We just all heard a great story from Jesus, in which a rich man hoards a heap of stuff and congratulates himself on it. But did you hear what God said to the rich man? “You nincompoop! On this night all your things are possessing your soul! You don’t own them; they own you. And all this stuff you have piled up, whose is it, anyway?” Someone like me needs to hear these words again and again, because I love stuff. I love old plates and pretty bowls and my grandmother’s piano. I love vintage chairs and crochet rugs; and I like to own lots of them. And so tonight’s words made me wonder, am I an idiot, too?
Last year, I encountered the Marie Kondo method of tidying up. You take every single item that you have in your house, and you hold it closely, and you ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If it doesn’t, you thank it for its service, and you get rid of it.
The problem for me is that almost every item does seem to spark joy: it triggers a memory, or it reminds me of someone I love. Our wooden offering bowl was made by Keith, a gentle man who was a big part of my childhood. The pretty plates we’ll eat from later are from my grandparents, and remind me where I come from. Many of the kitchen chairs you are sitting on belonged to a dear friend, who no longer needed them when she married. Lots of my books were my mother’s. She was also a pastor, and I use her books in my work and study. And so on.
And all this stuff has been very helpful in setting up this particular space where we can gather together to listen to the Scriptures, to sing, to eat together, and to pray. Even more, we have this space to gather to do these things because of the property our household already owns, which meant we could borrow the money to buy this hall, and this house.
So I hear Jesus’ words, and I wonder about my stuff, and our wealth. Maybe I shouldn’t have them. Then again, I wonder whether all this stuff was given to me, or collected by me, for a reason. Because the space and the stuff can facilitate our gatherings, and our gatherings should deepen our relationship with the God of love.
And for me, that’s the crux of it. If this space, or this stuff, or a certain way of gathering, become things that we strive for in themselves, become idols, then for all our fine words, we will no longer be following Jesus. Instead all our energy will be poured into maintaining the stuff, rather than listening to God and allowing the Spirit to do its work. The stuff will possess us.
But if this space and this stuff and our gathering times help usher in God’s culture of abundant generosity, if they draw in others who are also hungry for this culture, and if they propel us back into daily lives of loving and committed service, then perhaps it is okay to have these things for now. As long as we hold them lightly, knowing that they were never ours. Instead, they are, and were, and always will be, God’s and God’s alone. When we understand this, we will not be enslaved by our stuff. Instead, the stuff will stay in its proper place: a gift from God, to help usher in God’s culture and God’s kingdom in this world. And participating in this great project is something that will really spark joy. Amen. Ω
Reflection on Luke 12:13-21. Image shows Marie Kondo in ‘joy pose’, found here.