The Story of Stuff
First Presbyterian Church
May 18, 2014
Don’t pile up possessions here on earth, where moths and insects eat away and where burglars break in and steal. Instead, gather your nest egg in heaven, where neither moths nor insects eat away and where no burglars break in or steal. As you know, what you treasure is your heart’s true measure.
The eye is body’s lamp. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be flooded with light. If your eye is clouded, your whole body will be shrouded in darkness. If, then, the light within you is darkness, how dark can that be!
No one can be a slave to two masters. That slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and disdain the other. You can’t be enslaved to both God and Mammon.
That’s why I’m telling you, don’t fret about your life—what you’re going to eat and drink, or about your body—what you’re going to wear. There’s more to living than food and clothing, isn’t there? Take a look at the birds of the sky: they don’t plant or harvest or gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You’re worth more than they, aren’t you? Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it? Why worry about clothes? Notice how the wild lilies grow: they don’t toil and they never spin. But let me tell you, even Solomon at the height of his glory was never decked out like one of them. If God dresses up the grass in the field, which is here today and is thrown into an oven tomorrow, won’t God care for you even more, you with your meager trust? So don’t fret. Don’t say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink/’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ these are all things pagans seek. After all, your heavenly Father is aware that you need them all. Seek God’s empire and his justice first, and all these things will come to you as a bonus. So don’t fret about tomorrow. Let tomorrow fret about itself. The troubles that the day brings are enough.
When Professor Kip Elolia who is from Kenya and a professor at Emmanuel Christian Seminary spoke to our youth a few weeks ago, he taught us some Swahili. He said we already know some Swahili.
We know the word, safari, which is the word for a long journey. It is also the word for my browser on my computer. Apple wants me to think that whenever I go on the internet I am going on a safari.
We probably know jambo, which is the most popular greeting. Hello, how are you?
And of course thanks to the Disney film, The Lion King, which is now 20 years old, Hakuna Matata is a common phrase. The song, Hakuna Matata, written for the film by Tim Rice and Elton John is one of the top 100 movie songs of all time. It is a simple song:
Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
That is pretty much the song and the philosophy.
Hakuna Matata. No worries. No problem.
The Jesus Seminar voted this section as authentic to Jesus. They wrote that outside of his longer narrative parables, this could be “the longest connected discourse that can be directly attributed to Jesus.” (Five Gospels, p. 152).
That’s why I’m telling you, don’t fret about your life—what you’re going to eat and drink, or about your body—what you’re going to wear. There’s more to living than food and clothing, isn’t there? Take a look at the birds of the sky: they don’t plant or harvest or gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You’re worth more than they, aren’t you? Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it? Why worry about clothes? Notice how the wild lilies grow: they don’t toil and they never spin. But let me tell you, even Solomon at the height of his glory was never decked out like one of them. If God dresses up the grass in the field, which is here today and is thrown into an oven tomorrow, won’t God care for you even more, you with your meager trust? So don’t fret.
Historical Jesus scholars are excited about a new find. Fox News has reported that enclosed in a clay jar discovered in Africa is something that appears to be Jesus’s birth certificate. Jesus was born in Kenya.
Hakuna matata. A red letter phrase from Jesus.
Oh, but Jesus, we do have worries.
I wake up at night worrying about all kinds of things. I worry about the house and the bills and my parents. I could give you a list. While I know my worrying won’t add an hour to my life, in fact, if anything, it will probably shorten my life, I worry anyway. It’s what I do.
I imagine that there could be people out there who don’t worry. I envy them. Perhaps they found a spiritual practice or a problem-free philosophy, or maybe hakuna matata is in their genes. There are certainly plenty of books on how to worry less. The first page of a Google search found the following titles:
The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You
Why Worry: Stop Coping and Start Living
Five Steps to Stop Worrying and Anxiety
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
God’s Answer on Worry
I am not saying these books are not helpful. I am just saying that if it takes a lot of books, the challenge could be larger than a book. I remember hearing sermons about how it was a sin to worry. That helps. Just add a layer of guilt on top of the worry. Now I can worry about being a sinner because I worry.
Thankfully medical science does identify anxiety as a condition that can be treated with a combination of therapeutic methods and medications. That help is available and if worry and anxiety immobilize you, I strongly recommend seeking assistance. There is no reason to suffer needlessly.
The worry I am thinking about is more of a pervasive on-going existential condition. If you are alive, you will worry. I wonder why Jesus picked up on this theme. My suspicion is that he was preaching to himself. That is a trade secret. We preachers are working out our stuff. Mostly unconsciously, I suppose, but we preach to our own issues either directly or indirectly.
When I hear the historical Jesus admonishing people not to worry, my hunch is that he knows worry from experience. Hey, he was a penniless homeless beggar who had a lot of people who didn’t like him. His audience was an oppressed people under occupation. He had a right to worry.
When Jesus says, “Hakuna matata—don’t worry” I think he is talking to himself as much as anyone. I don’t know. I am just guessing but I am trying to find the human being here so I can relate to him. Jesus was a thinker. Thinkers worry. He thought about important things. He thought about empire and war and famine and poverty and injustice because he saw and lived it. He likely knew that his way of talking and his underground movement would lead to an uncomfortable end. It did. I think he worried about his friends and what trouble they might get into because of him.
When he says, “Look at the birds” or “Consider the wild lilies” he is engaging in the first form of therapy. It is worry-management 101. Are you worrying? Look outside yourself. Get out of your head.
Buddha was a worrywart. His story is one of a privileged palace prince who finally takes a few trips into the countryside and sees the world as it is. Poverty. Disease. Death. So he goes on a quest. Finally, he sits under a tree and through meditation becomes enlightened. He discovers that craving is the cause of suffering. It is in the head. You need to get out of your head. How? You go inward.
Jesus in a sense goes outward. See the birds. Both Jesus and Buddha are doing a similar thing. Both understand the problem is in the head. Too much thinking. You can’t think your way out of it. You have to do something altogether different. Live life and meditate. Meditate and live life.
If you can, find someone with whom you can share your worries. When I finally open up and get out of my head, I talk to my lovely bride. Simply naming the worries is therapeutic. The naming reduces their power. “It is OK. We can handle it when we get to it,” she says to me while she strokes my shoulder. Hakuna matata. My wife was born in Kenya.
The title of this sermon is “The Story of Stuff” because of Jesus’s teaching about possessions. In this section Jesus is connecting possessions with worry. One could make the case that as a species all of our conflicts and wars, all of our striving, all of our crime, and when I say crime, I mean crime of the Wall Street variety as much as any, is related to worry over possessions.
We worry over security. The road to security, we think, is in having enough stuff. At the international level it is having enough weapons to protect the stuff. One would think we would be the happiest people ever. We, that is the United States, have weapons beyond imagination and calculation. Military bases, cities really, all over the planet. These military cities keep the stuff flowing. We extract stuff from all over the world. That stuff, fossil fuel energy, was made hundreds of millions of years ago. We have extracted half of the planet’s supply in less than two centuries. We use it to burn in our machines, to make us happy. Meanwhile, the people who live in those places from whence the stuff comes, have little to nothing.
Here we are on a Sunday morning, privileged partakers of petroleum at the peak of industrial civilization, seeking happiness and a cure for the gnawing anxiety from the words of a homeless wanderer who didn’t own a shekel. Hakuna matata, says Jesus. Take a look at the birds. Are you happier than they are?
“Gather your nest egg in heaven, where neither moths nor insects eat away and where no burglars break in or steal. As you know, what you treasure is your heart’s true measure.”
What do you suppose Jesus, that peasant with an attitude, meant by that? I don’t think he was talking about heaven in the common way it is understood, as the place you go when you die, if you are lucky and one of the chosen. I think Jesus is speaking metaphorically. The kingdom of God that Matthew translates as kingdom of Heaven out of respect, is not a place for Jesus. Heaven is a word for what we might call an authentic life. It isn’t an individual thing. It is a vision of peace with justice and beauty for all creation. It is balance. It is joy. It is love. It is adventure.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot say that my treasure is always in heaven. I am a worrier. But now and then, despite myself, I get a glimpse, take a risk, do something meaningful, seek the kingdom, notice the birds. I feel good if I can recognize grace part of the time.
A sermon that meanders and discusses worry and stuff and meaning and grace requires poetry to hold it together. I will close with this poem from Barbara Crooker. I found it in Garrison Keillor’s collection, Good Poems for Hard Times. This is called, “In the Middle.”
In the Middle
of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don’t ring. One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail is a metronome, ¾ time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.
Hakuna Matata, Beloveds.