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Bigger Barns

Luke 12:13-21

The Rev. Jon Roberts

1 August


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

13 One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”


Red Barns in Bjornegaard in the Snow, Norway, Claude Monet, 1895

It will not always be summer. Build barns.[1]

This is an old saying for an old building. So old, in fact, there might not be many more summers left. The barn is simply dying off. Nobody wants to build them anymore like they used to do. That's what Rod Scott, known as "The Barn Guy", will tell you, He's been roaming all over the state of Iowa trying his best to preserve these landmarks of a near bye-gone era when farms dotted the Midwest. He found red barns and brown barns, tall barns and around barns, metal barns and brick barns. There is one barn with a big Coca-Cola painting on the side and further along there is one with a giant fiddle. "She's going to go", he said, gazing up at a stone barn from the 1850's, walls buckling. He discovered that these precious barns are being torn down and decided to ring the alarm bell for the nation. In a New York Times article featuring his plea for help, some very interesting things surfaced that may be to your interest.

The report begins in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his controversial New Deal for the American people to get relief, to recover and to reform. At the time unemployment was at 25%, and three and a half million people were jobless. FDR, with the help of his party, enacted a bill that would give $10.5 billion dollars from the National Reserve to the American people in the form of wages over eight years. The government created all kinds of jobs to employ the jobless. Although it was considered inefficient and unproductive by many, Government agencies began to build infrastructure and many took a closer look at the guts of America. One such agency was called the Workers Progress Administration. In this agency, they employed local people to do jobs in areas they were familiar, gather data and then to make reports. One such report came from Iowa. They hired men and women to travel around and map out how many farms there were and their size. One thing that helped them was to count the number of barns because every farm had one and you could see it from miles away. The federal employees always decided to wait until after the summer to file their reports because that is when the farmers would build new barns. This would tell them if they had grown. When reading the reports, you come across the reports of miles of mesmerizing fields of green and barn dances at festival. This is no longer the case.

Rod Scott studied those reports and the federalist maps. In the 1930s there were over 200,000 barns. On average the farms were anywhere from 80-160 acres, with a few cows, some sheep and chickens. Today, there are only 50,000 barns and a farmer's land can stretch for thousands of miles. The barns are being emptied one by one because there is no need for hand work and work horses anymore. Everything now is upgraded to air conditioned, GPS equipped combines and tractors. Farm land and fuel costs have skyrocketed. Almost all of the farmers are over the age of sixty-five, and more than half are over seventy-five. Unless you are in the family, it's almost impossible to get in. It's dog-eat-dog in the farming business these days, and people don't neighbor like they used to. The farms may have ballooned in acreage but the towns shrunk. School buses once heavy laden with children, now run several miles carrying only three. This is the sign of the times and a telling story. [2]

Now that it's summer, chances are, no one is building a barn today. In the Gospel today, Jesus is confronted by a man who bids him to persuade his brother to divide an inheritance.[3] Land was valuable then as it is now. Farmers made their living by how much they could plant and harvest on larger acreage. If one who owned the land or leased it were to die, naturally they would bequeath it to an heir. In this case there are two brothers. Most likely the eldest was given the lot. The other brother felt he got the "Raw Deal", so he was going to make a public spectacle by going to a notable figure who held a large audience and get up on his soap box. Jesus sees right through the man and his covetousness. He responds with the parable of the rich fool. The rich farmer has abundance and questions, "What shall I do?" He had nowhere to store his crops. He decided he would tear down his barns and build bigger ones. But God said, "Fool! Tonight your soul will depart and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure in himself, and is not rich toward God." Note that God was not displeased that he was thinking about building bigger barns. God was displeased because the rich fool desired to retire and to live out the rest of his life in ease and merriment. This may sound troubling to an elderly population that has worked so diligently in life to be able to retire. Understand too, that God was not displeased that he was thinking about retirement. God was displeased because the rich fool placed more value in his possessions than his relationship with God.

When people see that retirement is eternal because we live our life in Jesus, trusting in him to guide and direct, then all fear of what we could lose is gone. We cannot live in safety without His help in this understanding. Anything else is nothing but vanity and chasing the wind. Today, you are asked, "What things do you covet?" What is it that someone else has, and you want it badly? Today, reverse the norms. Resist the sign of the times. Tear down the old barns and put up the new. Let people see that you have abundance in your life. Let them see that it goes beyond money, power and prestige. Life is not a popularity contest. No one gets to take their toys with them to heaven. But heaven sends out its angels to count barns. They look for who works the fertile ground of their soul diligently, who search for God's will in summer and winter. In good times and bad, God is farming the Church and all who believe in Him. This is where we come to get relief, to recover and to reform. Remember that Jesus comes to you, telling you it will not always be a life of ease but if you build your barn for Him, He will see you through, both winter and summer.

[1] Hesiod, Greek poet, c. 800-720B.C.
[2] Monica Davey, The New York Times, September 6, 2008.
[3] Luke 12:13-21

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