Today’s sermon is based off a song from recording artist Peter Gabriel from 1987. You can watch the video below.
Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost
August 4, 2013
First Christian Church
People in my generation are familiar with the artist Peter Gabriel. He was the lead singer for the British band Genesis and then left to start a solo career. His best known album is So, released in 1986. It was a very popular album with some memoriable songs and visually stunning music videos. I remember seeing the video for the song “Sledgehammer” and it was groundbreaking.
Among the singles was a song called “Big Time.” The video was made in the same style of “Sledgehammer” with stop-action animation and claymation. The lyrics were about a man who was going to have all the big things in life- a large house, a large bank account, sumptous food, fabulous parties and so on. Some might say it was a commentary on the materialistic 1980s and there’s something to this. Here are the lyrics of the first verse:
The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I’m smarter than that,
I worked it out
I’ll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out
I’ve had enough, I’m getting out
To the city, the big big city
I’ll be a big noise with all the big boys, so much stuff I will own
And I will pray to a big god, as I kneel in the big church
I remember hearing the song and watching the video and thinking to myself that I was glad that I wasn’t the kind of person that Gabriel was mocking. I wasn’t interested in having a big car or a big house or anything like that. I’m glad I’m not so materialistic as the guy in this song.
It was a nice fantasy to think that this song had nothing to do with me. Just like it’s a nice fantasy to think that today’s gospel lesson has nothing to do with me. Because even though I’m not rich, I too can get wrapped up in possessions. And you know what? So can you.
Today’s passage begins with a man walking up to Jesus asking him to settle an argument. The man was the younger sibling and he wanted more than his fair share of the inheritance. You see, as the younger brother, he was to get a smaller portion his father’s money than his older brother. He wasn’t happy with what he had. He wanted more.
Jesus uses the occasion to tell people to take heed and not get caught up in greed. He then tells the story of a farmer who had a big harvest. The man thought about what to do with his bounty. He decided to make bigger barns to hold his grain and once he did that, it was time to kick back and relax. It was Miller time.
Or so he thought. God speaks, calling the farmer a fool. Tonight was his last night on earth and all that he worked for would be lost.
It’s easy to look at this parable and think that it has nothing to do with most of us. Most of us here are middle class. We aren’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, we aren’t wealthy investment bankers. We aren’t star basketball players. No, we are just middle class folk trying to make our way in the world.
But it has everything to do with us. We might not have a big house, we might not make a big noise, but we do worry about having enough. I worry about it and so do you. The farmer is not an anomaly, no, the rich farmer is us.
If you want to see how much we worry about having enough of…everything, just watch a show like “House Hunters,” the popular show on the cable channel HGTV. People who probably make as much as I do, are hunting for homes and asking for the sky. They want large master suites, kitchens with high end appliances and granite countertops, media rooms, man caves and the like.
But let’s look at our own lives. One of the things I need to be concerned about it retirement. So, I try to put aside money for my retirement years and hope to have enough to retire in relative comfort. Our security, our self worth is tied up in money and possessions. This doesn’t mean we are bad people. We have to save money for retirement. We want to have a nice place for shelter. We want our children to have nice clothes. The farmer wasn’t a bad person per se. He had gained his wealth fairly. Where he went wrong was that he got caught up in what he had and not how to use what he had to glorify God. Listen to what the farmer says, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
Did you notice how many times the word “I” or “my” was used? He never talked about giving some his food to the poor. He never gave thanks to God for his abundant harvest. It was all about “me, myself and I.”
So what do we do? How do we not get caught up in stuff when it is so intertwined in our lives, when at some level it is necessary for our survival?
I think the answer lies at the end of the parable. Jesus concludes the story by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Very few of us are going to sell our possession and move to some island in the Pacific to live in the jungle or what have you. We will still live in this world, where we live in homes, eat out and plan for our retirement. But in the midst of all that, can we be rich toward God? Can we live our lives with less “I” or “me?”
This past week, many of us took part in Mission @ Our Doorstep. We spent time making murals, making sandwiches, painting houses and simply offering a cup of cold water on a hot day. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, these were not simply good deeds. We used our time and money not simply for ourselves, but for others. We learn that all that we have, clothing, food, shelter, are from God and in gratitude, we give towards others. We buy backpacks and school supplies to help homeless youth. We give our money and our homes to help an immigrant put down roots far from their homeland. We are rich towards God when we realize that life is not about living in luxury, but about how we treat others and how we give glory and honor to God in our deeds of service.
Since I tend to be the pop culture preacher, I want to end on another pop cultural note. In the second season of the animated series The Simpsons, there is an episode where the family is gathered for dinner and the oldest child, Bart, is asked to give the blessing. He says very bodly, “We paid for this ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” I remember people thinking how blasphemeous that was and how crude television had become. But maybe, Bart was telling the ugly truth about ourselves. Maybe Bart was telling all of us that we are that farmer, wrapped up in ourselves.
As we live our day to day lives, paying bills, going to work, driving our cars and so on, may we remember that everything comes from God and so we thank God for everything and live for others. Thanks be to God. Amen.