How Much Is Enough?
a homily based on Luke 12:13-21
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
I was in heaven for two days this week; it's hot up there
too. I had set up the pop-up camper at a campsite. Had brought along my favorite groceries
and books and settled in for some R & R in beautiful surroundings. Next to my campsite
were towering trees--an elm must have stretched fifty or sixty feet above the earth, while
the oak didn't get serious about branches until at least 40 feet up. Nearby, a nuthatch or
woodpecker belted out a percussive tune and then the cicada choir jumped in with their
zinger sounds; one energetic spider had strung a micro-cable of silk connecting two trees
as if about to perform a daring balancing act on the high wire. So I was up in heaven for
a few moments. I was on vacation and all was right in the world. "Soul, you have
ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. Another glass of iced
I hope that your summer has blessed you with these special moments of contentment
too. Maybe your moment came on a beach or beside a cold mountain stream. Maybe that moment
came when you watched your child graduate from high school, or when you romped with your
grandchildren across a green yard or when you hit the road with your new scooter thing. Or
yet when you glanced over your savings account and took pleasure in the amount that you
had squirreled away over the years, or pondered your scorecard, pleased to be only 10 over
par. "Soul, relax; eat, drink, and be merry ."
This morning's lesson has a lot to do with leisure, with living, with getting a
fresh perspective on things. I imagine Jesus balancing atop a huge bolder that forms a
chain of rocks amid an otherwise flat plain. No matter where he turns his head people have
gathered. Thousands of pilgrims have come desperate to hear his strange revolutionary
words and to be healed and exorcised of evil spirits. This is the most impassioned speech
he will ever give. Time is short. Jesus is short on specifics yet clear-headed enough
about what lies ahead at the end of his journey to Jerusalem. So with his own death before
him, Jesus now pulls out the stops and preaches his often-heard "No Fear" sermon
for a final time.
"Don't cower before authorities,!" he says, "for they can only kill
your body-but thats all they can do; you're much more than a body. Save your fear
for God, who holds your entire life-body, soul, and spirit--in his hands. "How much
are a couple of parakeets? Pocket change, right? But God doesn't overlook a single one.
And God pays even greater attention to you-even down to the last hair on your head. So
stand strong for me among people you meet! "No Fear!" And when they drag you
into police interrogations, I'll give you the right words to say. "No Fear!"
As he begins to move into his second point totally unrehearsed a day-dreamer
breaks up the meeting with an off the wall remark: "Hey, Jesus, would you please
order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance." Who is this guy?
Just a someone in the vast crowd. This someone disturbs and disrupts the sermon. The
interruption is awful. It's embarrassing. The guy has one thing on his mind and that one
concern has even shut out Jesus' words; hasn't heard a thing that's been said. Jesus snaps
a retort back to the day-dreamer: "Mister, who do you think I am? Some judge that God
has personally assigned to you? Take care, my friend, about greed; there's more to life
than getting things. "
What Jesus says next should be plastered across every billboard in America. It's a
story about this guy whose land produces a bumper crop. What to do--so great is the
harvest. No problems so far. If there is a problem its a good problem--he's blessed with
abundance. So Jesus says that this little guy demolishes his existing buildings in order
to make room for the surplus crop. Still no problems with his actions. He's worked hard.
And now an adequate facility needs to be built to expand this guy's business. So far,
we're exactly in line with this fellow; we've done the same thing we do in most of our
churches-we add air conditioning, new wall to wall carpeting and fresh paint, add extra
storage space and give the youth their own room. So we've torn our barns down in order to
build bigger ones. No problem here. But then Jesus lets us overhear this guy as he begins
to talk to himself; a sort of brain to wallet to soul meeting.
"You've made it! Youve really made it! No more work for you, buddy roo;
you can just ease on into retirement and live off the interest. You know eat, drink, and
be merry kinds of stuff."
Now we do have a problem now. Just live off the interest? Just ease out of life?
Just unplug ourselves from life and take it easy? An interruptive voice breaks up this
guys thought. "Fool," says God. "Tonight the Grim Reaper comes for
you and your soul will be required. So then who'll get your things; you certainly
Seems to be a straightforward story about greed. Greed is probably one of the
biggest temptations we face. And we're trained to be greedy quite early in life. The
average child has watched 15,000 TV commercials before he or she even starts school. We
spend more money on advertising than on our public institutions of higher education.
Billions of bucks have been pumped into our world to try and convince us that Jesus was
wrong , about greed.
Ten years ago, in May, 1985, the commencement speaker at the School of Business
Administration of the University of California, Berkeley, made this astonishing claim:
Greed is all right by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can
be greedy and still feel good about yourself. And for those words Ivan Boesky received
profuse applause. "Soul, you have many goods laid up; eat, drink, and be merry."
A week ago The Philadelphia Inquirer carried apiece about a lawyer who won money for his
clients. The problem was that he kept it all to finance an extravagant lifestyle including
a 1.7 million dollar mansion outside Jenkintown, a house at the Jersey Shore, an $8,000
wardrobe of suits, a $23,000+ Lexus for himself and a Chevy Blazer for his wife, plus
$400,000 in personal investments. I wonder if this guy was in that graduating class that
heard Boesky's advice. Greed is all right?
Greed isn't however confined to lawyers and Wall Street types. I've given in to
the urge to grab and grasp at things as if I just had to have it or I could never be truly
happy. I remember preaching a funeral for a dear old woman whose adult children attended
my church in Appalachian region in eastern Kentucky. The church member had taken care of
her ailing mother for years with no help from the rest of the family. Yet when the
out-of-town relatives arrived they made such lamentation at the viewing and funeral that
it created an embarrassing scene; some of them sobbed and clutched at the remains of their
relative. But no sooner had they proffered their final goodbyes when loud haggling broke
out over who got to get her things. Even in the church we too often all of us grab and
grasp for things.
Jesus seems to be warning us against being greedy. But I suspect i there is
something more here. Something much larger than greed. Something to do with the way we
view life--and death. The fool apparently believed what so many people believe today, that
you only go around once in life. That the only life we have is the here and now.
Aren't sure about heaven, or don't know much about eternity; what we do have is
the present. You see, if you and I hold to that kind of attitude-- Paul calls it a
philosophy--then why not be greedy; why not cheat, why not get even; because if all we
have is this life--we better go for the gusto. Make a killing and enjoy it now because we
sure won't be able to enjoy it after we're dead.
But the Good News of the Gospel reminds us that though we live in the world like
everyone else, life does not consist in things, but in our relationship that God has
initiated with us through Jesus Christ. The psalmist reminds us that God alone can fill us
with good things, that God's love is steadfast and sure. And Paul tells us that in baptism
we are placed into Christ--into his past, present, and future. If Christ died, then in our
baptism God counts us as good as dead; if Christ was buried, then in our baptism God sees
our corpse lying in the murky darkness of the grave.
And if Christ was raised from the dead and is ascended, then God sees us as raised
up by his power and sitting with him. For, Paul says, the history of the one is the
history of the other.
Recently Mother Theresa of Calcutta was the featured speaker at the breakfast of
the National Association of Evangelicals. There she was, seated with the evangelical
leaders of the world. What an opportunity to "eat, drink, and be merry" with her
evangelical friends. A little breakfast- munching is in order here; after all, she's away
from all those starving, dying bodies for the moment. And besides, she's earned the right
to enjoy a banquet spread of food once in awhile. Yet, remarkably, she attended, spoke,
prayed and returned to Calcutta without eating so much as a morsel from their breakfast.
She chose to pass up the present NAB banquet in anticipation for the big one that all of
her friends would be able to attend-- the one that Jesus himself would throw when all the
suffering and pain is over and God I s kingdom comes in power.
I believe she's on to something. If we buy the philosophy that advertisers are
paying billions of dollars to convince us of--that we have only this life and that's it,
so go for the gusto, then I can understand why some may want to live it up--to eat, drink,
and be merry. Because the final statement is " . . . for tomorrow we die." But
isn't it interesting that Jesus never gets around to finishing that statement. Because
it's not true; Christian faith teaches us that tomorrow we live. The real question is how
will you live in the next world?
But we are people of hope. People of the resurrection; people, who by our baptism
have pledged ourselves to another--Jesus. So if we get short-changed here, if we receive
the short end of the justice now; if we invest our time and money here on people or
projects that won't result in pay increases; if what we do doesn't even get a pat on the
back, that's OK. We are truly free to make our living, rise in our careers, raise our
kids, bury our dead--all within the larger awareness that God has more riding on us than
just this life. Because by our baptism we have been buried with Christ so that just as
Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of God so we have been raised to a new life
and world in which there will be justice and equality and healing and peace.
Yes, let us take moments to eat, drink, and be merry! That's what summers and
families are about. But when it comes to how we view this world, well--eat, drink, and be.
..wise-- for tomorrow you live. Amen.