As most of you know, I’m still pretty new to New Jersey. I moved here in March from Pittsburgh. It was actually pretty convenient for me to change my address – the post office prefers that you do it online. Easy peasy!
Well, when I checked my mail for the first time in New Brunswick, I found a packet of coupons and fliers from the post office. It was kind of a welcome-wagon in today’s world. One of the coupons caught my eye. It was from PODS, the storage unit company. It simply read, “Store your excess with us!” I just moved. How do they know I have excess stuff?
If you look for them, you’ll start seeing storage units EVERYWHERE. It seems that many of us Americans have too much stuff!
I am a recovering packrat. One of my main vices is books – boxes and boxes of books! Now to those of you who are not packrats, those of you who live in clean, organized, clutter-free homes with empty closets and immaculate attics, I say “Woe to you!” No…actually I envy you. I wish it was just as easy as the advice that you often give me – just throw it away! Ugh! Somehow it is hard to even imagine.
I’ve read books on organization and on getting rid of the excess. I have a shelf full of those books. I can tell you, it’s NOT THAT EASY. But when I have to pack up my stuff and pay for someone else to haul it across country, it starts to make my life feel pretty crowded.
Our lessons today seem to be saying, “Just throw it away.” Even in Jesus’ day, there was a lesson that people needed to learn – things get in the way.
This remarkable scene in the Gospel lesson seems like one that has been played out over and over, even in our homes – a disgruntled sibling is demanding justice. Having been that disgruntled sibling on more than one occasion, I can feel his pain. He feels wronged about his share of the family inheritance and wants Jesus to settle the matter. He wants his fair share. Jesus answers him with a parable and a pretty grim one at that.
Why doesn’t Jesus fix his problem? Jesus doesn’t take sides in the dispute. Jesus isn’t saying, “Oh, get over it!” or “Stop whining”? No, Jesus is calling this man and all of us to something bigger –he calls him to repent. The original Greek term for repentance literally means to change your mind. Faced with a dispute over money and things, Jesus calls this man to step a step back and gain a different perspective. Jesus is essentially saying, “If you think your life is about the accumulation of stuff, you are focused on the wrong things!”
Do not count on the things you have accumulated to bring you comfort or peace or happiness. You must look deeper.
Paul’s words to the Colossians are powerful too – get your minds off temporal, material things. Focus your mind and your heart on God. “Your life is not in the things you see around you”, Paul writes, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Many of these early Christian believers had faced great pain and turmoil of losing all for the sake of their new-found faith. Some had left behind lives of corruption and degradation, lives of greed and impurity. Others had walked away from family businesses and inheritances by choosing to follow Jesus. They had changed their minds. They had repented. But the “stuff” in our lives really tries to drag us back in.
How did they survive? They became family for each other, especially for those who had lost family. The early church faced division, Jew vs. Gentile, rich vs. poor, slave vs. free. But Paul reminds them, when we are truly in Christ, all those divisions drop away. When the common core of our lives in the love of Christ, all these categories amounts to more of that “stuff” that gets in the way. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided so easily by greed, by lust for power, by prejudice.
As we all have been reminded too often of late, life is fragile and life is short. It can be gone in a second, with no warning. We are caught up short at moments like these. What do we do with the things we have accumulated for ourselves? Our value doesn’t come from our possessions, Jesus reminded us of this again and again. Consider the lilies. Consider the birds of the air. Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break in and steal. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
I remember hearing what Mother Teresa left behind at her death. Of course she left a great legacy and countless good works, but what “stuff” did she leave behind her? After her death, her sisters found a bucket she used for cleaning, a pair of reading glasses, an extra sweater and a well-thumbed Bible. Perhaps Mother Teresa took her Lord’s words to heart and actually lived them out.
God be merciful to those of us who have lived lives of accumulation. It’s not easy to break the cycle to wake up to the reality that our lives are more than the things that fill them. But in our deepest self, in our innermost being, what is the source of our happiness? Where do our joy and our peace come from?
Christians, we must find our joy, our peace, our purpose in God and God’s people. Nowhere else. Buildings decay. Bodies wear out. Let us set our minds on things eternal, not on the things that clutter up our lives.
God grant us hearts that seek only you and lives dedicated to the building up of your church, the body of Christ, our home that will never pass away. Amen.