"Could Jesus Be Another Barn?"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 5, 2001
Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
We had no idea what this leader was asking us to do. We only knew that whatever it was, we had not done it. We understood this because of how he spoke about our willingness to cave into peer pressures, our hesitant identities, and our apparent detachment from the aspects of life he felt were important. Most of us did what was expected. We reached out to Jesus whom we hoped would remove all the fears and insecurities these people had successfully evoked in us. Their words scared us to death!
This morning I would like us to wrestle with who Jesus was asking us to be. What was Jesus inviting us to do with our lives? As Christian denominations continue to posture themselves around this theme, parishioners are frequently left with confusion and guilt when they do not or cannot resonate with the message being preached.
The title of my meditation this morning may not communicate well. The idea "Could Jesus Be Another Barn?" came to me as I was reading Jesus' parable of The Rich Fool. In this story a rich farmer wanted to tear down his smaller barns and build larger ones. The rich man's goal for doing so was to increase his sense of personal security. In many churches today, our eternal security is placed high on the list of priorities. Is this what Jesus was teaching?
Many times we preachers may communicate our message in a manner that is unclear and confusing. We may sound as though Jesus is the magic bullet who will personally remove our loneliness, improve our levels of self-esteem, and empower us to live effective lives. Such a message puts Jesus in the position of becoming nothing more than a "spiritual barn" that we must have in place in order for our lives to become more secure. Oddly enough, this was the same goal of the farmer.
What is strange about such a message is that it cannot be found among Jesus' teachings. If a person reads the Sermon on the Mount -- the greatest collection of Jesus' teachings -- there is no reference indicating that he wanted to be placed at the center of anyone's life. In fact, what appears are words that reflect something much different.
Jesus taught his listeners new attitudes to take into their circumstances. He taught them how to respond to people whom they once considered enemies. He taught them why kindness, forgiveness, and love were essential qualities of the Kingdom life. Over and over again Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, . . . but now I say . . ." He spoke with authority.
The well-intentioned people who share an alternative message may be engaging in Spiritual Materialism. A message that instructs people that they must first get something or believe something is in opposition to what Jesus taught. For Jesus, truth was not something that became visible by what people received; it was made visible by what people gave away.
Sister Mary Katherine Gulespie was having a very difficult time living as a nun in the Roman Catholic Church. She searched endlessly for the dawning of a day when God would change her life. Her mantras, prayers, and longings only increased her sense of emptiness. She felt as though God had abandoned her. "If only I could have Jesus become the center of my life," she thought, "I could experience the peace I do not have." Her struggle over this issue began to take its toll.
Her desperation was bleeding through into her work as a teacher. Her life had lost its purpose. Her eyes no longer sparkled. Her spirit radiated how preoccupied and distracted she was. Upon realizing this, her superior approached her with an alternative. Mary Katherine was asked to take a leave of absence. Arrangements were made to "loan her" for a year to Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. Only because of a relationship with the one asking did Mother Teresa consent to take this woman.
Mother Teresa was a very demanding and challenging administrator. In her compound, she governed with specific results in mind. Everyone had tasks to perform and she was very methodical in her follow-up. Upon meeting Mary Katherine for the first time Teresa said:
Mary Katherine was devastated by Teresa's ice-covered words. Looking for sympathy and compassion, she never thought that the renowned Reverend Mother would appear so uncaring and insensitive to her spiritual needs. For Mother Teresa, Jesus was not some external, spiritual commodity that people could bring into their hearts so they would feel better. Such a concept held no meaning for her, particularly when faced with the overwhelming needs of others.
As Sister Mary Katherine began working among the people, it became clear to her why she had been so miserable! She had been too self-absorbed, too concerned about herself to see anything else. Her neediness had drawn the curtains around her spirit so that no light could escape. When she began to give of herself, she lost sight of her neediness to receive love. In truth, love had been all around her for years. She had been too distracted to see it.
How many people have not found true communion with God because they have been in pursuit of securing a larger barn? They are searching for what will give them the sense of being eternally and spiritually secure. In some respects they are approaching God with the same spirit as the rich farmer. So often we expect everything from God. In so doing we can miss what God designed the human spirit to do.
We are the only life form on this planet that has been educated that we must get something before we can experience wholeness. We have been taught that the measure of people is how much they have, e.g., fabulous looks, a high I.Q., academic degrees, popularity, job experience, and salary levels. Such a need "to get" will also affect our relationship with God. When the "self" tells us that God did not give us enough at birth, the illusion of emptiness can send us searching, a preoccupation that only delays our ability to radiate who we are.
Consider trees. Every tree gives away everything it has. They grow fruits or seeds. They produce oxygen and provide shade. Even their decaying leaves and worn out branches produce compost and mulch. Everything about a tree was designed so that it can give of itself for the good of all who live on the earth. So were we!
Jesus came into our midst to remind us that we are givers not "getters." Then he gave away everything he had, including his life, to teach us that message. His message was not about how to receive personal salvation; it was about how to give without counting the cost.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Our voices love to sing about your presence within our lives. The Scriptures speak of your faithfulness to us. Our presence at your Son's table unites us with him as we bring his request into our minds -- "Do this in remembrance of me." Yet we confess that our memory of him does not save us from straying into areas that produce regret. We still pursue happiness as we would an object to be possessed. We still seek approval from others as if receiving such would make us more whole. Yet, in spite of how often we stumble with our insights, and how often we misinterpret life's events, we trust continually in your faithfulness and love of us. Heal our perceptions, so that our fearful thinking will yield to attitudes that communicate your presence.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and always present God, our lives are filled with so many question marks. This morning we come with a sense of confidence that we do not have to know the answer to anything before we can be who you designed us to be. We trust that your light will shine through us even when we stand in the midst of troubled waters filled with uncertain and fragile moments.
We never asked to be thrust into leadership roles. We did not seek to be a model for anyone's life. Yet we are conscious that as our light shines, others come. So often they seek our acceptance just as they are. May we always look upon others with compassion and understanding. There will always be those who are lesser and greater than we are, but each of them needs to feel that they matter. Move us to touch their lives with kindness. And may we do so without thought of what we might receive.
Enable us, O God, to trust only in your power. Inspire us not to place our authority for life in what changes. There are so many translations of the Scriptures. There are so many churches that make claims on truth. Give us courage to walk into tomorrow unafraid because we know that you are with us. May our only desire be that your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .