Monday, August 9, 2010

A Sermon About Our Stuff.

This is the short sermon that I preached yesterday (more or less).  I was asked to post it and have reconstructed it from notes, so sorry about grammar and punctuation!  Church was great yesterday, but as is often the case in summer, the vast majority of the congregation was elsewhere.  Now they can get a second chance...

  The text was Luke 12: 32-38.  I also read a portion of George Carlin's routine about "stuff".  I have linked to it at the end, so you can go listen to it and come back, or read this and go listen.  The link is slightly different, but the necessary quotes are included in sermon.

I love this piece that Carlin does about stuff. Of course, when I say I love it, what I mean is that I see myself in it. You know what I mean? That idea of one’s house being "a place to store your stuff while you go out and get more" hits home for me.

I have been in that situation more than once this very week. As we have gotten back into the swing of things after our vacation in Maine, we have run out to Target and to the grocery store and to the library to grab something to read. The kids have been invited to birthday parties that needed to be to shopped for. Each time we left the house, we turned around and locked the door to keep our stuff safe. And when we were in Maine, our friend Rich checked in on our stuff from time to time because (as Jesus tells us) we do not know “the hour that the thief is coming.”

And, Of course, I have been tempted to buy even more stuff. Every once in a while, during slow moments in my day, I find myself on or Ebay looking for bargains and deals on more things. My new found passion for Ukuleles would be one example. I keep wanting a new one, a better one. I want one that is a bit louder so I can play it when there are more than a dozen people in church. I want one that stays in tune longer, perhaps even for an entire song! Of course, I convince myself—like I am right now--that this is something I need. That it would make my accidental music ministry easier and more effective. But, really, there is a part of me that just wants one because it would be cool to have a better, shinier instrument.

And here is where Jesus steps in. “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, give alms…for where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

First, we have this “little flock” comment. I have always found this interesting because I have always been a part of small churches. Here Jesus reassures the members of his small congregation that things will be fine. He reminds them (and us), too, that spiritual gifts have value even when numbers are few.

But then he starts going after their “things,” telling them to sell them, to detach themselves from all the possessions that they value (these possessions are what Carlin calls the “shiny stuff”) so that they can place their hearts in the kingdom, they can treasure other things (family, perhaps, and friends but certainly the presence of the Divine in their lives).

After all, According to Paul Tillich and to some extent, Thich Nhat Hanh, this Ground of Being is all around us and in us and our stuff--these things that we worry about and cherish and yet are impermanent--they just get in the way. We know this, of course, and we see this. Many of us try to take this advice about detachment from our wealth to heart. Still, we we fail miserably much of the time.

However, there are times, when we are successful.

After all, there is a way in which Carlin is wrong about us! We don’t always leave our stuff-boxes in order to get more stuff. Instead we sometimes do so to escape or transcend it. We aren’t selling anything at church, for example, that can be put on the mantelpiece. Instead we come here to be reminded of our connection to the sacred.

Also (before we start feeling just a little bit superior to those members who are not in church on this beautiful day) we should remember that many of them have closed the doors of their houses, too. They, too have left their stuff for points unknown. After all, for substantial parts of the last month I was encamped next to a lake, rather than in a pew. Many of you have also been taking time to experience the wonders of creation.

Sometimes we call this a vacation. Ministers like to call them retreats because we like to think that although we are essentially doing nothing, we are still working. But it amounts to the same thing. We get away from our material possessions and the burdens they represent to free our ourselves, to focus on the Divine Presence, or to look inward, shoring up those relationships that we value most.

Some people go to the beach. Others go to the city. Some go to museums. People go to the movies. Others just go for a walk. In each case, we leave our stuff, taking just what we need (I am sure you are all light packers) and find time to reinforce those bonds between us and our loved ones, between us and God, and between us and the treasure in our hearts.

Here is a link to Carlin's routine.  I guess I should note that it is George Carlin.  And I did say I gave a sermon.  So...a language disclaimer is in order.  When I read it in church, I took the naughty parts out, but they are in this youtube clip, oh faint of heart...

...Here is what I actually read from Carlin by way of Bible commentator Richard Vinson who got it from Carlin's 1981 CD A Place for My Stuff  (thanks to my Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary for putting this in)...

"All I want, all you need in life is a little place for your stuff, ya know?  I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff.  This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there.  Thats 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 crap you're saving.  All they want is the shiny stuff.  That is 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...."

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