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There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand – 3/2/2014

A parable is a fancy sort of word for a story. It means any sort of story that we remember and retell to each other because it says something important that we do not want to forget, something about the world we share and about living in it. There are a lot of parables in the bible – the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek testaments – but the one I want to share with you this morning comes from another source.

This is a story about a father and a son. Over a lifetime, the father built up a business, but he did not do it alone. The whole family worked at, some harder than others, it must be said.  And one day there came a time when that business was in trouble and the father could no longer lead it. And so responsibility fell to one of his sons, the most diligent and hardest-working of his children, to take up the reins. Now the son wanted to do right by his family, and keep the business from collapsing, and he also wanted to prove to his father that he could be as good of a leader as him – or a better one.

The family business, the company, had many offices, many employees, many different ways of making money. It had grown large over the years, but now it was sick – the company was in trouble and in danger of going out of business. But when the son went to his father, to ask him about the things he needed to know, in order to take over and try to fix what was wrong, his father would only give him one piece of advice “There’s always money in the banana stand.” This major multi-national corporation had grown from humble origins, and from their earliest days, the family had owned a little hut on the beach that sold chocolate-covered frozen bananas.

The son found no value in his father’s advice; he focused on what the company had become, not what it used to be. His concerns were about real estate, high finance and complicated book-keeping – not selling bananas. He kept coming back to his father hoping he would give him the information he needed to lead the company. All he would say was, “There’s always money in the banana stand.” And this made the son think of the hot summers he had spent working inside that banana stand, and how even at that simple job his father would never trust him to do it right. So, angry and frustrated, the son destroyed the banana stand – he burned it down. He went to his father and told him it was gone. This was one decision, finally, that his father could not overrule or try to undo.

The father had made a lot of money over the years, and not all of it was in banks. So he grew very upset at this news, thinking of how much had been lost. And he cried out, “There was $250,000 lining the walls of the banana stand!”

This story does not come from any holy book or any newspaper. It comes from a cancelled television show called Arrested Development.[i] And why on earth would I tell you such a tale this morning? Because it is our faith that what is true is true, and what is not is not, no matter the source of either. And this allows us – in fact it requires us – to find reason to laugh in some things that others find only serious, and to consider carefully some things that others will only dismiss. So here are three true things that I find in the parable of the banana stand:

First, when we refuse, at every turn, to trust our children and their choices, we raise them to ignore our counsel. Just as when we refuse to listen to our parents, we often make choices we regret.

Second, starting a fire is dangerous, and a terrible strategy for resolving disputes in business and family life.

And third, sometimes in our efforts to win we lose track of the center of our being. The great Unitarian storyteller Charles Dickens, in his famous novella, “A Christmas Carol” describes a young Ebenezer Scrooge as a kindhearted person with high ideals, who slowly strips away his best impulses in order to gain wealth and power. In one of Aesop’s fables, a frog grew jealous of an ox, the ox being so much larger than the frog. The frog puffed itself up bigger and bigger until it was as large the ox, and then it popped. The teacher Jesus is said to have asked his students, “What shall it profit any of us, to gain the whole world, but lose our soul?” In racing to succeed, to be the best, to show everyone who has ever doubted us how wrong they are, we lose ourselves.

Each of us has a banana stand – a place where we store up our hopes and our ideals – the heart of who we are. In fact I would wager that most of us have more than one of these things, as though our souls had several different homes, like a certain infamous wizard from the Harry Potter books. In these places – in families or partnerships, in a special connection to a town or city or some fragment of the natural world – we store up what keeps us going. So as we grow and change, as all living things do, we must take keep track of where we have hidden our spiritual wealth, in order to protect those places.

We come together this morning because this is one such place for us. A storehouse of the spirit, where our hopes and ideals reside. The walls are not lined with hidden currency – we know this because we opened them up a few years ago for the renovation. We found some interesting things – like places where old windows once were more than a century ago – but no cash, as far as I know. Rather this church, which is a covenant between us more than a set of planks and plaster, contains the solace that we need in time of trouble, the impatience we need in confronting injustice, and the collective wisdom required to seek out and uncover new truth.

This is the day when we consecrate our commitment to sustain this community in the year ahead. To offer our pledge of support, and to share from the means we have into the means we share. There’s always money in the banana stand, and there’s always spirit in our church. Today we renew our covenant to make sure that this spirit, and this church, will continue to abide.

[i] Season 1, Episode 2, “Top Banana”


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