Sunday 11 August 2013

Hoarding stuff

Address given at Templederry, Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 11th August 2013, the 11th after Trinity

Are you a hoarder? I know I am – as Marty will confirm if you ask her!
I am surrounded by ‘stuff’ – the attic is full of it, so is the garage. Some stuff  has sentimental value, such as things I’ve inherited which I remember from childhood. Some stuff I don’t need right now, but a nagging voice tells me it might just be useful sometime. And then there is some old stuff which I tell myself I might be able to sell, if I ever find myself down on my uppers – little enough, for in truth most of it is just junk.

And it doesn’t stop there either. There is something inside me which covets more stuff than I have already, and which covets the security that money and wealth brings. There is that urge to accumulate in most if not all of us, I think.

It is this covetous human nature that advertisers constantly play on in this consumer market economy. Their siren voices tempt us to buy that new car, the latest smartphone, cosmetics to make us young again, exotic foreign holidays – ‘because we’re worth it’. If we cannot have it all we feel cheated.

Those unlucky enough to have no paying work are made to feel inadequate as they eke out an existence on welfare, unable to afford what is advertised. And begrudged by those better off who pay their dole. While those with good incomes feel an inner void, finding that despite the siren voices all the stuff their money can buy does not make them happy after all.

The market economy has created great wealth, and a high standard of living for the majority in rich societies like Ireland. We have all come to believe that we will have more than our parents did. But it depends on ever growing consumption which the finite resources of our beautiful planet cannot sustain. When growth inevitably falters - as it has done - those with the least suffer the most, and all of us become fearful for the future. We worry that our jobs and pensions are precarious, we see our children and grandchildren emigrate and fear their lives will be harder than our own, we are anxious about the damage being done to the natural world about us, and we dread the prospect of massive climate change.

Today’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 32-40) has a lot to say to us in present circumstances.
Jesus understands that people are often selfish and greedy because they are anxious and afraid for the future. So he tells the disciples – and through them, us – that we should put aside such anxiety. God knows what we need, and God will give us all we need when we work for his kingdom – in other words, when we try to be the people God wants us to be, loving God and his wonderful creation, and loving our neighbours as ourselves. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock’, he says, ‘for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’.

God has given us all that we have so that that we may be generous with it, not hoard it. What we give away, to those who need it more than we do, is ‘an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys’. If we want to be good Christians we must focus on that kind of spiritual wealth, rather than accumulating material wealth, ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

And we must be alert at all times for opportunities to respond generously, as and when God prompts us to do so. As Jesus puts it, ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’. We should not put off calls on our generosity, waiting perhaps for a better time or a more pressing need to come along. We are mortal – we do not know when God will knock on the door to call us out of this life. ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’, says Jesus. And it would be shameful, when he does come knocking - as we know he will - to admit that we wasted the opportunities he gave us to act like the good people he created us to be.

Jesus calls his disciples, I believe, to live lives of holy simplicity and generosity.
In the passage immediately preceding the one we heard, Jesus talks of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. ‘Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither store-house nor barn, and yet God feeds them … Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Soloman in his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field … how much more will he clothe you.’

As Christians we need to live like the birds and the lilies. That does not mean that we should not work and plan for the future. Unlike the birds and lilies we must sow and reap, build store-houses and barns, toil and spin, and we must do so communally with others, because that is what it means to be human. That is how we have evolved to make our living, how God has made us to be - just as the birds and the lilies have evolved to make their different livings. But we must also recover a sense of what it is to have enough. We must resist the temptation always to seek more than we need, more than God has already given us. And we must cultivate a generous spirit.

So I commend to you Rae Croft & Marty Sanders’ lovely initiative to send pencil cases to help children in schools in Swaziland. This simple action can make so much difference to children who have so very little, as Bishop Ellinah of Swaziland told us when she visited our diocese in Adare a few months ago. Please have a look at the poster on the noticeboard, take a leaflet, and give as generously as you can. As their Lenten project the children in St Mary’s No2 school have already sent 97. Surely we the grown-ups can do just as well!

To finish, our globalised world is like an over-wound clockwork toy.
The spring that drives it is ready to snap. We face disastrous consequences unless we can release the tension. Our example of holy simplicity can show others how together we can ease the tension, how we can return to a way of living which will enable everyone to continue to flourish in the wonderful world God has given us, alongside the birds and the lilies.

Holy simplicity is liberating, and our world needs liberating now as much as it has ever done. Let us live simply, so that others can simply live!

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