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There’s a bumper sticker that reads, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!” My response is this:
Really? Watch an episode of “Hoarders” and then get back to me on that.
Having more stuff is not the key to a happy life.  Where having more stuff becomes our life’s goal, misery follows.  Just look at the poor souls documented by the reality show “Hoarders” and its clone “Hoarders: Buried Alive.”
Each of them is convinced that the items they collect give their lives meaning, provide comfort, and offer security.  Collections range from toys to clothes to books to newspapers to just random stuff.  
Rembrandt’s “The Rich Man from the Parable”

Hoarders fill their homes with their treasures.  Kitchen, bedrooms, living room, garage, and hallways become unnavigable.  Stacks of things often reach to the ceiling, and sometimes no floor space remains.  
In some cases, garbage, half-eaten food, and even old cat carcasses lie scattered among the mounds of collectibles.
Embarrassed by their living conditions, hoarders grow isolated.  They cannot bring themselves to have guests.
Confronted with the necessity of discarding some of their possessions (sometimes as a result of a court order), hoarders grow anxious and combative.  They struggle terribly to let go of even things that would seem insignificant to someone else.  
It’s clear to every viewer that getting rid of all this stuff is the key to reclaiming life.  Hoarders often remain blind to this.
Deciding what to let go of sends them into a pitiable crisis.  Many of them simply shut down.  You see, these are not just things that they are giving away or throwing away.  Every toy or book or plastic container makes them feel like somebody.
Of course this is dysfunctional, but step inside their shoes for just a moment.  Everybody yearns for a sense of significance in life.  We all need comfort from time to time.  And all of us want to be safe.
Whatever gives us meaning, comfort, and security lays claim to us as its own.  These collections have laid claim to the hoarders who sought to make them their own.  The hoarders are now the possession of their possessions.  
Umberto Boccioni’s “Modern Idol”

Hoarding is a psychological disorder.  However, it highlights in an exaggerated way the form of idolatry to which we are all susceptible and into which the rich fool of today’s parable fell.  Jesus called it greed.  Let me explain.
Because God created us in his image, we yearn for more than just a temporary sense of meaning, a brief moment of comfort, and a half measure of security.
God gives us infinite and eternal longings.  Only God can can genuinely fulfill these desires.  God lays claim to us precisely through these longings.  
Even though only God can give us the eternal significance, perfect comfort, and unassailable security we desire, nothing stops us from asking lesser things to play this part in our lives.  Asking anything less than God to play the role that only God can play is the very essence of idolatry.  
Let’s look more closely at the Parable of the Rich Fool to see the destructive power of idolatry and to glimpse the nature of the true God.  (Luke 12:13-21)
The rich fool is a farmer.  It’s important to remember that he is already rich before he has the bumper crop we read about today.  He lacks for nothing.  In fact, he already has a surplus.  
Jacek Yerka’s “The Cosmic Barnyard”

Now he has a record-breaking harvest.  And what does he do? He tears down his old barns and builds new ones.  The old barns are already full to overflowing.  So instead of giving away even the smallest portion of wealth, the rich fool just makes room to accumulate more.
We’re given a glimpse into the inner working of his mind, so we know what he things all this stored up grain will do for him.  He can relax, eat, drink, and be merry. 

It never crosses his mind to feed the hungry, to help an addict get sober, to provide access to medical care for the uninsured, or to donate school supplies to underfunded schools.
He seeks only to consume and to anesthetize himself.  His own material comfort, his own entertainment, and his own pleasure are his god.  
He can only see his wealth as a means to his own gratification.  His life is all about him.  And it’s a pleasant enough life, as far as it goes.
He can play golf to his heart’s content.  Collect some sea shells at his beachside condo.  
Get loaded on expensive wine, surround himself with luxurious things, date the most beautiful people that money can buy, turn his nose up at anything less than gourmet fare, hire a personal trainer to keep looking trim, and have plastic surgery to make up for where the trainer falls short.
The false god of earthly delights has laid claim to him.  He has surrendered to his idol with his whole life.  At least, he thinks it’s his whole life.  But, as we find out, he has been aiming depressingly low.
For even if he has surrendered his life to lesser gods, the true God of all things, the maker of heaven and earth, has not surrendered his claim to the rich fool.  Here’s how the parable puts it:
But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:20-21)
God has in mind for him, and for us, another life.  A greater life.  All the stuff he had accumulated is just stuff.  A vapor, really.  It passes away with our bodies.  It is not the stuff of eternity.
Our relationship with God, and with each other through God, is the stuff of eternal life.  God lays claim to us because he made us and he redeemed us.
Edourd Manet’s “A Woman Pouring Water”

Through Jesus Christ we can be free from the fear that there won’t be enough, that we aren’t enough, or that we will be excluded from the circle of affection we yearn to join.

We can trust that we will be cared for, so we can dare to care for someone other than ourselves.

God lays claim to our lives through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus.  He makes us somebody.  Our lives count not because of what we have accumulated and achieved, but because of what God has given us and achieved for us.
God pours an infinite flood of love into our lives so that we can give it away.  
And God’s love is not a mere sentiment.  God clothes us, feeds us, and shelters us.  These are tangible tokens of his love.
The medicines we take and the education we receive are also palpable signs of God’s love for us.
When we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and tend the sick, we are giving away the treasure that God has given us.  We are loving our neighbor.
When we fail to do these things, we’re just building barns to hold stuff that was not really ours to begin with.
The paradox of following Jesus is that giving away our greatest treasure is the only way to make space for what God alone has to give.  As we give away God’s love to our neighbor, we make room to receive even more.
This sermon was preached at Good Shepherd, Vidalia.

Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, husband, dad, and movie-goer

One Comment on “God and Stuff

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