Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
August 5, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
Jerry was a middle-aged man. He was a worrier. He worried when things were unsettled; he worried when things were going too well. He fretted so much that the people around him began to move away feeling weighted down by his general state of anxiety and apprehension. Then Jerry worried more because people he cared about were separating from him. Jerry had spent his whole life storing up worry till it completely consumed who he was; there was no room left for any other part of him; there was no welcoming place left for his friends and family to stand next to him. One morning he woke up, worrying as he often did, about what might go wrong that day. Something did go wrong that day of his 53rd year. Jerry was hit by a car while in a crosswalk and died. At his funeral a close friend said, "Maybe now, Jerry will finally be at rest."
Sherry remembers fondly the first poem she submitted to a magazine when she was 8 years old. It was published and she was thrilled. In high school her literature teacher encouraged her to try to get some of her writing published but Sherry didn't think it was good enough. She added it to a special book at home with her other thoughts and reflections. In college, one of her teachers returned a paper to Sherry commenting how excellent it was and suggesting she should send it in to a magazine. But, Sherry didn't think it was that good and she didn't want to be rejected. She filed it in one of the many writing folders she had been filling over all the years. As a young mother, Sherry found herself filling many pages with her insights about parenting and poems about the struggles of being a mother. She shared one with another young mother who said, "Sherry, you really have a gift. There are many people's lives that would be enhanced by the wisdom you share in your writing. Why don't you try to publish some of these?" But, Sherry, continued to think, "Maybe someday I will" and she filed the poem away in one of the boxes in which she stored her writing. When Sherry died, others were amazed at the treasure she had stored up and regretted that she had hidden her talent from others.
Louise lived comfortably in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, John. John worked as a manager at Sears and Louise stayed at home with their two children. Louise's brother, Peter, went to visit them one summer. John and Louise generously spent time showing Peter around the town and Louise created some wonderful meals for them all. One afternoon Louise and the children were gone and Peter needed a screwdriver to fix something that had broken on his suitcase. He went downstairs to see if he could find one.
This was Peter's first trip to the basement and as he looked around he shook his head as if to clear his vision. For lined up against all the basement walls were a series of metal shelving units. On four of them sat used teapots, pans, knickknacks, tablecloths and all sorts of household goods. Four others were filled with canned goods; there must have been 500 cans of soup and vegetables.
When Louise got home they all sat around the dinner table. Peter said he had seen the filled shelves in the basement. Louise's husband John looked at Louise. Louise's mouth tightened at the corners. The children looked at each other. Louise spoke, "Oh, I visit garage sales a lot. There are just so many things at them that could come in handy. I bring them home and store them down there so that when one of our things breaks we will have a replacement available immediately." "Could you please pass the bread," said Louise's husband. "Can we go outside now?" said one of the children.
"Be on your guard against all kinds of greed," Jesus said in this morning's reading. The example he gives concerns possessions but the point he is making is that we store up many things out of deeply rooted beliefs that dependence on God alone is not enough. It is not the things or feelings themselves that harbor a dark side but it is the kind of priority we give them in our life that separates us from God and a true sense of joy with life.
Jerry, in our first story, could not trust in God's presence in his life and the possibility of goodness available in the universe. And so he worried, and worried and worried. He continued to fill the container that was his life with so much anxiety and fretting that it spilled out onto others near him who withdrew to avoid being tainted by it. There was so much worry stored up in his life that there was no space for other kinds of experience to enter it. Jerry died as he had lived; with a legacy of worry that had stolen from him a joyful life.
The writer, Sherry, hid and locked away the possibilities of a gift that could enrich others and enliven her own life. Out of her fear of rejection and her dependence on what others thought, she shrank the huge gift of writing talent God had given her into a few storage boxes instead of releasing it into the world. If Sherry had trusted in God enough to be vulnerable and share her passion for writing, her life would have been remarkably different. The lives of others touched by her gift would have been blessed in a particular way.
Louise, the woman who lived in Chicago, had some deeply seated needs to feel protected and in control. She surrounded herself with more possessions than she could ever use. Her compulsion to have plenty of them wedged a barrier in between herself and her family. Her anxiety about the future caused her to build a fortress of canned goods to defend her against whatever might happen. The way she lived did not just affect her life but sent a strong message to her family about the nature of trust and the value of possessions.
That about which we are possessive and which we hoard will become chains around out lives, whether material goods, fears, or gifts we have been given by God. We often only think of our dependence on material goods as keeping us separate from God. But, we need to also remember how dependence on our fears and our worries can be just as damaging to a full and joyous relationship with the Spirit.
"Take care! Be on your guard" said Jesus, "against all kind of greed." In another passage in Luke he tells us, "Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be."
Where we put our energy and resources is where we store up what makes the foundation of our lives. If it's worry, anger or negativity that most consumes our lives, then that is where our heart will most live. If it's accumulation of goods and the energy and time it takes to pay for them and maintain them, then that is what will be most alive in our heart. When we subdue our life energy, which seeks expression through unique talents God has given us, by hiding our gifts away, then our heart will become weakened.
There are lasting effects of one's present choices. It is not wise to ponder changes in a wistful and procrastinating way. For as the parable we heard this morning tells us: "This very night your life may end."
If your life ended this day, what would be stored up in your life? What kinds of emotions, experiences and relationships form the foundation of how you live? Where is God in the midst of them?
We need to honestly ask ourselves, "What is it about how I live my life that says what is foundational for me?" This is a different question than to just ask, "What is foundational in my life?" For it is very easy to answer that question with an optimistic slant that does not mirror the truth of how we live.
I might say that relationships with others are foundational in my life; they are where I most experience the love of God. And yet, the truth of my life is that I seldom have time for nurturing those relationships because I work too much.
We might think God is the foundation of our life but in truth we are often as foolish as the man in the parable this morning with the choices we make about how we live. Those actual choices tend to move us away from God. We might think we regard the welfare of others in the world as important but in fact how we live our lives shows we are primarily concerned only with ourselves.
The scripture reading this morning challenges us to take a close look at our life and see what it is that possesses us and what it is that we store up. It invites us to open ourselves to be filled first and foremost with God; to be possessed by a love of God that puts all other things in our life in their proper perspective.
Let us pray: Holy Spirit, let us feel your presence this very morning. Let it so fill us with God's love that material things lose their appeal, worries become minimized and we go forth in life sharing the gifts you have given us with confidence of the power of your love. Amen.