Bigger Barns Can Mean Smaller Souls
Not long ago, the Associated Press carried a story about a woman who tried to hold up a bank. The weapon? She said it was a remote control device set to trigger a bomb in her car which was parked in front of the bank. Brandishing her innovative weapon, she demanded money from the tellers at the branch bank at Bowling Green, Ohio. Suddenly, one of the tellers realized that the device the woman was waving was not a remote control switch for a bomb, but was in fact just a garage door opener. The teller called the woman’s bluff and then called the police. When the police arrived, the police chief, Gaylon Ash, asked what had triggered the teller to realize that the “weapon” was just a garage door opener. The teller replied, “When I saw ‘Sears’ on the device.” The woman was arrested for unarmed attempted robbery.
Well, there is a kind of tragic humor here. The circumstances were laughable, but what drove the woman to do what she did was not funny at all. Apparently, living in a society which places too much emphasis on possessions, this woman was motivated by pure greed. But let’s not be too quick to point the finger of judgment at her. Truthfully, to a greater or lesser degree, greed is a problem for us all. That’s what this story told by Jesus is all about.
It’s the story of a wealthy farmer. Now this particular farmer did nothing overtly wrong. He didn’t cheat or steal. He didn’t take undue advantage of anyone else. His problem was that he had had a bountiful harvest and he had no place to store it. He then concluded that his only solution was to tear down his old barns and build newer and bigger barns to accommodate all that was his.
Quite clearly, Jesus was not condemning wealth at this point. It is not that possessions are wrong; it is that our love of possessions gets us into trouble. That’s what happened to this farmer and that’s why God called him a “fool.” Deliberate choice of words. In the Bible, the word “fool” has a different meaning from our use of the word. A fool in the Bible is a person who believes in God yet lives as though God does not exist. The problem posed by this parable is not the man’s wealth, but rather his failure to make the connection between his good fortune and God’s grace, or his responsibility to that graciousness. Let me say again that this farmer was not a bad man. He was an honest man, a good man, a hard-working man. The problem was that he was also a confused man. Let me explain …
In the first place, he confused making a living with making a life.
Life consists of many dimensions, and when we focus on only one of them, we miss out on what life has to offer. If all we are interested in is being industrious, then we are little more than machines. If all we are interested in is being well-educated, well, such people tend to be cold and unsympathetic. If all we are interested in is politics, then we tend to become selfish and scheming. If all we’re interested in is the social life, we wind up being a playboy or playgirl. If all we’re interested in is religion, then we tend to become rigid and fanatical – one of those people often described as “being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.” There are two realms in life. There is the internal realm which consists of the spiritual dimension – the religious, the ethical, the artistic aspects of our experience. It is from the internal realm that we draw our sense of meaning and purpose in life. Then there is the external realm, which has to do with the instruments and the techniques by which we make a living. When those two factors become unbalanced, it’s a sad thing to behold.
Remember Howard Hughes. He was a brilliant man, a business genius, a creative inventor, a distinguished aviator. But all of that was from the external realm. He ignored the spiritual dimension of life, and look where it landed him. He ended his life living in dark rooms with the drapes taped to the wall so that no light could enter. He wore nothing but a ragged bathrobe and kleenex boxes on his feet. He had four doctors in his personal employ, and yet paid no attention to any of them. He needed glasses and hearing aids, but he refused to purchase them. He spent most of his days stacking and re-stacking a pile of newspapers. He would not shake hands, for he was afraid of contracting germs. He wouldn’t cut his hair or his fingernails or his toenails. He ate nothing but chicken soup out of a can and one flavor of ice cream. Once he ordered 350 gallons of that flavor, and the day the ice cream arrived, he decided he didn’t like it anymore, and he never ate it again. Here was a man who owned hotels, airlines, television stations, restaurants, apartment buildings, and factories. He had a great living, but he had no life.
This is the reason that Paul did not write: “For to me to live is my portfolio and my possessions.” Instead, he wrote: “For to me to live is Christ.” Because when Jesus Christ enters our personal experience, He balances the internal and the external. As a result, we not only make a living, we also make a life.
Secondly, this farmer confused his sole desire with his soul’s desire.
He said: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” That in itself is testimony to the fact that he didn’t know anything about the soul. A soul does not eat or drink. A soul does not depend on what it has, but on what it is. That’s why Jesus says so pointedly: “What does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our souls?” Soul is the God-shaped vacuum at the center of our lives. As long as the vacuum remains empty, our lives will be distorted, even ugly. But when the person of Christ fills that vacuum, then our lives become things of beauty.
I think today of a German composer who was living in Great Britain. He was a rather inept man socially, and, as a result, had few friends. He was bitter and cynical, and because of the stress under which he lived, suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. In the midst of a period of deep depression, he returned to his room one night to find a libretto an acquaintance had dropped off for him to study. He brushed it aside, but as he did so, his eye fell upon the first line of that text which was “Comfort ye, my people.” The words pierced his jaded soul, and so he sat down and he read the libretto from beginning to end. Immediately, he began to compose. For twenty-two days straight, he sat at his desk composing. Occasionally, he would get up and hobble about the room, waving his arms and singing his choruses. He would catch cat-naps at his desk and then quickly resume his work. Twenty-two straight days. His name, of course, was George Frederich Handel, and what he wrote was “The Messiah.” Now if you have ever listened to the Messiah, you have found your own soul touched. Why? Handel said that in the process of writing that piece of music he forgot about his body, and his soul was in touch with the aura of God. So, you see, both Handel’s soul and God’s spirit went into that music. That’s the reason it touches the soul and spirit of those who listen to it.
My friends, there are two lights which are eternal – one is the light of God; the other is the light of the soul. The soul is the only thing in us and about us on which God has written the word, “Forever.” Don’t make the mistake of the farmer in the story. Don’t let your sole desire, your selfish desire, keep you from seeing your soul’s desire.
Next, the farmer confused what he owned with what he owed.
Six times in three verses, the farmer used the word “I.” Five times he used the word “my.” He said: “What should I do … I have no place … I will do this … I will pull down … I will store … I will say to my soul …” He was successful in farming, but he was a failure in faith. He forgot that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” He forgot that we are only stewards in this life, not owners.
Some years ago, there was a business convention out on the West Coast and they invited a multi-millionaire to speak to them about the secrets of success. He began by saying: “I have something to confess to you. Once I was a compulsive gambler. In fact, one night in Las Vegas I lost everything I had. I was so distraught that I rushed weeping into the men’s room so no one could see me. I intended to hide in one of the stalls. Then I noticed that each door had a meter requiring a dime to open it. I didn’t even have a dime. A man at the sink, washing his hands and seeing my predicament said: “I’ll be glad to give you a dime.” I said: “No, but I’d like to borrow a dime. If you will give me your name and address, I’ll repay you.” And so the man at the sink handed me both a dime and his business card and walked out. I went over to one of the stall doors and suddenly realized that the person there before me had not properly closed the door. I didn’t need the dime to get in after all. I went in, closed the door, and wept uncontrollably. Then when I had cried it all out, I gathered myself together, washed my face, and headed out of the casino. As I passed the slot machines, I felt that dime in my pocket. I casually dropped it in one of the machines, pulled the lever, and wouldn’t you know, hit the jackpot. I kept playing and I kept winning. I left the casino finally with $357,000 in winnings. I never gambled again, but through hard work and careful investment, I turned that money into millions. If I could ever find the man who helped me, I would give him half of my fortune.” Immediately someone in the audience called out: “But you said he gave you his business card.” The millionaire responded: “Oh, I’m not talking about the fellow who loaned me the dime, I’m talking about the fellow who didn’t close the door on the booth all the way!”
Sad, sometimes, too many times, successful people forget how much they owe to God and how much they owe to others. Look at the stats. It’s a fact that the wealthy give less proportionally to charity than those who do not have very much. It’s not a sin to be rich – and all of us here, by the world’s standards are rich – but it is a sin to forget how little we own and how much we owe to the God who owns it all and us as well.
The capitalist believes that everything belongs to the individual. The socialist believes that everything belongs to the society. The communist believes that everything belongs to the state. But the Christian believes that everything belongs to God, that we bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out of it. To put that another way, we are all terminally ill. All we have here is a brief loan from God for a little while. Therefore, what we have is not ours; it is His. The farmer in the story forgot that. He confused what he owned with what he owed.
One thing more. The farmer confused preparing for life and preparing for death.
The farmer said: “I will build bigger and better barns to hold my goods.” But God said: “You ought to be digging a grave instead.” It’s tragic to see people who will sell their goods for profit and let their souls go for nothing.
Paul Rees tells of a man who came to a little English church and called upon the vicar. He said: “You have a beautiful cemetery around your church. I’d like to be buried there. May I purchase a plot?” The vicar said: “Yes.” They walked the cemetery and found a spot beside some beautiful flowering trees, with a magnificent view of the surrounding hills. The vicar said to the man: “You may purchase this plot, and you will have made arrangements for the resting place of your body. But may I ask you if you have made plans for the resting place of your soul?” And the man replied: “No one has ever asked me that question before.”
After today, none of you will ever be able to say, “No one has ever asked me that question before” because I am asking you right now:
Have you prepared a resting place for your soul?
Dear friends, let us not be so foolish as to insure what is perishable while we fail to insure what is eternal. Let us who are so careful about the titles to our property be equally concerned to the title we have to the kingdom of heaven. If we are smart enough to keep a roof over our heads, let us not be so stupid as to leave our souls without protection. Let us never say to our souls: “Soul, take your ease; eat, drink and relax.” Instead, let us say to our souls in the lines of the poet:
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul
As the swift seasons roll
Leave thy low-vaulted past
Let each new temple, nobler than the last
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.
My beloved, if you and I are going to build more stately mansions in heaven, then we would do well to invest in the Kingdom today.