“Is It All Too Much?”Dr. Jeffrey “Chad” Fetzer Luke 12: 13-21 Year C – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - (Proper 13)
Yesterday was a true day of accomplishment at our home. We managed to complete a task on our to-do list that had been lingering for several months. We had a garage sale. On one of the hottest days of the Lawton summer – we had a garage sale. As I walked through the aisles of our sale, looking at these possessions for which we once paid full price and toted from place to place, now selling for pennies, one thought, one question continually badgered me, “How did we get all this stuff?”
We love stuff. On the whole our culture is consumed with stuff. We struggle with the all-too-real temptation for bigger, better and more stuff. We’re told over and over that happiness and fulfillment is just the next acquisition away. But even as this powerful force tries to drive us to more, there are other voices are rising up, voices questioning if more is really what we need.
Organizing consultant Peter Walsh penned these words as introduction to his book on home organization. As I read them it seemed clear there was much more on his mind than simply finding a place for everything:
“Maybe you are at a stage in your life where something in your life is too much . . . If so, you are part of a harsh awakening in this country, and across much of the developed world, as we come to realize that happiness and success might not be measured by more material things. That having more possessions may be more suffocating than liberating; that a larger house, better car and more “stuff” come with no guarantee of greater happiness. That for many of us, the stuff we own ends up owning us. Suddenly you look around at the life you’ve built and all you’ve acquired and realize that it’s all too much.” (Walsh, It’s All Too Much, 1)
The struggle with “much,” with wealth and possessions is not a new one. It is as old as scripture. Peter Walsh was not the first to sound the warning. As a matter of fact, we can see this timeless issue burst out of today’s passage in, of all things, a rude interruption of Jesus’ teaching. “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” a man in the crowd demanded of Jesus.
It seems that we humans have been fighting over the inheritance for some time. His command gave me pause to remember some quite nasty arguments I’ve witnessed as families disintegrated and quarreled over whom would get what. How many relationships have been severed, how much harm has occurred over the dividing of the stuff? We don’t know the details behind the difficulties between this man and his brother. We never will. Jesus flatly refused to hear the case. He won’t get involved. “Who set me up as judge or arbiter over you?”
If we were to paraphrase that text it might read, “I’m not here to referee your financial squabbles.” By all counts, the subject should be closed – except that it wasn’t. Jesus never missed an opportunity to teach spiritual truth from the basic elements of the human condition. Rather than leave the fussing brothers to their own devices Jesus used this interruption as an occasion to provide them a not-so-subtle warning, “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed,” Beware that strong desire for more; the overwhelming urges to have more of something than is actually needed. A person’s life was not made up of all the stuff that could be possessed.
To illustrate his point Jesus told a story. It’s a rather short story in Jesus’ repertoire, a brief five verses. But hidden in its efficiency is a hard-hitting, existential warning regarding the things in life that are truly important.
The story began with good news, “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” There’s certainly nothing wrong or bad about that. There is family on my father’s side who still makes a living growing wheat and corn. Many a time their harvest has been adversely affected by elements beyond anyone’s control. Heat, drought, flood, hail, and any of a dozen other conditions have served to wreck a season of hard work.
But then there are years where the tumblers all click into place, and a bumper crop makes it to harvest. Those are good times on the farm. Those are the moments for celebration. Such was a time for this landowner. He hit the jackpot. In fact the crop was so good; the harvest was so plentiful, that he soon ran out of apace to store his harvest. His barns were full.
So far for the listeners, there is nothing out of sorts in this tale. Everything has gone well for the landowner. Good for him! But in the midst of all this plenty, this wealthy landowner had a question to answer, an answer that revealed his heart. Jesus allowed the listeners access to these important inner thoughts. “What do I do with the surplus? I have no place to store it. How do I handle prosperity?”
It seemed that as quickly as the landowner asked the question he thought of a plan. He will tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, he can keep everything for his own use. He could have more. He pushed confidently into the future tense, “I will tear down my barns; I will build bigger ones; I will store all of my grain and all of my goods.”
Did you note how many times “I” and “My” were used? And with his plan in place keeping more, he envisioned a future story of wealth, ease and comfort, “You’ve got it made! You’ve got everything you need! You’ve done it! Take it easy and enjoy yourself!”
This man has shut out everyone else from his life and thoughts. All that existed was himself and his possessions. When it came to managing his life, and planning for the future, he lived as though there were no God. “This is my stuff and it’s all for me. You don’t get a say God.”
God did get a say! And the first words out of God’s mouth must have been shocking to the hearers. “You Fool!” Seem a bit harsh? No sooner had the landowners envisioned his life of plenty and ease; than God spoke to declare what the future actually held. “You fool!” The stark reality was that although he triumphantly lorded over a vast amount of wealth and stuff, as it turned out he wasn’t even in control of his own life, which was ending that night.
Please note that nowhere does God suggest that this man’s death was some sort of punishment. It was simply the reality of life. The reality of life on Earth is that one day our life will end. We don’t know when, we simply know that it will. Reality caught up to the wealthy man, with none of his great plans for keeping his wealth ever coming to pass. The only question remaining, according to God, was who was going to get all the stuff left behind? What would become of all that wealth over which one no longer had control? Was the only legacy of the wealthy man a nasty inheritance battle?
And with no answer to God’s final, haunting question, the parable ended. But Jesus did not leave his listeners entirely without direction. “This is what happens with those preoccupied with getting more and more wealth, but are not rich towards God.” It is the same message Jesus gave in the form of a question in Luke 9:25, “What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit one’s soul?”
I wonder sometimes if we’ve minimized our need to answer that question for ourselves. It has been said that the multimillionaire John D. Rockefeller, was once asked the question, “How much money is enough?” to which he replied, “Just a little more.” If that is the goal of our life, just a little more, then we have missed the point of our life and are living foolishly according to Jesus. If you get all the stuff in the world and but lose your soul in the process it was all too much!
There is nothing to be gained by merely seeking for more. There is everything to be gained by striving to be rich towards God. What does that mean? I believe a life rich towards God characterized by caring about the things that God cares about – modeling and advocating justice and righteousness; generously sharing our resources to serve and meet the needs of others; loving God and loving other people. I am less concerned or dare I say not concerned about my possessions, my titles, my money, my resume or my comfort.
Where might your focus be today? What in your life commands your attention? Do the things of life that are temporary control you? Is it all too much? Long after all that is gone what will be left is love. The things we do out of love for God are what ultimately will last. All the time, energy and money we choose to invest in loving God and loving people will never be too much.
About the writer:
Dr. Jeffrey “Chad” Fetzer is Pastor of New Haven Church in Lawton, Oklahoma. A native of Shawnee, OK, Chad is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.), Southwestern Baptist Seminary (M.Div.), and Brite Divinity School (D.Min). Chad and his wife, Tammy, are the parents of two sons, Josh and Jonathan. He enjoys Oklahoma State University athletics, playing on the “wii” with Jonathan, traveling, food, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Scripture and Music:
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
Now Thank We All Our God
There’s a Wideness in God s Mercy
We Know That Christ Is Raised
Many Gifts, One Spirit (Allen Pote)
Arise, Your Light Has Come (David Danner)
Charity and Love (Daniel Kallman)
Psalm 107 (Robert Clatterbuck)
Now Thank We All Our God (J.S. Bach)
Many Gifts, One Spirit
For Those Tears I Died
Consecration (John Ness Beck)