Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanking God for empty barns.

Then Jesus told them this story: "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: 'What can I do? My barn isn't big enough for this harvest.' Then he said, 'Here's what I'll do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll gather in all my grain and goods, and I'll say to myself, Self, you've done well! You've got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!'
"Just then God showed up and said, 'Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?'

"That's what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God." ~ Luke 12: 16-21

I've had this passage in my mind recently, and it's created some Thanksgiving tension for me. As I've reflected on what I have to be thankful for, there has been times where I've sounded suspiciously like the rich man in this parable. As I identify with him for his overabundance of blessings it makes God's declaration of Fool! all the more pointed.

I am blessed. I have an abundance. I don't worry what I'm going to eat (except for chasing exciting new recipes) and I have no fear about where I'm going to sleep tonight. Just having an abundance in the areas of Food and Shelter puts me way above many thousands in this world.

How do I hear this passage in a way that doesn't become guilt inducing? I've heard sermons on this text that generally parse out the text in this way: The abundance of the Rich Man's possessions are not the problem. The problem is his relationship with them. Possessions are fine and good so long as you identify God as the giver of all good gifts.

I wonder however. Am I letting myself of the hook and giving myself permission to own as much as I like. By reading the passage this way, a parable that Jesus uses to discuss greed (check out the context) has its teeth removed. I no longer feel the sting of God calling me a fool.

The more I look into God's heart for the poor the worse I feel.

Here are just a few verses that I wrestle with.

Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.

Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

Prov. 31:8ff. [Commandment to kings.] Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."

Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."

Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Those verses are just a few of the ones that challenge me in my abundance. For even more passages concerning God and the poor click

I didn't intend this post to become a source of guilt about my relationship to the poor, though I must confess that is what I'm feeling at the moment. I found myself wondering what other points of connection this passage has for me and as I've prayed I've found myself drawn to the phrase '...produced a terrific crop'.

I've been asking myself "What terrific crop do I produce?" I can think of positive and negative crops. I can be judgemental, petty. I can hold a terrific grudge and an abundance of unforgiveness. I can also compose incredible melodies, speak into people's lives, create space for people to find God. I can be welcoming and hospitable. I can be stubborn and rude.

The message I hear at the moment is to fill my barns with God rather than self.

To do that, I need to do some emptying.

It's surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto bad crops. Giving up a grudge or a prejudice can be painful. A closed fist seems to offer more protection than an open hand.

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto the good crops. If I give away my abundance I become afraid that I may get trapped in poverty. I fear that there will never be another good harvest so I want to hoard what I have.

So here I am at Thanksgiving, trying to open the doors, move the crops and give thanks for empty barns, for it is in the act of emptying that I create space for God to fill.

Less of me, more of You.

Happy Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

Lori Anderson said...

So very thoughtful Peter, thanks for posting this.