“The Case for Bubble Gum & Umbrellas” August 4, 2019
“The Case for Bubble Gum & Umbrellas”
Colossians 3:1-11/ Luke 12:13-21
When I read through today’s gospel text earlier in the week, I groaned. I really, really didn’t want to preach on the “Parable of the Rich Fool;” I just didn’t. Every time this particular scripture comes up, you can just about bet there is a stewardship sermon coming and we’re going to be made to feel bad about our level of giving to the church, to the community, to whatever. I really, really didn’t want to do that. And so, when I find myself in a quandary like this, I’ve found it helpful to just let my tired brain go blank and simply pay attention to whatever happens to come along. And so it was that as I was driving through traffic in the middle of the day on Baker St. that I happened to think about the time that I won the bubble gum blowing contest. Go figure.
Now, for a 9 year old boy, there are few things in this world more entertaining than a lawn fete. These events are always held outdoors in the summer and are usually a fundraiser for something or other, but we didn’t care about that. All we were concerned with is that fact that there were lots of goodies to eat, lots of contests, and best of all, prizes. I had taken a few throws at the dunking tank, came in third in the sack race, and been told I was too little to compete with the big guys in the pie eating contest; all in all, the day wasn’t going as I had planned. But that was about to change when I chanced upon a table with the words “Bubble Gum contest. Blow the biggest bubble and win a prize!” Just my luck, it was about to begin, so I grabbed a bunch of Palooka Joe and jammed it in my mouth and proceeded to chew on it. Now, bubble gum is not my specialty – we could never afford such fancy things – so when the time came, it was just sheer luck that I found myself staring at a 5” bubble in front of my face. No one was more surprised than me. The tape measure came out and before I knew it, I had been declared the winner. But here’s the kicker: the grand prize for blowing the biggest bubble was, of all things, an umbrella. It was a great day, and when it was all over, I took my umbrella and went home with mom & dad. I went to bed and the umbrella went in the hallway closet.
And that’s where it stayed – – for quite some time. I had all but forgotten about it until one day my dad asked, “So, what are you going to do with that umbrella?” Nothing, I guess. It’s mine, I won it fair and square. “Well, I think you should give it to your mother,” he said. I mumbled something or other, pretty much saying that I didn’t care for the idea. But he kept at it. Next thing, my mom was hinting around that she could really use such a nice umbrella. The pressure continued until I finally figured out that the best thing to do was to offer this valuable piece of merchandise to my loving mother, even though I wasn’t sure the reason why. To my surprise, she acted like it was the most wonderful thing in the world – the idea that her son would gift to her this dumb old umbrella. She thanked me and thanked me again. The best thing about it all is that I felt really good about what I had done. I thought I would feel bad about losing that umbrella, but I felt really good.
In a way, that’s how I have to understand our very confusing text from Luke today. A man approaches Jesus and says, “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” That’s all the context we have, but it sounds reasonable, don’t you think? He’s not asking for anything more than what is fair. It is kind of weird that he is asking Jesus to be an estate lawyer here, but as far as we can tell he is seeking fairness. The writer Debie Thomas writes, “But Jesus responds saying, ‘Take care: be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ And if that’s not confusing enough, Jesus keeps going, telling the crowd about a rich landowner who carefully stores his wealth with an eye to retire – only to learn that his life is about to end: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ OK, I’m really confused now! What’s wrong with planning ahead? With saving for a rainy day? With making smart choices with managing wealth?”
“But hang on, there’s more: Jesus ends the parable with one more warning: ‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’ What does that mean? What does it mean to be rich toward God?”
Like I said, I really didn’t want to speak on this parable today. It’s uncomfortable, it’s confusing, and nobody wants to hear someone preach about money. But what if this isn’t about money or wealth or being stingy at all? What if, instead, the greatest takeaway is that I need to stop assuming that the things that are so important to me aren’t that important to Jesus? Like the man who seeks fairness in an inheritance dispute, I believe in fairness. Jesus doesn’t. Like the rich man in the parable, I tend to think I’m entitled to do what I want with my hard earned money. Jesus would disagree. We all have this wonderful luxury of being able to live as worldly people in this worldly world. At the same time, our life of faith is an important part of how we live our lives. There’s the secular “me” who lives in the world and makes his way according to the rules of the world, and the sacred me who lives in the love and by the grace of God. I have the luxury of living with a foot in both worlds. Jesus doesn’t have that luxury. When I see the part, he sees the whole. When I see myself and my children and my children’s children, Jesus sees eternity. When I see the love I have for my friends, for my community, for my country; Jesus sees the entire Kingdom of God. What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” Maybe it’s nothing more than the wealth that comes along from the richness in our hearts, from the wealth of our spirit, from being a partner with Christ for the glory of God.
But one more thing before I close: for the life of me I have no idea why I was so determined to hang onto that umbrella. I’m sure glad my folks had the wisdom to teach me that the greatest gift is not always the prize you get, but the love you give away.
Amen & Shalom