A Sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on August 3, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
Jesus’ parables don’t always remind me of George Carlin routines, but when they do, I should definitely tell you about it, right?
George Carlin has this famous routine in which he comes out onto the stage and says:
I would have been out here a little bit sooner...
...but they gave me the wrong dressing room...
...and I couldn't find any place to put my stuff.
And I don't know how you are...
...but I need a place to put my stuff.
So, that's what I've been doing back there...
...just trying to find a place for my stuff.
You know how important that is, that's the whole...
...that's the whole meaning of life, isn't it?
Trying to find a place for your stuff.
That's all your house is...
...your house is just a place for your stuff.
If you didn't have so much stuff...
...you wouldn't need a house.
You could just walk around all the time.
That's all your house is, it's a pile of stuff...
...with a cover on it.
You see that when you take off in an airplane and you look down...
...and you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff.
Everybody's got their own pile of stuff.
And when you leave your stuff, you gotta lock it up.
Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff.
They always take the good stuff.
They don't bother with that stuff you're saving.
Ain't nobody interested in your fourth grade arithmetic papers.
They're looking for the good stuff.
That's all your house is, it's a place to keep your stuff...
...while you go out and get more stuff.
Now, sometimes, sometimes you gotta move...
...you gotta get a bigger house.
Why? Too much stuff.
You've gotta move all your stuff...
...and maybe put some of your stuff in storage.
Imagine that, there's a whole industry based on keeping an eye on your stuff.
Enough about your stuff, let's talk about other people's stuff.
Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house...
...you never quite feel 100 percent at home?
You know why? No room for your stuff.
Somebody else's stuff is all over the place...
...and what awful stuff it is.
Where did they get this stuff?
Now, now, sometimes you go on vacation...
...you gotta bring some of your stuff with you.
You can't bring all your stuff, just the stuff you really like...
...the stuff that fits you well that month.
Let's say you're gonna go to Honolulu...
...you're gonna go all the way to Honolulu you gotta...
...take two big bags of stuff...
...plus your carry on stuff, plus the stuff in your pockets.
You get all the way to Honolulu and you get in your hotel room...
...and you start to put away your stuff...
...that's the first thing you do in a hotel room...
...is put away your stuff.
Now I'll put some stuff in here, put some stuff down there...
...here's another place some stuff here...
...I'll put some stuff over there.
You put your stuff over there, I'm putting my stuff over here.
Here's another place for some stuff.
Hey, we got more places than we've got stuff.
We're gonna have to buy more stuff.
And you put all your stuff away, and you know that you're...
...thousands of miles from home, and you don't quite feel at ease, but you know that you must be okay because you do have some of your stuff with you.
And you relax in Honolulu on that basis.
That's when your friend from Maui calls and says "Hey...
...why don't you come over to Maui for the weekend...
...spend a couple of nights over here?"
Oh, God no.
Now what stuff do you bring?
Right, you've gotta bring an even smaller version of your stuff...
...just enough stuff for a weekend on Maui.
And you get over, and you are really spread out now...
...you've got stuff all over the world.
You've got stuff at home, stuff in storage, stuff in Honolulu...
...stuff in Maui, stuff in your pockets...
...supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.
But you get over to your friend's house in Maui...
...and they give you a little place to sleep...
...and there's a little window ledge...
...or some kind of a small shelf...
...and there's not much room on it but it's okay...
...'cause you don't have much stuff now.
And you put what stuff you do have up there...
...you put your imported French toenail clippers...
...your odor eaters with the 45 day guarantee...
...your cinnamon flavored dental floss…
...and your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you know you're a long way from home...
...you know that you must be okay because you do have...
...your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you relax in Maui on that basis.
He goes on, but he gets a little too PG13 for church, so I’ll end there.
“That’s the whole meaning of life,” George Carlin says, “trying to find a place for my stuff.”
“One’s life does not exist in an abundance of possessions,” Jesus says.
In our scripture from today, Jesus does his own stand up routine about “stuff.” He tells a parable about a rich land owner who desires simply to build larger structures to fit his hard earned possessions in.
For that, God calls him a fool.
Now, one could argue that the rich man is a wise and responsible person, and not a fool at all. He’s doing well for himself. He’s worked hard, and has produced a lot of stuff presumably through succeeding in business.
It makes sense that he’s gonna need a bigger barn to put it all in. That’s all a house is: a pile of your stuff with a cover on it.
So he decides to knock down his current small barns and build ones large enough to store all of his grain and goods in. With that, he can save for his future so he’ll be able to enjoy his retirement, and live off the fruits of his labor for the rest of his life.
Perhaps most Americans would pat this smart capitalist on the back and say that he earned his life of leisure.
The problem is, the rich farmer appears only to live for himself. He decides to build a home with a four car garage big enough to fit all of his luxury automobiles and boats, and a yard big enough for his swimming pool and his tennis courts.
And he tells his soul, “you have ample goods laid up for many years: relax, eat, drink, be merry. Go on as many European vacations as you want and splurge on the good wine.”
Now, I don’t think that Jesus demands we live joyless, sensible and sober lives. We all know that Jesus likes to relax, eat, drink and be merry with friends himself. We can think of plenty of instances in the Bible in which Jesus is found partying and drinking good wine.
But the farmer doesn’t choose to thank God for this abundance, or give the extra to the workers who helped him get where he is, much less to people who are starving and homeless. He has way more than he could ever even use, but he doesn’t ask how he can share it, or what God might require of him. He just decides to hoard it all in a bigger barn.
“You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you!” God says. “The things that you’ve prepared…whose will they be?”
A wise person said that people were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.
Love demands more of us. We are not put on this earth to amass money and power. We are not here to keep the dieting and beauty industry in business. We are not here to buy every new version of the iPhone. We are not here to acquire more land and real estate than we could ever use.
We are put here by God’s grace to embody revolutionary Love.
I don’t have anything particularly new to say about the latest mass shootings yesterday and early this morning that you haven’t already heard me say about the hundreds of mass shootings that have happened in this country in the five years I’ve been preaching in this pulpit. Since Sandy Hook, there have been 2,189 mass shootings, to be in exact.
Today, 20 people are dead, and 40 are injured in El Paso because of a white supremacist motivated by hate and radicalized in the bowels of the internet, who drove 10 hours to El Paso to kill Mexicans and Mexican Americans. As of one am, nine are dead and 16 are injured in Dayton, Ohio. We don’t yet know the motive of that terrorist.
Every couple of months, I have to decide whether to preach on a mass shooting motivated by dehumanizing political rhetoric and the accompanying objectification and demonization of groups of human beings amid a culture saturated with guns and gun worship. A disgusting and macabre tradition.
I’m sick of it. I’m physically sick of it.
Our response as a country is always to amass more weaponry. To build bigger sheds for our guns.
And I want to shout “Fools! This very night our lives are being demanded of us. One’s life does not exist in an abundance of firearms.”
When we love our stuff more than we heed the call Love demands on our lives…when we make things into an idol…we are prone to see other people as competition for wealth that we believe to be rightfully ours.
When we turn people into objects…when we refer to fellow God-imaged human beings as “animals” or “illegals” or “infestations”…when we suggest that Americans need to be protected from hordes of dark skinned intruders…when we fan the flames of fear and hatred….evil manifests, violence flourishes, and death is the result. It is the death of all humanity.
When will we wake up and realize that our true security lies in God, each other and the earth, to whom we belong?
Jesus weeps over our sin-sick nation.
This very night, our lives are being demanded of us. God is demanding that we be rich towards God. That we embody revolutionary LOVE.
When we fight racism and ethnocentrism and Christian nationalism in ALL its forms—especially where it manifests itself in our own hearts, this is the spark of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we gather to strengthen our souls on Sunday morning despite our fear and apathy and exhaustion because we know we are better together, we co-creqte the training ground for the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we open our doors to those who have been cast out of the Church, this is the beginning of the LOVE REVOLUTION. When we love each person exactly as they are once they get here, this is the ETHIC of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we seek to unite with people of all faiths and no faith in shared service to our communities, THIS is the enactment of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we offer comprehensive, inclusive and body-positive sexuality education to an entire community of middle schoolers, this is the embodiment of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we welcome the undocumented or documented immigrant, the refugee, the asylum-seeker, THIS is the ESSENCE of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we look for solutions across the ideological divide to end white supremacist and other terrorist violence, this is the WORK of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we create green transformation in an effort to plant seeds of HOPE in the midst of climate change, this is the manifestation of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
When we share our excess wealth with those who do not have enough, this is the fulfillment of the LOVE REVOLUTION.
Beloved, Love is demanding our lives this very night. Stop worrying about the things you’re going to gather, or keep, or hide, or hoard, or bring with you. Stuff won’t keep you safe. Don’t build a bigger barn, bust the doors open on the barns you already have and share what’s inside. You will feel far less alone.
Let the treasure we store up on earth be beautiful, shimmering, brave acts of revolutionary love.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org