“Life storage” by Pastor Noel

October 14, 2018     Proper 23, B

 

      Recently I’ve noticed that some local businesses have changed their name to “Life Storage.”

      These are places where you rent a space and fill it with all the stuff you don’t have room for but can’t bear to get rid of.       

      When I saw this I thought of my nephew and his family, traveling around the country in an RV. Everything from their home is in storage.

      Is that what “Life storage” is about?

      I thought of the mausoleum I saw once in the little cemetery in Newport, NY. A marble room with heavy glass doors, a shelf for two caskets, and a shelf for trophies.

      I guess you could call that “Life storage.”

      These thoughts fit well with our readings for today. They illustrate what Amos and Jesus were preaching against!

      So here’s a disclaimer, or a public service announcement, or just my promise to you. I struggle with how much stuff I have. I keep downsizing and keep having more than enough. When I preach, I am preaching to myself as well as you. I am not preaching “at” you.  

      We’re in this together.

      On the other side of this culture of stuff is the simplified way of life called “decluttering.”

      Whether we are gathering or giving away, we are called to keep our focus on God and God’s kingdom that we are living in.

      When we focus on our possessions—having them or getting rid of them, we miss the kingdom.

      And yet, life storage seems to be the way we rate our worth. Worth is understood to be what we have, what we own, how much stuff, how much money.

      Amos calls us to “Seek the Lord and live.”

      He is calling us to put God and God’s values above our own so that everyone will benefit.

      It is not what we have, but what we do with it, that is really our worth, our value.

      Amos and Jesus may have had the common idea from their days that there was a limit to the amount of money in the world. For some to have much meant that some had little or none.

      Amos and Jesus, and others, railed against this.

      They were not pointing fingers at individuals, but at the whole system that kept some in poverty while others gathered in the gold.

      Amos talks of “justice at the gate” – perhaps because beggars sat at the gates for handouts.

      Jesus uses the image that has become a gate, too. He says that it will be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

      Somewhere in the Middle Ages it was suggested that there was a very small entrance gate to Jerusalem called “the eye of a needle.” It was said that camels could enter, but only on their knees.

      I guess folks wanted assurance that they could get into God’s kingdom, even if they had to crawl.

      To use a modern idea—that’s fake news!

      There was no such gate and camels can’t walk on their knees. Nice try!

      So this man runs up to Jesus and calls him “good teacher.” He’s hoping that Jesus will respond with flattering words—but that’s not Jesus’ way.

      We’re told that Jesus felt love for this man, and the man loved his possessions. Possessions means land and the wealth that goes with it.

      When Jesus asks about the commandments, the man says that he is perfect in keeping the law, as if that were his ticket to heaven.

      Like the people Amos was chiding, this man seems unaware that his way of life is causing pain and deprivation to others.

      When Jesus lists the commandments he gives one that is not on the list. He says “You shall not defraud.”

      Jesus is saying that the wealth of this man comes at the expense of others. What he says to this man he is really saying to all those who oppress others. To defraud someone is to steal from them.

      Amos called on people to “Seek the Lord and live.” Jesus offers that to the man. He says to him, “get up” which are words of healing and new life.

      He invites him to get rid of all that keeps him from that new life in God’s kingdom on earth.

      “Sell what you have and give to the poor.”

      The man went away, in shock, because he had many possessions.

      He was, as someone said, “possessed by his possessions.”

      I can understand that.

      I would like my life storage to be about caring for others, not caring for things.

      Jesus says, “For God, all things are possible.” He’s not saying that God will swoop in and make the kingdom happen.

      Jesus is asking us to ask God’s help to make the kingdom happen.

      God’s kingdom on earth is a way of justice and well being for all people. Men, women, children, all are included! More than we can ask or imagine!

      Jesus is inviting us to work for kingdom justice. This means social, economic, political, justice. Fairness, opportunity, peace, hope, joy.

      Those are things I’d like to have in my life storage.

      The man who came to Jesus wanted his life storage to be just about him.

      Jesus shows us that God’s kingdom includes everyone. Everyone who wants to be in.

      So, how can we work on our life storage so that it shows kingdom values?

      We can support programs and people who work for social, economic and political justice, the kind that Jesus lived and showed us.

      Notice I’m not telling us exactly what to do—just how to see what the results would be.

      Jesus tells us that this won’t be easy. He tells us that there will be opposition and that he will be with us, leading us.

      Each of us has our own way to do this.

      Each of us has our own life storage. Will it be filled with things—like the man in the gospel?

      Or might it be filled with memories of how we reached out and helped others. I’m hoping, and doing all I can to make it so.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details