Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Posselt Farm, Circa 1900s|
I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get the family farm. We haven’t really ever talked about it, at least not yet, since my parents are still in good health. As it turns out, farming was not my calling, though growing up I had my own allotment of daily chores, and I did enjoy playing with the cats and dogs and watching the baby calves grow up. Farming turned out to be the calling of my younger brother Tony, who is a very competent agribusiness man and a great help to my dad. He will be the fifth generation to work that land back in Wisconsin, which my grandpa calls “Maple Acres.” Me and the rest of my siblings were called elsewhere, though I am by far the “farthest flung” among them. I wouldn't know what to do with a farm if I had one, and I would be more than happy to leave it in Tony’s capable hands.
|Posselt Farm, Circa 2012|
But I do know a thing or two about barns. In twenty-first century Midwestern American, and at Maple Acres, the barn (the big red part) is where the hay bales are kept, and under the barn is where the cows are kept, and in the silos are where the grain is kept. There originally were two silos on our property, but when I was in grade school we built another one. And many, many years before that, the barn where the cows are milked was also expanded. It’s what farms do. As your productivity increases, you can afford more cows. And more cows mean more milk, but also more to feed. So with more cows, more grain storage is needed. And so on, and so on. Always trying to make the most out of the hard work you put in. And the farm that Tony would inherit is larger and more productive than the one that my dad inherited, which was bigger still than the farm my grandpa inherited, and so on. And hopefully this will continue for generations to come.
But there was once a rich farmer, Jesus said, whose land produced abundantly, so much so that he could not store all of his harvest in his existing silos. A big problem, but a very happy one. Does he consult his father and seek his wise council from his many years of farming? Does he join with his son to brainstorm solutions? Does he confer with his farmer-neighbors over a celebratory beer at the local bar?
No. He said to himself, “What should I do with MY CROPS?” He seems to be the only one he cares about in this picture. We don’t know if he had family, a wife and kids, or even friends in the community, because they do not even merit a single thought in his mind. He is not thinking about leaving a legacy for his children, or even about celebrating with his neighbors. For all intents and purposes, he was alone with his abundance. Rich Farmer with Windfall, Party of One.
But someone was listening in on the little heart-to-heart this man had with himself. This someone was the one who created the rich earth so that the seeds of the crops would sprout and grow. This someone was the one who caused the rain to fall to water the ground at just the right times and in the right amounts – not to be too dry or too wet. This someone was the one who formed the sun billions of years ago so that it would shine those crucial months so that those crops would photosynthesize like crazy and produce that abundant harvest.
That rich foolish farmer didn't seem to know the Johnny Appleseed Grace, did he? You probably know the one: “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need: the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me. Amen…” hmmm, must not have gone to camp as a kid.
So just as the rich farmer was wondering what to do with all the wonderful crops that HE grew, how to put HIS grain and HIS goods into HIS bigger barns, God – Poof! – shows up to tell him that HIS LIFE will be demanded of him. But the truth was, by the time God shows up in this story, this man is already dead. At least he was in his heart and in his spirit. He had turned the gifts that God had given him into gods themselves, and believed that he was the end of the line for these gifts rather than one stop along the way to benefit the larger community. He had forgotten that he brought nothing with him into this world, and learned the hard way that he can take nothing out of it.
But not many people these days are farmers like my dad and mom and brothers. Not many people can say that this year the harvest was so good that they’re gonna need to build bigger barns in the back yard. But the accumulation of “stuff,” be it crops or land or houses or cars, seems to have been a distraction to humanity since time immemorial. Ever since the human race invented the pronoun “mine,” we've had problems. You know, like those seagulls in Finding Nemo – Mine, mine, mine…
But what is already “mine” is not really enough, is it? I look in my closet, and I find nothing to wear. So I go to the mall. Oh gosh don’t these pillows go great with the couch? You know, dear, we really could use a new dining room table, that one we already have was a hand-me-down and the chairs don’t quite match. Wow, look, the newest iPhone just came out. My upgrade is still six months away, but I just don’t think I can wait that long. You know, little Sally’s friends all make fun of her for having that bike that was her older cousin’s, maybe we should get her that new model ten speed Disney Princess bike with the streamers and basket, she’ll just love it. And little Bobby is starting school now, and he could really use the Spiderman backpack with special water bottle and lunch box, with the GPS app and roller wheels…
Gee our house is beginning to feel really small. Maybe we need to rent a storage unit? Or maybe move to a bigger house? …At what point to we become possessed by our possessions? As the founder of “Bread for the World” Arthur Simon once wrote: “We are human beings, not human havings.”
Jesus said that life does not consist of, is not made up by the abundance of possessions. Well, of what then does life consist of?
Our lives are made up of the things that we really can say “mine” to: God’s love is yours. God’s forgiveness is yours. God’s presence in your life is yours. The life God gave to Jesus in the resurrection is yours. These are the treasures of life that can never be lost, that will never decay, an no one can ever steal from you.
All that we are, all that we have, and all that we love was given to us out of God’s love. Love is the one thing we need. It cannot be stored or traded or hoarded. But it can be shared. And it is the one thing that we have that grows more abundant the more we share it with others. Thanks to God, we already have everything we need… so what are we going to do with the rest of it?
I do know one more think about barns. You cannot build a barn alone. While nowadays when you want to build a barn, you hire a construction company. In the old days, barn raisings were community events, where the whole town might show up. The men would roll up their sleeves and lift the walls and raise the roof, while the women saw to cuts and scrapes and made sure everyone was fed, and the children played underfoot, thinking it was just a big excuse to get together with their friends. Everyone was there to help, in one way or another. They all had a hand in something no one person could accomplish alone, even now; something meant to last, something that would perhaps endure beyond themselves.
I think that the idea of being rich toward God is something like that: using what you have been given to help someone who needs helping. That is the kind of riches that give meaning to our lives and make life worth our toil for another day. Thanks be to God. Amen.