My scripture today comes from Mark 10:17-31
My sermon….is called simply….Stuff
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
I remember when I heard that Kat and Brian had been given an appointment in Moldova with Stella’s voice. They were hoping beyond hope that they would be accepted so they had already gotten rid of a lot of their stuff….like their house. They were sitting in their apartment one night and Kat checked her email and saw where someone had sent her an email. The subject line was “Welcome to Moldova!” She opened it as quick as her finger could click it and found out that she and Brian were headed to Moldova to work with kids they had grown to love during their summer missionary work. The next line of the email told her to be on the lookout for a packet of information in “the post” to accept the call officially that I was to send back in to Stella’s Voice office immediately. This all sounded wonderful and exciting. They couldn’t believe what a wonderful opportunity they had in front of them.
You can imagine all the thoughts that go into planning for a move across the world. As the day approached when they were to load up and leave, they had to plan even more furiously than before. They had to decide what to do with our lives in Montgomery. They had to decide if we were going to keep their cars and pay on them while they were in Moldova or if they were going to sell them. They decided to sell them….along with all their furniture….and a lifetime of memories. The less they had…the less they had to store….or pay storage on. They would have to put their employment on hold….Kat was a teacher….Brian was an engineer….and she would have to figure out how to keep her license current….while out of the country. It was a good thing that Dr. Bice was a good friend of the family. They had to decide when to buy their tickets….at 1500.00 each… But most of all they had to decide what they were going to do with all their stuff while they were over there and if they had enough money to pay for storing it for a year or more. Contemplate a move to a different land and you will quickly realize just how much the stuff you possess rules your life. I know….when Frank and I moved into a fully furnished parsonage 6 years ago we sold almost every big thing we owned….and we still had a ton of stuff. It is amazing what two pack rats can accumulate in 10 years. When my mother and father died….I did not realize just what “stuff” is….especially to a hoarder. I learned that I don’t want my children dealing with all the “stuff” I think is important now…and leave behind.
“Stuff.” A cartoon that I was watching once dealt with the perennial problem facing most superheroes. The villain had plans to destroy the world and the superhero had to figure out a way to stop him. When the superhero heard of the villain’s plans to destroy the world, he said, “But you can’t destroy the world, that’s where I keep all my stuff!”
The apartment Frank and I lived in when we first got married we chose because of the huge closet in the master bedroom that we could use to store all “our” stuff. You don’t realize just how much stuff you have until you have to pack it up and carry it up some stairs and store it. And why is it that no matter how much you seem to donate to the Goodwill store or sell at a yard sale, you never seem to even make a dent in it all. You quickly learn how much stuff you own…or rather how much stuff owns you.
Well, the man in today’s story usually gets known as the rich young ruler. That is because in Matthew’s version of this story he says he was a young man and Luke’s version says that he was a ruler that was very rich. So, the stories often get combined and the man becomes known as the rich, young ruler. However, I want you to pay attention to what Mark tells us about this man. Mark simply tells us that he was a man much like you and me, who “had many possessions.”
Jesus redefines wealth here. We tend to think of riches differently than those during Jesus’ time. We think of riches as having the best quality of something, owning a Rolls Royce instead of a Dodge Caravan; an expensive home in the elite section of town instead of a typical home with central heating and air and indoor plumbing. But the gospel lesson redefines wealth. Notice the story doesn’t say that the man went away grieving because he had luxurious possessions—but because he had many possessions. The man in today’s story is more like us than we would like to admit. It isn’t that he’s filthy rich, but he is certainly attached to what he has.
The dangerous thing about money is that you don’t have to even have it to be possessed by it. Frequently those who idolize money the most are not the rich but the poor who try their best to be the rich. Jesus isn’t speaking here to some guy who has his own money bin to swim around in; who feasts on caviar and drives an Italian sportscar. Jesus is talking to a man who has made it his aim in life to obey the commandments who just happens to enjoy his possessions. Jesus called the man to be his disciple but the man couldn’t let go of his stuff.
I often wonder what I would have done if Jesus asked the same of me. I’m afraid I would have told Jesus to let me think about it a while. I don’t know that this passage is telling us to sell all our possessions, but I do know that it is telling us to reassess the way we let our possessions control us and the way we let money and stuff take precedence over other true life. We are far too much like the man in today’s lesson and far too little like the one who called him to turn loose of his possessions and follow him.
Back to Kat and Brian….they live abroad, they live on money that people voluntarily give as an offering….and believe me they guard their money very tightly. They don’t even own a car….if they go anywhere it is via public transportation….or the orphanage old rattle trap van.
I remember growing up wanting to spend my money as soon as I got some. My parents would say that the money was burning a hole in my pocket. Money can certainly have a burning effect on ones pocket, but it is far more dangerous when it burns into your heart.
Stuff. I like stuff just as much, if not more, than the next person. I always want more of it because I am never satisfied despite all the stuff I have. I am always wanting better and more digital stuff, thinking that I actually need these items. We could all stand to learn something from today’s lesson about stuff. We need to demolish our current way of thinking about money and how to hold on to it so tightly. We need to annihilate so many ways of acting on the basis of money and stuff. Don’t spend your life in pursuit of more stuff! The man in our story was told that if he parted with his stuff that he would have treasure in heaven. The New Testament frequently mentions heavenly treasure.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
That little statement by Jesus about heavenly treasure spoke right to my heart this morning….and it is enough to destroy the way the world operates in its desire to always keep and acquire more stuff. Look at the world today….it is like we are saying….“What, you can’t destroy the world, Jesus. That’s where I keep all my stuff.”