited and powerless. There is a clear call to share what we have throughout the Bible.
Here are some rough facts and figures to illustrate about justice and riches in todays world. Have in the back of your mind the question, "where are my riches being laid up?"
Christians make up about one third of the world's population, but we receive about two thirds of the worlds income each year- and if the poorer Catholics of South America and the Asian church were taken out of the calculation the picture would be one of even more contrast.
Research indicates that Western Christians spend about 95% of our incomes on ourselves - only 2% goes to the church. Every day 1,000's fellow human beings die of starvation and malnutrition and preventable disease around our world. Darfur in the Sudan is just the latest hot spot in an ongoing litany of human tragedy.
Is it any wonder that God says to the man who has hoarded all his life "YOU FOOL" and this word put in God's mouth is not a soft put down - it means to be senseless, stupid, to act without reason or intelligence. Jesus goes on from the parable to tell us that God really wants to give us the kingdom. The condition is that first priority.
Try as we might we can't ignore the needs of our fellow human beings. God made us to share, not to squabble over what we could get.
One of the great Christian thinkers of last century was fond of saying to his students, "One day a procession of people will travel out to the cemetery and say some words over a grave, and then everyone will return home - everyone but you or me. What then ?" What will God say then to you and to me? We are rich people. This is a well off church in a well off country. But are we rich in God's sight; are we rich in receiving and sharing God's love? Have we looked up and focused on theses things from above, are we rich in our worship and in our giving and sharing what God has blessed us with?
These are questions that we need to face up to today because God knows where our riches are and god wants us to know the real fullness of life and in the most profound ways to be a people who share.
Into my false security, my smug contentment with the way things are, comes a voice questioning, "Whos a Fool?" and "what does your life consist of?" Seek then the things above, those things that come from the God who is love and give as you have been given to. Amen