Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 31, 2022
“I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” Many of you know that while serving as rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Spring, the parish built a new church. The church’s campus was located at the nexus of one of the fastest growing suburbs of Houston, and the church was growing just as fast. All the graphs, all the charts, all the indicators that a church thinks about were headed in the right direction. And we were running out of room. I was doing three services by myself every Sunday morning just to keep up with the pace of growth. And so, we decided to build a new church. “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” During my time as rector up there in Spring, the first conversation I had about a building a new church was in the summer of 2012. The church was finally consecrated in March 2019. And I remember, I remember sitting in the priest’s chair on that first Sunday, and it could have been these words running through my head: “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. In just a year, because of covid we stopped having church in person, just like you. Our brand new church just sat there. I shudder to think about it. We had worked, prayed, raised money. I had sent and read thousands of emails. I spent sleepless nights in anxiety over that building. I learned about the square foot price of concrete for a parking lot, I ran the numbers of the area size for detention ponds. I knew the price per tap for municipal water. This thing was like a child to me. Admittedly, it was my life. And in the end, we did build that bigger barn. A big, new, beautiful church that, no surprise to you, kind of looks like Trinity, Galveston.
But on those quiet, lonely Sunday mornings during the beginning of the covid pandemic, it all seemed so fruitless. I heard Ecclesiastes whispering in my ear, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” We had planned for the future, but then the future changed. “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” A bigger barn isn’t necessarily a better barn.
That’s the question God asks of us today. When is enough, enough? When are the barns big enough? I’m no economist, but this seems to be the weird place we’re in right now. The GDP isn’t growing fast enough, so we dump stocks and get other stocks, hoping they will grow faster. But to what end? When will enough be enough? Or, think about what cryptocurrencies have done recently. People were sold a promise that if they bought cryptocurrencies, then their barns would fill up overnight, and they would have all they needed to build bigger barns. But as that bubble burst, the barns came crashing down. When is enough, enough? Like you, I’ve been watching the market, as following the interest rate, thinking about the relationship between inflation and wage worth and the consumer price index. But there is a subtext to all that, and it’s always how to get more, how to grow, how to build bigger barns. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. “This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” I’m not pretending to know anything about any of this, all I’m doing is asking that simple question – when is enough, enough?
Because we know there is a cost of growth. It costs us physically, as unchecked growth has profound consequences on the environment. It also costs us emotionally and spiritually. Go back to that parable, you have to imagine that eventually the man would pull down those bigger barns and build yet even bigger ones. “Soul, you have even more ample goods laid up for even more years! Relax more, eat more, drink more; merry isn’t enough, what you need is absolute bliss.” If he wasn’t happy then, when will he be happy? When does it stop? When is enough, enough?
Thanks be to God that Jesus was enough. His death upon the cross was enough for us, we look back in gratitude for that great gift. And that’s the way out of this mess we’re in. See, notice in the parable that the man never looks backwards. He’s always looking forwards. He never stops to give thanks for what he does have. Giving thanks, gratitude, is how we learn when enough is enough.
We do this every week. Think about it – the principal act of Christian worship is giving thanks to God. That’s what we do in the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving. The old bishop William Temple once wrote, “It is probable that in most of us the spiritual life is impoverished and stunted because we give so little place to gratitude. It is more important to thank God for blessings received than to pray for them beforehand. (Readings in St. John’s Gospel).” That’s the key. That’s when we know our barns are big enough. When we give thanks to Jesus for what we do have, we’re not as worried about what we don’t have.
That’s why the man is a fool. He’s a fool because all he’s doing is looking forwards, never backwards. He’s a fool because he believes that enough is not enough.
That’s what I had learn walking through that brand new empty church on those all too quiet Sunday mornings. We had spent seven years building this church, this new, shiny, bigger barn. Was enough too much? If I was looking at that church like an accountant, I would say that our asset was depreciating and we weren’t getting any value out of it. Had it all been a vanity project?
Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” And that’s what I had to learn. Money, growth, finances, it’s all a matter of intention. I’m not opposed to making money, I’m not against decent wages for good work, I’m not opposed to fair values. But if growth is only for our vanity, then we are the fools. If we do it for the glory of God, then we can give thanks to God in all things.
That’s the dichotomy we face today, and that’s the question I leave you with. When you have a financial decision to make, ask yourself – am I using this for vanity, or can I use this to glorify God? Is it for more, or will it be enough? This is a sermon to myself, mostly. When is our college savings account enough? When do we have enough for retirement? When have I given enough? But I need to rework those questions – how can my work now and retirement, if I ever make it there, glorify God? How can our daughter going to college glorify God? How can our gifts to the church glorify God? Money is a spiritual issue. Jesus talked way more about money than he ever talked about heaven, hell, or marriage. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. Show me your bank statement, and I will show you what you worship. Our money, and what we do with it, and how we treat it, is the indicator that describes the health of our souls. Is it for your vanity or for God’s glory?