Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Faith, hope and love. And the greatest is love
I have been thinking a lot lately about what can be called “the tyranny of possessions.” The current economic collapse shows how ephemeral these things can be. Jesus evidently knew this, for when he sent out disciples to preach, he charged them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics” (Luke 9:3). To paraphrase the first chapter of Job, we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing with us when we leave. Except character.
It was Lewis Sherrill, the famous pastoral counselor, I think, who said that life ought to be a process of winnowing possessions. He suggested choosing one item to represent an era or a memory and let that serve for all the rest. Since I am such a sentimentalist, and would keep everything if it were possible, this is a great way to avoid being swallowed up by “stuff.”
There is little or nothing of monetary value among the things I possess. But everything has a story, a memory. Those are fun to mull upon, but by the same token these can become idols of a sort, if they keep us from following or serving God. I know a minister who received an urgent call from a church but shrank from going for, as he said, “The church called, but the parsonage didn’t!”
So I have been going through things, discarding refuse, selling the odd item on eBay; giving things to those who could actually use items that are just stored on a shelf. I have found this, too, has its satisfaction. Finding good homes for things can be fun!
Meanwhile, I am trying to acquire less. The library instead of the bookstore! Last year’s “fashion” instead of the latest sport shirt with the alligator or whatever is the “in” monogram. As long as things are clean and neat, there is no reason to always have new.
Technology also comes under scrutiny. Some of the computer and communication fads are great. Real time savers. But I also have to ask myself how much of it simply forms a distraction or creates more work than it’s worth.
I found some coins I had collected as a child on an upper shelf. Nothing truly rare or precious. It was fun finding them and I suppose saving them then kept me from spending my allowance on Coca-Colas and candy bars. But I took those coins to a dealer in Memphis, and now someone else can have the fun. It was interesting to see how my perception of those old pennies, nickels, and dimes had changed in the intervening forty years. What had seemed so rare and precious no longer carried the old allure. Life changes, and we ought to be as adaptable, as “portable” as possible.
I had a friend in seminary, committed to simple lifestyle as a religious conviction, who said we ought to own no more than will fit in the back seat of a Volkswagen! Now that my buddy has three children, I doubt that is the case for him, but the point is still worth considering. Much of the world would gladly have the things we put out for the trash collector. Maybe instead of just remarking on that, we ought to begin to live in solidarity with such folk.
Zeroes on a balance sheet. That’s most of what the world’s present collapse amounts to. By contrast, what we truly need is modest. Some even do not have that. It is for these that we ought to be concerned. Faith, hope, and love are what shall finally endure, said the apostle Paul. And the greatest of these was love. Love costs a great deal, and you really can’t pour it into material goods.
All you can do is give it away.
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