Change for Good: “Give Up Your Stuff”
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
September 4, 2016
Luke 14:25-33 25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
There’s been a hint of fall in the air the last day or so, hasn’t there? The temperatures have moderated a bit. The breezes are cool. Soon, we might detect the incense of southern Christianity as the air wafts with the smell of church barbecue fundraisers. And more, the collegiate gridiron heated up this weekend. And, in that regard, executive pastor Louis Timberlake’s favored team, the Georgia Bulldogs, defeated my beloved Carolina Tarheels last night. Now, I think they were helped by some questionable calls and a decidedly “un-neutral” neutral site! So, I tried to assiduously avoid Louis this morning. But, he caught me between services and was actually a good sport. I may not have been the same. You see, I was tempted to fib at church. Our conversation went something like this: Louis was concerned that the Georgia defensive line couldn’t pressure the Carolina quarterback. Now, I happen to know that our Carolina offensive line is one of the most experienced in the nation. But, just to gig him a little and bring a little worry to the victors, I was tempted to say, “Why, our line are all freshmen, starting their first game.” But honesty won out. I’m still proud of our state’s university, especially Greensboro native, T.J. Logan’s touchdown return on a kickoff and another score.
Autumn also brings with it a “gearing up” of the church year coinciding with school. Folks return to a pattern of worship (except maybe on Labor Day). Your worship leadership, desiring to help people in a pragmatic, life-applicable manner decided to begin today a sermon series entitled, “Change for Good.” The double entendre of that title is intentional. We’re convinced that God’s Holy Presence in the human life results in a change that is good for the individual, those they are in relationship with, and the world. Also, God’s presence results in changes that can be “for good,” that is, permanent. Toward that end, in coming weeks we’ll offer sermons on such topics as: calendar clutter, how and when to say no; the power of building relationships through the “little things” that can hurt or harm and looking at where we need a change in attitude; where worldly attitudes have crept into our hearts and are taking precedence over Christ-like attitudes. Today, we deal with a topic that many of us in North America deal with – letting go of stuff; excess possessions that can sometimes own us more than we own them. Please know that I preach this sermon as the chief among sinners! I need this sermon as much as anyone here.
You could say M&M people, military and Methodist preacher families, have extensive experience in moving! Counting my childhood moves as a Methodist PK and my own, I’ve moved eighteen times. In every one of those moves, Lauralee and I have had an experience some of you may have had. We’ve un-packed and asked ourselves, “Why do we have this, much less moved it?” We experienced the same thing when we helped Lauralee’s mother relocate to an assisted living center. Once, when we served in Europe for four years we packed everything we couldn’t take in a mini-storage and never missed a thing. When we returned and unpacked the unit, we wondered why we had kept the stuff. We’re not alone. I had the sheer joy of welcoming two clergy colleagues, retired from the South Georgia Annual Conference to Greensboro, the reverends Jenny and Bill Jackson-Adams. We went to lunch and Bill drove. He apologized the flotsam and jettison of their move in the vehicle saying, “We’ve gone to Goodwill to make donations more after our move than before!”
This is a phenomena that’s not just endemic to Methodist ministers. In the early 1900’s the square footage of the average American home was between 6 and 800 square feet. In 1973 the average size was 1660 and in 2014, 2,699 square feet. And guess what? We fill those homes with possessions. But even that isn’t enough for us. In Fort Lauderdale in 1958 the first self-storage business opened in the US. Now, there are over 50,000 self-storage businesses. They could cover the land-mass of Manhattan Island three times over; we rent 2.3 billion square feet to store our stuff.
It’s almost as if we are drowning in a tidal wave of excess possessions! And wading into this tidal wave comes Jesus! In our passage, unlike most preachers I know who delight in large crowds, Jesus looks at the large crowds following him and speaks words that seem calculated to drive them off! He calls for absolute allegiance, counting the cost of discipleship and the cross even using a hyperbolic word for regarding family like “hate.” Now, to be fair, the word he used came from a Hebrew idiom meaning to “regard less” and doesn’t mean literal, emotional hatred. But His point is clear, isn’t it? Jesus wants us to put Him first if we claim to be His disciples. Then, maybe most stingingly for us possessed by excess possessions folks he says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” What are we to do with that? How can we make a “change for good” through the inspiration of such a statement regarding our possessions?
First, we need to understand that our “changing for good,” in this sermon and all the others in this series, is spiritual in nature. By strength of our will-power alone, we humans can bring about a modicum of change and yet, the Spirit can change us so much more! Such change, sanctification, “being made more like Jesus by the Holy Spirit,” is far greater, deeper and longer lasting than any change we can do by will alone. Indeed, such transformations lead to marks of discipleship and growth in our lives, grace revealed.
And we do have a role to play. Our role in general is openness and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit through diligent, regular engagement of the spiritual disciplines. Some of the spiritual disciplines are: prayer, searching the Scriptures, private and public worship including frequent communion, fasting, meditation, generosity, small groups (which Wesley called Christian conferencing) and acts of mercy directed toward the poor and marginalized. Experience teaches the more we practice these disciplines, the more we trust God for our security and the less we trust in our possessions.
It works you know! Many of you know of John Wesley’s spiritual awakening at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. He also had an economic, stewardship awakening. It happened when he was a teaching fellow at a university in Oxford. He went out one cold, wet English evening a bought a painting to decorate his provided, beautiful room. When he came home, he encountered a nearly freezing to death chamber maid wearing nothing but a thin, linen like covering. Moved, he reached into his pocket to help her out and was shocked to discover he’d spent all his money on a painting. In his journal he recorded words to the affect that he’d adorned his walls with the blood of that freezing woman. He committed to live from that time on as simply as he could. He calculated that he needed 28 pounds to live on. That year he did so, and gave away the extra two pounds. The next year his income doubled and yet he lived on 28 pounds, giving all the rest away. He continued this practice for his entire life. One scholar estimates that in today’s dollars he made from book sales alone, $160,000.00 and yet lived on the equivalent of $20,000.00, giving everything above that away. When he died, the only money the estate had was a few coins on his dresser. How? I believe that the closer Wesley moved to God spiritually, the less he was dependent on the material. He found his security in the faithfulness of God and by God’s grace, so can we.
Then, it’s important for us to realize that God is the ultimate owner of all that exists; this includes our wealth and our possessions. Now, it’s important to realize that God has designed the world so that every person in it has enough for need, but God didn’t design the world for there to be enough for greed. So, if we have more than we need, excess, and other don’t have enough for their needs, what are we to do? Of course, the answer is to divest ourselves of our excess, particularly that which can be used and is needed by others. Sometimes bumper stickers “get it right” don’t they? One that was popular a few years ago expressed this idea perfectly, it said, “Live simply, so that others can simply live.” I think Jesus would agree with that admonition.
Next, it’s also imperative that the Christian ask the Holy Spirit to help them discern between needs and wants. The world continuously and veritably shouts messages at us to confuse the two. Nearly every year AdAge magazine touts their “necessities versus luxuries” survey of our nation. They celebrate that every year things that were considered luxuries migrate over to the necessities list! St. Paul had the answer and prescribed a Christian virtue we talk little of nowadays but are in great need of: contentment. In Phillipians 4 Paul described how he “learned” to be content in all circumstances – whatever state he was in, whatever he had and however he was. Now, learned suggests a growth process which again, I believe is the result of the Holy Spirit. As Paul drew and drew nearer to God, he found God to be his faithful security more and more. And again, we can be sanctified in such a manner! To seek contentment from the Spirit might be the most important take-away for us all in our worship today.
Finally, with diligent tending to the Spiritual disciplines, learning to be content, understanding that the stewardship of all we have is caring for God’s possessions the final step is to be willing to act on what God informs us regarding our excess stuff.
Now the internet and books have many great suggestions on how to de-clutter your life. Find what fits for you and engage in holy conversation with other Christians about how God is leading you. You might want to have a garage sale for missions; do a fall cleaning instead of spring. We have a Goodwill donation truck in the front parking lot to help you this week. Maybe you’d want to call Barnabus Network or Habitat and they’ll pick up furniture that others need. The point is to take action; hear Jesus’ words to relinquish your possessions, especially the excess stuff. For the remainder, sign a spiritual “quit claim” deed to God and use what’s left to God’s glory. Let go; simplify and you might find that you have a great portion of your life back and have let God make a “change for good” in you.
Discussion Guide for September 4: Give Up Your Stuff
- Share your initial thoughts on the tensions that this passage creates.
- Show how accumulation of stuff can actually be unhealthy for us.
- Share your thoughts on the connection between implication and sanctification (being made holy or more like Christ).
- Share specific steps that you would like to take to simplify in your life.