July 31, 2022
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Psalm 49:1-11 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
I’m going to tell a story this morning about my wife. Don’t worry, though, I have Cathy’s permission. She started reading a book about de-cluttering your home and decided to start giving away some of our stuff. You know what I mean when I say stuff. Several years ago there was a commercial for storage containers that showed how, if you purchased their product and organized your stuff, you’d have room for more stuff. Most of us have way more stuff than we’ll ever use. For me, it’s tools, nuts and bolts. I have so many that I should be able to fix about anything, but either I don’t have what I need for a project or I can’t find it, so go to the hardware store for more often than not. Too much stuff can make it difficult to find what we have.
Anyway, back to Cathy. She was listening to music while cleaning out a closet when Good to be Alive by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band started playing. She wrote a line from their song, and posted it on the mirror in our bathroom, “Shiny hearses long and black don’t come with a luggage rack; you can’t take it when you go. So let the good, the good times roll.”
Today’s readings from Ecclesiastes and Luke say the same thing in different words, much different words – and without the music. Ecclesiastes says, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This . . . is vanity.” Many of us work to feed our egos by buying more and more – nicer furniture, newer cars, bigger houses – or to get promotions that not only pay more, they demand more respect from others. All of these things may our feed egos, but not our souls.
In the story Jesus tells of the rich man who, when he has an abundant harvest, he decides to build bigger barns to store all his grain. He wants to rest comfortably, to “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry” for many years. But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is” Jesus says, “with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Jesus is warning us to guard against greed, “for one’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions,” he says.
Vanity. Greed. Foolishness. Why do we work? What is it we hope to accomplish in this life? There is wisdom in the lyrics from Good to be Alive. In addition to the line about not being able to take it with you, the words to this song include, “Breathing in and out another day. It’s good to be alive. Let the good time roll. Let the good times roll.” It is good to be alive, and if we work for things we want rather than need, it is easy to miss life’s beauty. Typically I think of the line, “Let the good times roll,” as a reference to partying – and it may be in this song, but it can also bring to mind the importance of finding joy in our present company rather than possessions.
We live in a society that is constantly promoting the next best thing over appreciation of what we have now. Work may be necessary to provide what we need – food and shelter, but it is in sharing what we have with others and developing new relationships, that we find life. I suspect you’ve all heard some version of the quote, “No one on their death bed every said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business.’” Arnold Zack, an arbitrator and mediator from Massachusetts wrote this in a letter to his friend and senator, Paul Tsongas, who after being diagnosed and treated for cancer decided not to seek re-election. Senator Tsongas quoted Zack when announcing his decision. Then, in another interview, Tsongas said, “I used to walk my kids to school and think about re-election. Now I walk my kids to school and think about my kids.”
Some of us are blessed to have a job that enables us to find fulfillment in our work. Others work to be able to find fulfillment in other areas of life. The problem comes when we sacrifice our relationships for our work. Our relationship with God and one another is where we find true meaning in our lives.
The rich man with an abundant harvest was foolish and greedy because he did not see it as an opportunity to share with others, to build relationships with those who do not have enough, he sees it as an opportunity to “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry.” Is this what the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band meant by “Let the good times roll?” If so, it is foolish. But if, the good times are walking your children to school and thinking about your children instead of what you plan to accomplish next, then I’m all for letting the good times roll.
Sometimes, the difference between being wise and foolish, being greedy and generous, is that fine line between working to build relationships and working to get things what we want for ourselves. Remember, “Shiny hearses big and black don’t come with a luggage rack; you can’t take it when you go. So let the good times roll.”
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus you have taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us, we pray, to share what we learn with others that we all may experience the good times – the joy of living in God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.