Luke 12. 13-21
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Part of the time I was growing up, my dad worked in Manhattan, where he worked with the pharmaceutical division of Revlon, and they made everything from Tums to all kinds of prescription medications. And my dad recalled a meeting with Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, who had a needlework pillow on the couch in his office that said, “You can never be too thin or too rich.” Yeah, it’s kind of funny…but we all know that people who suffer from eating disorders don’t think it’s funny, and people who have any kind of a moral compass don’t think so.
And it got me thinking…sometimes, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
One of the lessons I learned from my dad is that money is a tool to be used for good in the world, and that it is not an end in itself. Money is not essentially good or evil…it’s a tool that can be used toward positive or negative purposes. And I thought everyone believed that. But many of us have a conflicted past with money. Some of us grew up without much, and maybe that leads us to feel insecure about having enough…yet others who were raised in similar circumstances don’t have the same conflicted relationship with money. Some folks grew up in families with plenty of money, and perhaps that has led us to think we are entitled to the same or more wealth…yet others raised in well-to-do families approach money with equanimity. I wonder whether most of us have a relationship with money that is complicated. And perhaps that is what makes us so uncomfortable when we talk about it. And Jesus talked about money… a lot.
The parable we hear in Luke’s gospel today sets before us a “rich fool,” who definitely has a conflicted relationship with money. It’s as if he has a pretty secure retirement plan, with enough in his Bank of Judea 401(k) to last, but he is under the impression that he needs to shelter the excess wealth with which he has been blessed, so he decided to craft a new retirement plan to maximize his assets.
To many North Americans that doesn’t sound wrong or unjust…maybe the rich fool is just being prudent and saving for a rainy day. So, does the parable of Jesus strike us as odd? You and I may think of the wealthiest one percent of our populace and assume they are not bearing their fair share of the tax burden. But what about us? What about folks at Plymouth? Are we as individuals building bigger barns? Is that investment property we own helping us to be rich toward God? Is that investment we made in our retirement plan going to be used to build up the realm of God, or is it going to make us just a bit more comfortable in retirement? Do we, some of us, have too much of a good thing?
We all know that there are other good things in life that we should enjoy in moderation…food, drink, sunshine. We are probably aware of the pitfalls of excess in eating, drinking, and being out in the sun. But how do we tell when enough is enough, and not too much?
Some situations are measurable. When you go for your annual physical and your doctor advises you to lose 25 pounds, you have quantitative evidence that things are out of balance. When you get pulled over after a few drinks and just miss getting a DUI, you have quantitative evidence that you’ve exceeded moderation. When you have skin cancer lesions removed after spending too much time in the sun, you have quantitative evidence that you’ve gone overboard.
But what about when things are not so easily measured? And what about some things where you and I might be tempted to say there is not such thing as “enough?” What is “enough” houses? What is “enough” retirement funds? What is “enough” cars? What is “enough” health?
I was thinking about that last week while waiting for my radiation treatment down at the UCHealth Cancer Center. Usually, I’m one of the younger patients in the waiting room, but when I went in there were two kids, I’d guess about 4 and 6 years old, working on a big coloring page on the waiting room wall. And I assumed that they were waiting for a grandparent undergoing treatment. And when their 30-something-year-old mom walked out, it struck me. Wow…I’m dealing with cancer in my 50s, and she is about 25 years younger than I am and has little kids. That make me sit up and take notice, and it put things in perspective for me. I’m planning to be around for a while longer, but I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I’ve had a longer and a fuller life than that mom in her 30s, let alone kids dealing with pediatric cancers. Is there enough health? … a long-enough life?
I told someone recently that four years ago, I had an internist. And now I also have a urologist, a surgeon, a radiation oncologist, a cardiologist, and a pulmonologist. I have more than enough doctors! But thank God they are there. And when I’m feeling as though I don’t have good enough health, I try to go into an attitude of gratefulness for what I have: health insurance, the ability to make the copays, top-flight caregivers, and a cancer center that is only 15 minutes away. And the people who work at that place are an absolute blessing…there are a lot of angels wearing scrubs down on Harmony Road.
I want to teach you a very short Hebrew folk song that is sung around some Seder tables on Passover, as the people celebrate God’s abundance and deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Part of the Haggadah, the litany of Passover, includes the sentiment that “It would have been enough for us! If God had brought us out of Egypt but had not executed judgments against the Egyptians, it would have been enough for us! If God had given us their wealth, but had not split the sea for us, it would have been enough for us! So, the form is “It would have been enough” … “but God went beyond that and did this!” And the Hebrew word “Dayenu” means enough. Here is how the song goes: Day- Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Dayenu! Day-e-nu!
You know the refrain now, so let’s give it a try as a response to some of the things in our own lives that would have been enough. I’ll start with a couple, and then I’ll ask you for other ways God has blessed you with enough.
It would have been enough if God had given us the breath of life, but she sustains us even unto this very hour!
Day- Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Dayenu! Day-e-nu!
It would have been enough if God had given us a nice church to worship in, but he filled it with an amazing transformative tradition and the magnificent people who form Plymouth!
Day- Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Day-Day-enu! Dayenu! Day-e-nu!
What do you say would have been enough…but then God went above and beyond?
[move to Communion Table]
Singing Dayenu brings us into the realization that God’s abundance is present and tangible. It leads us into a non-quantifiable understanding that what God provides is more than enough. What if the rich fool had been sitting around a Passover table, or the table where we remember Jesus’ last supper at Passover, and he sang “Dayenu?”
What might the rich fool had done differently with the overabundance he planned to store in new, bigger barns? Even if he were still to die that night, might he have died as a joyful man instead of a foolish man? And what of us? What might we do differently as those who hear this parable of Jesus? How might we change if we remember to sing “Dayenu” and to be thankful for the abundant blessings of God?
May it be so. Amen.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.