Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – August 1, 2010 – The Stuff of Life

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18 Sunday Ordinary Time – August 1, 2010 – The Stuff of Life

Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23, Ps 90:3-6,14,17, Col 3;1-5,9-11, Lk 12:13-21

Today’s complete biblical texts.

A program on CNBC called American Greed is about dishonest people who get ahead in the world by taking advantage of others. One episode featured Dennis Kozlowski who created a brand name Tyco that made stockholders rich. He became one of the country’s highest paid executives and went on a buying spree — $4 million for a painting, $2 million for a birthday party, and $6000 for a shower curtain! Kozlowski eventually was imprisoned for plundering the company that made him rich.

Why do some people have this insatiable need or desire to possess things? Is it comfort, convenience, power, security, insecurity? One of our teenage music ministers told me about the Christian Rock Band, Switchfoot. In their song “American Dream” there is this admonition: “When success is equated with excess, the ambition for excess wrecks us.”

The wealthy business man in today’s gospel accumulated many possessions over the years and he just wanted to retire, sit back, eat, drink and be merry. He had one problem: he was running out of space where he could store all his stuff. The comedian Steve Wright would have told him, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” In short order, God said to the rich man, you are foolish to stockpile things that do not really matter in the big picture.

Most people, like you and me, are not greedy or conspicuous consumers. Further, this gospel is not intended to stop us from being good stewards of our resources, our hard earned income and profits. It is not even an indictment against being rich or about spending a little on ourselves and families every so often. It is about getting our priorities straight when it comes to the stuff of life.

Added to the list this morning are the things that clutter our minds. The first scripture reading asks us to take a look at the concerns that keep us up at night. Unless we are worrying about paying bills, putting food on the table, waiting for teens to come home, keeping or finding a job, or other life threatening problems, what else could be worth the anxiety? How can we focus long enough to know what is important in life and then to sift out all those things that are extraneous and excessive?

Today’s psalm challenges us to listen to God periodically and then to be open to that voice, not to harden our hearts. That voice challenges us to look for new ways to live, to change our ways especially those things that cause stress. The author of the letter to the Colossians suggested we take a look at things like greed and deceit, any bad habits that are really not good for us anyway — not if we want to become new creations. I ask myself while shopping how do my buying habits affect others and the planet? Where do things like recycling, energy consumption, bottled water and junk food come into this picture?

All of these considerations require a willingness to be transformed by God’s Word and not by marketing strategies designed to make us shop for stuff we really do not need. We are even led to believe these days that one way to stimulate the economy is to borrow money, if you can, and then use that money to buy things. In a Washington Post article on low consumer confidence Sonja Ryst wrote, “Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy and is key to America’s recovery.” [1] It is a quandary for us.

One question to ask then is — what makes good sense not only for ourselves but also for others? Choosing to live more simply is possible for each of us; and, living with less just might make it possible for others who have little to have just a bit more. Such an image makeover in ourselves and our families could result in a mirror reflection of God. Then we will see in each other what really matters in God’s “kin-dom” — a word used by many theologians instead of “kingdom.” It refers to that time “when the fullness of God becomes a reality in the world at large, we will all be sisters and brothers — kin to each other.” [2] That’s the stuff of life.
—–

1 Ryst, Sonja, “July Consumer Confidence Takes Sharp Dive” in the Washington Post, July 30, 2010. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/political-economy/2010/07/july_consumer_confidence_takes.html

2 Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 1980s,” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, edited by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite and Mary Potter Engel (San Francisco: Harper, 1990) 303-305

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

8 thoughts on “Homily – August 1, 2010 – The Stuff of Life

  1. Finding balance in daily life is difficult. We need to work to provide the basic necessities, and yes, sometimes even some of the nice extras. At the present time, I’m the sole support of my household thanks to the economy. Still, I’m grateful that my simple lifestyle allows us to continue on without too much worry.
    Grasping after things is a desire to fill up those empty places in our hearts and souls. Unfortunately, the hunger often comes from a place that “stuff” will never ever fill. I’ve read that in Buddhism there is a belief that all of the ills in the world stem from hatred, delusion, or greed. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to find one exception to this teaching.

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  2. Your Homily was thought provoking.
    It seems that there is just so much stuff that is available. We really need to think twice about what we really need & about other people need as well.

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  3. Vanity, the amassing of goods and storing wealth without care for others are obsessions and yet antithetical to the Gospel.

    This homily is something I need to share with someone who I spoke to about the Scriptures today. Being wealthy is not the issue – it is how your heart is, your demeanor.

    We are all capable of re-membering the Body of Christ if we but allow ourselves the space to do so.

    Thank you for this.

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  4. “even at night his mind is not at rest.
    This also is vanity.”

    It seems to me that God gives each of us resources that we are then asked to use, share, and be grateful for as we move in our life.

    Here in Ecclesiastes is the one line that shines the light for me. The worry of money and possessions is an act of nontrust. Over-extended worrry shows that we think we actually have final power in this. Jesus himself tells us not to worry about anything; God takes care of us.

    When love, trust in God and gratitude are the cornerstone of our life and decisions, the kin-dom is the outcome. Thank you for beginning this concept for our parish and our understanding of God’s work in us. 🙂

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  5. I couldn’t agree more with the points made in this homily. I have been challenged by the appearance of conflict between the fact that I like beautiful things and my life choice of simple living. At times, I admit, simple living was a “holier than thou” way to say “I have very little money”. The truth is that nice things are easy to attain through simple choices like good thrift stores or consignment shops, the current “freecyle” movement and giving away what we have when we are done. It also means having the humility have “used stuff” joyfully rather than with a bad attitude. This is the reality as I understand it—-there is always more “stuff” in the world. There are many responsible ways to enjoy things. And going to stores that treat their workers well, don’t exploit workers in other countries and become responsible members of their local financial community is, in my opinion, great fun and should not be considered “non-gospel” living. The idea that we should spend money to help the economy is nonsense and no lower or middle income person would believe it for a minute. That’s the same snake oil that got us here in the first place “greed is good, trickle down theory, have it by Christmas with no money down and don’t pay interest for 2 years……blah blah). Scripture tell us that “wherever your treasure is, there will you find your heart”. My heart is found in being constantly bathed in the love of our God. Whether it is in silent contemplation or experiencing his/her presence in my son and community, that is enough. The joy of simple living, the freedom to make intentional decisions while enjoying nice possessions is a way of life that works for me. “You are oh God my inheritance, I have all I need”. Namaste

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  6. Dick,

    Thanks for the good “stuff” to think about. I’ve ben feeling the call to simplify and your words are very helpful.

    Thanks,
    Eleanor

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  7. Ironic that I’ve been watching a few episodes of American Greed lately.

    Living more consciously simple has actually become a blessing for me. A spiritual lens now appears and I see life differently. I accept the challenge to re-purpose stuff I’ve kept around, to shop at Dollar Stores and Salvation Army outlets. As another commenter mentioned, vanity is still alive (for me too) but diminishes as “cleaning & greening” stewardship takes on more meaning.

    Guess God CAN teach some of us old dogs some new tricks!

    Another fine message, Richard!

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  8. A+ would read again

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