Year C Proper 13 Luke 12
Building Barns, Postponing Life
This morning I would like us to think a few moments about our money and our life. Let's see what Jesus has to say about these two subjects.
The background for our story is an incident that occurred in Galilee as Jesus was teaching to a large crowd. A young man called out from the crowd and said: Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the inheritance of our father." Now, Jewish law clearly prescribed that at the death of a father, the elder son received 2/3 of the inheritance, and the young son received 1/3. This is obviously a younger son who is complaining about the inherent unfairness of it all. Nothing will divide brothers and sisters more than dividing up an estate. So it was then, and so it is now. Jesus refused to get involved in a petty family squabble.
Jesus was concerned, however, with the larger implications of preoccupation with the things of this world. He said: Beware of greed, for life does not consist of things possessed. The sum total of a person's life is more than their financial portfolio.
He then illustrated this point by telling a story. There was once a man who had an unbroken run of prosperity. In today's language, he had successfully played the commodities market. So prosperous did he become that his barns could not hold all of his crops. His solution was to tear down these barns and build bigger and better barns. Then, with his financial security in hand, he could sit back and truly enjoy life. His philosophy was: eat, drink, and be merry.
Truth be told, when we hear this story we find ourselves rather envious of this man. A financially successful man—we see him as savvy and wise. Yet, Jesus concluded the story by saying that this man was a fool.
The issue before us this morning is then: what did this man do wrong? To answer that question we must understand that this is not a parable about money. It is a parable about values and what is important in life. With that in mind, let me suggest four things that this man did that made him a fool.
- He Had Full Barns, but an Empty Heart.
- He Overestimated Himself.
- He Forgot about the Real Business of Life.
- He Forgot about Time.
The Real Real Estate
I officiated at a funeral recently of a man who died of a heart attack two weeks after he declared bankruptcy. With his beautiful wife, five kids, and many grandchildren circling the grave, this is how I began the eulogy:
You say: how cruel can you be? In front of his grieving family you are calling a man "wealthy" who died right after declaring bankruptcy.
I say: how crude can you be? You are calling a "wealthy" person someone who made their fortune from the real estate of land and property and not the real real estate of life.
In our Scripture lesson this morning, Jesus gives us a different understanding of wealth than the one we're used to. In fact, according to Jesus, the wealthiest person in the world is someone you've never heard of — someone who made their wealth in something other than land.
Not that there isn't wealth to be made from real estate.
Forget that one word "Plastics." Here's the word that created some of the biggest fortunes of the past 50 years: "Autopia."
"Autopia" is a word invented by Rayner Banham to describe the car culture that started in California in the wake of the Interstate Highway System and spread to the rest of the US, and from the US to the world. "Autopia" is what gave us suburbia, malls and the whole panorama of cartocracy, or even better, autocracy. In an auto-cracy or autocratic culture, Car Is King and Real Estate is King Maker.
Thanks to autopia and autocracy, the need for inexpensive family housing after the Second World War pushed new developments beyond the boundaries of existing cities and towns. Cornfields and pasture lands were bulldozed into pre-planned, pre-fabricated suburbs. And what was good for the growing "baby boom" families was good for small farmers as well. Hardscrabble farmlands were suddenly gold mines, as developers greedily subdivided grassy meadows into grids of cheap houses. Old family farms became one-time windfalls, the land itself being the final cash crop for a generation of farmers who could make more money off the interest from the sale of their farms to suburban developers than from selling the products of their labor.
Owning real estate has always seemed like the "golden ticket" — whether it was "forty acres and a mule" or forty acres and a bulldozer. Stock values can evaporate overnight. Paper money is only worth what the government backing decides is its value. But real estate is, well, REAL. You can see it. You can hold it in your hand. You can walk on it. You can build on it. Real estate is never worth nothing. Even with "underwater" mortgages – that's when the house isn't worth as much as the money owed on it--the property still has value. That's why the bank will eagerly take it back.
But for the people whose names are on the bottom line of an "underwater" mortgage, what seemed like their best, most reliable investment, is suddenly worth nothing to them.
Nevertheless the message of today's gospel lesson is clear. Real estate is the BEST investment you can make. But the "real estate" Jesus is talking about isn't measured by the acre. The real estate of Jesus' parable isn't buildable with water rights. The real estate Jesus implores us to invest in is the real estate of life -- real relationships that bind us together and help work together to usher us into the presence of God...