The Barn Problem

September 26, 2022
Corey Spence

Based on Luke 12:13-21 

When I was young, there was a television ad featuring a family surrounded by all the things they owned, with barely enough space for themselves in their house. Then they discovered that Rubbermaid sold all kinds of storage bins and once they used them – aha, a miracle! - their house was virtually empty. They looked at each other and said, “Hey, we need more stuff.”

We are bombarded by ads everywhere we look encouraging us to go out and buy the “next big thing” that will surely bring us the happiness we long for. We are told the newest cell phone, a flashier car, bigger house, or other status item will make our lives meaningful. We are told that life is all about getting more stuff, even if we have to find more space to store it. America’s self-storage industry alone makes multiple billions a year off our need for bigger barns.

We know that God isn’t against stuff. God created the stuff of the universe and even entered the world to become human and experience the unpredictability of becoming human stuff in the incarnation.

In our money and status obsessed culture, we might wonder what is wrong with saving and storing stuff for the future.

Why isn’t the farmer in today’s parable celebrated for his business acumen or skill at producing crops?

Why isn’t building bigger barns and creating security for the future a good thing?

Why is God calling him a fool?

The rich man isn’t a fool because he had a good year with abundant crops, it is because he is greedy and wants to keep it all for himself. His greed has created a barn problem – he doesn’t have enough room for all the stuff he has accumulated. His life is based on how much he owns so he determines the answer is bigger barns, rather than sharing what he has with others, or even stopping to thank God and anyone who helped him plow, plant, or reap his harvest. He plans to build barns and put everything inside then shut the doors and keep it all for himself. His greed will make him accumulate more and more and he will have to build more and bigger barns.

The problem the farmer fell into that can affect us is that we can all become slaves to stuff. We run here and there getting all we can, sometimes pushing away the very people who want to be with us. We rejoice in acquiring some new book, antique, or electronic gadget. Yet once the thrill of the chase for the perfect cell phone or side table ends, we quickly tire of the things we have and rush off looking for the thrill of the hunt for the next thing we must have.

Things, other’s approval—and yes, even money—cannot shield us from all that life can bring. We can push everyone we love away in our greed and have everything in the world shut up tight in our barns, but those doors will not protect us from an accident, a life threatening disease, a downturn in the stock market, or any other malady that life can send our way. No fancy gadgets or objects can strengthen our connection to our friends and family as much as the time we could have given them if we weren’t constantly on the search for the next thing that we think will bring us joy.

In fact, God says that our rich friend’s life is being demanded of him the very night he made the decision to close himself in and that everything was for him alone.

Imagine going to his wake.

You see a sea of luxury cars in the parking lot and tons of flowers around the casket. You see friends and family pretending they really loved him, but moments later fighting over who should get those barns and what is in them. Long lost relatives appear hoping for their piece of the pie. The fight over material objects can tear families and friendships apart.

Who wants their eulogy to be “He was rich as Croesus and as miserly as a pre-visitation Ebenezer Scrooge”? Or, “She was good at business, but really knew how to push people away”? Wouldn’t we rather people remember us for our generosity with our time, talent, and treasure?

Jesus uses this parable to remind us that we should focus on being rich towards God and that our barn problem is better solved by opening the doors and sharing our lives with others and growing the realm of God. We should invest our lives in community and service rather than secluding ourselves in ever bigger barns.

What does it look like to solve our barn problem and be rich towards God?

Recalling the words of Micah: God has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Remembering that humans are created to be social creatures, and we should value connections to others and open our barns to let people in.

Realizing that we live in community and part of our time, talent, and treasure should be used for helping the less fortunate. Let us learn to love people and use things rather than use people and love things.

Finding again the wonders of the whole web of creation and exploring ways to touch the earth lightly to save what is left of our planet.

Opening our barns and sharing a life of gratitude to God for all the blessings of our lives – and thanksgiving to our friends, family, and community for all the love and support they provide.

Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” So when you feel the need to build those bigger barns, remember that being rich towards God and others makes a life worth living.

My prayer for us all is this:

May we go from this place for we are the body of Christ and the whole world awaits us. May we open our barns and live generously, love faithfully, learn passionately, and celebrate every moment of our lives from now until the finale, for the living God goes with us.* Amen.


*Inspired by the words of the Rev. Michael Piazza