Reimagining Our Relationship with Stuff

Sunday, June 18, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Matthew 6:7-15; 19-21

These past few months of warmer weather and open windows have spurred the Anderson-Telschow family into a full deep clean mode. We’ve been knee-deep in closet reorganizations and garage cleaning and boxing up warm-weather clothes that don’t fit the kids this summer. We’ve hardly tackled the impending doom that is the basement and the endless mental to-do list that, for me, usually consists of getting rid of the extra stuff that surrounds us; the feeling of “too much” that overwhelms our home.

Research on our lives in this country tells us that the average American household has 300,000 items in it. 300,000. From silverware to ironing boards to paper clips to toys and games. The estimate is that a full quarter of Americans with two-car garages don’t actually use them for cars; we use them for storage.

I would guess that almost every one of us has, in some way, come up against the painful and exhausting experience of going through the things left at the end of life. Some of you find yourselves surrounded by so much, but at an age or ability that makes it impossible to go through. Some of you have been left with that project of sorting and deciding and donating and cleaning in wake of an illness or death of a loved one. I’ve learned so much about these organizations or companies that come and do this delicate and difficult work for us; the people who will pack and sort and auction and sell and transport things for us.

The tendency to cherish things is not uniquely American; as humans we’ve always found meaning in heirlooms or gifts or things that symbolize a relationship or memory. Our things tend to take on more meaning or symbolism than just the thing itself; there is an essence beyond the object.

But our tendency to accumulate things seems to be unique to us in the U.S., when we look at the global statistics.

Now, if you feel your blood pressure rising as I mention overwhelming basements or closet reorganizations; lest you, like me, spiral into your mental to do list right now, don’t worry, this isn’t Marie Kondo. If you want help in purging your garage or lessoning the amount of stuff you have, there are aisles and aisle of self-helps book at the book store with promises about just how to do just that. We know that we have too much stuff; we know that it has an unhealthy and stifling affect on us; but we don’t always what to do.

And why would I even be talking about this at church?

Today’s text addresses this concern; this tendency for us to keep and store and accumulate too much, but it addresses it because it is the symptom of misplacing our trust and putting it in the promises of the world, instead of the promises of God.

The promises of the world bombard us – and I do mean bombard – with messages that tell us we need more stuff because we aren’t good enough without it or we’d be happier if we had it. And amidst that bombardment, we can barely suss out for ourselves what we truly need and we hold on to these promises of fulfillment or wholeness or betterment of ourselves that the world offers.

The release of serotonin that I feel when I buy a new little knick-knack for my house is real and palpable; these are strong forces and we are living in a world of consumerism and individualism and it is far too easy to be swept away by the pursuit and acquisition of wealth and stuff.

But then Jesus reminds us that true fulfillment lies not in the abundance of possessions, but in the richness of our relationships with God and with one another. Jesus says at the end of this passage, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Biblical scholars believe that treasure is a metaphor here for righteousness – the world’s righteousness or God’s righteousness. And that we are to choose God’s righteousness over the world’s, … but what does it mean to put our trust in God’s righteousness, especially in relationship to our stuff/things?

If we look earlier in today’s passage, we hear a prayer that is familiar to our ears; the prayer that Jesus taught us and that we recite together at the communion table; The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray and he does so with a prayer for all that we need; a summation of our life in God and a prayer for all of the cosmos to be transformed to and for God’s kingdom come. That means that the treasures of heaven that Jesus speaks of are not exclusive to the afterlife. They are not limited to a distant future, but rather call us to care about the present reality of God’s kingdom breaking into our world. They are treasures of justice, compassion, love, and solidarity. The righteous life from the perspective of God’s righteousness is living according to what we hear in the Lord’s Prayer – that things be here just as they ought, “on earth as it is in heaven.” A righteous life on earth is one that manifests – that brings about – God’s realm.

And if things are to be “on earth as they are in heaven,” we look to the following two ways that happens: God’s provision for daily bread and release from debts. As Lutherans, we affirm that everything we have is a gift from God, and we are called to use these gifts responsibly and for the well-being of all. God is the ultimate source of these things – all that we have is a gift from God and yet part of our call as people of faith is to make sure that our world – which the systems and institutions and policies in place – bring this reality about.

While we know that God could miraculously bring about daily bread, but that’s not the point of the prayer here. Instead, this prayer to bring about a reality on earth as it is in heaven calls us into action, co-creating with God a future that is different than we’ve ever known. Maybe our treasures in heaven are not just ethereal concepts but concrete actions. They are found in acts of mercy and compassion, in working towards economic justice, in advocating for the dignity and rights of all people, and in caring for God’s creation. Maybe Jesus is envisioning here a world where people don’t have to earn the right to eat. Maybe putting our trust in God’s righteousness (instead of the world’s), means ensuring that people are clothed, housed, fed, and all have enough.

It’s not actually about cleaning out our garage or taking that carload to GoodWill. Jesus ends this passage by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When our hearts are aligned with these heavenly treasures, our priorities shift. We are no longer driven solely by the accumulation of wealth and possessions. Instead, we become motivated by a desire to participate in God’s transformative work, to seek justice for the marginalized, and to create a more equitable and compassionate society.

May we embrace these teachings of Jesus as roadmap for our lives. May we constantly examine our priorities and the way we relate to material possessions. And may our hearts be filled with heavenly treasures, inspiring us to live as faithful disciples who seek justice, practice mercy, and embody the love of God in all that we do.


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