Big Barns and Big Voids

Big Barns and Big Voids


Rev. Elizabeth Chandler Felts is the Senior Minister of Beneficent Congregational Church UCC in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV)

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”


Reflection: Big Barns and Big Voids


Someone dissatisfied with his inheritance asks Jesus to negotiate with his family for a larger share. But Jesus doesn’t do probate. Instead, he senses the man’s anxious appetite and tells a parable about a rich man who so delights in the abundance of his bumper crop that when he runs out of barn space to store it all, he builds bigger barns. Jesus passes no judgment on the rich man’s good fortune but focuses instead on the little adjective he attaches to it. Not just crops, barns, grain and goods, but my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. Rather than sharing his blessings with others, the rich man is hell-bent on holding them close.

The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil wrote, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” The sin of greed is holding stuff close to try to fill the void inside us.

How often we stroll right past “enough” and greedily push into the land of “more than we need.” Not just retail therapy or pandemic stockpiling: we also stockpile psychic merchandise. We cultivate our power at work by circulating office gossip and feed our hunger for attention by dominating church meetings. When someone comes to us with a valid complaint, we one-up them with a counter-complaint. We hoard our transactional victories, keeping track of each argument won, each deal sealed, each score settled, each rival put down. Life is a zero sum game, and the one who dies with the most ego gratification wins.

What is that emptiness in our soul that we are trying to fill with all that accumulated treasure, power and pride? And why is the emptiness there? The rich man of the parable feels the emptiness too, and he is so desperate to fill it that he pulls down his barns and builds bigger ones to contain his ever-growing heap of goodies.

What if instead, he sat with the anxious void inside him for a bit and then consecrated it as a sanctuary to the one thing that will satisfy every longing: the luminous presence of God? What if the man who approached Jesus consecrated his inner void to God, rather than haggling for a bigger share of the inheritance? What if we consecrated our inner voids to God, and consecrated ourselves to a spirituality, not of scarcity, but of abundance? There’s no need to hoard anything -- treasure, power or pride -- because there is always enough to go around … if we share.

In the parable, the rich man makes one final mistake: he speaks of “my soul” and invites it to relax, eat, drink and be merry. There’s that adjective again: my soul, as if his soul is not beholden to anyone or anything -- not to family, not to community and certainly not to God. That is the moment he shifts from being a rich man to being a rich fool. God says, “Fool, this very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have stored up, whose will they be now?” The question drifts quietly to the ground and settles at the rich fool’s feet.

Jesus has the final word: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

So it is with all of us who greedily fill the void with unworthy clutter rather than opening it and inviting God in.


God, please come inside and take a seat. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the over 24,000 gun violence deaths in the US this year
  • For the 828 million people who go to bed hungry every night and the 50 million people in 45 countries who are teetering on the edge of famine. (WFP)

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For those who share their time, talents, and treasures with others 

 This Week in History:

July 25, 1985 (37 years ago): Rock Hudson announces he has AIDS. His death was credited with bringing attention to an epidemic that went on to kill millions of men, women and children of all backgrounds from around the world.  [History]

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Elizabeth Chandler Chandler Felts

Rev. Elizabeth Chandler Felts is the Senior Minister of Beneficent Congregational Church UCC in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

July 21, 2022
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