As I was traveling between home and church the other day, a distance of about fifty miles, I noticed, as I often do, eighteen self-storage facilities along the way. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? But the last time I checked online, there were actually closer to twenty-five self-storage facilities within a mile of my route between Kennesaw and Cedartown. Twenty-five! If you do the math, that’s one self-storage facility every couple of miles! And the average number of self-storage units within a such a facility is often in the hundreds! According to current industry figures, there are somewhere between forty-five and fifty-two thousand self-storage facilities in the United States—totaling 1.7 billion square feet of capacity, nearly twice the size of the island of Manhattan—which amounts to 5.4 square feet of self-storage space per capita in this country. Nearly ten percent of American households have a storage unit, many of which are climate-controlled! Imagine that: in a nation where over a half-million people are homeless, it would be “physically possible for every man, women and child in this country to stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing that exists in this country today.” Over the past forty years, self-storage has been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. commercial real-estate industry. If the CDC was to characterize the spread of self-storage facilities over the last 40 years in medical terms, they would likely call it an epidemic. Self-storage is a 38 billion dollar a yearindustry in this country. And here’s the problem: a variety of studies seem to indicate that most folks neither want nor need most of the “stuff” they have in storage. Why are they keeping it then? There’s no telling and, frankly, it’s not up to any of us to judge, but it’s troubling to me. The poverty rate in this country is around 12.3%, so around 40 million people are living in poverty. And yet, we’re spending 38 billion dollars a year to hold on to stuff we often neither want, nor need. What in the world…?
I expect that there are a few of us here who have stuff in storage… and I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t want you to go and toss it out, indiscriminately. There are things for which we may have no immediate need today… but that it’s reasonable for us to want to save and pass on to family and friends in due course. And that’s OK. And the self-storage industry isn’t inherently evil… at last count, around 172,000 people make a living providing storage solutions to people who need them. But in Luke’s Gospel today, Jesus asks us to take stock of our lives and be “rich towards God” (v. 12:21). We are to be rich towards God, rather than storing up treasures for ourselves. The man who asked Jesus to intervene in what seems to have been a family squabble over money and “stuff,” was totally focused on getting what was coming to him—on his own needs and wants—without regard for the intent of the benefactor who had left the inheritance (presumably his father), or for the wisdom and discernment of his brother, who was responsible for carrying out that intent. Give it to me, now! Mine, mine, mine! And Jesus said to the man, “How you handle this dispute is between you and your brother, your co-inheritor… I’m not going to stand in judgment over you… not today. But be careful. This life that you are living here on earth is not really life. Real life, eternal life comes from God… and it is abundant beyond your wildest imaginings. But you have to lift your eyes to heaven and be rich towards God, in order to claim the inheritance he has prepared for you.”
And I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t just talking about the kind of stuff we keep in our homes and mini warehouses, when he spoke about the “abundance of possessions” in today’s Gospel. I’ve got to believe he was also talking about the baggage that we pick up and hold onto as we live our earthly lives: our nationality, our race and ethnicity, our gender, our family background, our education, our socio-economic status, our political affiliation… the list goes on. It’s all baggage… and it has very little to do with God’s plans for our earthly lives, except as far as it enables us to spread the Gospel. And it has absolutely nothing to do with our eternal salvation. Have you ever been tempted to just sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of all the labor you’ve put in over the course of your lifetime? You’ve earned it, after all.
You fool… and we’re all fools.
Jesus reminds us in a variety of ways throughout the Gospel narrative that all of our privilege and petty accomplishments, all of the baggage we pick up and carry with us throughout our earthly sojourn, means very little in the broad scope of eternity. In the end, we will be judged for two things, which are really only one thing: did we love God and our neighbor? And did we make that love an action verb by doing our very best to bring about God’s kingdom on earth? That’s all there is. That’s what it means to be “rich towards God.” Let those with ears hear.