I was sitting in a room of other youth leaders at a conference this weekend. We were dreaming about the kinds of youth ministries we could start with an unlimited amount of resources and funding. As you can imagine the ideas were huge:
“We could build a gym!” one person would say. Another would suggest, “We need space to just be real with each other.” Others were dreaming even bigger, “We need a complex with all of these things in it, and more!.”
I love dreaming. Its what reminds us of both our own limits, but more importantly, the possibilities that exist (with an unlimited amount of resources). What shocked me in this conversation though, was not the reckless dreaming that was going on, but that all of our dreaming was about material possessions, or what I call “stuff”
There is nothing inherently wrong with stuff. People have been using stuff to connect with God for centuries. We see both great and horrible examples of this in Bible. Consider what stuff you use to connect with God. A cellphone is a great example. Cellphones possess incredible power, both for good and evil. A simple text message has the power to make a person’s day or completely devastate them. Similarly, a cellphone possesses the power to bring a person closer to God or push them farther from Him.
“Stuff” is a dangerous thing. Mark’s gospel tells this great recollection of a rich man’s encounter with Jesus.
The man approaches Jesus and asks, “How can I enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Jesus replies: “What do the commandments say? Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not slander, do not defraud, and honour your father and mother.”
To which the man proudly states, “I have done all that since I was a little kid.”
And in compassion Jesus responds, “OK great! But, there is one more thing you need to do. Sell all of your possessions and give that money to the poor, for the real riches are in heaven. After that, come follow me.
The man’s heart sunk and he walked away devastated because he had many things.
How would you respond if God asked you to give up everything and follow him? To lead worship without your instrument? Or to do a service without your BCP, BAS, or other book? What if God asked you to do church without a building? Could you do it? Do those things enhance or inhibit our connection with God?
Stuff possesses the power to bring us closer to God and drive us farther away from Him. I wish I knew the reason why Jesus asked this man to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. It could be that the things the man owned had become idols in his life. In Matthew 6:24 we read “No one can serve two masters, If you try, you will end up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and wealth. But, you can’t. You must choose one or the other.” I believe the heart of Mark’s story is this: “If your possessions aren’t bringing you closer to God, give them to someone who will use them to do so.”
Let dig a little deeper. In Luke, Jesus shares a parable about a land owner who’s property produced a huge harvest.
He had one of the best problems to have, “What am I going to do with all this crop? I have nowhere to store it!”
Then in a shear stroke of genius he realizes, “If I tear down all my small barns and build bigger ones I’ll be able to store it all safely and still have room left over. Then I can sit back, relax and know that I am set for life.”
During this light bulb moment, God interrupts the man, “Good for you! You’re so smart! But, there’s just one problem, tonight is your time to die. Now who will enjoy everything you’ve earned and saved?”
Jesus finishes this parable by saying: “This is how it will be for those who accumulate huge assets for themselves, but have no assets in relation to God.”
So what did the rich man and the land owner do wrong? Is it unbiblical to have stuff? Is it unbiblical to have a great harvest and save it up for years when the harvest isn’t as plentiful? Do you have to be poor to follow Jesus?
The answer is a grey one. Which, like most of Jesus’ parables, just confuse the heck out of us. But, what we can learn from Jesus’ teachings on treasure is that life is not all about stuff. Life is about relationship. Relationship with God and with one another. Stuff can get in the way of relationship so easily. But, it also has the power to enhance and build relationship. Just think about how uniting a cup of coffee is. Or how even a building, like St. Albans, can be a gathering place to enhance and promote community with God and one another. Our humanity is found in community with each other and with God. The stuff we accumulate and invite into our communities should be used in the spirit of growing in relationship with God and one another. If it’s not doing that, what is it doing?
So where’s your treasure at? Where’s our treasure at as a community?