Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bigger Barns for Everyone

Luke 12:13-21

The core of this Gospel text is another very familiar story. A man has a bumper crop and decides to build bigger barns to store it in. But Jesus bursts his bubble. God calls the man a fool, and declares that despite his increasing wealth, he will die that night.
Pastors usually interpret this story as relating to where our focus is: on life and the accumulation of income, or on God. We all usually respond to this story by squirming in our seats; we all know we pay more attention to the matters of every day life than we do to our relationship with God.
But, today, I’d like for us to think about it a different way. Certainly, we need to balance our attention, giving as much as we can to God. But let’s think about the crop itself. Yes, we give God credit or blame if we have a good or poor harvest. God sends rain and sun in due season, and the crops grow or fail accordingly.
But this man didn’t plant the seeds by himself; he didn’t pull out the weeds by himself; he didn’t gather in the harvest by himself; and he wouldn’t even be able to tear down old barns or build new ones by himself. It took many people to sow, weed, and harvest this bumper crop. It took women and children many hours to feed the workers, and launder their soiled clothing. But, the man took all the credit and joy of this abundant harvest.
What would have happened if he had said, “I have this huge crop, and it came with God’s help, and with the labor of so many people. It would only be fair if I share the wealth of the harvest with the laborers who made it possible, and give some of it to the synagogue for God to use.”
If he had done that, the laboring families would have had more than a subsistence amount of bread to eat; would perhaps have had meat on the table more than once a year; perhaps they would have been able to give the children new clothes so they had more than one tunic to wear; perhaps the women could purchase a new shawl, or the men a new pair of sandals. And the rabbi at the synagogue would have been able to help other needy families.
The reality is that we rarely do anything by ourselves, and when we work together, we can do so much more. A couple of weeks ago, we raised almost $800 to pay for the shipping of Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. With the Thrivent supplement, we have almost $1000.
Working together, we hope to send 200 shoeboxes this year. Many of us donated items for the auction, money for the surprise of finding out what was in the package, and Christmas in July goodies to enjoy eating. Many of us donate items or funds for the shoeboxes themselves, to give children living in extremely poor circumstances some of the joy we know at Christmas. That joy is found both in giving and receiving gifts, but also in knowing how much Jesus loves us, all of us.
Although we had planned to not have Vacation Bible School, it became clear that it is very important to our youth that we continue to offer this program to our community. The youth have enjoyed participating as helpers in the past, and this year became leaders, coached by mentoring adults.
Did you grown-ups realize you were being mentors to the youth? You were, and you did a great job of it. Our youth learned a lot, as they worked with the children who came, and led the workshops. I’m not sure who had more fun, the children, the youth, or those of us who got to watch ministry in action!
Larry and Robin’s musical leadership was exciting, and made more enjoyable by the addition of the animal masks put together by Helga, with help from the family. And Larry told me he learned a new song, so we helped him, too.
Many people filled jelly jars with coins and paper money, and wrote checks to preserve education at Hope. Many added their own prayers to the congregation’s prayers for a successful VBS.
Many people worked behind the scenes to decorate the Hall, to pack goody bags, to bring in supplies, to figure out what was needed and make sure it was available. Many more signed up to help wherever they could be used, and discovered there were more people than things to be done.
They could have gone home, yet they stayed and participated and lent their moral support to the rest of us.
It is said it takes a village to raise a child. We have just experienced being a village, for the young people of our congregation, and in our community. Our numbers were smaller than usual, but the Holy Spirit was definitely present, and we all had a great time reaching out with God’s love to those who came.
Angel Food Ministries is another opportunity where we can see that it takes many people to make something happen. It takes many people to take orders, to turn in the orders and the cash, to pick up the food, to set up tables and distribute the food, and then to clean up after distribution. And the process begins again for the next month.
With these three ministries, our pockets are no fuller than they were when we began; in fact, they may be a bit emptier, because we gave some money to make it happen. But our hearts are fuller, because of what we have been able to do in Jesus’ name.
What if the man in Jesus’ story had chosen to share his wealth? His laborers would have been better off, with a little extra in their households, and happier to be working for such a generous man. The man himself would have been rewarded by their pleasure in working for him, by the good feeling he got from sharing his wealth, and he may even have remembered that it was God’s providence – God’s provide-ance – that made the abundant harvest possible in the first place.
Some of us have more, or less, financial wealth than others of us. Exactly how much we have is unimportant to God; what is important is what we do with what we have. If we lovingly contribute what we can to the ministry of Hope, we are giving because it feels good.
Some of us have more, or less, available time than others of us. If we lovingly contribute our time to the ministries of Hope, we are giving of our time because it feels good.
We all have different gifts, different talents. If we willingly offer those gifts in service to God, we offer those gifts because it feels good.
The reward for giving of our time, talent, and financial resources is the good feeling that we have pleased God as well as ourselves in the giving. We have helped other people, God’s children, in our giving.
Many of Hope’s members are retired. It’s important to remember that there is no retirement from serving God, and we as a congregation have just proved it, and continue to prove it. We have raised a lot of money for Operation Christmas Child, we have had a wonderful VBS, and we continue to make low-cost food available to our neighbors. We have done all this to the glory of God and we are right to revel in the joy of serving so well.
This week, it wouldn’t hurt to bask a little in the joy of ministries well-done; but only until you are called to serve again. There are always openings for folks to serve at Hope. Where will you serve this week, this month, this year? Let’s all serve with joy, and marvel at the abundance God pours out upon us as we serve in Jesus’ name.
Please pray with me. God of abundance, we give you thanks for all that you joyfully give us. Help us to feel that same joy in giving to others whatever we have to share. Amen