Monday, August 02, 2010

A place for our stuff

Parable of the Rich Fool by Jim Janknegt

Psalm 49; Luke 12: 13-21
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
August 1, 2010

In 1981 George Carlin made a comedy album entitled “A Place for My Stuff”. I can still remember listening to a cassette tape of this routine in my mom’s overstuffed kitchen:

“That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? …[E]verybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down; you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff; all the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that [junk] you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

“Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. You gotta move your stuff, and maybe some of it goes into storage. Imagine that—a whole industry designed around keeping an eye on your stuff! Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff. Somebody else's stuff is all over the place! And what awful stuff it is! Where did they get this stuff? And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. Bedroom they haven't used in about eleven years. Someone died in it, eleven years ago. And they haven't moved any of his stuff! Right next to the bed there's usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there's NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else’s [junk] is on the dresser.

“Have you noticed that their stuff is [junk] and your [junk] is stuff? And you say, "Get that [junk] offa there and let me put my stuff down!"

We hear the humor in this because our ‘stuff’ can often be a source of anxiety. Do we have too much stuff or too little? Is our stuff safe? How much is our stuff worth? Can we lay our hands on what we need to find at any given moment? Is our stuff organized? Is it the right kind of stuff? Can we afford to get rid of some stuff or will we need that stuff in the future? What does our stuff say about us?

We all probably have known someone who has too much stuff, to the point that it has become an obstacle in our relationship with them. In the past five years or so the disorder of compulsive hoarding has been getting quite a bit of news, from Oprah Winfrey to TV news items and newspaper articles across the country. In years past, folks with this problem were considered eccentric or products of the Great Depression or just plain crazy. Now clinical social workers and other mental health professionals are researching and studying this behavior, from the Mayo Clinic to the Boston University School of Social Work, in order to help those who suffer from this disorder.

To a certain degree most of us have a problem with accumulating stuff—it’s whether or not it’s an obstacle, an addiction, or a bad habit. When we save stuff, hold onto it, hoard it, we give ourselves some sort of permission to do so, using one or more messages to ourselves: one, the object or item has sentimental value: it represents my life—it is a part of me, it was a gift from a special person or it belonged to them; two, the object has instrumental value: it could be repaired at some point and be of use; three, it has intrinsic value—it is beautiful or could be resold for an increased price someday. To let go of the item might cause us to feel anxious and fearful, so we hold onto it, like a child with a stuffed toy or blanket.

Luke 12: 2o-21, mezzotint made by Jacques Meheux and published by Girard Audran, Paris, France, 1660-1703.

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool, a man who needs a bigger place for his stuff because he has so much. His first thought is not sharing what he has but storing it up for himself for many years so that he can relax, eat, drink and be merry. But Jesus isn’t looking for folks to relax into the future and pad themselves against the anxiety of the present; he’s looking for those who want to live in the kingdom of now. God says to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” Jesus is looking for those who can make the transition between this world and the kingdom—right now.

Jesus makes plain the difference between security and serenity and puts it as a choice: what will reduce our anxiety and fear: riches and possessions or God? In the 1860’s during the Civil War and again amid the blind fears of communism in the 1950’s and ‘60’s the U.S. Treasury had the wisdom to put on our currency the words “In God we trust.” Rather than clinging to our stuff like a child’s transitional object, we are to transfer our anxiety instead to God; to trust God with our baggage, our stuff, our fears, our worries, so we don’t have to cling to it and carry it around with us while we’re trying to find that kingdom of now—God’s now of healing and peace and forgiveness; God’s now of justice and wholeness and compassion.

While writing this sermon my husband spoke to me about his recent mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico; of how over two thousand indigenous people walked hours through the jungle to stand in line all day to receive a month’s worth of rice, beans, salt, and sugar. There are no guarantees that the food will be there every month but when a sign is posted even a week before, folks will show up, trusting the relationship they have with Bryan Nurnberger and the Simply Smiles mission trippers that come to help. That’s serenity. And though the food sustains life, it’s the relationships that transform lives and usher in that kingdom of now.

Even this seemingly skimpy meal that we share today—it’s not the bread and cup that matter the most but what they represent: the very real presence of God’s extravagant love in this world.

We don’t have to give up everything in order to serve Jesus and the kingdom. But what we hold onto, what we hoard, what we can’t let go of can be an obstacle in our relationship with God and hinder our view of that kingdom. As we say in the prayer of thanksgiving after communion, “make us aware not so much of what we’ve given as of all we have received and so have yet to share.”

In what are we investing our energy and our resources? Where is our focus? We may or may not be rich in things but how rich is our relationship with God? What takes priority in our lives and in our life together as a faith community? Jesus tells us that if we’re going to follow him, it’s the kingdom that takes priority. In the verses following in Luke Jesus tells his listeners that it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, but it is up to us to live into it.

All we need in life is not just a place for our stuff but a kingdom for the stuff of life…and love. Amen.

No comments: