It’s not About You

Preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish WA on 31 July 2016
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year C

Sometimes, the message of the gospel seems so obvious we’re tempted to say, “got it” and move on.  I think today’s is one of those.  Of course the obvious message is different for different people.
For example, some of you may be thinking, “Got it, Don’t be greedy or Don’t hoard.”
For others it may be, “Got it, Don’t ask Jesus to take sides in my disputes.”
Or “Got it, wealth is fine as long has I have a right relationship with God.”
Still others may think, “Got it, life is short; you can’t take it with you.”
Or even, “you only live once.”
I saw a post online this week, a picture of a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.

But are we hearing only what we want to hear – the message that justifies our own choices?  Or will we take the time to hear a more challenging message?

Jesus tells a story, but who is it aimed at?  The brother who asked him to intervene?  Or the other brother?  Or the people gathered there?

I wonder how we would hear this story if it were paired with the story of Joseph in Egypt who interpreted Pharaoh’s dream to mean that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine?  Joseph was a hero because he had the foresight to store the grain from the years of plenty so the people wouldn’t starve during the drought.

In that world – in Jesus’ world – famine was a real danger.  Any number of threats could destroy the crops.  That’s really not a part of our experience here in the US.  When people are hungry, it’s because they don’t have the resources to obtain food, not because there is no food.

In that world, though, it was prudent to store food for the winter or in case crops failed or were destroyed.

For a number of years, I have been intentional about trying to eat fresh, local produce.  Fresh, because it tastes better and I think it’s better for me.  Local because I want to support local farmers and to reduce the amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere from shipping food from thousands of miles away when there is food available nearby.  But if I am committed to eating locally grown fruits and vegetables, I’m going to have to compromise on eating fresh.  I have to somehow preserve part of the summer harvest to eat in the winter when there is very little to harvest and the farmers’ markets are closed for the season.

The thing is, how much is enough?  We face that question all the time.
Have I had enough to eat?  But it tastes so good!  Maybe just a little more.
Do I have enough money saved to retire?  How much do I save now?  How long will it have to last?  How much is enough?  How much is too much?

How do we distinguish between prudent stewardship and fearful greed and hoarding?  Are we so worried about having enough tomorrow that we don’t take care of the needs of the world today?

But this gospel is not paired with the Joseph story, it’s paired with this passage from Ecclesiastes lamenting the futility of life.  You work and then you die.  It’s all for nothing.  Even whatever pleasure you have is fleeting.

Reading the two together, I see another message:

It’s not about you.  You’re part of something bigger than yourself.

Did you notice that in the gospel story, the rich man is focused completely on himself?  There is no one else in the picture.  It is the land that produces abundantly, but he then talks to himself, his soul, and decides to build bigger barns to store it, all for himself.  At the end, he is chastised not for hoarding, but for not being rich toward God.  And then he dies and the question is asked, “whose will they be?”

Ecclesiastes answers that question.  “I must leave it to those who come after me – who knows whether they will be wise or foolish.”  “One who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it.”

The point is, It’s not about you.  It’s not about the worthiness of those who benefit from your toil.  Just like the land does not consider the rich man’s worthiness when it produces abundantly.  We all benefit from others’ toil, regardless of our worthiness.

The point is, we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.  We’re part of a community that continues after we’re gone.  Joseph stored food not for himself, but in order that the people wouldn’t starve during the drought.

We can take that message into our daily lives – everything you do, every decision you make, every vote you cast.  What would God have you do?

It’s not about you.  It’s not about me.
It’s about my neighbor
It’s about my community.
It’s about the good of the world.
And most important, it’s about the good of those who come after me – from generation to generation.