The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 12, 2020
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In the summer of 2005, I worked at a Boy Scout camp in far northern Maine. You’ve heard me talk about this before because it was such a formative experience in my life. My job was to guide crews of boys and adult leaders down the river two weeks at a time without losing anybody. Over the course of the summer, I surprised myself by how little stuff I actually needed to survive.
Here’s a picture with all the worldly possessions I needed to get by. A tent. A sleeping bag. Obviously, an extra pair of pants. An extra pair of shoes. First Aid kit. Some maps. A camp chair that doubled as a sleeping pad. A frisbee that doubled as my plate.
Now, two things happen when you don’t have that much stuff. First, you take care of what you do have very, very carefully. Because out there in the woods, if you lose something or break something, there is no Wal-Mart to save your bacon. Second, you come to realize that you really don’t need that much stuff after all. These two lessons have stayed with me. Take care of what you have. Be careful not to accumulate too much.
Of course, those are hard lessons to remember in our culture of consumerism. And over time, I’ve strayed from those lessons. Fifteen years ago, my life could fit into a canoe. Then everything could fit into my car, then a moving truck, and now I need a house with an attic to keep all my stuff. Now, today I don’t want to talk about the economic or environmental impact of our consumerism. No, I want to talk like Jesus did. I want to talk about how our stuff impacts our discipleship.
Jesus teaches his disciples this parable of the sower, the greatest parable of them all. The sower sows with reckless abandon, throwing seed every which way. Some is eaten by the birds, some seed falls on rocky soil, some does produce good fruit, but notice – notice that some seed is choked among the thorns. “The cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13:22). Jesus is very clear about wealth and worldly cares. The stuff, the cares of the world, our wealth, can and will restrict our growth in the Lord Jesus. Our hearts are designed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but if our minds are filled with world treasures, our possessions will end up possessing us.
One day driving into Holy Comforter from my house, I counted seven, seven different self-storage facilities. Think about it – those are gated communities for our extra stuff. We don’t own that stuff anymore – that stuff owns us. We pay money to keep stuff that we paid money for locked away. That’s not a blessing, that’s a burden. To put it another way – if I had packed everything I wanted to pack into that canoe, I would’ve sunk under the weight of all that stuff. Our lives, our souls, they sink under the crushing load of the cares of the world.
And when we have that much stuff, we lose track of those two important lessons I had learned that summer in Maine. If something breaks, if we lose something, we shrug our shoulders and go onto Amazon and get another one. By having that much stuff, it actually shows that we don’t care about our stuff. Because if we did care about it, we would be more mindful of it. And second, we now tell ourselves that what we do have is not enough. Our stuff begins to multiply exponentially. We tell ourselves that our kids will want all that stuff one day, but they really won’t.
And that’s the crux of it. God does not want your things, God wants your heart. Your children, your families, your friends, they don’t want all your junk either, they want your loving attention.
This, I believe, is precisely what Jesus is talking about. Our possessions choke our discipleship of the Lord Jesus, cloud our vision of the Kingdom of God, and inhibit our ability to love. If our minds are so consumed with worldly treasure, there is no more room for the Holy Spirit. As individuals, yes, most certainly. Of all sinners, I am chiefly guilty on that one.
But more than that, this is about us as a church, as a parish, as a community of disciples. We’ve all seen it happen to churches. Their buildings cease to become places of worship and become objects of worship. What was once a hospital for sinners has become a museum, a shrine to the past. We have trusted too much in our wealth, our buildings, our stuff. And eventually, those possessions ended up possessing us.
I understand full well the irony of this. Our brand new church sits there empty at 2322 Spring Cypress Road at this very moment.
The hard thing for Holy Comforter moving forward will be to make sure we do not define ourselves by our buildings, by our wealth, by our possessions. Because the instant we become a caretaker of the past we will lose the vision to which God is always calling us forward. The instant we become too protective of our stuff, the instant we start carrying too much stuff with us in our ministry; that is the very instant our canoe will start to sink.
What I hope we learn from this time of being distant from our church building is that we come to respect it even more. To treat it with greater honor, not less, because of such a gift that it is. To make sure that our buildings and our wealth inspire us to a greater vision of the Kingdom of God. But most of all, most of all, I hope we learn to not be afraid to lose what we have for the gospel.
In 2008, a wildfire ravaged through Santa Barbara, California. Perched on a hillside overlooking the ocean sat a beautiful monastery of Episcopal monks.
Like so much of the rest of Santa Barbara, the place burned. Hardly anything was left. They lost treasures, certainly – artwork, books, stuff that monasteries accumulate over time. Faced with such an awful loss, one brother remarked, “This is simply a reminder that what we are called to is not our stuff. This is a cleansing by fire.” Another brother said, “I keep running into little things that I’d missed, things I had not realized I’d lost. But I really do feel like the most important thing is that we’re all O.K. and together. If they’re memories, I’ll just have to remember them. The most important thing is us.”*
I do not wish a fire upon you or upon our church. But I do wish for you to regain that adventurous spirit. To recommit your heart, body, soul, and mind to the Lord God instead of the treasures of this world. Ditch what you don’t need, which is actually most of it. Lighten the load in your canoe. Hold fast to one another and to the Lord God, because those are the most important things. That way you can set out on this grand journey that is discipleship, unburdened by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth. Let go of all your stuff, grab your paddle, and set out to follow Jesus.