Friday, November 24, 2006

The First Church of My Stuff

Luke 12:15-21 (New International Version)

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

16And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

20"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." __________________________________________________________________

In the course of walking through work and life I've taken note of people within our society who seem to be predisposed with the accumulation of "stuff". I'm guessing that it's this segment of the population who keep those cable home shopping channels in business, and who are lined up well before dawn to get into the stores the mornings of big sales, like the ones this morning. In the course of work I encounter the occasional distraught person going through a breakup exclaiming that they "need the cops here now because (he/she) won't let me get my stuff".

I have jokingly said that someone overly concerned with their material wealth was a member of the "First Church of My Stuff". This came from a lesson I heard at Young Life camp as a teenager, when the leader admonished us about the worship of worldly things. If you care more about music than anything else, then music is your church, the same with money, celebrity, sports, and so on.

In all honesty we have to look at each other and confess that we've all been devotees, in varying degrees, of the First Church of My Stuff. A significant segment of our economy is dependent upon us being obedient and penitent, and rush to services on the denomination's high holy day, "Black Friday", the day after Thanksgiving.

In keeping with the biblical advice that I led off with, I believe that the dichotomy of being both a Christian and a consumer is balanced in direct proportion to the importance that $249 laptop or 5-11 AM doorbuster special plays in your overall existence, and how much is enough to satisfy you. I often wonder what the economic impact would be if the majority of people in this country who call themselves Christians started accumulating and distributing wealth in the manner that scripture advises. What would happen to some of the industries that hinge themselves on the next big thing, and making sure we're all lined up to get it?

The video game industry, AKA "The Drug with a Plug", is a good example. My son likes video games, and has put a lot of money into video game systems that promise more and more functionality for higher and higher prices. The concept of planned obsolescence, combined with the continued advances in technology, seems to be a benchmark of this industry.

The shameful display at many stores around the country last week over the
release of the Playstation 3 was a good example of the extremes that many will go to for the artificial realities that are by and large the attraction of many video games. Part of the blame has to be placed on Sony for going ahead with the release despite having proportionally so few units available, feeding the hype machine and speculation in gray markets such as eBay. Because of production problems, Sony delayed the European release until next March. Social responsibility should have dictated some healthier choices here as well.

The recent sermon series at the Vineyard on the seven letters of Revelation concluded this past weekend with a message that was timely not only in the sense of the upcoming season, but for our approach to everyday living. Pastor Chalane Coit deftly drew modern-day parallels to the admonition of St. John in Rev. 3:16-18:

16So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

The key word is "lukewarm" - neither hot or cold - which Chalane likened to complacency, apathy, and mediocrity in everyday life, not just in one's struggle to put the pursuit of kingdom riches (spiritual wealth) over that of material wealth. I strongly recommend the online sermon and accompanying notes.

I hesitate when I write about these things because I don't behave perfectly. At times I don't set a great example. I make bad choices and lose my cool just like everyone else. I feel bad about it and try hard to stay on what I believe is the right path. I also believe that if I keep what I feel to myself, then no one else will have the potential to benefit from it. To quote Jean-Luc Picard, I've recently become aware that there are likely fewer days ahead than there are behind, and not only for me.

So I think that I will commit some extra time this holiday season in service to others. I've already started out pretty well, by taking some extra Thanksgiving dinner items over to the Homeless Shelter last night. When thinking about the balance between self-service and service to God through serving others, I'm reminded of Bob Dylan's lyric as much as anything else.

Maintaining an interest in the so-called secular output of our culture, instead of just one segment, helps me be aware of threats as well as opportunities for education, service, and enrichment.
Maybe that's one key facet that separates the true church in God's world from the First Church of My Stuff. As Captain Picard also said, what we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived.

I'm also thinking about friends and family in distant places, and hoping for healing and happiness now and into the future. I hope that you had a good Thanksgiving. Have a good weekend too.

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