FIRST LESSON: Psalm 107:1-9, 43
SECOND LESSON Luke 12:13-21
SERMON: “Where Is Your Stuff?”
George Carlin used to begin one of his best stand-up comedy routines with a complaint that he was late coming on stage because they gave him the wrong dressing room, and so he didn’t have any place to put his “stuff.” You know how important that is – having a place for your stuff.
He goes so far as to say, “That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.” “That’s all your house is. Your house is just a place for your stuff,” he says. “If you didn’t have so much stuff you wouldn’t need a house, . . . That’s all your house is – it’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it. . . .Your house is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. . . . Sometimes you’ve gotta move – you gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff. You’ve got to move all your stuff. Maybe you have to put some of your stuff in storage. Imagine that . . . there’s a whole industry based on keeping an eye on your stuff!
It’s as funny a routine today as it was back in the 70’s or 80’s when he first did it on TV. If we had wi-fi in here, I could show you the youtube clip. Just enter “George Carlin” on youtube.com and you can watch it. Pastor General’s warning: If you watch much of Carlin you will hear some R-rated language. But the routines he does are funny, and especially this one is funny –– because it’s true.
How is it we can be so generous with clothing and household items for North Kent Community Services and the church’s garage sale? Because we have a lot of stuff we don’t need!
Jesus talked about money and the stuff people have more than any other single topic. Luke records his response when “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’” Typical of a good therapist or teacher, Jesus answers the request with a question.
How much of the nation’s wealth (stuff) do you believe the top 1% holds? The top 1% has 40% of the nation’s wealth.
How much of the nation’s wealth do you believe is held by the lower 80%? 80% has 7% of the nation’s wealth between them.
The top 1% takes home almost a quarter of the national income today. In 1976, they took home only 9%, which means that the top 1% takes home almost 3 times what they did 25 years ago.
The top 1% owns half the country’s stocks, bonds and mutual funds. The bottom 50% of Americans owns only half of 1% of these investments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for communism or socialism. We are founded upon the principle that people should be compensated for the work that they do. Surely those CEO’s work very hard for their income, but do we actually believe that, as CNN reported in 2012, the average CEO works 380x as hard as the average worker (not the lowest paid, but the average worker) in his company? Think about it: The average worker has to work a month to earn what the CEO earns in one hour.
“Take care!” said Jesus to the crowd. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
I know I tread on treacherous ground here, especially in a congregation as diverse in its politics as this one. I’m pretty sure for every statistic or video on the subject of poverty vs. wealth in America that I could come up with, many of you could come up with statistics and videos making the opposing argument. Democrats say the Republicans are to blame, and Republicans think it’s all the Democrats’ fault. Reality is there’s plenty of blame for both sides.
Uh-oh. I hear my father’s words echoing in my head, “Now you’ve
gone from preachin’ to meddlin.’” So let me get back to preaching, because it should never be a pastor’s intent to tell his/her congregation how to vote what political decisions to make.
But it is the preacher’s task to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
This incident that led Jesus to tell the parable of the rich fool centered on a man who felt he didn’t have his fair share, if only he could have his share, he would be happy. Sadly, that is as much of an illusion today as it was two thousand years ago. For too many of us “enough” is defined as “a bit more than I have now.”
Jesus appeals to the man who asked him to intervene in his financial relationship with his brother and disturbs his comfort – and ours – with his parable about a rich man who ran out of space to keep his stuff. He prepared to pull down his barns and build bigger ones so that he could store all his grain and goods. (Carlin – sometimes you have to move to a bigger house so you’ll have more room for your stuff. . . .) But God called the man a fool and said this night his life would be demanded of him – in other words he’s going to die – with way too much stuff. Sorry to tell you this, although I certainly hope it’s not tonight for any of us – reality is that eventually we all will die. It’s not a question of whether or not you’re going to die. It’s about what you’ll do while you are living.
This man doesn’t even recognize the source of his abundance. The parable says “the land of a rich man produced abundantly. . . . God is the true source of his wealth. He’s so all about being sure he has enough room for his stuff, he doesn’t even realize that God has blessed him and he could bless others.
Please note that Jesus doesn’t say it’s a bad thing to have wealth. What he denounces is accumulating stuff for one’s self and neither acknowledging God’s generosity, nor living in the image of God by being generous with others. As the psalmist says, “give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. (Psalm 107:8-9)
It seems to be human nature to forget “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. (Psalm 24: 1-2)
I think now I should not have called this message “Where is your stuff?” The better question is “where is your heart?” Is it in the house, garage or storage unit with your stuff? Or is it with God?
The first time I read through this passage to prepare for today’s worship it reminded me of something that happened within the family of the first person for whom I officiated at a funeral after I was ordained. The man who died had been a pillar of the church –not so much financially, but certainly spiritually. Surviving him were his wife, three adult daughters, two of whom were married, one was divorced, and several grandchildren. The day after this man died, before the funeral, the daughter who was single again came to ask for advice on how to deal with a sticky family situation, for her father had died without leaving a will. Guess who was already fighting over who would get what. Not the man’s widow. Not any of his daughters. Not the grandchildren. – the two sons-in-law!
I don’t care, and I strongly doubt the Lord cares, how much stuff you have, or where you keep it. The question isn’t whether or not you are rich. The question is: are you rich toward God? Do you acknowledge God as the source of your life, your abundance, of loving relationships and ultimately your salvation? Do you cultivate the image of God in you through generosity towards others of God’s children? If so, then let’s go to the Table together, sing a hymn and go on.
But if your stuff is what occupies your heart, consider this, the Reformer John Calvin taught that material goods are merely instruments of God. “Money becomes the means God uses to help persons. So God put wealth at our disposal … so that we may organize our life and the life of our community … to bring shalom, the fullest possible, sustainable life for all persons everywhere … to organize the society in which we live in a responsible way, in solidarity with all others.
Where is your heart?