Monday, March 23, 2015

journey to hope: our relationship with our stuff

"lent 5, 2015: money"
mixed media collage (tissue paper, found money, found game piece, wall paper glue, acrylic paint, gel medium on stretched canvas)
march 2015
gregory a. milinovich

i’m a chronic over-packer. if i’m going to be gone for 3 days, i usually feel compelled to bring enough clothes for about a week, just in case. what if i decide to go for a run? Better bring my exercise clothes. and what if we go somewhere nice to eat? i’d better bring something a little nicer to wear. and i just can’t decide if i like this shirt or that shirt better with those pants, so i’ll just bring them both and decide when i get there. can you identify with this? and i haven’t even gotten to the shoes yet. i just pack way too much. i don’t care if i am going for an overnight stay, in my mind i always think that i’m going to have all these choices and all this free time, so i will bring some big book to read, and maybe even a second one just in case i finish the first one. almost always i return home with the bookmark in the same spot as when i left.

i overpack. but don’t most of us do this in life? don’t we accumulate and acquire and hoard things? don’t we buy a new pair, when we already have 10 at home? don’t we start looking at a new car when we aren’t even done paying for the last one? don’t we “need” that new toy? maybe for you it is electronics or clothes or music or games or books or collectibles or vacations or jewelry or cars, but it is something, and we need to ask ourselves this question: do we own our stuff, or does our stuff own us? are we trying to lug it all with us, carrying a mountain of our stuff, loaded down with junk, while pulling a wagon overflowing with more? is that you?

it reminds me of the israelites in the wilderness, after the exodus from egypt and slavery. they had just experienced this incredible deliverance from a life of turmoil and degradation. they escaped by way of a miracle. and now they had freedom, a new start, a brand new beginning, but they had very little with them. and they weren’t even sure where the journey was taking them. and so God assured them that they would be provided for. God would provide manna each morning; a mysterious substance which they called “what is it?” would appear on the ground, and they were only to gather enough for each day. if they tried to gather extra to store it up – just in case – then it would get full of worms and start to stink. so it was an exercise in trusting in God’s provision. the israelites needed to learn that success wasn’t going to be measured by gaining the most grain, or having the fullest belly. it was going to be found in trusting God to provide just what was needed for that day. it is the same thing Jesus was trying to get us to realize when he taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” we really only need what we need, right? we only need what God provides, and the rest is just baggage. that is a terribly hard lesson for us to learn, especially in our culture in our time. we have just been brainwashed from the earliest possible age to view things very differently than that. we are manna collectors. we gather and hoard and store it. then, when we run out of storage, we pay a monthly fee for more storage so we can store even more manna. and all of this is like more and more backpacks and bags and wagons that we are trying to drag along on our journey.

              do you know who understood this?  the woman in mark 12.  she is such an amazing woman, and while we don’t know her name, we know that she “got it” when it came to our relationship with our stuff.   according to verses 41-44, Jesus was watching “how” people gave, not necessarily what they gave.  however, in those days, when a gift was given to one of the temple treasuries, the amount was immediately called out, broadcast to the whole temple, as a way to acknowledge those big gifts.  we still do this kind of thing when we honor bigger givers, or publish their names and call them the platinum circle of givers, or whatever.  so there were many who were making some sizable donations, and this woman must have felt ridiculous with her measly mites - two small coins, like a couple of cents.  it must have felt absolutely meaningless, but for her, it wasn’t meaningless.  she could have used those two cents.  but she gave anyway.  even though her gift was laughable to others.  she gave it away. she let it go, and that’s remarkable.  when human nature would tell us to reach out and grasp and hold onto, and put away, and deposit and save and build interest and acquire and accumulate and hoard and store, this woman realized that all she really needed to do was trust God to provide what is really necessary for each new day.  so she threw her mites into the treasury, and the tiny clink of those coins can still be heard echoing across the centuries.  and I don’t know about you, but the sound of them challenges me.  because i have far more than a couple mites.  i have far more than I need.  and yet i can convince myself that i need far more.  the question is, do i own my things, or do they own me?  am i reaching out and grasping and clinging and hoarding, or am i reaching out to surrender, to let it go, to trust in the One who gives us just what we need – not the bare minimum – but the perfect amount.  

as we continue to journey towards hope, we need to challenge ourselves about our relationship with our possessions.  are they dragging us down?  are we hauling a host of rotting manna, trying to save it in case we need it, or to satisfy some hunger in our soul?  friends, it will never satisfy us.  instead, let us surrender our mites, like the woman at the temple, and let go of what is holding us back, so that we might be open enough to discover the gifts God wants to give us each new day.  

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