Week of Proper 6: Friday, Year 1   6 comments

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles (A 16th-Century Painting)

Our Lives Belong to God

JUNE 21, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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2 Corinthians 11:18, 21b-30 (An American Translation):

Since many are so human as to boast, I will do it also….But whatever anyone else dares to boast of–I am playing the part of a fool–I will dare to boast of too.  If they are Hebrews, so am I!  If they are Israelites, so am I!  If they are descended from Abraham, so am I!  If they are Christian workers–I am talking like a madman!–I am a better one! with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, vastly worse beatings, and in frequent danger of death.  Five times I have been given one less than forty lashes, by the Jews.  I have been beaten three times by the Romans, I have been stoned once, I have been shipwrecked three times, a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; with my frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the heathen, danger in the city, danger in the desert, danger at sea, danger from false brothers, through toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, through hunger and thirst, often without out food, and exposed to cold.  And besides everything else, the thing that burdens me every day is my anxiety about all the churches.  Who is weak without being weak?  Whose conscience is hurt without my being fired with indignation?  If there must be boasting, I will boast of the things that show my weakness!

Psalm 34:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exalt his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

Matthew 6:19-23 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “Do not store up your riches on earth, where moths and rust destroy them, and where thieves break in and steal them, but store up your riches in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and where thieves cannot break in and steal them.  But wherever your treasure is, your heart will be also.  The eye is the lamp of the body.  So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be light, but if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be dark.  If, therefore, your very light is darkness, how deep the darkness will be!”

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Almost never do I watch television, as I have chosen to live without cable TV service.  If I do not pay for that utility, I do not receive it.  And I live better without it, doing more reading and writing than I would otherwise.  Also, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio offers much wonderful cultural and news programming.  Giving up cable television has not been a real sacrifice for me; I have traded up.

Yet I do sit a house sit from time to time, and I find cable TV there.  Once, during such a job, I found a Hoarders marathon on A&E.  Each hour follows an intervention in the life of a person with the mental illness called hoarding.  These individuals live in needlessly dirty and cluttered homes, which have health risks (such as mold) frequently.  Yet these hoarders cling emotionally and psychologically to their possessions, most of which they have no way of accessing due to the clutter.  They become anxious when someone throws away a three-year-old jar of a condiment, for example.

Hoarding, being a mental illness, is treatable.  So I leave it, an extreme version of materialism, in the realm of professionals.  Run-of-the mill materialism, however, falls into the category of sin.  I read a few years ago about the increasing popularity of three-car garages in the United States.  The extra space is for storage, not a third vehicle.  I write these words early in the Christmas shopping season of 2010.  Very little is more materialistic than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day in the United States.

I am not cranky about this, for crankiness does not become me.  No, it is possible to stand firmly for one’s principles without resorting to a bad attitude and becoming unpleasant company.  Without trying to seem self-righteous, I state simply that I do all or most of my Christmas shopping (what little I do) at thrift stores, and hope that people perceive that statement with the matter-of-fact way I intend it.

As I write these words, I am in my sixth year in Athens, Georgia, and the fourth year in the same apartment.  This is the longest period of time I have spent in one town.  I was mobile as a youth, given the frequent moves I made with my family, due to my father’s transfers from one United Methodist parsonage to another.  I learned along the way that moving many possessions is no fun.  So, to this day, I ask myself one question before buying something durable:  “Do I want to move with this?”  I maintain a large private library, which I use, and resign myself to the occasional pain of packing, moving, unpacking, and reshelving it according to the organizational plan only I understand.  But, like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books.

But, as Jesus says in Luke 12:15 (New Revised Standard Version):

Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Edgar J. Goodspeed’s An American Translation gets to the point with slightly different wording:

Take care! You must be on your guard against every form of greed, for a man’s life does not belong to him, no matter how rich he is.

Goodspeed’s translation, by eschewing the traditional language, cuts to the chase and bares the point of the teaching.  Materialism is an attempt to control one’s life, but all life is from God in the presence of God, so nobody’s life is his or her own.  Any idea to the contrary is mistaken.  Paul of Tarsus understood that his life was in God, and, after listing his hardships, he boasted only in God.  In God he found peace, frequently in a prison cell and occasionally in a wrecked hull.  Despite it all, he was able, in the words of the psalm, to look upon God and be radiant.

How many material possessions does one really need?  There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  I enjoy and use my library, which feeds the life of my mind.  Anyone who tells me that I do not need books does not understand me properly.  But I know that my life is not my own, and that it does not consist of my library holdings.  The problem with the rich man who came to Jesus in Mark 10:17-22 was that he clung to his wealth, not that he had it.  His money and possessions constituted his security blanket, if you will permit me to use a Peanuts allusion.  We are supposed to have only one security blanket:  God.

All else decays in time.  And what does not decay before our demise we cannot take with us anyway.  May we cling to God alone, placing all else in this context, the only proper one.  St. Laurence of Rome (died in 258) understood that the poor were the treasures of the Church.  And St. Giuseppe Moscati used his wealth to enable himself to serve the poor.  The service of others and the glory of God are the proper uses of all forms of wealth.

KRT

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