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
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.”  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.”  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