Monday, September 14, 2009

Sermon prayers and thoughts: "We all need a place to keep our stuff"

I had a few requests Sunday to post my sermons on my blog or the church website. How to address this request challenges me because I don't create sermon manuscripts. However, I do write as a means to clarify my thoughts for a particular sermon, and those thoughts are filtered and become a sermon that you hear on Sunday. Some ideas do not make the sermon from my writing, other ideas are added after I'm completed my writing. Below you will find my writing done in preparation for the first sermon in the "Sound Transitions" sermon series: "We all need a place to keep our stuff." I hope you find this helpful--let me know how this works as a substitute for a manuscript.


Accumulation of stuff makes for a tired preaching theme, especially during a cycle of preaching on Luke that begins soon for all of the Revised Common Lectionary preachers out there. I have heard and preached several sermons either on the dangers of stuff or the unfaithful use of stuff--with the goal of existence is to store treasures in heaven, not on earth.

Blah, blah, blah...with a little bit of George Carlin's comedy bit on stuff in the back of my mind (beware of the vulgarity if you search for the piece).

I have multiple influences on how I look at stuff. My mother is known for her organization of stuff. My mother-in-law seems to be the opposite of a pack rat, she is well known for her ability to "pitch it" in the midst of cluttered situations. A good friend of mine used to share all kinds of quirky wisdom when we both lived in Wisconsin. He hated the idea of furniture, and preferred to sleep on a cold hard floor with a single blanket (the guy is a closet monk, I believe). He used to say that he didn't believe in the proverb "you can't take it with you." His interesting twist was "you HAVE to take it with you." This wisdom may be behind why he didn't want to own any furniture. If I have the choice of weekday morning television (I'm the lowest on the totem pole--my dear wife likes the Today Show, the girls like PBS Kids), I go for the TLC show Clean Sweep. One of the show's catch phrases is "zero to organized in 48 hours." Some may see the show's primary goal is organization, but I think it's more about a wiser approach to stuff.

During my naively altruistic late 20's I remember days of being anti-stuff, especially when I read Luke's Gospel. Talk about hypocrisy--here I was reading, thinking and praying anti-stuff, yet I was accumulating stuff at a scary rate, maybe not at the level of a shopping addict, pack rat, or a clinically-ill hoarder, but I was buying a lot of stuff. Plus I had all the preserved stuff of my youth. Again, not quite a pack rat with my kid stuff, but enough that I needed special sections in my living space and my parents' garage for my stuff. Supposedly, I have a few small piles of stuff still in their garage.

Peter Walsh on Clean Sweep (and Oprah) forces the people on the show to specifically define the importance of many pieces of stuff. Even the most scraggly piece of memorabilia can be saved from the trash, give, or sell piles on the show if they can define purpose and meaning in detail for a piece of stuff. I remember one man was attached to an old Cub Scout uniform that a wife wanted to get rid of. The man was able to tell Peter about it's purpose and meaning, and they found a way to honor that piece of memorabilia rather than pack it away in the bowels of a storage space.

Finding a place for your important stuff and giving it honor, so that you can look at it and be able to remind yourself and tell others about why it is important to you--and share stories around that piece.

With this idea of stuff in mind--I move on to my text for the week, from Deuteronomy 10, where God tells Moses to build an ark that will contain the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Ark of the Covenant becomes a symbol of God going with Israel in the midst of their transition to the Promised Land, and what is important to carry with them in their travels. The Ark becomes a symbol of cohesiveness and guidance in the midst of the transition, but it also has a utilitarian function--we all need a place to keep our stuff. Even God. In his introduction to the OT prophet Haggai, Eugene Peterson gives a reminder that we are human beings who occupy time and space. Stuff is part of reality, and we need to learn how to be good stewards of the stuff. We take our stuff with us, so what we take and how we take it become important to us.

What will we honor? How will we carry it with us? How will what we carry inform us--guide us, influence us, burden us, free us? I have a few more days to ponder these questions as I prepare for the Sunday sermon...

Post Script: I think I'll be watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for a little perspective and maybe a movie clip? I texted my mother to see where the movie was at her house, and like the organized person that she is informed me of its location: "Up stairs bottom shelf west wall (sic)." Yep, that's my Mom.

Post-Script #2: OT scholars Walter Brueggemann and Gerhard Von Rad write about how the Ark reveals something about the fluidity of interpretation for Israel. The Ark ends up serving different purposes throughout its existence: As a symbol for liturgy (which Von Rad points out is somehow immune to the commandment on graven images), as a symbol for war, as a container for the Commandments; it also serves as a throne for Yahweh. Maybe this fluidity indicates that it's okay that the meaning of stuff and our relationship with stuff is not static.

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