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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 13C
Ecclesiastes 1:12-14;2:(1-7,11)18-23
Colossians 3:5-17
Luke 12:13-21

The biggest part of my summer, the year I graduated high school, was spent cleaning out my grandparents’ house. Grandma died that spring, and so we were responsible for seeing that the house was emptied out and made ready to sell.

In one way, this was easy: They lived right next door, and so we could run over there every day, and spend as long as we cared to, sorting and boxing and packing up.

The bad news was, there was A LOT of sorting to do. The house was this big old Georgian brick home they had built in 1952: two stories with a full basement and a 2 1/2- car garage. There was more than ample room to store things, and store is what they did. Stored neatly, mind you-- Grandma would never have put up with untidy piles or a carelessly strewn mishmash. But ye gods, the stuff! clothes and shoes and gloves (a shopping bag full of women’s dress gloves, in varying lengths!); tools and gardening supplies and books... and I don’t know what all. It seemed as though whatever had been brought into the house in the nearly 30 years they had lived there, had found a home and never left.

Grandma compounded the adventure by her method of socking away spending money. If too much accumulated underneath the tray the toaster sat on, or even if she felt she need to have a bit extra available “for a rainy day,” she’d hide it, somewhere in the house. Sometimes she’d call my mom to tell her-- $20 in the pocket of her old serge suit, or maybe $30 in a red straw purse at the back in the cedar closet, or $25 tucked in the book about midwestern perennials on the top shelf in the den. Of course, then she’d forget and hide some more somewhere else-- or she’d stumble across it unexpectedly, and then need to find a new hiding place.

So when she died, we found ourselves with the job of going through EVERYTHING - every pocket, every purse, every book, every one of those gloves in that shopping bag-- looking to see if she’d hidden some money there. There was never more than $50 in one place; but by the time we were done, we had unearthed right around $10,000.

One of my clearest memories during this process was a day I spent working alongside my other grandmother, who’d come over to lend a hand. As we sat together, going through things in the kitchen, she more than once would shake her head and mutter quietly to herself. Later, I learned that she had been quoting her own mother. “Blessed be nothing,” she'd whisper. “Blessed be nothing.”

I think of this when I hear the parable in today’s Gospel. Like the rich man, all the things that were stored so carefully, all the money, all the belongings, were of course left behind to go into other hands-- or often into a trash bin, as they were of no earthly use to anyone anymore.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we need to rid ourselves of all earthly possessions, not at all. But we do need to consider carefully what the scripture is saying here. It’s saying that what we do with what we have is important.

And we do have, my brothers and sisters. We are fortunate enough to be living in the richest nation in the world. As scary as this may sound, even those considered poor in our country are able to enjoy a better standard of living than a vast majority of the world’s population. We indeed do have treasures for ourselves-- all that we need, and then some.

But as Jesus reminds us, the measure of one's life “does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” So, if we are to be rich toward God, how do we deal with the riches we are given? Certainly the scriptures this morning remind us that stockpiling, ownership for it’s own sake, won’t get us anywhere.

However, there are other more Christ-like options, certainly. I’d like to suggest a few.

First, we can start with the most common biblical theme there is. Paul reminds us in today’s New Testament reading that we should, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” In other words, approach all that is around us with love: the possessions for which we are responsible, the people whose lives we touch, the environment in which we live-- even the very air we breathe needs care.

Think for a moment, of the results we see when things-- like people-- are treated poorly. The pollution of our air and water; the littering and abandonment of good earth made ugly and uninhabitable; the damaged bodies and souls of sick and angry human beings whose stories we see and hear every day-- so much of this is the result of being treated with careless disregard, instead of loving attention.

Secondly, much of what we are given is attended most lovingly when we use it, purposefully. The belongings collecting dust in my grandmother’s house, and the money tucked in books and old hats for so many years, did neither her nor anyone else any good; they served no purpose. Likewise, paying farmers to allow land to go fallow when there are hungry people in this world that could be fed by the harvest, serves no purpose. Withholding social service benefits from a mother when she goes back to school in an effort to provide for her children and get off Welfare, serves no purpose.

Of course, many of us find ourselves in a place where we have more than we can care for, or can use to any good purpose. The answer then-- and you’re way ahead of me here, aren’t you?-- is to share it, to give it away. “Given in good measure, shaken together and running over.” How much more joy can the gifts of God bring, when they are shared with those around us.

Love it. Use it. Give it away.

Options to consider, when we ponder what to do with what we have, in Jesus’ name.


Blogger Dawgdays said...

I'm reminded of two of my favorite sayings:

The best things in life aren't thingsHe who dies with the most toys still diesIf these sound like mere slogans, they are. Indeed, they are t-shirt slogans. But somehow, they seem very profound.

August 01, 2004 1:00 PM  

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