After contemplating this morning’s readings I’m convinced that they are talking about three different diseases – diseases which make people sick today just as surely as they did in Bible times.
I think we’ll call the first disease “Restless Soul Syndrome.” From our first lesson from Ecclesiastes it is obvious that the teacher has Restless Soul Syndrome. Earning money is meaningless, he says, because you just die with a bunch of it and there is no guarantee that the next generation is going to use it wisely. Even spending your life gaining knowledge and skill and wisdom is meaningless because it just benefits others who didn’t work for it. His soul is restless. The teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes does eventually give us a clue as to what is meaningful in life – but we don’t get that in the part we heard this morning. This morning’s Old Testament Lesson is among the most depressing you will hear. “All is vanity,” says the teacher. Our days are vull of pain. Our work is a vexation. Even at night our minds don’t rest. All is vanity. Restless Soul Syndrome.
The second disease which all of us catch at one time or another is called “The More Addiction.” In The More Addiction, the more you have the more you want. In my last parish they built a very fancy pet hotel where you could get your dog a pool view room with plasma tv and a limousine to come pick him up and take him to the back door of the suburb’s fanciest steak house where the chef would bring out a nice juicy T-bone. The place took off and made money hand-over-fist. I saw a $60,000 mattress on tv last week. And the More Addiction isn’t just for rich folk. Rental storage units do a boom business because people fill up their houses and their garages with things they don’t need and then need more space just to “have it.”
The third disease which is rampant in every society of every time is “Affluenza” – the sickness you catch from being affluent. This morning we consider the scene of the man who shouted from the crowd, “Teacher! Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Most likely, this was a younger brother who didn’t think it was fair that the first-born brother would receive the lion’s share of his father’s estate. But Jesus wasn’t interested in this kind of fairness. Instead, he told them the parable about the man whose crops were SO successful that he would simply build bigger barns so that he would no longer need to work and he could spend his whole life eating, drinking, and being merry. But God said to this man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Then Jesus interpreted the parable by concluding, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
In addition to Affluenza, this man had Restless Soul Syndrome. “My soul won’t be at rest until I build bigger barns.”
Well, one person has said it this way: “Money may buy you a bed, but not sleep. It may buy you books, but not brains. It will buy food, but not appetite. Finery, but not beauty. Amusement, but not happiness. And money may buy you a real big house,, but not a home.”
Did you know that the Bible offers about 500 verses on prayer? Approximately 500 verses on faith. But it contains more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. That should say something.
Sometimes money can not only not make people happy, it can pull them down. John Ruskin told the story of a man who was in the gold business and was transporting his gold from one place to another by boat. The boat developed a leak and was about to sink. The man reached for his gold, strapped as much of it as he could around his waist, leapt overboard, and attempted to swim to shore. But he sank like a rock and drowned. Ruskin asks the question, “As he was drowning, did he have his gold, or did his gold have him.” Maybe this is what the teacher in Ecclesiastes asks.
Another has offered this challenge: Find the poverty in your riches. Think about that. Find the poverty in your riches. Or, as the sign out front of the church said, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
In Jesus’ parable about the man with the barns, God virtually yells at him: “You fool. This very night your life is being demanded of you!” This message is one of the earliest I can remember from my childhood church. A visiting minister was virtually screaming at the congregation, “And you! And you! What would happen if you died this evening?! Then where would your soul be?!”
I was too young to have Restless Soul Syndrome, but that gave me Terrified Soul Syndrome! … at least until we got out of church and home to mother’s Sunday chicken dinner. It got me scared about the same things Luther was scared about before the book of Romans changed his heart. What if my soul isn’t clean enough? What if I think too many bad thoughts? Do too many bad deeds? Care about money too much? What then? Will I end up like those poor people in Michelangelo’s fresco of The Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel – groaning and screaming as they slip helplessly down through the invisible membrane which separates the heavenly realm from the demonic and fiery pits of hell where the damned weep and gnash their teeth for all of eternity.
Well, in my ministry I’ve never found that threats of damnation ever brought people to true faith. Rather, it is the proclamation of the Good News which lights the fires in the hearts – and so I wonder if the antidote to these diseases (Restless Soul Syndrome, The More Addiction, and Affluenza) might actually come from our epistle reading where Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died.” What he means is that all of us have died with Christ and, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so to are we raised with him.
When we hear – as we did in Jesus’ parable – when we hear God say, “Tonight, your very life is demanded of you,” we can hear it this way. We have already died! In baptism we went under the water – we drowned – we died. And – when we died – sin, death, and all that is not of God died with us. But, in baptism, we were raised from the water to newness of life.
So, at baptism “our very lives were demanded from us.” Christ demands that we now do for others what he has done for us. Teach, clothe, feed, build shelter, offer a helping hand. If you think the interest you got last year from that mutual fund made you happy, check out the joy you receive when you help a person who has been given a raw deal in life or has undergone a personal tragedy.
As one person has put it, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Or, as Winston Churchill put it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
What if our very lives were to be demanded from us this evening? I’ll go you one better. Your very life is being demanded of you right at this very moment. Right now. Go in peace! Celebrate! Think! Serve!
Thanks be to God!
Text: Luke 12:13-21