Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stuff and Fullness

3 Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth. 3 You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 
5 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. 7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9 Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people. (Colossians 3:1-11, CEB)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father. Amen.

Today is moving day for me. Over the past week, I’ve spent every spare moment packing and preparing all of my things to go into storage for a few months as I await the Holy Spirit to lead me through the assignment and call process to my first congregation. Today, after I finish worship, a couple of members of my internship committee are coming to move most of my belongings up to the Cities.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? How much stuff we collect along the way. How we seem to grow into whatever space we’re living in. Last year, at seminary, I lived in a small, 200 square foot studio apartment. I had little room for much extra. So, when I moved here I really didn’t have very much stuff. But, here, I have been living in a two-bedroom apartment. Over the year, I easily expanded my stuff to fill the extra space. So much stuff.

I needed a place to store my stuff. So, this past week, while in the Cities at a conference, I found a self-storage place near my son’s house in Plymouth. So, I went there to look at sizes and pricing and eventually rented a storage unit. 

The process took a little longer than expected because there was glitch with their computer software. So, I ended up spending much of the time in conversation with the woman who was working at the desk. She was an older woman. She worked two jobs and had worked for the owner of this company for fifteen years. She was originally from North Carolina--I could still hear some Southern in her voice--and had grown up as the daughter of a Baptist minister. She and her husband had been married for over 40 years and had lived much of it here in Minnesota. She was wearing a pink bracelet in memory of a friend who had recently died from breast cancer--a woman who had emigrated from Russia and who she had befriended. She shared with me how, after her friend died, she had begun to watch over her friend’s mother, who spoke only Russian. So, using Google Translate, she was learning Russian so she could help her deceased friend’s mother learn English. She was quite an interesting woman. But, perhaps, the most striking statement she made was in the context of what was happening in our world today. She said that she had become afraid of people. Because of everything that was happening in our world, she was afraid of people. Here was this warm, talkative and deeply religious woman, who had gone out of her way to befriend a Russian immigrant, to step in and help her friend’s elderly mother learn English, saying to me that she was afraid of people. And, particularly, afraid of people she didn’t know.

What if this is really the point of our texts today? What if, in our Gospel lesson, it’s not about the man’s wealth but about his isolation. Consider the little conversation he has with himself: “What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Here’s what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.” There’s no indication from our Gospel story that there’s anyone else in his life, anyone else that he should care about, anyone else with whom he might share some of his wealth. 

We are really no different than this man. In our own selfishness, we surround ourselves with stuff. Maybe it’s physical stuff that takes over our house and our garages. Or maybe it’s stuff to do, where we’re so busy that we completely lose focus in our lives over what is important. Or maybe it’s experiences--that we need to have more and more new experiences, more and more adrenaline rushes. Or maybe it’s our wealth and consumption, that we just never seem to have enough. And, so, in our selfishness and greed, we want more and more and more. And, in the process, we misuse and abuse creation. We misuse and abuse each other. We surround ourselves with more and more stuff--whatever the “stuff” might be. Getting more becomes our sole focus. And, as a result, we become isolated. We become deeply isolated. From creation. From other people. But, mostly, we become isolated from God.

You all know how I love technology. I have a smartwatch, a smart phone, two iPads, one for my music and one for everything else, a laptop computer, a desktop computer, a smart TV.  I rarely buy a hard-bound book anymore and I don’t keep a physical calendar anymore. Instead, everything I do--reading news or a book, making notes, keeping a calendar--everything I do or need to do I do digitally. I love technology.

And, so, it was a little out of the ordinary for me this past week to order a book. A hard bound book. A day planner. A liturgical day planner, actually. It’s purpose is to help me organize and center my life around the values and beliefs that I profess. To help me develop my own rule of living, similar to the rule of living developed by ancient monastics like the Benedictines or the Franciscans. To help me order my life around God, instead of around myself. To use it to take time each day and each week to reflect upon the “things above” and to work to order my life around those things, instead of the things, or the stuff, on earth. You see, I think, that’s the message from Paul this week to the church in Colossae. And also to us. 

In our baptisms, we died and were buried in Christ. We were also raised with Christ. Death. Resurrection. The next step for us is ascension. To set our hearts and our minds on those things that are above. Not because of some heaven and earth dualism where heaven is a higher good than earth, but because Christ, the Risen One, is now the Ascended One whose rule is now “from heaven.” To continually set our hearts and minds on those things above, to put to death those things in us that separate us from this Ascended One and, as a result, separate us from our neighbors and from all creation. To strip off this life of the old self and to be clothed with a new self, a self that--as Paul writes in Colossians 3:10--is being renewed and made new in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. To put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity so that the peace of Christ might control our hearts. And that the word of Christ might live in us richly.

This is the whole point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians: that we might be renewed and grower deeper in knowledge so that we might be restored to our original calling as those created in God’s image. It is in and through Christ, that we are restored to our full humanity, that we come full circle back to how God originally created us to be in Genesis 1. And how God originally intended for us to live. No greed. No isolationism. No divisions or walls to separate us. No fear. Not afraid of each other.

But fullness. Fullness of relationship with creation. Fullness of relationship with each other and with all humanity. And fullness of relationship with God.

May God grant us such fullness. In grace. Amen.

Preached July 31, 2016, at Chatfield Lutheran Church.
Pentecost 11, Year C. 
Texts: Psalm 49:1-2, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21.
Based on ideas and suggestions by David Lose on "In the Meantime" and Brian J. Walsh on "Working Preacher."

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