August 3, 2022
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, The Rev. Ann Bergstrom
I used to spend Thursday evenings with my niece and nephew while their parents went to church for choir rehearsal.
It always felt so good to ring their doorbell and hear the two of them inside racing to the door.
On one visit when Ellie was five and Ben was almost three,
within minutes of arriving,
Ben said, “Come, Aunt Ann. I have something for you.”
Ellie said, “Yea, come!”
They led me to Ellie’s room and before I knew it, they excitedly filled my hands with coins.
Quarters. Dimes. Nickels.
I presume it was from their allowances.
But their generosity and excitement didn’t stop there.
Then they fetched their still-large stashes of Halloween candy.
Ellie said, with her eyes sparkling, her feet dancing, “You can have a piece, Aunt Ann. Any piece. You pick.”
As I dug through the candy in the bag she added, “You can have more than one.”
And in tandem Ben echoed, holding forth his bag, jumping around,
not to be outdone by his older sister of course,
“You have a piece, Aunt Ann. Any piece. More than one.”
I suspect for a five-year-old and a three-year-old the Halloween candy held more value than the coins.
They seemed to have no worry at all if there would be enough left for them when I was done.
In today’s parable the land of a farmer produces abundantly.
In fact, super-abundantly.
Because the land of Palestine was less-than-fertile abundant crops were unheard of.
So, a bumper crop would be considered a miracle and a reason to celebrate with the community.
However, this farmer can think of nothing better to do with his excess crop than to find a way to contain it all.
He decides to tear down the barns he has and build bigger ones.
And when that’s done, he figures he will have security and will be able to kick-back, eat, drink, and be merry.
I’ve always heard this parable through the eyes of greed.
This year I’m hearing it as a parable about feeling secure.
For the last couple years there hasn’t been much that has felt secure.
We’ve been diligently wearing masks, and yet somehow the virus still nabs us.
We install security cameras in our homes, and then our car gets broken into in a parking lot.
We ration how much news we watch or read, and yet the headlines draw us in.
We expect one thing, based on good sources and worthy researched predictions, and the opposite happens.
No wonder we feel anxious and afraid.
Our anxiety is stuck in high gear, and nothing seems to shift it back to Low.
If only we could build bigger barns where we could hide-out, protected, and comfortably relax, eat, drink, and be merry.
Maybe a “glamper barn,” if there is such a thing.
But I’m afraid the angst would still be there.
I’m convinced that the more we have, the more we think we don’t have.
No number of possessions protect us from the biggest worries we have,
like illness, death, broken relationships, a performance review.
In all honesty, I’m preaching to myself here.
If you know me at all, you know that when I find something I like, I tend to buy not just one, but two (ok, sometimes more than two).
Shoelaces. Socks. Ink cartridges for my numerous fountain pens. Pants that come in various colors.
I want to make sure I have a back-up so I’m never at a loss.
Therefore, my “barns” are fuller than they need to be.
But really, what’s wrong with building bigger barns and storing away a bumper crop as a safety-net for a leaner year to come?
I mean, they may stop making my favorite shoelaces!
David Lose, a theologian and pastor, suggests nothing is wrong with the rich farmer preparing for leaner years.
What’s troubling is how many times the words “I” and “my” appear in the conversation he has with himself.[i]
I counted them: Eleven.
‘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.’
It’s all about him.
He makes no acknowledgment that he inherited the farm,
or that his wealth was also a result of the generosity of rain and sun and soil.
God responds, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.”
You will die before sunrise.
And you can’t take your crops and your barns with you.
Mary Morrison, in her book Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging,[ii] writes about the days before she and her husband moved to a senior living community.
“Objectively [this spring] consisted of dividing up possessions, deciding what to keep, passing on the rest to children, grandchildren, friends. Toward the end we found ourselves saying ‘Take it! Take it!’ to anyone who showed the faintest interest in any of our possessions.”
She goes on to write about her tears.
“At first, I assumed they were tears of sadness, but they weren’t. They were tears that came from being emotionally moved, all day, every day, by how much we loved and appreciated what we had been lucky enough to have, and give, and share, and shelter, in that wonderful Noah’s Ark of a place. . . and being moved and also being awed at the strong sense of what a human life is; how we come, and we go, and others take our place in the stream of life.”
When we live with the awareness that we are here for a limited time,
that we are not owners,
that we are caretakers of what has come our way,
the “end-all” then is not about acquiring and hanging on to things for security.
The end-all is the security that comes from God’s promise to hold us together.
And with that endless security we have enough also to hold each other when someone else’s barn is empty.
My dad was a third-generation farmer of 173 acres of land in Illinois.
While I was growing up, he and my grandpa farmed together.
I always knew that my dad was one farmer in a string of farmers who cared for that piece of land.
The Bogren’s and the Trigg’s farmed it before the Bergstrom’s.
When I was a kid there were a fair number of barns and sheds.
Today most of them are gone:
The open-sided hay barn fell with age.
The coal shed, the corn cob bin, the chicken coop collapsed over the years.
The two-seater outhouse disappeared.
When a tornado came through in 2003, we lost the cattle barn, the garage, the silo, and the tree house.
Today, the crops that aren’t used to feed animals are sold.
But there’s a new crop now on the land.
It’s a crop that cannot be contained in any size barn.
The new crop is wind.
A wind turbine stands east of the farmhouse.
It’s one of 99 turbines on what is called “The Bishop Hill Wind Farm.”
The farm stretches for miles and miles.
When my mom and dad were approached to be part of the Wind Farm,
my dad wasn’t so sure.
He hated to see someone dig up the field tile he and my grandpa put in themselves.
He wasn’t so sure about a huge crater being dug and tons of cement placed in the ground.
But then my dad said, “If landowners aren’t willing to make land available for alternative renewable energy, then what will become of this world?”
My dad got it.
What he inherited, what he “owned,” was not his to keep.
It was his to take care of for the benefit of all.
In your mind’s eye can you picture those 99 wind turbines?
Turning, turning, turning. Day and night. Turning.
[Look up at the turning ceiling fans in the sanctuary, mini versions]
I’m thinking if Jesus were here, he would probably come up with another parable about
wind and turbines instead of crops and barns.
God’s spirit and presence gracefully, persistently keeps turning, turning, turning,
generating healing and justice and well-being.
To everything, turn, turn, turn.
Through every season, turn, turn, turn.
So, no matter if our barns are full or empty,
no matter if we are at a loss with nothing to share,
no matter if our anxiety and worry and fear are stuck in high gear and can’t shift down,
no matter if we should die before sunrise tomorrow morning,
God promises there will always be a divine current of power
that will hold us and everything together.
And maybe the Divine is like the 156,000-pound generator way up high on the wind turbine, just below where the blades join.
Like the generator, the Divine is generating life, always, always, always,
– so much life that it cannot be contained even in this life,
Because God’s energy and power is renewable.
[i] David Lose, Sundays and Seasons, Commentary on Luke 12: 13-21
[ii] Mary C. Morrison, Let Evening Come, Reflections on Aging, pg. 108-109