I am waiting, still, to receive the full import of the gift of this, for it is still and every single time just plain hard, this piece, these pieces of the journey.
I was sitting in the hospital room of a beloved friend not long ago. Like the rich farmer before us now, her ‘life was being demanded of her…’ And no, not as quickly as the one portrayed in the parable today, but quickly enough to take your breath away and stop you short.
Unable by then to manage her phone, she had me making a payment which was due on a credit card. In a matter of a minute or two I was able to do so, putting her mind at rest, for she was still then, very much caught up in all this life’s worries and concerns which too much populate our hearts, our minds.
It would be just a matter of days then before none of it mattered to her any more. Her concern quickly became last conversations with loved ones and simply managing her pain which would accompany her then until she breathed her last.
And oh, for those left to pick up the pieces, material, financial, emotional and the rest, it surely does offer a kind of jolting perspective one does not get any other way and too much, or so it seems to me, leaves us too quickly as too soon we find ourselves back with the shortsighted farmer thinking we have all the time in the world in this life now to ‘relax, eat, drink and be merry…’
I have been asked to speak at the retirement part of a long time friend in a few days.
An upcoming Sunday in August will mark thirty-four years since we first met. Or not, as the case may be.
Because you see, I have no recollection of it at all. My friend, however, has, on a number of occasions, taken great delight in telling the story of how he approached me that day where I stood waiting in the narthex of the church where I had been called to serve. He was, as he tells it, eager to introduce himself, hopeful at the prospect of meeting a new friend. He was then serving as the associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, just across town. I was being installed as assistant pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church that afternoon. And yet, while he was eager, apparently I was not. For in my distraction that day, apparently I looked right past him, watching for someone else.
Again, I do not remember this at all, which makes his telling of it all the more believable. Indeed, I was so distracted that day that I entirely missed the treasure standing right in front of me. If it had not been for his persistence, I am not sure we would have become friends at all. Surely my behavior was much like that of the rich man in our parable now. I was so busy looking forward, planning for what was to come next, I could well have missed the gift of what already was.
And oh, certainly a retirement celebration is an apt time to consider the teaching Jesus offers today. Without a doubt, such milestones offer the chance to step back and reflect on what has been and what is to come and what it means to not put one’s trust in the things that simply do not deliver, in the end. Like bigger barns. And all that which is stored there.
For oh, this is so, isn’t it, that those of us who have been given the privilege of growing older are often struck by this again and again: of how quickly it all goes. And of how much we can and often do miss along the way:
- Indeed, it came to me again this last Sunday morning as I watched one of our nine-year-old ushers walk away after handing me the offering plate. I was struck by how tall he was. And I remembered holding his tiny hand in the NICU now nine summers ago. It takes your breath away sometimes, doesn’t it, to consider it.
- And again, last Friday afternoon as I preached and presided at the memorial service of a friend which was held in the church across town. It happens to be the church from which I was ordained. A good friend serves as pastor there now and it was her husband who had died and who we remembered that day. As I stepped into the pulpit to place my sermon there before we began, I remembered doing the same at my dad’s funeral 25 years ago. And as I stood before those gathered a few minutes later, it occurred to me then that I had known some of those who had come for nearly 40 years.
- And again on Sunday morning, when we offered a blessing for our congregation’s Scoutmaster who was recently recognized for 50 years of service with the Boy Scouts. He, too, said how quickly it all goes. I wondered aloud with him how many young men he had interacted with in this leadership role over the years. He could not begin to say, but it had to be hundreds, thousands even.
We are given such moments of deep awareness as blessing, it seems to me for surely they push us, properly received, to treat them as occasions for deep gratitude, even as we recognize that perhaps too often our backs were turned, our energy taken by things which no doubt mattered less. For oh, aren’t these moments of recognition surely meant to wake us up to the present moment as we are given cause to realize that such profoundly remarkable gifts do always surround us and hold us?
I do not know what barns you find yourself building and building again, preparing for the future, whatever it may hold. It seems to be in our most human nature to do so, to hold back, planning for the unknown and there is, in this world, great wisdom in this.
And yet, even with this, it is so that the warning in Jesus’ story comes as gift today, it seems to me, sometimes resounding in the middle of our lives as we are made even a little bit aware of all that has been. And, no doubt, of how relatively little there may be left for us each one. At least in this life now as we know it.
May we, indeed, receive this as gift today, this story of the rich man.
May it awaken our hearts to truth we are meant to receive.
And may this truth received be cause for gratitude, the sort of gratitude which has the power to change how we address every moment now.
- How is that you hear this familiar parable now? What barns are you building and rebuilding which may, in the end, not offer the security you believe you need?
- How have you heard this parable resound in the middle of your life? What stories of this might you offer?
- Surely this story comes across first as warning, especially ending as it does. How might it be received as gift as well? And what difference might such a gift men for you?