13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
A month ago I qualified for membership in a relatively exclusive club. After working for it my whole life, I finally was able to meet all the qualifications in order to apply for membership. I sent in certification of the necessary attributes and received the official application in the mail this week. My qualifications? I’ve been breathing for 55 years. And for only $16.00, I can become a member of the AARP, the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons.
I mention this partly because I believe that to be quite an accomplishment. But also because I’ve learned a thing or two as I’ve worked toward qualifying for the AARP. I believe the single most important thing I’ve learned is that not everything is about me.
By the time I was born, I already had two sisters, who, for my first 10 years or so were bigger than me. So I learned quickly that I wasn’t always going to have my way. It’s not always about me.
Four years after I was born, my parents had another kid–my little sister. She was really cute and everyone’s favorite. And she remained the baby of the family, a role she was very good at. For those of us who have little brothers or sisters, we know, it’s not always about us.
I played some sports, and soon realized that my baseball team could win even when I wasn’t the one who hit in the winning run. My basketball team could win even if I only scored a couple of points. And sometimes we’d lose even if I had a good game. You see, it wasn’t always about me.
Sometimes my friends had the audacity to want to do what they wanted, or to go where they wanted. It’s not always about me.
In school I was exposed to subjects I deeply, viscerally disliked. I had to study for those tests just as much as subjects that were easier. It wasn’t always about me.
Later, when I married the woman of my dreams, it was very clear that it wasn’t always about me.
Then I had children, and guess what? It was even less about me.
Are you picking up a theme here? As much as I may want it to be sometimes, life isn’t always about me and what I want. I didn’t want to have three sisters and no brothers. I didn’t want one of my parents to abandon me and my family. I didn’t want to not know very well my grandparents or extended family. I’m sure you could list a whole bunch of things that, if life was all about you, would certainly be different.
But I am who I am mostly because of the situations that weren’t about me; when the needs of someone else took precedence. My life is full and meaningful and my relationships are deep because it isn’t always about me. It has to be about others too. If everything was just about us, I can’t even imagine how boring, empty, and insignificant our lives would be. We would miss out on the fullness of life, because so much of what’s important in life comes from being shaped by experiences we may never choose. Experiences that shape us in ways we never would have guessed but that perhaps make us more compassionate, a better friend, a more devoted parent, or a more cooperative employee. And even a more authentic disciple of Jesus.
The author of Ecclesiastes calls it vanity. The author of Colossians calls it greed. Jesus calls it foolishness. When we live only for ourselves and our desires, we miss out on the richest portions of life as we become shallow, hollow, and insignificant.
The rich man in this parable isn’t a fool because he’s wealthy; not because he builds bigger barns to store his amazing crop; and not because he’s now set up for his retirement. Jesus calls him a fool because this rich man thinks that all of this is about him. He talks only to himself about bimself. He’s greedy, selfish, and self-absorbed. His desires and his preferences are all that matter to him. There’s only room in his life for himself. He has no concern for anyone around him. He has no thought of showing appreciation to his laborers who helped make him wealthy. He has no intenion of sharing any of his riches with others. And he certainly has no regard for God, the very creator of his life. He’s a fool because, regardless of how full his barns are, his life is empty.
We are made in the image of a generous God, who gives everything–even God’s own life–for the sake of the world. The same is true for us as a congregation. It’s not about us. Our life as church is full and significant when we recognize we are here for the sake of those not here. We’re most authentic as a community bearing the name of Jesus when we make decisions in the best interests of the community around us instead of just the community that gathers in this room.
Right now, as a congregation, we give away 11% of our income to provide care for those that need it and support ministries that make a difference in the world. Campus ministries, Bible camps, social service agencies, ministries that accompany the poor and feed the starving. That’s wonderful! Imagine how fulfilling it would be to give away 15%. Or 20%. Or 50%. Or more.
Right now, as a congregation, we pray for all those we know who are in need. We lift them up before God and ask that God use us for their sakes. That’s wonderful! Imagine how meaningful it would be to also pray for our schools, our businesses, our government officials–and let them know we’re doing it. Let them know we are here to help them, to listen to them, to be part of the community with them.
Right now, as a congregation, we learn about Jesus and his love, we offer education to help us understand the Bible and our Lutheran tradition. It’s helpful for us because opens us up to God’s fullness and richness. That’s wonderful! Imagine how significant it would be if we learned this with the intention of sharing it in the world so that those who aren’t part of LCM have the experience of God’s love through us, God’s compassion through us, God’s forgiveness through us. So that they, too, can experience the fullness and richness that comes from God.
As the church, one of the joys we have is the meaningful life Christ offers that comes from not living just for ourselves. And one of the responsibilities we have is to encourage each other as we live as disciples in the world: it’s not always about us.
So one of our reflections stations today will help us live fuller, richer, more significant lives as Jesus intends. A few weeks ago we created a cross made up of our individual fingerprints, made in white ink–a sign of our being part of this congregational community. That banner is in the back. Think of someone not part of this church, who you will bless this week. Someone who you will serve, help, pray for, listen to, or share with. Someone not in the church who needs a sign of God’s love in some way. Someone you will be in contact with this week, and who you will bless in Christ’s name. Later, you’ll be invited to go back to that banner and place a new fingerprint in red ink, around the cross, representing that person being blessed by you this week. Pray for them, be open to God’s love present in their lives, and be part of that this week.
How wonderful that it’s not all about us. As we live with Christ–for the sake of the world–our own lives become richer. Thank God it’s not all about us, and still our lives are fuller. Amen