What About Me

In this sermon I explore Jesus’ parable of the rich man building bigger barns. The sound file can be found here:


Here is the text of the sermon. As usual there are little differences. Excuse them as well as the odd punctuation and indications to pause. Gotta remember to do that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sitting in my office, leaning against the back wall under the window, are two posters from my past. They are the posters from two different community theatre productions that I acted in when I was in my early 20’s.  The first is from a play called Proof, in which I played a young mathematics professor.

The second, which I actually have here…is from a show called The Lion in Winter. Now, perhaps you are familiar with this show. It was made into a movie back in 1968 starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn…and then it was remade in 2003 starring Patrick Stewart and Glen Close.

The Lion in Winter focuses around a very famous royal family in England. King Henry and Queen Eleanor, and their three sons. 26 year old Richard the Lionheart…perhaps you’ve heard of him…16 year old John…or Prince John as he’s called in most Robin Hood films…and the middle son…25 year old Geoffrey…played by yours truly. The premise for the play finds the entire family together at Christmas, as the entire family tries to push their own agenda in the naming of the heir to Henry’s throne.

Richard, the oldest and strongest, plans to simply take the throne…and he has the backing of his strong-willed and crafty mother Eleanor. Young John…daddy’s favorite…thinks that he will simply get the throne because…as favorite, it makes him entitled…and then there’s Geoffrey…the schemer…I played a bit of a rat you see…My character plots and plans and pits everyone against everyone until in one rage-filled scene, I reveal to Henry that both Richard and John have betrayed him and in my favorite line of the whole play, I scream out. “Here I am Father…I’m all that’s left…so what about me?”

What…about…me? Throughout the entire play, we see this attitude dominate. All three boys are out for the crown…the ultimate prize? And the king and queen…they might as well be saying “But what about what I want?” Everyone in the family…is self-centered…no one cares about anyone else…they only care about what’s best for themselves….Me me me…mine mine mine…I I I…What about me?

Sound a little familiar doesn’t it? (pause) What should I…do, for I…have not place to store my…crops. I…will do this. I…will tear down my…barns and build larger ones, and there I…will store all my…grain and my…goods. And I…will say to my soul…relax, eat, drink, and be merry. It would seem that the rich man in the parable thinks only of himself here in Jesus’ example…and that mirrors the attitude of the man that spoke up from the crowd…Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.

He might as well be saying “I need more…he’s got it…but who cares about him…what about me?”

Greed…now that’s a bit of a tricky one…and to be honest…sometimes it seems like the rich man in the story is getting a little bit of a bad rap.  All too often when we encounter this story, we tend to come away with the lesson that money’s a bad thing, and those that are wealthy are the bad guy…and when we limit ourselves to that interpretation I fear we get the wrong impression and probably miss the point that Jesus was trying to make in the first place.

So let’s get down to it. Money right…in the end, this story has to be about the dangers of money doesn’t it? If I had to make a ruling…I’d say no…its really not about money…its about attitude. The rich man in the story couldn’t see beyond the end of his own nose…and it would seem that despite his short sightedness, he’s led a pretty productive life. Apparently the only concern that this guy has is the fact that his crop was WAY too big that year…a nice problem to have isn’t it? If only we could all be so lucky.

But the man misses several important things…He forgets about everyone that helped produce his bumper crop. As a landowner in this time he would have had servants doing much of the work for him…in his place…but does he acknowledge them? No, he doesn’t…nor does he recognize the help that he got from nature…crops don’t grow on their own as any of our farmers can tell you…sun, rain, nutrients in the soil…he sure didn’t provide that for the crop…and yet he forgets to mention that too…and then, in perhaps the most irritating display of self-centeredness, all the man can think about is what to do to hoard this bumper crop for himself…to keep it all for himself so he can slack off in the future. Never once, does he think about anyone, besides himself…What about me? How can I benefit from this?

As Jesus continues…we see just what the rich man gets out of it…he dies…and someone else gets his riches…someone else, gets his abundance. Someone else, benefits…but we don’t know who…and neither was the man who spent all his energy focusing on what he could get out of the blessing that God had bestowed.

Now, here’s the part where things get a little tricky…where the moral lesson comes off a little hazy. When we think about the example of this rich man…and we think about the response of God…calling him a fool, it seems at first glance that Jesus is telling us to give it all away. Be wary of wealth. Cleanse yourself from the evils of money….but that’s where things start to get a little uncomfortable don’t they…because the tendency to think with the checkbook hits a little close to home doesn’t it? And so perhaps it becomes easy to gloss over this passage when it comes up. Perhaps we start to ignore it just a little bit, or we put it on the back burner, or we think to ourselves…sure that meant something in Jesus time, but it doesn’t apply to us today…Society is different, so what are we supposed to do with this one?

You know what…that’s a darn good question. What are we supposed to do with this one? Think about it for a second…we live in a “what if” society…and so many of our financial decisions reflect that. I heard a comedian talk about the idea of insurance…and he said that we should change the name. He said we should call it “in case stuff.” You need car insurance in case stuff happens to your car. You need medical insurance in case stuff happens to your health. You need life insurance in case stuff happens to you.

Now I don’t bring that up to pick on insurance companies or agents, but you know what…there’s a nugget of truth in that notion. And so we beg the question what does this story tell us about someone that tries to plan for the future…or someone that is attempting to make sound financial decisions? Is Jesus telling us just to throw all that aside?

Is Jesus telling us, don’t worry about having a job…money’s not important. Don’t worry about food…don’t worry about clothes…don’t worry about your house or your car? Is that what Jesus is saying here? Well, no…I don’t think so…but what do we do with that?

How are we supposed to hear this story? What about the person saving away for retirement…is that bad? And perhaps the most troubling situation to talk about is, what about the person who has been blessed abundantly? What do they do? Just throw it all away?

How are we supposed to hear this in today’s “Gotta plan for tomorrow” society. And how are we supposed to hear this in today’s “buy it now…spend spend spend because this will make you fell complete” society?  (pause)

Maybe…in the end…that’s the point right there. When we get too focused on the question “what about me” or “how will this make me feel” or “what can I get out this” we get blinded to the notion that life is just too darn unpredictable to put so much stock in stuff.  The rich guy in the story died…he didn’t have a chance to do any of the stuff that his riches fooled him into thinking he could…and some unknown person got the riches.  The poor guy hadn’t even had the foresight to appoint an heir for his riches…he was too focused on himself…and what he could get.

And so we come to it…the notion of stewardship…that fearsome time in the church year when a lot of pastors make their obligatory plea for the congregation to be good stewards…to look beyond themselves and give to the church.

Perhaps they play the shame card. “Look at the rich guy in the story…he got what he deserved but if you just keep writing those big fat checks to the church, you’ll be spared from it.”  Maybe they play the get out of jail free card…and they ask for funds as a way to buy your salvation.  I can think of several televangelists who made a heck of a fortune spinning that yarn. “If you want God to bless you, then send me a check for $1000.”

But what if we looked at this whole deal from the perspective that we are blessed by the gifts of God. Yes we work and we toil and we plan and we save, and none of these things are bad things…but we need to remember that our very lives are not our own and at any time…literally any time…that life can be over…and as they say…you can’t take it with you.

And so I raise the question of just how you use the wealth that you have? Is it all about me? How does this benefit me or make my life easier…or are you also thinking of the other? Because that was the mistake of the man in today’s story…he couldn’t see past his own reflection in the mirror to see that in his abundance, he could be helping others.

And perhaps that’s the challenge of this story. What are we to do? Stop thinking about tomorrow? Disregard our children or our spouses so that they are left destitute if, heaven forbid, something did happen to me today? What about those employees that are dependent on our wise business decisions to provide for their families? What about those situations?

Attitude is everything…perhaps you noticed, Jesus didn’t condemn the bumper crop…he doesn’t look down on money he just doesn’t want our lives to be ruled by it…and as Jesus is also famous for saying where your treasure is there your heart is also…and if our lives are ruled by the pursuit of money…or worse yet when we start to find our life’s happiness and purpose in it…well then I believe we’ll find something missing…because we can’t buy our way into heaven…we can’t earn our salvation from sin…Only God can give us that…only God can give us life beyond this “in case stuff” life…and we have the perfect example of someone that looked beyond their own life…someone who looked beyond the notion “what about me” and instead focused on everyone else…Jesus Christ himself…who gave himself as a ransom to ensure that those who believe in him may have eternal life.

We gather together in the name of Jesus Christ. Not just here at Underwood Lutheran but all over the world…the church gather’s together but we are also sent out into the world to proclaim the good news of Christ…that is the mission that God has placed before us, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in a broken world…in a materialistic world…in a “in case stuff” world. And we do that because the love of God in Christ Jesus is not something that we receive in order to hold onto it. It is a blessing that is mean to be shared…and there is no barn big enough to hold it…and if that’s something that you believe in…and something that you think is of worth, then that’s why we support it…we support it with our time and with our treasures so that one day…all may come to know the saving love of Jesus Christ. Every…single…one…Amen.

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