Fifty-two thousand facilities with 2.3 billion square feet of space, 1 in 10 families in the U.S. has one of these. What am I referring to? That's right... Storage units. The self storage industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the U.S. commercial real estate industry over the period of the last 35 years currently generating 5.2 billion in revenue each year. Let’s face it…we have a lot of stuff and we don't stop accumulating when our stuff no longer fits in our houses. Instead we find other houses in which to store our excess stuff and that's where the 78 square miles of storage unit space comes in. Sound familiar?

"The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." 

Sounds prudent doesn't it? Isn't it right that this man would have barns large enough to store his crops? Shouldn't Jesus celebrate his astute business practices and hard work that led him to have such a bumper crop? And yet, that isn't what happens at all. Instead Jesus ends up calling this man a fool. What is the rich man's offense?

Let’s take a closer look. We don’t know much at all about this man do we? What we do know is it’s all about him.  Look at how many times the word “I” and “my” are used in the reading.  Notice he doesn’t ask anyone else what he should do with his abundance of crops.  And he certainly doesn’t ask God what God would have him do with the abundance of crops that he has.  Rather, he asks himself what he should do with the crops and even answers himself determining that what he needs are larger barns to store his crops. 

The only things he trusts in are himself and his possessions. Never once did he consider that the excess crops he had might fulfill someone else's need. Instead it's all about storing enough to ensure that he can relax, eat, drink and be merry. I imagine if he had lived longer that this new larger barn would have become insufficient in size as well.

Like the rich man, once we begin collecting and accumulating things sometimes it’s hard to stop.  If we can just get a few more dollars in our savings account or purchase a little bit nicer car… then we can sit back and relax.  If we have just a little bit more… then we’ll be set for the future.  I imagine the crops that the rich man accumulated in his barns pale in comparison to the amount of goods that we have accumulated in the United States. First we built larger homes going from an average of 983 square feet in the 1950’s to 2300 square feet in the 2000’s. When that wasn’t enough then came the booming storage facility industry which now provides enough space that it would be physically possible for every man, woman and child in the U.S. to stand – all at the same time – under the total canopy of self storage roofing!

What would Jesus say to us today if he surveyed the outdoor and indoor climate-controlled storehouses we have built to hold our possessions?

As a resident of the United States and... a storage space owner, this text makes me squirm.  I can’t help but wonder whether I have accumulated too much.  As we collect possessions and save for our future through retirement funds, IRAs, 401K’s, etc., when is what we consider enough… really too much.  At what point does our possessing and accumulating begin to control our lives?  At what point have we, like the rich man, placed our trust in our possessions?

These aren’t easy questions to ask ourselves, however, I think we must always wrestle with them not because we’re afraid that we will be punished by God in some way because we’ve stored up too much for ourselves.  Not because having money or possessions by its very nature is wrong. Rather, we must wrestle with these questions for two reasons: 

1st, so that we might constantly be asking ourselves where we have put our trust and
 2nd so that we might be aware of whether the “stuff” we have in storage in our basements, garages or self-storage units and the excess we have accumulated in our savings accounts could fulfill someone else's need.

As we wrestle with these questions, we would do well to heed the words of our readings from Ecclesiastes and the Gospel of Luke for today which give us a clear image of the futility and fleeting reality of all that our world holds most dear – accomplishments and accumulation of money and possessions.  For in the end, we will all die and the things of this world will be left to others. 

If we can’t trust in our possessions then where do we find hope in this life?  The words of Colossians 3 tell us that as those who have been raised with Christ, our hope lies in things not of this world but rather things of heaven.  Our hope lies in God and trusting the promises God has made to us.  For as the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, without God all that we do to find security and meaning in our lives is pointless – “vanity of vanities.”

These readings confront and challenge us.  They force us to stop and assess our lives – looking at where we have put our trust.  Do we hoard that which God has given us concerned that we won’t have enough for the future, or do we trust that God will provide all that is needed and give freely from that which God has loaned to us?

Will we be rich or poor by the standards of The Sheldon family from whom a social worker in Appalachia learned a valuable lesson? She shares the following story:

The Sheldons were a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes.  The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity—and without complaint.

One fall day I visited the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat in their diet even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high.

Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. "Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don't have much, that's a fact; but we ain't poor!"  I couldn't resist asking, "What's the difference?" His answer proved unforgettable.

"When you can give something away, even when you don't have much, then you ain't poor. When you don't feel easy giving something away even if you got more'n you need, then you're poor, whether you know it or not."  Amen.