Full Barns or Clean Barns
One of the things that I love about the book of Proverbs, is the quirky way that Solomon shares the difference between wisdom and foolishness. He could have easily said, wise people love God and foolish people just act like they love God. But that doesn’t seem to have the staying power that some of his phrases tend to have in the culture of the Israelites, or in our culture. After all these phrases and bit’s of wisdom show up again and again in the teachings of Jesus, Paul, James, Benjamin Franklin, and Martin Luther King Jr..
The text that was read for us this morning is one of those obscure, quirky passages that you probably have never noticed, yet the message is an interesting one. In the Proverb Solomon is highlighting the tension between our desire for a clean barn and the need for a filled barn. It’s a tension everyone of us know first hand.
If you want a sweet-smelling, picturesque little show-place of a barn, then the worst thing you can do, is fill it with oxen. On the other hand, if you want a full barn then you are going to have to learn how to deal with the mess that the oxen are going to invariably make. No one wants to deal with the mess, but if you want to be productive you understand that productivity comes at a price. In our proverb we are in the tension between being clean and dealing with an ox that had to be fed every day, and they eat more than a teenage boy. They had to be sheltered from the wet and cold, taken care of when they got sick or injured. You needed to keep them penned up at night so they don’t wander off and get into trouble, once again like a teenage boy. And anything you put in a pen is going to leave a smelly mess in the stall that you have to clean up.
You understand the tension, is dealing with an ox is worth all the other trouble. Maybe you want a clean barn, clean barns are nice looking, some people even take their barns and turn them into wedding chapels, which are beautiful venues. Clean barns don’t have to deal with ox.
These proverbs are amazingly flexible, so this week I began to think how many different ways do we struggle with clean barns? Maybe your clean barn is your work environment, and you work with folks who constantly make one mistake after the other. Maybe you want clean barns in your house, and you struggle with your family that like to leave shoes, socks, and towels all over the floor. Maybe your barn is your personal life, and you live in the tension of someone’s disfunction rubbing against your own disfunction. Or maybe your barn is this church family.
Maybe, the barn in this text can be a symbol of the church. I grew up with this teaching that worship had to be done decently and in order. Maybe it’s our nature to want the church to be a place of peace, tranquility, and beauty, that is opposite of the chaos we experience in our daily lives. We want our services to move from one aspect to the other seamlessly. We want to have beautiful facilities where people to talk in quiet voices and always get along, where children act like adults. That’s not realistic, and not what God intends. The only way that a church will have a neat, spic-n-span, tranquil, space is to have an empty church. Because maybe you have noticed, people are messy.
I know about a congregation in our state that at one time had a growing children’s and youth program. They had more young families attending than any other church in the area. They decided that since they were hosting several weddings every year, they needed to transform an area to serve as wedding room and women’s parlor. They filled a room with beautiful couches and chairs and other furniture. It was this beautiful little tranquil area. One Sunday during a fellowship meal, several of the teenagers made their way into the parlor to eat lunch. Someone spilled their drink, someone left some napkins and a cup on an end table. And the next week someone put a lock on the door to keep the kids out. Pretty soon they put a lock on the kitchen to keep folks from making a mess, next cam e the offices and finally they started locking the classrooms. Within 5 years this once growing and thriving congregation began to die. When they sold their building, they had a beautiful women’s parlor and wedding room that sat clean and empty. They had a beautiful kitchen and children’s area that were clean and empty. In the tension between being clean and being filled, clean won and the church died.
In a book by Miraslav Volk called Exclusion and Embrace, he writes that there are really only two options available to us in relationships. We can embrace people, take them by the hand, do life with them and open our heart to them. Or, we can exclude people, to grow cold and distant and to shut people out of our life. In other words if you want a full barn, full church, full life you are going to need to get a few oxen in your barns.
One of the things that Solomon has gone back to again and again is how important it is to be willing to share our lives with others. If we want full barns, and churches, it starts with our willingness to share life with others who realize their need. I’m talking about really sharing with others. Not sharing life because you have to, or to relieve some of your guilt. I mean sharing out of a genuine, heartfelt response to God’s love and grace in your lives. Sharing with people who are different than you are philosophically, socially, politically, theologically.
It’s easy to think because I put some change in the basket as it makes it’s way around to feel like I have done all the sharing I need to do. The church can do the sharing for me. But it’s that mindset that causes me to close my eyes to the needs I see each day. We don’t see our neighbor who needs help fixing his car or the single mom at church who needs those baby clothes we have boxed in the attic. We don’t think about the homeless person we pass on the way to the grocery store or the teenager who doesn’t have quite enough encouragement at home. Other folks are messy, and it is so tempting to leave them outside so I can embrace a clean hallmark perfect life. Yet, Solomon says if you want to be truly wise, you will learn how to truly share life with others. Let me quickly point you to four reasons that Solomon says it’s wise to share lives with other people.
First we see that sharing demonstrates God’s Kindness - Proverbs 19:17
Every time you give to the poor you make a loan to the Lord. Don’t worry—you’ll be repaid in full for all the good you’ve done.
Solomon says there is a relationship between being Godly and generous. It all comes back to your real motivation of your actions and not simply the actions themselves. The Hebrew word for poor doesn’t mean having no money, it’s this general term for anyone who has a need. So it’s not just the homeless or the destitute, but simply any person who needs a little kindness.
Your kindness to a person who’s in need can take many forms. It might be helping the person pay one of their monthly bills to help with their financial stress that month. It might be giving your time to rake the leaves in their yard when they health is forcing them to find someone else to do it for them. It might be welcoming someone into your space and allowing them to feel safe. When Trafton was a baby, someone in our congregation would periodically place boxes of diapers on our car in the church parking lot. Every time I walked out to the car and saw those diapers, that beautiful gift, it made me cry. Not having to buy diapers that week often meant we could afford to buy supplies to change the oil in the car, or pay the high electric bill caused by hot Georgia summers.
Solomon says that when we show kindness by giving to those in need, we are actually giving to God and God will reward you for the kindness you have shown. When we show kindness to the needy, we are actually showing the love of God to people who desperately understand their need to be loved. And the promise is that God will take care of us when we open our hearts to others.
Unfortunately there are times in our own life that clean wins the battle between clean and full. Instead of sharing our lives we just share a few empty words. You can say, God loves you until you are blue in the face, but until you are willing to demonstrate that love in tangible ways, our words are empty. If we want to have a full barn, we have to be willing to share our lives with people who are messy. And sharing with people requires us to demonstrate God’s kindness in tangible ways.
Secondly when we share we Open Ourselves to Blessings - Proverbs 28:27
Proverbs 28:27 says You will never go without if you give to the poor. But if you’re heartless, stingy, and selfish, you invite curses upon yourself.
Solomon says abundance is found in the life of the person who shares. Your compassion, generosity, and kindness is seen in your ability to share with those who recognize their need. But those who refuse to share, either because they don’t want to share or they don’t think they have anything to share are heartless and inviting curses in your life. If you want a full barn, share but if you want to have a clean barn then make excuses to keep what you have. The more you give, the more you find you have to give.
I like to think of this passage like lake Logan Martin. In 1965 Alabama Power made this reservoir on the Coosa River. The Coosa pours into the lake at the Neely Henry Dam and then pours out at the Logan Martin Dam. As long as the water pours out there is plenty of space for more to pour in. As long as the water is going out and coming in the lake is filled with fish and wildlife. But if the water was to stop pouring out then it would be like the Dead Sea. They say nothing lives in the waters of the Dead Sea, that’s why it’s called dead. But less than 90 miles above the Dead Sea is the Sea of Galilee, water that is full of life. So why is their no life in the Dead Sea, if it is being filled from the Sea of Galilee? You have to understand the Dead sea is not dead because there is no life coming into it; the Dead Sea is dead because there is no life going out of it.
God desires to pour His blessings into our lives, and in the life of this church. But in order for our lives and barns to be filled, we must pour out those blessings by sharing life with others. Water flows in and water flows out, blessings flow in and blessings flow out through the things we share. If we’re not sharing our lives and blessings with those who are around us, then we close our lives to God’s blessings. But if we build outlets in our lives by sharing, then we open the door to God’s blessings.
The third thing sharing does is it Counteracts Our Craving - Proverbs 21:25-26
What slackers crave will surely kill them because they refuse to work. All day, every day the greedy want more, while those who live right give generously.
The slacker, a lazy man spends his days thinking about all of the things that he doesn’t have. A lazy man might have a large bank account, but they are not satisfied. They can only focus on what they don’t have. When we refuse to share our lives with others we turn our focus inward. We can only focus on what we don’t have, we are unsatisfied with what we do have, even when we have enough to meet our needs. A generous person doesn’t want for more. They have enough because they have enough to share.
People who actually receive God’s love and love Him with all of their hearts seem unaffected by this craving for more. When we share, we counteract our craving to accumulate things. We understand that our souls can only be filled with God and not the trash that we often accumulate. It’s amazing to me that we all have this tendency to accumulate or collect things that are actually worthless. But in this desire to have things, we hold on to stuff that doesn’t matter. I would be willing to guarantee that at your home right now there is a drawer, probably in the kitchen, that has is overflowing with junk. Yet, for some reason you refuse to throw that stuff away. We all have that drawer.
When Trista and I first got married, I would come home and empty out my pockets on the table. I learned that was not proper, so she got me a basket where I could empty my pockets at the end of the day. Every day I put my keys, cell phone, wallet, change, and all of the other things I cannot live without in the basket. Eventually that basket was to small so I got a larger basket, then another larger basket and now I have two baskets. This week, I was digging through one of my baskets trying to find my keys and I decided it was time to clean out the baskets since they were overflowing with treasures. Over the last two years I accumulated the following treasures: three sets of headphones that don’t work anymore, a ticket to a JAX state basketball game, various movie tickets, a large collection of various cough drops, a gas receipt for diesel from March, a business card from someone in Southaven Mississippi, and an iPhone S that will not charge so it will not turn on.
We all keep garbage like that, because it fills this need to have something. We crave more and more, and it’s not just the newest and greatest, sometimes we just want. As long as we refuse to share, our appetite for more continues to grow. We collect all of this garbage to the point that we allow it to drown our desire for God. We need to throw some of our treasures away and begin to focus on how we can best share what God has blessed us with. Giving is the antidote for craving. In fact, sharing is the only antidote for the sickness of coveting. We have all bought into the lie that getting what we covet will make our craving go away. While the truth is that when we get what we want it just feeds our craving to want more. What we were satisfied with yesterday doesn’t bring satisfaction today and suddenly we’re craving all over again.
Finally we see that sharing helps Keep Our Relationships Pure - Proverbs 25:21-22
Our final Proverb is found in Proverbs 25:21-22. Is your enemy hungry? Buy him lunch. Win him over with your kindness. Your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience and God will reward you with favor.
This is the Old Testament version of Luke 6:27-28 where Jesus said, Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. This is one of those radical statements that we spend more time trying to find loopholes in than actually trying to obey. This command simply goes against every fiber of our nature, yet this is a big part of what it means to have full barns.
You want a full and pure life, then meet the needs of your enemies. We probably need to unpack this idea of an enemy and understand that Solomon is talking about someone who doesn’t like you or someone who is hostile to you. We all have people who just don’t like us. Perhaps they’ve misunderstood us, or perhaps they’re holding on to a grudge against us from long ago, or maybe they don’t have a reason they are just vicious. Our flesh says if you are going to be ugly and hateful to me, then I will return anger for anger. Maybe you are farther in your relationship with Christ that other folks, so you choose to just ignore them. They make snarky comments about you, they slight you in some way and you decide to just ignore them.
Christians tend to be like other people, loving those who love us and disliking those who dislike us. Yet followers of Jesus are called to go beyond this, to love both friend and foe, both those who love us and those who despise us. You are being called to not just acknowledge that your foe exists, but to share life with them in such a way that they see the love of Christ.
We are called to share life with those who dislike us by loving them, by blessing them, by praying for them. It’s easy to do good to the people who we think deserve it, blessing people who seem blessable, praying for people who we know will pray for us. We work on the basis of who deserves our love, who deserves our good, who deserves our blessings. But following Jesus means we will do the hard work of pouring out grace. Loving those who we find unlovable, doing good to those who don’t do us good, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who seek to do us harm. Sharing life with those who invite messiness into our world.
When we share we keep ourselves pure in our relationships with those who don’t like us. These relationships are where we tend to fail the most. God has called us to die to ourselves and live as representatives of Christ’s love in our families, with our spouses, our church, our friends, and with those we don’t particularly like or care for. We are called to live like Jesus, to share life with the messy people and enjoy the blessing of a full barn.