Back, a number of years ago, I met a honest-to-goodness hoarder. Nothing was ever tossed out and everything, significant or not, was kept for the proverbial “rainy day.” I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw the home with its cluttered hallways and its living room couch and chairs overflowing with an assortment of unread newspapers, empty bottles, clothes and other articles of value or no value, all piled into corners here and everywhere. This indescribable mess left me with a horrified impression of decay and despair. How could anyone live like this? And, why would they want to or feel a need to live like this?
Years later, though it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, some enterprising TV exec saw the potential for revenue by exploiting the very sad phenomenon of hoarding. Apparently, there are many people who lean toward collecting the essentials and the junk in their lives, people living in places where hoarding is both a passion and can be a symptom of illness. I’m sure television reality shows like “Buried Alive” are very profitable but I just find the whole idea of hoarding and the exploitation of those with this tendency to hoard, very disturbing. We seem to take an unnatural interest in the uncommon tendencies of our fellow human beings forgetting perhaps our own propensity to hold on to our treasures just in case the sky does fall or the rain does come.
After 9/11, our world became a very different place. Where once we relied on the security of our national status as a superpower, now 9/11 had proved to us we are not as invincible as we thought. Perhaps, not surprisingly, there were many in our country whose “go-to” response was to hoard necessities, build up stores of non-perishable goods, and tuck some dollar bills under their mattresses, well…just in case. As a country our sense of despair deepened and our hope in our own power diminished. While God was called upon in the first few days of the catastrophe and the recovery and our churches were full, it didn’t last long. We weren’t at all sure God could be of help and, unfortunately, many wondered if God might be the cause of this tragedy rather than a comfort, the One person we might turn to for hope. In God we Trust, but did we?
Luke’s gospel message today asks this very question. Christ addressing the concern of one brother for another brother’s unfair division of property responds with a story about fairness, greed and our tendency to rely more on stored up treasures than the bounty inherent in God’s love for us as God’s children. It may not have been the answer the unhappy brother had hoped to receive but it was the answer he needed to hear. As so do we. In what do we place our trust? What treasures do we store in our barns? Are we rich in God or just rich in goods, things, or just in the stuff we own?
The silliness of reality television can’t beat the real thing. Recently, I read this:
“At least 12 American multimillionaires are looking forward to their lives beyond death. Confident in the continued progress of modern medicine, they have arranged for their bodies to be frozen after they have died. They have also set up “personal revival trusts,” which are designed to ensure their present wealth will be waiting for them when they have been resuscitated 100 or 200 years in the future.
David Pizer, 64-years-old, figured that the “roughly $10 million” he left to himself—after all the compound interest has been added in—will make him ‘the richest man in the world’ when he wakes up.” No doubt, the oldest by a couple of hundred years or so too.
Betting on science to outplay faith isn’t a bet I’d want to make. I may be the eternal optimist or the perpetual pessimist, I’m not sure which, but, for me, having a faith in God trumps a faith in things every time. Christ’s point, I think. Where do we place our trust? In what or, in whom? What really matters to us in our lives…things we own or people we love and who love us?
There’s a wonderful old movie entitled The Bishop’s Wife. It’s a story about a bishop who gets so caught up in building a beautiful cathedral; he forgets its true purpose. Over time, his obsession grows and so does his impatience with everyone even his wife. Everything and everyone takes a backseat to this one grandiose gesture…to build the greatest, largest, most impressive cathedral. In the midst of all his busyness, the bishop receives a surprise visit from an angel. Taking advantage of the moment, the bishop mentions that the money to build the cathedral comes from one wealthy donor who insists the cathedral be a memorial to her late husband. The angel is neither impressed or won over and questions the deal. The bishop loses patience and responds:
“Don’t you think it’s worth it for so glorious an edifice?”
To which the angel responds: “I’m not so sure if it’s glory at a time like this.”
“Oh, you’re not?” says the bishop. The two stare up at a portrait of the future cathedral hanging over the mantle in the bishop’s den. Questioning the bishop’s motives and misplaced priorities, the angel says:
“You know these are lean years in the world. So many people need food. So many people need shelter. You know that one big roof could make so many little roofs.”
Periodically, we do have to review our priorities and reconnect with the important people and needs in our lives. Unlike the 12 multimillionaires betting on a good return in the afterlife and beyond, our lives are lived now. We have work to do; people to care for and needs to meet that improve the lives of others. I suspect it is true: we really can’t take it with us but, then again, depending on what we choose to store in our barns…things or the riches we gain in God’s love and through God’s relationship with us, maybe we can take what is really important into the next bountiful life ahead. Amen.