Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Parable of the Rich Fool- FPNNCC guest preacher at Limestone Presbyterian!

The Parable of the Rich Fool
Sermon, Limestone Presbyterian, August 4th, 2013
Carolyn Gordon, Family Promise NNCC

First, I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be here today.  I have a dear place in my heart for Limestone Presbyterian, as a host congregation of Family Promise and a community of caring individuals who have a collective passion that is infectious.  I do want say, I am a little nervous today, but only after Pastor Bruce reminded me this would be recorded and because my last presentation was a week ago to 100 school-aged children at a day camp in preparation of a supply drive.  That presentation was call and response discussing items they would collect that would benefit the families of Family Promise and with clapping after each “correct” answer.   A little different than this to say the least.  But, I know I am in the right place to receive grace.

When I first learned from Pastor Bruce that this was the liturgy for this week, I thought, “wow! What an easy parable to connect to Family Promise!”  Sharing of wealth, not harboring gains for a future time that may never come…easy to connect to helping families who are homeless get back on their feet.  I want to push the conversation a little deeper today- let us go beyond just discussing that sharing is what God wants us to do.

We live in a society that promotes working hard and reaping the benefits of what we do.  It is the American Dream- pull yourself up by your bootstraps and if you work hard enough, you will earn enough and if you earn enough, you have a right to squander or stash it away because you worked for it, you earned it. Earning, sitting back and having pride in a job well done and enjoying the wealth as the result will make us happy.  But does it? Does it not also bring us worry and fear that leads us to seek more?  And what about those who work hard, earn minimum wage of $7.25 and it is still not enough to take care of their family?

The Rich man was not called a fool because he was dishonest in how he made his living.  He was not a fool for having a solid business plan for how he would store what his surplus grain. In fact, he was a rather savvy man.  In this parable, as in the American Dream, it is all about the “I”.  The man’s conversation about what to do with his gains was with only himself.  Life is about the “we”.  To me, the bible stresses the importance of relationships; relationships with each other and with God first and foremost. We need each other and we must always rely on God.  St. Augustine comments that this farmer was "planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.”

This parable, nor anywhere else, does it suggest that ensuring you have enough is wrong or evidence of spiritual bankruptcy.  We learn this every time we fly.  The flight attendants always remind us to place our breathing masks on ourselves first before helping another put on their mask.  We cannot give of money in good faith, if we are struggling.  We cannot provide advice and encouragement if we are feeling low.  This parable speaks to sharing the wealth that is beyond what is enough, not giving away food you would need to feed yourself and your family.

So the question is how much is enough?  Is having the security of 1 paycheck in the bank enough for your family?  Is 3, 5, or 10?  How many bathrooms and bedrooms are really needed in a house?  At what point, do we trust God will take care of us as long as we continue to do his will? To demonstrate this trust in God, we have to live it. As it says in James chapter 2; verses 14-26, “Faith without works is dead”.  When I was sharing to my other half, Mike, that I would be speaking on this parable he related it to the miracle of loaves and fishes.  Jesus had only a few loaves and two small fish and managed to feed 5,000.  He trusted and relied that God would provide, as he always does, but Jesus did his part and started to feed the hungry with what he had.  I believe the miracle only came because Jesus began to act.  People started to help.  Jesus and his followers began to pass out the 5 loaves and 2 small fish.   I do not believe that if Jesus waited for the bread and fish to multiply, that they would have.  He had to put his faith into action and trust God would take it from there. We are the hands and feet of the Lord and have the responsibility to do his will.  He is the one with the plan but we have to act here, in our own community.  Praying at home does not feed the hungry; having a luxury car and having faith things will work out does not aide in it happening.  Worrying and having guilt does not help either.  Taking action does.

Family Promise, as I am sure, most of you know, helps families with children who are temporarily homeless move on to lasting independence.  I am very calculated in how I say our mission, though it is wordy.  They are not “homeless families”- they are experiencing homelessness.  They are so much more than their current circumstances, as we all are.  They are families with children, as many still hold the notion that being homeless can only happen to middle-aged men who perhaps suffer from mental illness or alcoholism.  They are temporarily homeless, as all the families we serve have had stability before in their lives- they have owned homes, rented apartments, had jobs that covered the bills.  They find themselves at Family Promise because of a series of unfortunate events.  They lost the job.  A fire happened.  A divorce or family death.  Illness.  Bills mounted up and they could not stay afloat. 

Our families at Family Promise are the hungry bellies that this rich fool could have helped.  They have various needs and there is plenty of ways in which we, as a faith community, can lift them up.  Their needs may be basic, a pair of cleats so a youth can continue with sports and have as normal of a childhood as possible while his family works to get out of this situation. When a family begins work, they can use help with gas until their first paycheck when they can take over the cost.  I also tell folks, never underestimate the power of toilet paper and cleaning products.  Think about a time when you moved into a new place- perhaps when married and you bought your first house, perhaps an apartment right after college.  You needed everything from furniture to cleaning supplies, utilities turned on to your spice starter rack and condiments.  Our families are often starting over without any material possessions. Without fail, every family who put together a wish list for the holidays last year listed cleaning supplies and paper products.  Their lists were not far-fetched, excessive, or greedy, they were simple lists.  In fact, a few of the families said they were ok, Family Promise had already done so much for them, that they didn’t feel right putting down any needs or wants.  Wow!  Talk about gratitude and feeling whole without it being contingent upon material wealth.

I want to push the conversation a little bit deeper.  I believe, especially in this house of worship, we know we are called to share our blessings.  We know the right thing to do is not to harbor surplus grains and gains especially at the demise of those around us. We are reminded in Luke chapter 7 that God calls on us “to help the least, the lost and the last”.  I know in my heart this congregation gets that.  We always know that we may be on the receiving end of help at some point in our lives.  We are no different than the families that come to Family Promise seeking refuge.  We may be painfully aware that we or a loved one lives paycheck-to-paycheck.  We know the challenge we would face, should a job loss happen or an illness happen. But this may be the same worry that drives us to “store our surplus gain” as the Parable says. Just in case.  Then, we will be ok.  I have a visceral reaction the phrase “rainy day fund”.  I always thought it was strange to hinge extra wealth on the weather.   This may also be because I work day-in-and-day-out with families who we are just trying to build up any sort of fund- rainy day, snowy day or sunny day…

So if we push the conversation about sharing our wealth a little deeper, we can examine “how” to share.  We know why we should share but do we know how to share?

Two key components here, especially as they relate to Family Promise and any other volunteer opportunities of which you may participate.  The first thought to leave you with is: share what is needed by the individual that is in need.  What is needed should dictate what we give.  The rich fool in this parable had excess of grain and certainly his community needed that.  If a family is in need of employment support, whether it be job leads, a mentor do practice interviews, a volunteer to drive them around to put in applications, financial support to go back to school…whatever the job-related need is, clothing or food will not fill this need. If a family needs prayer, reassurance, a shoulder to lean on, giving them bus passes will not fill their void. 

Each one of you has gifts and talents and there is a need for all of them.  Family Promise is the organizational tool to match it up.  If someone is a retired teacher and has time and we have a teacher studying to pass her licensure exam, poof! A miracle happens.  If a family is about to move out and they need $500 to help with first month and security deposit and someone has the ability to financially give.  A miracle happens!  If someone is downsizing and has excess furniture and we have a family that is moving out, bam! Another miracle!  These are real examples and I witness the miracles every day.   It has been said that a miracle is when “those who have temporarily more give to those who have temporarily less.”  It does not matter how much or how little is given and it is all temporary as this parable reminds us with the rich fool having his life demanded from him that night. 

The second component about how to share our wealth is that we have a responsibility to check our motives about giving.  Are we truly doing it because we know God has called on us to aide in his work?  Are we doing it because we know we have something of worth- items, money, a skill-set, time- and we know we must share it?  Remember, the bible reminds us that we cannot hide our light under a bushel.  If our motives our pure, than acknowledgement is not necessary from those we are empowering.  Of course, who doesn’t like to hear thank you and that they are appreciated? Our families that come through our hospitality network and those who receive our case management support are gracious.  They do truly appreciate what we do for them and the overwhelming majority of them express this in some form or fashion.  Imagine, however, being in their shoes- new people every night, new congregation every week, your life feels exposed, you are trying to take care of your family and do your part to create stability, and you have never even needed to ask for help like this… It may be so hard that a mom or a dad, in the particular moment, may not be able to share a “thank you” because it will bring to light the fact that they are struggling and in need and someone just helped them.    This would certainly take its toll on the spirit and I think we can all appreciate that. 

I had a situation recently in which I was able to help a mom and her 3 boys out with housing.  It involved some advocating on her behalf with other organizations, some financial support immediately and a lot of time.  I know she was thankful, and as she did get out of my car, she did say thank you.  But I thought for a moment, “Wow! That’s it! A “thank you” and then walking away”.  This mom even acknowledged the sharing of wealth and I didn’t think it was “enough” acknowledgement.  I then had a God moment and thought, maybe she went into the room where she was staying, sat down and started crying tears of joy privately and thanking God for putting Family Promise in her life.  That is where the real credit belongs!  God needs the prayerful thanks for using Family Promise as a tool.  I did not need her to thank me directly for what I am called to do.

Family Promise always has opportunities to share your wealth- whether it be time, financial resources or item donations.  Hosting week is coming up and I know there is a sign-up sheet floating around.  If you have an hour in the evening to drive the van, great!  If you can help set up the rooms at the beginning of the week to welcome the families, that is needed to.  If you can sleep, you can be an overnight volunteer.  If you do not have time or will not be in the area, consider making a financial contribution to help a family get back on their feet.   All the efforts of Limestone Presbyterian for the past few years have aided Family Promise in helping over 80% of our families move into their own housing and stay there.  Together we have served over 200 individuals through over 50 families.  THANK YOU.   There is also the Promise Tree that will be launched soon.  This is an opportunity to impact families directly and there is no minimum or maximum amount expected.  We provided examples of items our families need to show where the funds go.

A quick story and I will end.  I was speaking to the children of this summer camp about the impact that they were having on families and children just like themselves.  I, of course, stayed away from the normal explanation of “return on investment” and how every dollar donated turns into $2.50 of program impact because we leverage volunteers time and item donations like the cleaning items and personal hygiene items they were collecting.  I knew well enough to be age-appropriate.  I asked, “Who benefits from these items?”  They remembered that it was homeless children.  Then, I asked, “What do you think the children will feel when they receive these items?” The children were spot-on with their answers:  happy, glad, thankful, etc.  Then, a little girl, very astute, raised her hand to add, “I benefitted too.  I feel those exact same feelings.  When I am helping somebody else, I am benefitting because I am happy and thankful too.”