When I go to Springfield, I usually go to the White Oaks Mall area for appointments. I have a routine. I exit at Veterans Pkwy. I turn left at the first light to go to Starbucks. This exit was designed with me in mind. I conveniently get my coffee before I make my way down the road to the shops or my appointments.
On my way back to Veterans from Starbucks, there is usually someone standing on the street corner with a sign. It is always someone different, but there is someone there when the weather is decent asking for money or food. We would often picture someone with a cardboard sign in downtown area, not a busy intersection in a shopping plaza. I’ve been all around the White Oaks mall area. I’ve never seen anyone standing on the street with a sign on any other corner. I’ve been downtown and I’ve never seen someone downtown.
I wondered what it was about this spot so I asked the Disciples church across the parkway why people stood there. Veterans and Wabash is the busiest intersection in Springfield, busier than downtown. This corner by Starbucks gets congested and it’s perfect for people to stop and take notice of the person with need.
I asked the church what they do to meet the needs of the people with cardboard signs standing across the street from their church. The church gives out gift cards to restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations if the people come to the church. But, they don’t have a way to help with clothing, rent or utilities. They are doing something to help, but it’s not enough.
There was a time in history when churches were big enough and the need was small enough that churches could meet the needs of our neighbors and help them when times were tough. Now, our churches don’t have the resources to meet our neighbors’ needs. For better or worse, we have government assistance programs, but they don’t work well. There are people like those standing on street corners begging who don’t get the assistance they need and others who take advantage of the system.
Thursday evening during the Democratic Presidential debate, Bernie Sanders said that a nation should be judged not by how many millionaires it has but by how it treats the most vulnerable. Now, I doubt there is an overwhelming majority here this morning that are Bernie Sanders fans and like his socialist program proposals to redistribute the wealth of the most wealthy. However, I think there is something to consider in his statement. If we as a nation are judged by how we take care of the most vulnerable, we would not fair well based on how many children go hungry, how difficult it is to find affordable housing, how many veterans are homeless, how many veterans don’t get the healthcare they need, how many veterans can’t find jobs, how many single mothers work multiple jobs just to get by, how many of our young adults are under- or unemployed, how many of our neighbors live in poverty.
There are some who could make a compelling argument for the redistribution of wealth based on our text this morning. Maybe even look to the book of Acts for further evidence where the church shares everything it has so that no one has need. There is no doubt that there is a great need among our neighbors and that the church should do something to meet those needs. However, the need is greater than the church’s influence and resources.
So, what can the church do?
We have the food pantry to meet the needs of our neighbors who don’t have enough money to supply all their grocery needs. We have the Angel Tree program to help with families who don’t have the money to provide their children with Christmas presents. We have kids movie night and the Easter egg hunt to provide times of joy for our kids and gives them the opportunity to receive the love and spiritual nourishment of the church.
We are a generous church. We have the joy of giving to our church and our neighbors. We have the joy of coming to a church where we receive love and support from our brothers and sisters. We have the joy of time spent with friends and families. When joy wells up in our hearts, we are happy and life is good. Time flies with memories made of good moments shared with those we love.
But, there are things in life that steal our joy. Job loss. Health concerns. Marital strife. Toxic relationships. Worry for our kids. Worry about the economy. Worry about terrorism. Worry that our next president could be a yahoo. Worry about paying our bills and getting out of debt. Finding the time to do everything we think we should do. Getting no time to do the things we really want to do. There is so much to steal our joy.
I want us to consider those things that steal our joy, because joy is the beginning of eternal life. I’ve said there is an already but not yet to our Christian faith. Joy is the beginning of eternal life because it is rooted in the already of our faith. Christ has already died and been raised so that we are assured of the gift of eternal life freeing us of the worry of eternity. Our joy starts with the promise of eternal life, because eternal life in the presence of God begins with the joy of living in God’s presence now. We need to do what we can to control those things that steal our joy. The things that steal our joy are the things that really encroach on our beginning of eternal life, claiming the promises of Christ and enjoying the presence of God.
In our Lenten sermon series of questions for Jesus, our question for Jesus today is “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells the rich man that he must sell all his possessions and give them to the poor. I think Jesus’ answer for inheriting eternal life is letting go of the things that weigh us down and steal our joy. Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, because the rich person can’t bring all their stuff. Jesus tells His Disciples that someone who has given up everything will inherit more in this life and the next than they gave up.
Those things we need to give up are the things that steal our joy. This is a difficult text, because I don’t know that any of us are considered materially as wealthy as this rich man seems. And, many of us count ourselves rich by the immaterial blessings of life. So, bear with me as I try to move us to an understanding of how we are wealthy of things that steal our joy. As I just mentioned, there is an innumerable list of things that steal our joy. They don’t seem valuable, but we give them value when we give them our attention and the power to steal our joy.
So, how do we “sell” all those things? Though, we don’t obviously want to give them away. We just want to get rid of them. I think we begin to get rid of those things that steal our joy when we begin to get rid of our material things and give them to the poor.
If you are friends with me on Facebook, I posted a couple possible spiritual practices for Lent that involve getting rid of stuff. The first is the 40 days – 40 items practice. This asks you to get a large trash bag and over 40 days place 40 items in the bag that you are willing to sell or donate. The other is 40 bags in 40 days. This is far more challenging. This asks you to break up your place into 40 small spaces, clean out one space each day and try to fill up 40 bags in 40 days of things you’re willing to sell, donate or trash.
Yes, in these spiritual practices, you are getting rid of stuff and giving it away which can be compared to the rich man selling all his stuff. But, the spiritual practice is more than giving away stuff. It is the liberation or redemption from your stuff. There is a book I recently read a synopsis. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo suggests that when we declutter our physical space we bring more joy in our lives. When our physical space is less filled with stuff we’re just hiding in closets or moving around, we have more spiritual space to fill with joy.
So, purge! Get rid of stuff. Make a big pile of stuff for the Spring rummage sale. I don’t know that we’re having one at the church, but have one at home. Or take all your stuff to the Habitat for Humanity Resell store or the Findlay Christian Church home that raises money for mission. All your extra stuff is stealing your joy.
A book I’m reading now is a guide to getting rid of all the other stuff that steals our joy. I’m not far enough along to share her wisdom, but I like the premise. In The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving…a bad word…Sarah Knight suggests that we give a lot of value to stuff that doesn’t need or deserve our attention. We can give up our attachments to people, places and situations that aren’t worth the value we give them. Letting go of these things makes room for more joy in our lives and gives us the time to do the things we really want to do, to give our attention to the things we really want to focus on.
When we give up our attachments to people, stuff, places and situations that steal our joy, we can begin to live our life eternally in the presence of God, because God can fill our thoughts, spaces and lives with blessings. And, that stuff we give up might just be something that will bless someone else. Liberated from our stuff and other things that steal our joy, we are free to live a life of joy…which is the beginning of eternal life.