A few weeks ago, a parishioner told me about how he had run into a guy in the parking lot of a grocery store he frequents. He knew the man to be homeless, and as he was doing his own grocery shopping, he purchased a couple of bags of food for the man. When he stopped by the car to deliver the bags, the man was overcome with gratitude. The homeless man’s gushing evoked something in this parishioner, and he found that he just opened his wallet and gave the man all the cash he had too. That is the funny thing about generosity. Generosity is kind of addictive. When we see how much something small means to someone else, we find we want to do more. And in some strange way, our entire perspective shifts. Those pennies we were pinching now just seem like pennies: their value and meaning shift.
This is what Jesus has been trying to get at these last two weeks. If you remember, last week, Jesus told the parable of a man who was scolded for storing up his excess produce in larger barns, especially since that man would die that very night. Today, Jesus talks more about the “stuff,” of life. Jesus says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Now I know: most of us check out when Jesus says, “Sell your possessions.” There are very few of us who can truly part with all of our possessions. But what Jesus is really trying to get at is in the last sentence. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus wants his followers to see that the stuff of life is neither important nor unimportant. But our attitude toward our stuff is what is important.
I worked at a parish when I was in seminary that was planning a remodeling of their building. As different schematics were presented, the number one complaint I heard was, “We need more storage space.” No matter how many different ways the architect and priest presented new layouts, the complaint about storage space kept arising. When I finally asked the priest why they did not just put in more storage space into the plans, the priest told me this: “You know what, Jennifer? I do not want to put in more storage space because I know they will fill it.” I was confused at first, wondering whether that might be the point – the parish had stuff they needed to store, hence the request for more space. But eventually, what I came to see the priest as arguing was that no matter how much space they created, the parish would simply accumulate more stuff to keep storing. Anyone who has upgraded from a smaller living space to a larger one knows how true this can be. The more space we have, the more we tend to fill the space with stuff.
The trouble is not inherent in the stuff. Our stuff is not necessarily evil. The trouble with our stuff is that much like the land owner last week, when we get so focused on storing and maintaining stuff, our focus or our heart becomes fixed on the stuff and not the potential for the stuff. Seven years ago, Scott and I moved to a one-bedroom apartment at seminary. We had more things than could move with us, so we got a storage unit back in Delaware. When we finally moved to Long Island, we emptied that storage unit. As I was looking for something in the basement the other day, I realized I have a ton more dishes in the basement than I ever use. Part of me wanted to get them out and start using them. But then part of me wondered whether if I could survive for seven years without those casserole dishes and extra glassware, maybe I did not actually need them. That conclusion has led to some challenging thoughts about the potential for our stuff.
Now I know these texts the last two weeks make us feel uncomfortable. We do not like talking about money or our stuff in church. We do not even like talking about those topics in stewardship season, let alone in the comfort of summer! But we get these texts this time of year because their message is important for us to hear everyday. When we are so burdened with stress or anxiety about money or our stuff, or even the stuff we want to have but do not have, then our bodies become tense, and our hands tightly closed. The trouble with those tightly closed hands is that we cannot receive God in the ways that God desires to come to us. The warnings later in today’s text about being ready are not to “‘Be ready so that you will avoid punishment,’ but, rather, ‘Be ready so that you will receive blessing.’”[i]
That is why Jesus wants us to be aware about where our treasure is. In fact, we hear his longing in his first words today, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In other words, you do not need store up things or tarry in anxiety about the earthly stuff. Our God, that loving father, is pleased to give you all the blessings of the kingdom; and not just in the heavenly kingdom, but here and now.
The question for us this week, then, is what “stuff” is getting in our way of receiving God’s blessing? What are our arms so full of that we cannot have open arms to receive God’s blessing? For me, I have been working on letting go not just of the physical stuff of life, but more my own emotional stuff. Just last week, Simone and I went away for a week at the beach where we would share an 11-room house with other families. I spent the weeks leading up to the trip worrying about what to bring, how I would haul all the beach “stuff” to and from the beach by myself, what toys or videos we would need for entertainment, and how I would manage the different meal schedule – since meals were served about two hours later than in the Andrews-Weckerly house. Now certainly my weeks of preparation meant that I was well prepared. But what I missed in all that preparation was that there would be ten other families present. My concerns about being the sole parent for the week and how I would manage became all about me. I forgot that God was giving me the blessing of ten other parents and at least two other sets of siblings to help me cope. People chipped in with entertaining my child, by aiding with discipline, and with finding creative alternatives when the rains came. I spent weeks trying to figure all this out by myself, when if I had just heard God’s word for me today, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” I might have been able to open my arms a lot sooner for God’s blessing.
The question is the same for all of us. We all can stand to think about where our treasure is today. Because God longs for our hearts to be in the blessings that God already decided to give to us. What do you need to let go of today in order to open your arms for God’s blessing? Amen.
[i] Audrey West, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 336.