My dear mother had a “calling” from God that began at an early age. She shared this with me, that throughout her life she felt God’s hand on her to be a missionary in a far off land doing Christ’s work. That is until she met my Dad. But even then she attempted to live this call by focusing her work as a teacher on special needs children. And then I came along. But even then she regrouped and lived out her call by parenting my brothers and I in a way that made us aware and connected to children living at Bonny Lea Farm and Rainbow Haven Camp. Every birthday party or summer project that she supervised included the three boys raising funds and awareness about children with special needs. And when we got older she would take us after church to visit those seniors who we isolated and lacking in friends and family.
My dear mother carried out her calling with passion, thoughtfulness and skill for years and years. And then my grandmothers had to be moved into assisted living facilities. But this time the calling was stalled. Of course caring for one’s mother and mother-in-law was a calling too, and it certainly fit with a life of Christ-like service. But there would be nothing else and the stress from this service was such that it shortened her life.
The care was hard but there were beautiful moments with my grandmothers. Unfortunately part of the care was to absorb all of the belongings my four grandparents had accumulated over 75 years of living. All of it was brought to our home, a home that already was overflowing with possessions. My mother was resolute, nothing would go. Each and every item was precious, a sacred trust between her and her relations. Finding room for all of this was not easy, caring for each item was also challenging. My mother became a museum curator, and the worry that came to consume her was not just looking after all this “stuff” but what would happen to it when she was gone. None of her sons wanted any of it. She tried and tried to find homes “in the family” but there were no takers. I knew people who could use it but my Mother Teresa mother had shifted, she wanted to keep these items “in the family”.
My mother’s health was getting worse. Her diabetes was getting to dangerous levels and the worry and the stress were sky high. What she really needed was to move to a smaller home, on one level that she could more easily mange. She also needed to return to “working for the kingdom”. Not only would this work bring her satisfaction and joy but also have the added benefit of mitigating some of the stress. In end she died in the house. And three years later all of that stuff would leave the house, most of it destined for Value Village, Salvation Army and Metro Non-Profit Housing.
Earlier this week our speaker at the JOY Lunch program was talking about the transition from one’s home to a residence that accommodates those with physical challenges. Someone asked, “What was the first step in that direction?” Marie Claire said, “It’s never too early to de-clutter.” Silence.
But “stuff” is not just a senior issue. Frankly a lot of people my age and younger like stuff even more than their parents and grandparents and the reasons for having this stuff has less to do with keeping someone’s memory alive and more to do with the status certain labels, makes and models of products gives to us.
All of us like stuff. I love art and I love to buy as much as I can. Every inch of wall space in my home and in the office where I work is covered with artwork. But the question I ask myself is this, does the art get in the way of me “working for the kingdom”, does it become a distraction that prevents me from carrying out mission that is not only satisfying but also stress reducing? As I have said many times, when I sit with someone who has received a terminal diagnosis and s/he looks back at a life the memories that are shared include family, friends, community, contributions to the public good, faith in something larger than self. It is rarely about stuff.
The Gospel this morning tells us three important things:
1) No one can serve two masters
2) Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life
3) But strive first for the kingdom of God
Materialism, whether in the form of hording or buying to give people a certain idea of who and what you are, is a master to be sure. And make no mistake this master has a lot of power over us, perhaps more today than at any other time in our history. And because of the times we live in our planet is ill, we are consuming, using up precious forests and fresh water and putting holes in the ozone. Our Creator is deeply invested in our creation, so it begs the question, which master do we serve?
And by worrying about our stuff, getting stuff, keeping stuff, do we add time to our lives? Does it decrease or increase our anxiety? How much of our focus is on doing what we can to improve the lives of others as Mary dreamed and sang about, as Jesus lived, as the early church created in mission? How much time and resources go to that and how much to accumulating and preserving stuff?
I don’t think the kingdom is easy to get to, nor is the work to help bring it along a walk in the park. But here’s what I do know, the single best cure for stress, the single best source of satisfaction at the end of one’s life, the single most important thing Jesus asks of us, is to strive for the kingdom.
Thank you Jesus for this timeless, timely and challenging Gospel. Amen.