Bigger Barns or Bigger Church

Bigger Barns or Bigger Church

   This is a true story: a Greek Orthodox parish community was contemplating building a brand new, larger, more beautiful sanctuary. Of course, there was lots of lively discussion and debate. During a parish assembly meeting, one person rose to speak. He said he represented a “bunch” of parishioners. He said, “Why do we need to build a bigger, better church? After all,” he continued, “Jesus was born in a cave.” The priest thought for a minute and responded, “Yes, Jesus was God and He humbled Himself to born in a cave. But how many of us imitate Jesus and live in a cave? None of us. In fact, many of us live in mini-mansions these days but treat our church like a cave.” That Greek Orthodox parish went on to build a beautiful new sanctuary and has continued to build and add on to their facilities since then.

   We entered the Advent Fast last Wednesday November 15th. We are anticipating and preparing for the Feast of Christ’s Nativity, when indeed He was born in a cave to His Holy Mother Mary, the ever-Virgin. One of our many stops on this journey is today’s Gospel reading for the Ninth Sunday of Luke 12:16-21. Providentially, today’s Epistle is the 24th Sunday reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:14-22.

   On one hand, we have the Gospel in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. He had a bumper crop of goods (v.16). Instead of giving them away or figuring out how to use them to help others, he decides to tear down his barn and build a bigger one (v.18). He did this so he could take it easy, eat, drink and be happy (v.19). What’s wrong with that? That’s the “American Way!” But Jesus calls this man a fool (v.20) adding, “he who lays up treasure for himself is not rich towards God” (v.21).

   On the other hand, we have St. Paul writing to the Christian community in Ephesus of Asia Minor. Indirectly speaking about the Nativity of Christ, Paul says that when the Son of God became the God-Man, Jesus Christ, He broke down the wall that separated mankind from God (vv.14,18). St. Paul continues:

     19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

   St. Paul could be talking about a religious building, a church temple, but he’s really talking about a church community—the Body of Christ. Either way, the cornerstone is Christ, the foundation is the Apostles and Prophets and we the parishioners are the superstructure—the walls, the windows, the icons. And if we are built together and we work together with self-sacrificial love, then we become a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

   So, there we have a juxtaposition between a man with a big barn, taking it easy on one side; and on the other side a community of people who build a church—a holy dwelling place where God lives. One is a fool; the others are wise. Are we laying up treasures for ourselves or are we trying to become rich towards God?

   In this past Tuesday’s Gospel reading (Luke 25-35), Jesus tells the great multitudes who gathered to listen to Him, “So therefore, none of you can become My disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (v.33). In Thursday’s Gospel (Lk.16:1-9) Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Man & His Steward. There was an accusation that the steward was wasting the rich man’s goods. So the rich man called him and said, “What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward” (v.2). In Friday’s Gospel (Lk.16:14-18; 17:1-4) listen to what happened:

14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

   My brothers and sisters in Christ, God knows our hearts. In the passage that comes right after today’s Gospel (Lk.12:22-31), Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v.34). Where is our treasure? Is it in the Church or is it in our barns? In the passage immediately preceding today’s Gospel (Lk.12:13-15), Jesus says, “Take heed [be careful] and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (v.15). Are we building bigger barns for the great abundance of our possessions or are we building a bigger church community so we can bring more people into the household of God to become God’s children with us?

   Right now, we as a community are not sustaining our parish temple and ministries with our own treasure. We are still looking to outsiders to do that for us. We think it is impossible for us to do it ourselves because we lack faith and trust in God. We let the devil distract us and overwhelm us. In order to sustain what we have it only requires an average per person increase in giving of $1.30 per day. That’s a little more than a newspaper and a lot less than a cup of coffee. Some people with less means will not be able to afford $1.30, but most of us who have big barns can afford a lot more than a $1.30 per day. Each of us needs to do our part. God requires a tithe, ten percent from us each year. On average, most of us are giving less than one percent. If everyone gave at least three percent, then we become a self-sustaining community. However, this is just to sustain where we are right now. What are we going to do to grow? It’s a simple choice: Bigger barns or a Bigger Church? Amen!