Has anyone here ever been asked to be the executor or executrix of a will? The reading of someone’s last will and testament can be an opportunity to present a great gift – to family, to the church community, to other charitable organizations, or it can be the catalyst for deep anger and resentment if people feel they didn’t get what they consider their fair share.
Jesus, in the midst to trying to teach his disciples to be wary of
those in religious authority – those who preach one thing and do another, those who can kill the body, but have no claim on your soul, is interrupted by an irate man, who believes Jesus might have some influence over a family quarrel. The time has come for the division of the estate, and the man believes he’s been given the short end of the stick. Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity for the crowd that has gathered.
`Once there was a farmer’…, Jesus begins, and tells a tale that most of them would hear as perfectly sensible. A farmer has a bumper crop and resolves to build bigger barns so he can live off of the great harvest and retire with the `Freedom 35’ program (Folks didn’t live all that long in Jesus’ day, apparently.) But just when everyone is thinking that’s a great idea, Jesus says the farmer is not going to live past 35, in fact, he dies that night. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen the sign, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s a bit of a taunt at death, isn’t it. But it’s not really what life is about for people who seek to look beyond their own needs and wants. Jesus calls this farmer a rich fool – storing up for self but not rich toward God. It is at the soul level that our lives really count.
The Biblical translation called `The Message’ says, “This is what happens when you fill your barn with Self instead of God.” So the barn becomes symbolic for life and we have the dilemma of focusing on the ego and what it wants versus the higher self, the self which is connected to the Divine.
In the story, the farmer is told `Fool, this night your soul is required of you. We understand that to mean physical death – indeed, this will come to all of us – none of us gets out of life alive, and none of us knows when our days will end. On the other hand, this day, or this night, your soul will be required of you, can also mean that our soul is required to be on board, to be in tune with our God-given calling. Each day we are invited to ask, “What is required of my soul today? What is God asking of me? How can I live authentically, generously, faithfully?”
It’s no easy task. Some folks, who grew up in the dirty thirties, or lived during the time of the 2nd World War, may find it nearly impossible NOT to store stuff up, because they might need it some day. Others have grown up in such a throw-away society, with the constant mantra of `consume, consume’, in their heads that they have bought in literally to the buy now – pay later scheme, and find themselves loaded with debt. What’s it about? Is it about survival, about identity, about competition and comparison? Where does God fit into the scheme of things?
In your discernment over the past few years, and with the help of Kelly as your interim minister, you have truly found a way to turn both the tendency to collect and the tendency to buy the latest and greatest, into a blessing. The Sicamous United Thrift store has truly become a ministry to so many people in this community and beyond.
And for each of us the challenge remains how to live generously.
In 2004 I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to England and Scotland, and learned about our forebears in the faith. We went to the home town of Charles and John Wesley – the founders of the Methodist church, one of the founding denominations of the United Church of Canada. John Wesley preached and lived the principle – earn all you can, so you can save all you can… (as the farmer in the passage from Luke ascribes to), but then Wesley goes on to say `earn all you can, so you can save all you can – so you can GIVE all you can!’ And he did. Even when he made more money though his books and royalties from music, he lived very simply and gave the rest away. Anyone find that a particularly easy thing to do?
I would like to share with you two wee stories of how the issue of inheritance has played out in my life recently. This spring as I was trying to discern my next steps in ministry, and aware that the pace of my work was overwhelming me, my son Aaron woke my spirit up with this comment, “Mom,” he said, “I’m not sitting around waiting for the big fat inheritance cheque. Don’t work yourself to death – do what you love to do, be with whom you love to be with.” It’s not that I was trying to be selfish, in fact I was trying to fill my life with God as much as possible, that is if I could squeeze God in with all the demands of ministry. Did God really want me to work myself to death?
This summer, Jim and I went to my home town of Ft. Nelson to visit my folks. While there, I spent a bit of time with a 1928 Model A Ford. It’s mine – on two conditions. One is that I have a garage of some kind to put it in. The other is that it is part of my Dad’s will, so it doesn’t become mine until after his death. I was home to celebrate Dad’s 81st birthday. It’s a dear old thing – the car. I asked Dad to teach me how to drive it – I only stalled it once and ground the gears badly once. But note that I’m going to have to build a `bigger barn’ to put it in. It’ a dilemma – what do we do with our treasure? I’d rather go home for the next 25 years and ask Dad to reteach me to drive it over and over again, than to inherit it. For the cost is too dear. I will have to lose so much to gain it.
And you dear ones, as sons and daughters of the living God, you too have an inheritance. You have inherited this place of worship, the work of friends and family who have worshipped before you, introduced you to faith, and inspired you with their lives. You have inherited a living faith that cannot be stored. In in order for it to be worth anything, it has to be shared. The living out of our faith, the call to be a blessing, is of great value. It cannot be stored in barns, or garages, or basements, but only grows when it is given away. So don’t `Keep the faith, baby.’ Pass it on, and bless the world. Amen.