#HowToTellAMountainFromAMolehill, Week 2 — The “When YOLO Met Selfie Stick” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Featured some biblical context work that I felt really good about, and which suggested a possible identity for the parabolic character known as “The Rich Fool”;
  • Reminded people that Yoda would have phrased YOLO as OOYL;

  • Included an anecdote from Pastor Craig Barnes that, when I shared it at 8:30, realized that I needed to save it for LATER in the message at 10 and 11:30;
  • Landed at this bottom line:  Self-absorption leads to soul destruction but self awareness leads to soul salvation.


So there was that time when YOLO (AV) met Selfie Stick.

            That notion that you grab it, grab it all, grab it all at once because, really, you only live once and then when you die, that’s it … came face to face with the preoccupation with the self best represented by the selfie stick, maybe the modern invention that best describes life in the 21st Century.  The invention that if people were coming to visit from an earlier era in human history & were wondering what people were like in the first couple of decades of the 21st, we’d pull it out and say, “Here.  Here’s what we were like.  Here’s the invention that at long last realized there’s not enough ME in the world and so we need multiple angles of ME all over the world.” 

            But just where, you are justified in wondering, just where did YOLO – or OOYL as Yoda would phrase it (AV) – meet Selfie Stick?   In one of Jesus’ short stories, of course.  One of those ripe tales he told that when we dig into them they help us distinguish between mountains and molehills in our lives, help us to tell the difference between the significant and the trivial.  But like almost everything else in the biblical library, it’s a story that makes little sense – or, worse, is misconstrued – when yanked out of its context.  And the context is this encounter in Luke 12:13:

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Ah!  The most dangerous time in the life of any family!  When the will gets read!  So, apparently, this guy’s dad has died and has left behind a mess. We don’t know if the man here in 12:13 (the LIVING one) is the first born or not, which makes an enormous difference in ancient Jewish law – we just know that his dad has died but his dad hadn’t fully prepared for death.  Or for how his survivors would handle things, post-death.  So the brother here wants Jesus – much like Moses before him – to solve this particular legal impasse.

            And Jesus, sensing a trap AND on guard against co-dependent behavior (Jesus here’s my problem.  Will you make it yours?), answers this way in 12:14:

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

  Nope!  Not getting in the middle of that!  You don’t really want me to arbitrate anyway; you just want me to advocate.  On your behalf.  And with that, and then a warning against the greed and its divisive nature, Jesus tells his short story.  It’s commonly called the parable of the RF, but, again, for our purposes it’s the coming together of YOLO and SS.

            The story starts out innocently enough in 12:16-17:

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Now: there is no condemnation in riches.  The dilemma is that the man has done well BUT he has had poor planning (kind of like the dad whose son started the story).  Too much grain, too little storage, and in those days he couldn’t anticipate they’d just build a new Mini Warehouse every quarter mile along Hwy 49.  What am I going to do? He asks.  And really, this story is so great because we get this man’s unfiltered thoughts.  Think about that.  You give the world your filtered thoughts. That’s what your words are.  Usually.  But if the whole world had access to your unfiltered thoughts, to the ways you actually talk to yourself …. Whoooo!  It would be insightful in some cases and devastating in others.

            Well, the self-talk here is incredibly revealing.  As I read the next couple of verses, you circle all the I, me, mine there: 

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

Whoa!  A record # of my, myself, and I’s for only two verses of space there.  His life is one enormous selfie stick!  And do you see what accompanies the farmer’s growing obsession with himself; his unfiltered self-absorption.  Look again at 12:19b&c: READ.  YOLO!  You only live once and because you’ve got money and stuff, it’s going to be a long time, so live it up.  He’s all Bon Jovi:  clip of It’s My Life!  Do you see?  The self-focus, self-obsession, and self-absorption blinds him to some significant planning.  And you know what failing to plan is, don’t you? It’s planning to fail.

            Which is exactly what happens in the very next verse: READ

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.

Goodness.  It wasn’t his life, after all.  He thought he was in charge; God rather forcefully reminds him he’s not.  And this self-absorption and God’s forceful reminder suddenly makes me realize what you get when you combine Frank Sinatra & AC/DC:  My way to hell

            As if that’s not bad enough, look at the last sentence of 12:20:

Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

 Who will get all this stuff you were saving for YOU?  See that?  You’ve left behind a mess.  Not only did you know prepare for your own death, you haven’t even prepared your will!  You didn’t prepare for life after death not did you provide for those who live on after you die!  You know what? Remember the guy in 12:13 whose question got the whole thing here started?  What if, what if, what if, the story Jesus told is actually the biography of that man’s dead father?  Could you imagine his reaction as he’s hearing it?  It would be like Nathanael in John 1 – here’s a man who already knows everything about me! 

            And in the story, look at what’s the mountain:  planning for the temporary and the insignificant.  What am I gonna do with all my excess crops and abundant harvest?

            And then look at the molehill:  How can I best plan for my own death and provide for those who will survive? In this guy’s case, when YOLO met Selfie Stick, the molehill won.  He wasn’t prepared for life after death, nor had he provided for those who’d live on after he died.  Jesus is shouting out to the man’s son (?) and to those of us reading the story so much later:  You’re going to be dead a lot longer than you are alive!  Plan accordingly!!

            Because if you don’t, if you get your mountains and your molehills mixed up, here’s the result: Self-absorption leads to soul destruction. It’s true.  A relentless focus on yourself blinds you and dulls you to your own temporary-ness, to the fact that the world is not about you and does not revolve around you, to the larger fact that your life is not your own.  The selfie-er you are, the more you live for the moment to the exclusion of all the moments to follow, the more you destroy your soul & leave chaos in its wake.  Other than that, I guess the intersection of YOLO and Selfie Sticks is a great idea!  Self-absorption leads to soul destruction.

            This all gets very close to home for me.  You probably have heard that I’m the youngest of eight kids which of course means I have seven brothers and sisters.  What you may not know is that after I was 11, I was the only one at home because #7 went off to college that year and #s 1-6 had been long gone.  So the result is that I’m an only child with seven brothers and sisters.  PLUS I played TENNIS. How many teammates in a singles match?  That would be none.  So for years and years I thought I was a nice guy, I had been converted, I was easy to get along with, chill … and then I realized with a jolt:  virtually NONE of that is true.  I am, when you winnow it down, incredibly selfish.  My first thought in almost everything is how does this make me look? What about me?!  A few years ago I got a note from someone in church about something and included in the opening paragraph was the line:  “I know you think this has to do with you but actually it doesn’t.”  I was like, “Oh no!  This person knows me better than I know myself!! Way better!”  I was on a train headed straight down a path into self-absorption.  Self-absorption leads to soul destruction.

            So here’s where I have to ask you:  am I the only one?  How self-absorbed are you?  Are you so wrapped up in your own story that you fail to see how you’re a supporting characters in someone else’s?  Or with finances are you like the rancher who had two prize winning calves, both of whom would bring in thousands of dollars?  So he told his wife, “Honey, this is something.  The Lord has blessed us with TWO prize winning calves.  I’m so grateful I’m gonna honor the Lord:  one calf is ours and the other is his.  Whatever the Lord’s calf brings in, we’ll give it to him.  Whatever our calf brings in, we keep.”  Good plan.  Until about a week later, the man came in and his soul was quite downcast.  “Honey, what’s wrong?” his wife asked.  “Well,” he said, “the Lord’s calf just died.”      In your house & in your life, is it always the Lord’s calf who dies and never yours?

Or, in your marriage, are you like the man Pastor Craig Barnes tells us about?

A man told me he had been dating a woman for several years, and she was starting to wonder if they would ever marry.  He told me he didn’t know if he could marry her because, as he said to me, “I don’t think she makes me happy.”

I asked him why not, which was a mistake.  He went on and on explaining all the reasons she didn’t make him happy.

Finally I interrupted him and asked, “What kind of wife would make you happy?”  The more he described what he was looking for in a wife, the more convinced I became that what he really needed was not a wife.  He needed a goldfish, the pretty kind with the long tail that floats around, or maybe a Golden Retriever – but even a dog will make demands on you emotionally.  A goldfish, though, just sits there and looks pretty and doesn’t ask you to communicate.  It doesn’t ask you to how your day was or expect you to listen to how its day was.  The last thing that man needed was a wife, because his whole understanding of why the world existed was to meet his needs.

            Listen: that self-focus, where life is just one long selfie stick, will dull you to the truth that you don’t only live once.  You WILL live forever after you die SOMEWHERE, everyone does, and you had best plan accordingly. Because waking up outside the presence of God, in an everlasting cry of My God, my God why have you forsaken me is the one predicament from which there is no escape.  Self-absorption leads to soul destruction.

            So before you settle anything else in your mind, I so long for you to settle THAT. That “my life is not my own, I was bought with a price.”  And that it really is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God (Heb. 10:31 AV).  And that our God really is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29 AV).  And that is not to be trifled with, eternity really means eternal, and you can get every other question RIGHT on earth but get that one WRONG … and you’ll have lost everything.  God is love and he woos you, that’s for sure, but the flip side of his love is his judgment and there is nothing in the biblical library that leads me not to take that piece very, very seriously.  I want you surrounded by the one instead of suffering the other.  Self-absorption leads to soul destruction.

            So this is a hard story and that sounds like a hard word.  Where is the good news?  Hint: it’s in 12:21: READ.  Rich toward God.  But I don’t believe that Jesus tells this story TO THIS GUY AT THIS TIME so that preachers 2000 years later can get people to give.  So we can say: tithing or hell, that’s your choice.  No, it’s more.  It’s an invitation to take your eyes off you. To replace self-absorption with self-awareness.  And to replace the divisiveness of greed with the unifying force of generosity.  Because imagine if the man in Luke 12 had had a plan of generosity.  Not only as an indication that his soul right with God (never as a way of earning it) but also that his kids wouldn’t have to fight over the inheritance.  His kids might end up like those children I know who grew up in this church and once they become wage earners themselves, wrote their first checks ever … to church. First check is a giving check. 

            What a different story that would have made for Jesus to tell.  Because when self-awareness replaces self-absorption that’s an indication that soul salvation has taken the place of soul destruction.  Can I sign you up?