Our relationship with our possessions: A sermon on Luke 12

13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oA Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

Many of you know that I have recently moved, and so I have just packed and then unpacked all of my possessions.

Having recently taken stock of my belongings, I can tell you that I have a lot of stuff.

Not as much as some people perhaps, but way more than I need.

And we’ve needed to make some decisions about what things we choose to hang on to, and what of our possessions we are willing to let go of.

Those sweet little hand knit baby socks, that my son has already grown out of…I want to keep those.

The waffle maker that we have never used…I might be ready to let that go now.

All this dwelling with my belongings has reminded me about the complicated relationship we have with our possessions.

The possessions themselves are not bad.

Neither is, frankly, having an abundance of belongings.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable today isn’t faulted for having things;

in fact, the text seems to suggest that he has been blessed with abundance.

The problem is the man’s relationship with his possessions.

As Jesus says, “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.”

The man’s problem, it seems, is that in his abundance of possessions, it is all about him, and storing up things for himself.

In fact, the text today very obviously highlights the man’s individualistic, self-serving approach to his wealth.

Count the number of first person pronouns and you get the idea:

What should I do, my crops, I will do this, I will store all my grain and my goods, and I will say to my soul…

The man sees his wealth as his, and solely his, and he wants to hoard it, to keep it, for himself alone.

In fact, he literally only consults himself, in his own conversation about his wealth.

And the man is not, it seems, about recognizing the true source of that wealth in God.

Interestingly, when talking about the rich man today Jesus says, “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.”

The man may reap the benefits of his abundance, but he is not the sole source of them.

The land and the richness of creation is the source of his wealth, a point that the man doesn’t seem to recognize.

Nor is the man about sharing his wealth with other people.

He wants to set some things aside, which makes perfect sense, but it is all for his own use, his own pleasure.

And he obviously doesn’t trust anyone but himself to advise him about what to do with his wealth.

Not only is it all his, for his own use, but he is apparently the only person who knows what to do with it.

From beginning to end, the man’s relationship with his possessions is all about him, it is entirely self-serving.

And that, my friends, is what greed is.

An entirely self-serving approach to what we have.

It isn’t how much we have; it is our relationship to our wealth and possessions that causes problems.

We can have an unhealthy relationship with our possessions whether or not we are wealthy.

Actually, we are wealthy, according to global standards.

As members of this country, the United States of the America, we are in the top 10% of the wealthiest people in the world.

And yet, to hear the political conversations revolving around us, you would think that we had nothing.

I say this for some perspective, not to discount people’s struggles and fears.

They are real, and the urgency is real.

Even in Washington County, for example, almost 30,000 households needed food assistance in 2013.

It is likely even more households now.

I truly believe that an abundance of wealth, a security in what we need to be happy, healthy, and safe is what God wills for all of God’s people.

The problem is when it becomes all about us, even from us, for us, even when we have more than enough for our own use, that is when our possessions get to be a problem.

Hoarding, or the tendency to hang on to our belongings, isn’t always born out of a conscious selfishness.

More often, it is born out of a sense of fear, a lack of trust that the abundance we have won’t last.

We might need it, we need to be careful.

There is nothing wrong with being cautious and practical and planning…

But if it is all and only for ourselves, then that is when we get into trouble.

This gospel lesson isn’t saying that we need to give all of our wealth away.

Nor does today’s gospel say that having an abundance of wealth automatically makes us bad people.

But it does call us to pay attention to the kind of relationship we have with our possessions.

Is it inherently all about us, or do we need to shift our focus to remember the God who is the source of that wealth…

or the people, apart from ourselves, who can benefit from it?

Even if the man in today’s gospel had said to himself, I will set this wealth aside so that my family and laborers and I can relax, eat, drink and be merry…

that changes the tenor of the story.

If even one other person could have shared in the blessing of what the man’s wealth means, it would be a different story.

If the man had given thanks to God for his blessings, it would be a different story.

If the man had taken extra care of God’s creation, and acknowledged that the land was the source of his wealth… it would be a different story.

You get the idea.

It isn’t the blessings, even the abundance, or the setting things aside that is the problem.

It is the man’s relationship to them.

It is ironic to me that the man dies at the end of this story.

He literally loses his life to his wealth.

And while that is a dire sort of metaphorical image to apply to the man’s situation, it isn’t actually too far from the truth.

Because the man thinks only of himself in relation to his possessions, he does literally lose his life to them.

The focus of what his life is about, its meaning and purpose becomes so narrow that he is the only one who matters.

He doesn’t live for anything outside of himself, and I believe that that is not ultimately the purpose of life.

We are not God’s beloved people in this world so that we can acquire stuff only for ourselves.

Because we are God’s beloved people in this world, we are called to recognize the blessings we have from God, and to share and spread that blessing with the world.

We are called to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

And God’s kingdom is blessing and abundance for all of God’s people.

We do not get there if it is only about us.

We get there if it is also about God and our fellow people of God.

As my husband and I continue to unpack our belongings, it is helpful for me to be reminded of this.

I want to keep those sweet baby socks because they remind me of my son, and my calling to love and care for him.

But the things that we don’t need, that don’t help me to better love and care for others, that don’t allow me to trust in God….

If I want to keep something because it is about my own fear, my own regrets, my own desires and nothing else…

then I might want to try letting those things go.

And it might be a good idea, to pause and to give thanks to God that all we have been blessed with.

Because, after all, the source of all life and abundance comes from God.

and how we give thanks for and share that blessing is ultimately what it means to truly live.