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Liberation from Spiritual Clutter - Luke 12:13-21

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

There’s nothing like reality TV shows to help us understand Jesus’ parables. The first one that comes to mind is “Storage Wars” - have you ever seen it? It’s a reality show about storage units that are auctioned off to buyers. You see, in the state of California, after three months of no payments, the storage facility is allowed to auction off everything in the unpaid unit. On the show, buyers are allowed to scan the unit from outside the door but not enter in. Then there’s an auction and the buyers compete to see who will make the most off of the stuff in their storage units. And at the end of every episode there is a tally to see who made out the best.

A recent analysis showed that there are over 49,000 storage facilities in the country.[1] Assuming there’s about 100 units in each that’s about 5 million storage units! There’s over 2 billion square feet of storage space in the US, and the industry brings in about $40 billion a year. That’s an awful lot of stuff that we have in storage, not even counting all the stuff in our homes. We certainly have a problem of excessive accumulation in this country. No wonder Storage Wars is so popular.

There’s another reality show called Hoarders, a show about compulsive hoarding. It reveals the extreme of what can happen when we’re not able to let go of stuff. Compulsive hoarding is a mental illness, usually the result of trauma, depression, anxiety, or a combination of them all. People find security in their possessions and in extreme cases can’t ever bring themselves to throw away anything. Excessive accumulation plus a fear of letting go leads to hoarding. The show reveals the worst cases in America, and experts try to get people help and clean up their mess.

The examples of reality shows about storage units and hoarding reveal a part of the human condition we all struggle with: the inability to let go of “stuff” and the excessive accumulation of possessions that we use to fend off our insecurities.

Now don’t feel bad if you have things in storage or have trouble throwing things away. We all struggle with letting go of things to some extent. But the presence of reality shows like Storage Wars and Hoarders I think helps highlight something about human nature. Something about our attachment to stuff. Our being possessed by possessions.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus talks about a rich fool who hoards his grain, not because he’s suffering from depression or anxiety, but apparently because he’s suffering from greed and selfishness. This was a real problem in ancient times and it’s perhaps an even greater problem today. We live in a society where many of us have way too much food and toys and possessions, and millions across the world are literally starving to death because they don’t have access to food, medicine, or other things necessary for survival. Worldwide the wealthiest 10% have 85% of the world’s wealth and the bottom 50% share 1% of global wealth.[2] Wealth inequality is a great sin of our society, and we can feel helpless as individuals about doing anything to fix it. It’ll take creativity and massive effort if we truly want change. And I believe real change must occur from the ground up, from the spiritual transformation of individuals—only then can we change the structures that doom half the world to a life of destitute poverty.

We are invited into both personal change and communal change by Jesus’ parable. I talk a lot about “action and contemplation”[3] the inner work and outer work of Christian discipleship. This parable calls us to the inner work of letting go of our addiction to possessions, and to the outer work of ending the suffering of so many caused by selfishness and greed.

The inner work is to become free from possessions possessing us. It’s the spiritual discipline of letting go of material things so that we can live an uncluttered life: both materially and spiritually. To establish a home that is a fresh space with light energy instead of being surrounded on all sides by all sorts of stuff. It can be so freeing to clean house and get rid of things we don’t need. All that clutter feels like it is the manifestation of spiritual clutter, and clearing it all away is freeing and refreshing. And at the same time, clearing away our spiritual clutter gives us newfound freedom and liberation from all the stuff that suppresses our spirit. Being so liberated, we are freed to do the outer work of ensuring everyone has enough. Sharing out of our abundance and establishing a society that truly cares for those in need and puts people first, rather than possessions.

In this parable we are invited to recognize that life is short and we may die tomorrow, so we must pay attention to what’s most important. It’s not accumulating as much wealth as possible. But sharing out of our abundance, living generous lives, and not being possessed by our possessions.

The parable isn’t saying that planning for the future isn’t a wise thing to do. And the parable isn’t saying that wealth is bad in and of itself. What the parable is saying is that not being generous is evidence that you’re missing the whole point of life. If we think accumulating wealth so we can eat, drink, and be merry is the point of life we’re missing the point of what this is all about. Of course there’s nothing wrong with eating to satisfy your hunger. But if you eat your fill while your neighbor is starving, you’ve misunderstood what life’s supposed to be about. Caring for each other, spreading love around the world, being the light of God to all people.

The parable is saying that ignoring the needs of others costs us who we are. The mindset that leads to excessive possessions and hoarding is the same mindset that led the man in this parable to the sin of storing up for himself treasures on earth. He let his possessions possess him, and his wealth distract him from the suffering of others he could have alleviated.

Having all you need has a way of disconnecting us from our reliance on God. Oftentimes having a lot of possessions leads us to finding security in material things rather than God. Because those possessions are immediately in front of us, we don’t have to reach far for them when we need something to soothe the troubles of life. It’s a lot easier to shop and buy something new to make us happy than it is to spend time in prayer. It’s a lot easier to mindlessly consume entertainment to distract us from ourselves than it is to dwell with God in silence. It’s a lot easier to grab another drink to relax our constant uneasiness than it is to explore what gives us that uneasiness in the first place. And it’s a lot easier to always look forward to finally having enough money to buy that new car, or that vacation home, or whatever that possession is that you’ve always wanted, because that will finally make us happy. It’s a lot easier to project happiness onto the future than it is to embrace the present with all its messiness and be content now.

In his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton wrote:

It is precisely because we are convinced that our life is better if we have a better car, a better TV set, better toothpaste, etc., that we condemn and destroy our own reality [as it is]…Technology was made for man, not man for technology. In losing touch with being and thus with God, we have fallen into a senseless idolatry of production and consumption for their own sakes…We no longer know how to live, and because we cannot accept life in its reality life ceases to be a joy and becomes an affliction. And we even go so far as to blame God for it! The evil in the world is all of our own making, and it proceeds entirely from our ruthless, senseless, wasteful, destructive, and suicidal neglect of our own being.[4]

Merton wrote that in the 1960s, our attachment to technology and consumerism have only grown since then. He offered a critical look at our consumerist culture, and offered a remedy for such imprisonment to possessions. A life devoted to God. Which means a life of honest self-reflection, dedicated contemplative prayer, and fervent discipleship. It takes work and intentionality to become free of the hold that wealth and possessions have on us.

But we know that Jesus offers a path to freedom for us. Through Christ we encounter the path to freedom from being possessed by possessions. The way of selfless love that is the cure for selfishness and greed. The way of generosity and compassion that inspire us to give more than we receive. The spiritual discipline of letting go of possessions so that we can live an uncluttered life: both materially and spiritually.

And so, let us respond with the inner work of liberation from spiritual clutter and the outer work of liberating those in poverty. So that we are creatures who are not possessed by possessions, but live lives that reflect the compassion and generosity of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Brian, 7/31/22

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