First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

What If Everyone Did That?

First United Methodist Church
July 31, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
What If Everyone Did That?

Quite often pastors find themselves in the role of officiating funeral services. The purpose of these services is to honor and celebrate a person’s life, and in all the services I have been involved in, I have yet to encounter one in which we talk about how many things a person was able to accumulate throughout his or her life. Even the titles, or the accomplishments, take second stage, because what is important, or what is remembered, are the ways that the person interacted with those who remain. It is through our relationships that we are remembered - our relationships not only give meaning to our own lives, but they also determine whether the things we value will be valued in future generations.

A couple of weeks ago I shared a story about a flood caused by the selfish decisions made by some of the wealthiest people in the United States. These same men – Rockefeller, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, in Indiana we think of the Ball family, Ely Lilly and Studebaker – became incredibly wealthy during their lifetimes not because they were hoarding their wealth but because they wanted to produce as much as they possibly could. They were shrewd businessmen who came up with the right idea at the right time in history. We can look at their accumulation of wealth as an anathema, and focus on all the unfair business practices that occurred during the 19th and early 20th centuries, or we can move beyond that and look at the legacies that they left behind. Most of these men realized that neither they nor their children would be able to spend the amount of money that they had acquired, so they set up foundations that will continue to benefit people for generations to come. However, I don’t think this is exactly what Jesus meant when he asked, “And the things that you have prepared, whose will they be?”

So I’d like to share with you a brief not well known story about the Ball family. During the Great Depression when many industries struggled to sell their products, the Ball Corporation, which primarily made glass canning jars and food containers, was no exception. Although people needed the jars to store food, they couldn’t afford to purchase them. The practical business solution would be to stop production, but the Ball Brothers realized that shutting down the factory would put many people in Muncie out of work. Plus, they knew that people needed the jars. So they reduced the price of the jars so that they were practically free and they kept the factories open, paying the workers out of their personal savings, until the economy returned to a somewhat normal state.

The Balls had a lot of money and this act of generosity didn’t affect their wealth that significantly, but a lot of other business people during that era were more interested in how they could keep making money than on the needs of the community that generated that wealth. Many of them shut down rather than operate at a loss. Eventually they all started giving back, but this particular act illustrates, I think, a particular point that Jesus was making.

The man in our Scripture was doing the opposite of what the Ball family did. When he realized how much grain he had produced, he could have released it into the marketplace. People needed the grain, but an abundance would have lowered the price, meaning the wealthy man would also have lower profits. Even if he gave it away, that would reduce the number of people who needed to buy it; thereby reducing his profits. By storing it, he could control the price, and through a grain shortage, the price would go up. Because the people needed the grain, they would find a way to purchase it, even if it resulted in their eating two meals a day, rather than three. This is basic supply and demand economics. We deal with this kind of thing all the time.

But here’s the thing. We can make this just about money if we want to. But greed extends beyond material wealth. And while Jesus’ point about hoarding resources should be taken seriously, I think he also wants us to think about the way we live out our faith.

I like to think of the barns as holding something other than food or grain. Perhaps they hold our fruits of the Spirit – peace, justice, hope, caring, and humility. Means of grace, such as Bible study, prayer, worship, fasting, the Lord’s supper, holy conferencing and acts of mercy are the ways by which God nourishes us toward fruitful living: which is usually described as love of God and love of neighbor. We nurture one another in community, because without community we are simply storing God’s love in a barn. Imagine what might have happened if Christians hoarded God’s love instead of sharing it.

Many children who grow up in United Methodist churches turn out to be pretty good kids. Much of this credit belongs to their parents, but some of it is a result of the continuous outpouring of love that they experience from our community of faith. When we, as adults in the church, take the time to interact with children, to volunteer for VBS or to teach Sunday School, we help kids to experience God’s love in action. The church is not only a spiritual influence in children’s lives, but also a place that helps to guide them in a positive direction. My prayer, of course, is that we can expand our ministries so that children throughout our community can have a similar experience.

The world worked a hundred years ago because we lived together as close communities. People knew one another – they knew each other’s kids and they knew what each other’s kids were doing. There was an expectation that if your child was out in public, he or she would respect any adult, because all adults in the community cared about the well-being of each individual child. Neighbors knew each other’s names, and neighbors felt comfortable redirecting other people’s kids. If Johnny or Sally misbehaved, quite often it was Mr. Jones who corrected and disciplined them, and Mr. Jones then notified their parents, who would then hold them accountable. Kids listened to and respected other adults in the community because they knew everybody shared this kind of relationship with one another.

Today, the church is one of the few remaining organizations that still continues to offer these types of intergenerational relationships. I remember this one woman from my childhood church. Her name was Dorothy Houstis. She always seemed to be in a rush as she came into church 5 minutes after worship started and would hustle to the second row, even though most of the back pews had room in them. As a kid I probably would not have noticed this behavior, except that we looked forward to seeing Mrs. Houstis arrive because we all liked her. She talked to the kids, she remembered our birthdays, and from time to time she brought little gifts for all of us. She knew us by name, and she cared about us. The other significant person that I remember from my childhood church was our Sunday School teacher – Mrs. Sue Jones. She wasn’t nearly as nice as Mrs. Houstis, but I remember her because she significantly influenced my Christian growth. But what is interesting about what I remember about my childhood church is that although there were only about 30 or 40 members attending when I was there, I only remember the names of the people who invested in my growth as a Christian.

As I said earlier, the church is one of the few organizations that is able to continue these types of intergenerational relationships, but even the church is in danger of losing this connection as well. In our Scripture today, God responds harshly to the rich man because instead of sharing his wealth, he is only concerned about how he can store it for himself. Rather than figuring out how to keep more, perhaps God wanted him to think of ways that he might share the abundance. The scripture is pretty direct when we apply it to our own use of our own wealth. Many of us are generous and giving, but are we as generous when it comes to sharing our spirituality?

Consider this: When we commit our lives to the authority of Jesus Christ, we are recreated in the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. God-with-us is transformed to be God-in-us. In this transformation, we become the body of Christ, or more commonly referred to as the church. Christ’s mission is to manifest God’s presence among humanity. Therefore, if we truly define ourselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, our mission is to do the same.

God blesses us with an abundance of time, talent, and love in order that we might share it with others. We are called to care for and teach our children and as the church we are called to create a community where kids constantly know and are known by several caring adults that they can trust.

Church becomes relevant to young people when we, as elders, share our stories and let the children know that they are loved, not just by their own parents, but by the world that they live in. Amen.