The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 19, 2015
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
From 2003 to 2012, I moved every year. Some of the moves were small – from one dorm room to another over the summer. Some of the moves were medium sized – from one house in Waco to another house in Waco. And some moves were big – from Washington, D.C. to Waco. From Waco to Spring. But no matter how big or small the move was, I had to pack up everything. And packing is a pain. Take books, for example. Books are the worst to move because they’re so heavy. And I have a lot of books. I would have to take all the books off my shelf and put them into boxes by category. Yes, all my books are categorized. Label them. Then the boxes are crazy heavy. And of course, every time I packed I would have acquired more books during the year. Because I’m a nerd. So then I’d have to stop packing, drive to the liquor store – because those are the best boxes – and keep on packing. And then unpack. For ten years. Let me tell you – if there was something that I hadn’t used in the last year – it wasn’t getting packed and moved. It went to the trash, or it went to Goodwill. By the time I moved to Waco in 2010, my entire life fit into a Honda Civic.
But now it’s been a few years since we’ve moved. And now we have a kid. And a house with plenty of attic space. I don’t how it happened, but we’ve started to accumulate. There’s stuff everywhere. It’s like I can feel the stuff closing in around me. And every time I throw something away, or give something away – two more things takes its place. There’s a word for this phenomenon – it’s called “affluenza.” We live in such an affluent culture, that accumulating stuff is just something that we do, almost subconsciously. We buy more, we buy bigger, and then we don’t have enough space, so we buy a new house with more storage. We even rent space in gated communities for our extra stuff. These are rental storage places. We put our extra stuff there, lock it up, and come visit it every once in awhile, to say, “hello, stuff!” We put our cars in the driveway because our stuff is in the garage. The average size of a garage in a newly built home today is bigger than the size of an entire house built in the 1950s.
This is a sickness. It’s a disease. Affluenza is a virus that’s infected all of us, including me. And I’m not saying that buying things is inherently bad. It’s not. The problem is when we buy things we don’t need or we buy compulsively. That’s called retail therapy. We joke around about it, but it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem. Instead of going out to buy things we need, we buy things to buy things without giving thought to its purpose.
Because, think about it. Think about the most meaningful things in your life. If your entire house and rental space was about to be swept off the face of the earth, what would be the things you would save? It’s probably not the boxes of Christmas decorations, or the DVD collection, or every single kids’ toy. For me, it would be the small things. My wedding ring. My grandfather’s Book of Common Prayer. A framed picture of our wedding day. When it comes down to it, the most meaningful things are the small things.
We can’t buy meaning. We can’t purchase a new life. More isn’t always better. Bigger isn’t always better. It’s the small things that count.
When Jesus is walking through Gennesaret, the people flock to him. They know that Jesus can heal, that Jesus can save. Wherever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, the people laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak. The hem of his garment. And all who touched it were healed. They were saved.
Those people knew something that we don’t. They knew that salvation and healing can’t be bought. The lie that we believe, is that we can buy our way to happiness and completeness. But the truth of the matter is that happiness and wholeness come from God, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Happiness and wholeness are free gifts from God, and it’s only as big as the fringe of a cloak.
We are a sick people – we have become bloated with our stuff. We are drowning in credit card debt. There are twice as many shopping centers in the United States as there are high schools. And so we are here this morning, flocking to Jesus because in our heart of hearts we all know that our stuff just isn’t going to cut it. We need something else. We need someone to heal us. To save us, even to save us from ourselves.
So we come to baptism. Today we are baptizing Michael Steven Arnold into the faith of Jesus. And, you know, baptism in the Episcopal Church doesn’t look like much. We have a tiny little baptismal font, we use just a few splashes of water, the whole baptismal service takes only about five minutes. It doesn’t seem like enough. It’s engrained in us to think that we need more – more water! Let’s dunk that kid! A longer service! And more music! And more and more and more. The same with Holy Communion. What? All I get is this tiny little wafer that doesn’t taste like anything? And if you haven’t tried the gluten free wafers – woof. They’re even worse. Our gut reaction is to ask for more – more bread, more wine! This isn’t good enough!
But I think back to those who were sick, begging that they might touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. That was good enough. That was all they needed. It didn’t cost them a dime. They didn’t need the whole garment, just the hem of it.
When we baptize Michael into the faith of Jesus – he will be entering a new kind of life. A life that will be full, even if he has nothing. A life that will be happy and complete, no matter how much is or isn’t in his checking account. This is true for everybody who is baptized into the Christian faith. Our identity, our very being, is defined by the waters of baptism. And nothing else. Let me say that again. Our identity, our very being, is defined by the waters of baptism. And nothing else. This is our way of touching the hem of our Lord’s garment. It may not look like much – but it counts for everything. And it’s a free gift from God. You don’t have to buy it on credit. You don’t have to take out another mortgage. Salvation and healing and grace come from God absolutely free.
Then comes the hard part. The waters of baptism are a gift, but the life of the baptized comes with responsibility. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love the Lord God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength. That means, that when we are baptized, it’s time to start clearing out the clutter in your life. The things and the stuff that distract you from loving God and loving your neighbor. Stuff isn’t inherently bad – but we’ve come to the point in our society that our stuff is choking out our spiritual lives. Like weeds choking out a garden.
So ask yourself some tough questions, look at the stuff that is starting to crowd you in. And ask – does this help my relationship with God, or does it hinder my relationship with God? Go through the money you spend in a month. Look at your credit card bill and your checking account. Because that will tell what’s important in your life. Numbers don’t lie. Do you spend more per month on your cable bill than you do for charities and the church? Take a look around at your stuff. Can you close your closet doors? Is your car parked in the driveway because your knick-knacks are taking up the space in the garage?
We all have a case of affluenza. So like the sick that are laid out on mats in the villages and town for Jesus, it’s time to come to the Lord for healing. For salvation. To be rescued from ourselves. We are sick. We need a doctor, someone to cure us of this disease. His name is Jesus.
He will give you everything you need in the world, but it won’t be much. You won’t need rental storage unit for the gifts of God. All Jesus gives us is the hem of his garment. And a splash of water. And a taste of bread. It’s not much, but it’s all that counts.