Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-11; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
“Vanity of Vanities,” the Teacher said. Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity.” Dictionary.com defines vanity as “excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, or achievements.” It seems that vanity or the focus on possessions, achievements, and even ourself has become the sole purpose of everything we do in our culture today.
Do not get me wrong, I am not opposed to having nice things. I am a guy who drives a Mustang GT and flies airplanes, but when only those things define and motivate the person, and becomes the whole point of life, then we become idolaters and have replaced God with stuff. When stuff becomes the point, our common humanity as sisters and brothers in Christ become merely outward appearances of the life we are called to lead following Jesus and thus, we lose site of our purpose as Christians.
Television gives us a glimpse into the sin of vanity. “Keeping Up Appearances” is a British sitcom that was popular in the 1990’s. The main character is Hyacinth Bucket, which pronounces, “Bouquet.” She grew up in a poor working class family in the London suburbs, but now lives as a wanna be London socialite, a pretentious stickler for details and fine living.
She maintains a flawless personal appearance and a high-handed décor in her very modest, middle class flat. She is obsessed with hosting the perfect party or picnic, at which she offers only premium tea, elegant petit fors, and the “finest Norweigan prawns.” Hyacinth is not well liked because her behavior causes undue emotional stress on her humble, modest, middle class husband, and for everyone with whom she comes in contact, especially the local vicar. Hyacinth’s primary concern in life, as the title of the show indicates, is living a charade of high society and fine living, or as my Father used to say, “she has a champagne taste on a beer budget.”
Hyacinth lives a misguided existence attempting to satiate the pain of her meager beginnings in a poor working class family. She “keeps up appearances” with a quest for more, to fill that spiritual hole in her heart, and in so doing she totally abandons the true purpose of life. She misses what is important, which is the fact that we are all children of God sent out on a mission of love. In her quest for the best, she misses what truly is the best, which is to live fully in the Kingdom of God.
Relationships vs. Stuff
In today’s gospel reading, there was a man who approached the crowd to whom Jesus was teaching and asked Him to settle a family dispute. “Make my brother divide the family inheritance with me,” he said. Jesus refused to become the arbitrator of the dispute but rather, offered a parable about how a rich person stored up his treasure, had so much he had to build bigger barns, and in the quest for more, forgot what was most important in life. The rich man chose STUFF over relationships in God’s kingdom of abundance.
What does a relationship with God have to do with the stuff we gather and accumulate? Look back at Hyacinth for a moment. Her things and not her relationships define her identity with her husband, neighbors, the vicar, and even her poverty stricken family. Now, the rich man to whom Jesus spoke of in the parable, gathered and stored up all of his STUFF, tore down the smaller barns he owned and built larger ones, so that he could experience the false security of the abundance, which he had acquired.
Accumulation to fill spiritual emptiness is a problem in American culture today. According to a recent trade group report, “the country now possesses 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. All this space is contained in nearly 40,000 facilities owned and operated by 2,000 entrepreneurs. One in 11 American households, according to a recent survey, owns self-storage space—which his an increase of some 75 percent from 1995.”1
God and Things
Hyacinth, the rich man, and yes even we seek security, assurance, and acceptance not in God, but in the things of life, which we cannot even store in our own homes. Alternatively, if we were to cultivate, fertilze, seed, and care for our relationship with God and with others in the same way, if we were to give from our abundance to others rather than storing it all up, then our sense of security and acceptance could come from a reliance on God, and not on ourselves, or the things we believe are ours.
So, do we merely live life in comfort knowing that God has our backs? Maybe we think, “Surely, if God is taking care of us, then we do not need to do anything, because God will take care of folks on the margins.” The fact is that we who have so much from God are actually called by God to share it with others. We are the hands and feet of Christ today.
When we partner with God through prayer, advocacy, and by getting our hands dirty, to bring about restoration, justice, compassion, dignity and real change in the lives of the least, lost, and lonely, you better believe, we will have to trust in God’s providence working in and through us. When we depend on God and know our place in God’s creation, and among all of God’s creatures, we will find our true calling, purpose, and ministry, which is to manifest the Kingdom of God for a hurting and self-preoccupied world.
The church must love and care for those who cannot care for themselves. In his New York Times article “Poverty is Poison,” Paul Krugman wrote, “17.4% of children in America live below the poverty line.” He goes on to say, that many children “who grow up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.’ The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.”
The cycle of poverty is something into which, we have an upcoming opportunity to make a difference here at St. Monica’s, through our support of the New Horizons ministry here. In Collier County 41,000 folks 11.8% of our population live below the poverty line. We have work to do and we must enter into these situations, not only as advocates, but workers who strive to eliminate poverty, indignity, and other injustices.
God’s Kingdom Calls us
The story of our work in God’s Kingdom testifies to how we touch so many lives. Each month, we feed families living both in Naples and Immokalee, we provide diapers for young families, soup for the hungry, and soon we will help at-risk children to have the opportunity for a better life. But there is so much more that we can do. God is not finished with St. Monica’s yet, and we cannot say, “the barns are full, so let’s eat, drink, and be merry.“
Some of God’s people around us, the same folks who mow our lawns, harvest our food, and do many of the tasks we are not willing to do, each day live in fear of arrest, relocation, and separation. God’s Kingdom calls us to act. This heavenly environment each one of us enjoys every day, with its subtropical beauty, plush lawns, and abundant palm trees is being threatened by human destruction. Our inland waterways are polluted, our shores are filled with unknown bacteria, and the causes, we know are our own. God’s Kingdom calls us to act.
Even within our own walls, we have some work to do. We need to treat one another with respect and love. Paul said, “But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” God calls us to set aside pettiness, self-focused agendas, and our own sense of entitlement, so we might act together and serve together, for the good of the community as a whole, strengthened to go and love others, together, not as rugged individuals. God’s Kingdom begins with us, and God’s Kingdom calls us to act.
Each of us has been given so much, not to horde in large barns, but to pour out those gifts to the least, lost, and lonely around us. We have been gifted with many talents, which if not already alive and active in mission, they can be resurrected and put to use in the Kingdom of God.
Open the Barn Doors
It is time to open the barn doors and share the abundance. Some of you have been educators and your Sunday School needs you to be about the work of the Kingdom. Some of you are experts in science, mathematics, history and any number of subjects, and our New Horizons ministry team that is forming, will need you to tutor our new kids. Please come to the information meeting Sunday after the 9:30 am service and be about the work of the Kingdom. Some of you have other gifts from your life’s experiences and the Kingdom of God needs you to be about the work of the Kingdom right here and right now.
Yes, St. Monica’s is a place of worship, education, preparation, and encouragement for all God’s people in this community, but it is a place of mission to everyone beyond the four walls. We must shine the light of Christ for all, and fling open wide the barn doors, so that all God’s people can experience the love and grace of Our Lord through us.
Be about the Work of the Kingdom
On a particular episode of “Keeping Up Appearances,” the young priest from the local parish came to visit Hyacinth at home. Hyacinth went on and on about her new porcelain cups, silver spoons, and fancy doilies. The priest only smiled and listened. Although he said nothing at the time, I wonder if he thought, “Dear Hyacinth, you are so lost. You need to set your heart on what is really important and not on “those teacups and sliver spoons.” Yet, she droned on about how she was striving to “Keep up appearances.”
Through our many ministries of love, service, justice, and compassion, our programs of Christian formation, our beautiful liturgy and amazing music, and in all we do, we are not just “keeping up appearances.” We are called to fling open wide the barn doors and storage bins of grace, mercy, love and peace and let God’s abundance flow into Naples and beyond because we have been given so much. Remember, the Kingdom of God requires so much of you, because the need for God’s love is so great around you. Get ready my sisters and brothers, because the Kingdom of God will in the very near future, demand even more of you, it will surely demand your very lives.