This is a transcript from the March 17, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Last week, we started a new series called Spring Cleaning. This is about, kind of inspired by, Marie Kondo and her show about getting rid of clutter, and what gives you joy and what doesn’t.
Russ introduced us to this, last week, about things that give us joy. How many of you, last week, went home after we talked about clutter in our homes and clutter in our hearts, and you looked either in your garage or a closet and just sighed? How many of you are excited for our garage sale coming up that you can just bring your stuff over and it can be sold?
Today, what I want to talk about continuing this series is, do we own our stuff or does our stuff own us? Some of us may feel like we’re drowning in things and stuff, whether it’s physical things or things within our heart or soul, grudges, or unhappiness, hurt, pain, loss. We all have things, and it’s a matter of is that owning us and controlling us rather than us owning it and controlling it?
We all have stuff. We all want more of it. There’s constantly ads that look like this that talk about, “You haven’t quite arrived until you have this. There’s iPhone and then there’s everything else. Now, this is accumulation of everything that you need to know or have. It’s in this little device.”
Going back further, there’s this old ad for a Porsche that says, “Honestly, now, did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan or a Mitsubishi?”
Kind of reminding you of, “If you don’t have this, you haven’t arrived yet,” that you haven’t gotten enough. Somehow you have failed along the way because you don’t have a Porsche.
Now, many different ads do the same thing for many different things; always telling you, “You don’t have this yet, so your life is not yet complete.” That somehow, you are not enough or you don’t have enough. We are in a system that depends on needing more and more every day.
Technology keeps changing so that each year there is a new product that comes out, so you had to get that and you had to get that. You are to update this. You can’t hang on to computers as long as you used to, you always need more, and more, and more.
In our Scripture today, there was this crowd that Jesus was speaking to. The Scripture comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is talking to a group of people that very well knew what the sacrificial system was and how you’re supposed to do it. It was a system where you had a sacrifice to God if you sinned, or maybe you wanted to sacrifice to a different god if you wanted something. The system was built on needing more, and more, and more sacrifices, that it wasn’t enough that around the corner you would have to have another sacrifice again and again.
Human beings have this thing inside of us. If you go back to primitive days, if a group of humans found a patch of blueberries or something, they would eat them all then and there, because they didn’t know when they would come across it again. That we gorged ourselves because it’s there, we don’t know when it might be there again. The scarcity problem, the scarcity feeling that we want to hold on to things, whether it’s nostalgia, or thinking, “I might need this again.”
I grew up in a family of a farmer. My dad is a farmer. Farmers are notorious for just keeping things. One time, we took this old, maybe some of you still have it in your house, this faux wood paneling in our house. We took it off and redid it, but my dad kept it. He’s like, “I might need it for something someday.” That’s a farmer talking, “I might need this one day.” Sure enough, he used it for something, I don’t know what it was, so he proved me wrong.
We do that, also, with different things, that we keep things because we think we might need them, that we’re afraid of the system of not having enough that we may run out.
Robert Frank is a writer for Wall Street Journal, and he wrote this book called Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. He was going around, and interviewing, and surveying the ultra-rich in America. These are the people that have their own private jets that they own. These are people that have 30,000 square-foot homes. These are people that have, and this is funny when I read it, alligator-skin toilet seats.
This is the land of having treasures on earth and knowing that you have enough, that you have everything you could ever want, but there is a deep amount of anxiety within this group. To figure out why that anxiety was there, they did a survey. What it turned out was, they are afraid of running out of money.
They asked people who have $1 million, “How much more money would you need to feel secure?” and they said twice that. People that had $10 million, “How much would you need to feel secure?” they said twice that amount. People with over $100 million, they asked them, “How much more money would you need to feel secure?” and they said twice that amount. There is this fear that we’re going to run out of something that there’s this anxiety of not enough, “This is not enough. We need more.”
This isn’t just for the rich either, this is everybody. We all have that feeling of like, “If only I have this. If only I had that bigger house. If only I had this nicer car.” I think about that every day. My Subaru is so old, and it’s stutters at the stoplight now and they don’t know what it is. I always think, “If only I had a better car, my life would be so much better,” but it wouldn’t be as interesting.
This all seems to prove a point of what Jesus is trying to say in the Gospels in the Sermon on the Mount, that wealth and things, the accumulation of it, does not give us security, or a sense of belonging, or being enough, because no matter what we accumulate, we always think we need more. No one is ever satisfied with what they currently have.
Not to mention cultural views of associating the amount of stuff we have to power, and control, and status. That those who have more, who have more money, we view them as people who have done something right, that are better in some way, that we need to strive to be like them.
What happens in this kind of culture, in this kind of society is that, we end up putting things over people. We end up putting ideologies over people. We end up putting theology over people, because our things and stuff and wanting more is more important than caring for those around us. Jesus gets at that in this Scripture and in the Sermon on the Mount.
There’s this woman from Mississippi. I’m going to try and get the name right, I’m not quite sure, Oseola McCarty, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She dropped out of school in the sixth grade to take care of a sick family member. Then she went to work as a washerwoman after that. 75 years of washing, ironing, and folding laundry for bankers, lawyers, and doctors in her town. As you can imagine, this type of job she earned very, very little.
She tried to put away whatever she could in a savings account at 1st Mississippi Bank. She lived a simple life. She lived a few blocks away from the University of Southern Mississippi in a modest house. She didn’t get air-conditioning in her house till she was in her ‘80s. If you’ve ever been to the South, that’s success in itself. She only turned on the air conditioning when visitors were over.
She never owned a car. She walked one mile each way to the grocery store. She went to church each Sunday with a Bible held together with scotch tape. When she was 87, she started to put her affairs together. In 1995, the University of the Southern Mississippi received a check for Mrs. McCarty for a $150,000 for a scholarship fund for minority students.
No one at the university knew who she was. She had never stepped foot on the campus. She didn’t know anybody at the college. She never finished high school let alone go to college herself. She gave away virtually all of her life savings to this college.
In an interview, months before she passed, she was asked, why did she not spend the money she had earned on herself? She smiled and said, “I am spending it on myself.”
I suspect that Mrs. McCarty knew what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Lay your treasures up in heaven.” The treasure that Jesus is calling us to isn’t just found in this passage that was read today. If we read the whole Sermon on the Mount as a whole, that Jesus is opening our eyes to a new reality of God, where restoration, reconciliation, mercy, humility, kindness, love, are the things that are going to open up heaven on earth now.
Usually when we read this passage, what we think of of laying our treasures in heaven rather than on earth is, we’re thinking, “The earth is bad. Heaven is good. This is all bad. I want to just get to heaven later on.” In this passage, and the rest in Matthew 6, is opening our eyes to a new world that there’s an intersection of heaven and earth here and now.
We’re also a part of that. We’re also ones that can open that up for other people to see, with our love, and kindness, compassion, mercy, reconciliation. Those all have to do with relationships with others and with God. Whether it’s people, whether it’s creation, whether it’s God, that somehow, we all are connected in some way, that there is a relationship back and forth.
Many of us, like I asked the kids earlier, “Would you rather have a new toy or be invited over to a friend’s house?” and most of them said a friend’s house, because relationship rules. They would rather have that than a new thing. I don’t know what I would answer if somebody said, “Would you like this brand-new TV, this like 80-inch TV, or be invited over or dinner somewhere else?” so I applaud them for that.
Relationships are the thing that keep us going, that give us happiness. That’s what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount is, how do we make right relationships?
When we think about right relationships and treasures stored in heaven, one of the things that came to mind this week as Russ mentioned before was the shooting at the mosque in New Zealand. We see these things come out. Sadly, for us, this isn’t anything new, that this keeps happening over and over again.
Something like, white supremacy or hate, comes about when people feel like they are losing something and focus on the things that they’re losing rather than gaining. It creates this world where now the people in that building didn’t matter as much as the ideology that they held.
Jesus is trying to take us away from that. That something like that doesn’t have a place in Christianity and faith, in the kingdom of God and the reality of God. That, instead, we should be working towards reconciliation, love, mercy, a life abundant in that. It keeps us free rather than being tied to things that we think deep inside of us are real and drive us to do crazy things that we didn’t think we would do. We are tied to it. We are slaves to it. We are owned by it at that point.
Jesus is calling us into freedom, because when you live in to the mercy, compassion, and love of God, there is some kind of freedom in that. That there’s nothing that you can do that’s going to make God love you any more or any less. That now, you get to be that same love or show that same love, be a reflection of that love to the world around you.
I think what the reality of God changes in our lives is our vision and values. The power we exercise and its consequences, our character, our well-being of our relationships. When we start to see what God wants us to be in this world, how he wants us to live, how he wants us to bring heaven to earth now, it changes all those things.
Now, your vision and values for the world are working towards the perfection and the kingdom of God. The power we exercise now has a redemptive process, or reconciliation, or restorative process. The consequences of that are good.
Our own character, that instead of thinking about ourselves all the time, now are thinking of others as well, and the well-being of our relationships improve. There is not a hope to abandon this earth but to restore all things. That’s been the mission of God all along.
If we look at the narrative of the Bible that God is constantly working to restore things, and we are partners within that. We see, time and time again in the Bible, that we aren’t perfect, that we tend to stumble and fall over our own humanity, but that’s also a strength that we have. That we know when we’ve stumbled and have fallen, others have as well. That’s where reconciliation can happen, compassion, empathy.
Those are the things we lay our treasure in. It’s not some place in heaven later on, but these things now that are bringing heaven to earth now, rather than the things of this world that we think are going to make us happy, but we end up feeling unsatisfied and feel like we need more.
What we long for and what satisfies us is a deep human longing for whole relationships and genuine security. We find that in God. We find that in the love, and the mercy, and living free within that. The good news that Jesus gives us, and that Mrs. McCarty knew the whole time, was that right relationships are the things that give us joy. Seeing the reality of God happening now gives us joy. That it’s not always about us but about others, too.
Jesus’ words remind us to live in abundance of God’s gracious and merciful provisions right here and now. They liberate us and make us free of the scarcity of life that we constantly feel that we don’t have enough or we are not enough.
I read a quote from Richard Rohr, this week, that I think ties this up really well. He said, “The point of the Christian life is not to distinguish one’s self from the ungodly, but to stand in radical solidarity with everyone and everything else.” This is the full final and intended effect of incarnation of Jesus, symbolized by its finality in the cross, which is God’s great act of solidarity instead of judgment.”
As I said earlier, the people that Jesus is talking to are people that were used to giving sacrifices, feeding a god that seemed like it was never enough, they need to keep doing it again and again. The significance of Jesus is that he is that final sacrifice, that final solidarity, that solidarity that you don’t need to do anything more to make God love you, that God is in solidarity with you; that God became human to suffer alongside of us to know what it’s like to be in our own flesh. We are called to do the same thing. This is the good news of the gospel.
That’s why this week, Russ said about whether it’s the emergency shelter, whether it’s what happened to New Zealand, but standing in solidarity with one another, being that community, standing with each other through emergencies, through needs is being the hands, and feet, and face of Jesus to those around us. This is a reordering of the heart, to know that no matter how many things you have or how many accomplishments you make in life, you may still feel like not enough.
If you live in to the right relationships, if you live in to the solidarity, and the mercy, and love of God with others, and extend to others, you make heaven on earth now, and you’re storing your treasures in heaven rather than the things on earth that disappear, dissolve, get eaten by moths, and rust. That is the treasure that nothing and no one can take away from you; feeling that freedom in Christ. It’ll move you from being owned by your own stuff to owning your stuff.