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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011-11-13 Confessions of a Savaholic

Mark 6:7-9
7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;
9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.


So, why did Jesus send his disciples out with practically nothing? No food, no backpack, no money. Sandals, and probably not the all-terrain kind. No Chacos. None of those rubber shoes with the toes in them. One set of clothes. No jacket. He did let them carry a staff for self-defense. As if someone was going to try to rob a couple of guys with no bread, no bag, no money, and Wal-mart sandals. Jesus had a wicked sense of humor.

So, why? Why did he send his disciples out so ill-equipped? The typical answer is, what? So they'd have to rely on God. So they'd have to rely on other people. So they'd have to rely on their wits. That's the typical answer. And to a large extent it's true: when you get stripped down until nothing's left, when as they say in AA you hit "rock bottom," that's when you find your higher power. That's when you find your true purpose. That's when you maybe even find God. Maybe when Jesus sent the disciples out with authority over the unclean spirits. But which ones? The ones with power over other people? Maybe. Or maybe he really sent them out to do battle with the unclean spirits within themselves.

Maybe their authority began the moment they dared to leave everything else behind.


How many of you have ever watched the TED Talks on the Internet? TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It started out in 1984 as a conference to encourage the spread of ideas. The free distribution of Ideas Worth Spreading is their mission. They've had people from Billy Graham to Bill Gates, talking about their ideas. www.TED.com is the website. I really encourage all of you to take a look and browse through these amazing presentations.

So, anyway, I'm at my desk last week, thinking about today's message which a few weeks ago I very smartly titled, "Confessions of a Savaholic." Why? Because it's kind of the opposite of last week's "Confessions of a Shopaholic." Titles really get in the way of thinking sometimes. They sound interesting on paper. So, anyway, I'm sitting in front of the computer, and I'm not getting very far with my ideas, so I decide to distract myself (or maybe procrastinate?) by watching a TED talk. Normal people play Angry Birds. Sometimes I do that, too. And almost accidentally, I clicked on this talk by writer and designer, Graham Hill. And here's his 5 minute, 49 second talk about the stuff we might leave behind.


So, I see Graham Hill's talk. And I'm thinking about the box. And I'm imagining that even that one box of his is way bigger than what the disciples would have needed to carry their stuff when Jesus sent them out into the world. And it occurs to me that maybe I'm thinking about this scripture from the point of view of someone who has boxes and boxes of stuff. Which I do. And a house-full of stuff, and a car-full of stuff, including enough french fries between the seats to exist for a week. And an office full of stuff.

And so it hits me that maybe Jesus is not sending the disciples out stuff-free in order to make them self-reliant, or even God-reliant. Or even to cast out demons. Maybe Jesus is smarter. Maybe Jesus is after something else.

I watch this Graham Hill's talk and suddenly it dawns on me. Maybe Jesus is sending them out to battle the unclean spirits without stuff because stuff IS the unclean spirit. Maybe stuff IS unclean. Maybe stuff is the source of the disciples' trouble. Maybe it's the source of my trouble. And maybe it's the source of yours, too.

Now, if this is Jesus' point, then you know what? The disciples passed the test the minute they set aside their stuff. The minute they walked away from their stuff and stepped out on their journey, they got an "A". They did it. It would be just like Jesus to do something tricky like that. "Oh and, hey guys, don't forget your staffs, so you can fight off all the people who want your stuff!"

So after a while they come back after their Survivorman journeys and tell Jesus the results. One says "Oh, I was awesome! I kicked some unclean spirit backside!" Another says, "Well, I didn't do so great." And Jesus says, "Hey, guess what! It wasn't about THOSE unclean spirits. You passed the test the minute you stepped out of camp. You passed the test the minute you walked away from all your... stuff. (Oh, and by the way guys, while you were gone, I gave away all your stuff to the poor.)"

What if Jesus was like that?


So, I hear that we Americans have 3 times the storage space that we did 50 years ago. And public storage buildings, too. And then I hear the parable about the guy who was doing so well that he built more better barns for all his stuff. And I think, "Wow. That sounds familiar."

Remember what he said: 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.' (All my stuff.)

'And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' And I think, "Wow. That sounds pretty darn good to me."

Pretty darn familiar.

But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'

So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

And you hear scriptures like that (especially during stewardship season) and you think, "Oh, Lord. I know where he's going with this. Get the checkbook out and maybe he'll let us go on time."

No. Preachers do enjoy making people feel guilty, but that's not the point of this sermon. I promise I'll do another one to make you feel really guilty. Hopefully this sermon's different. Because when you take Jesus' stuff-free disciple challenge and you combine it with the parable of the guy with the storage units, the message isn't about guilt. It's not an effort to make you feel bad for having so much stuff. Instead, it's a lifeline of hope. Jesus doesn't want you to have guilt; Jesus wants you to have freedom. There's still time. It's a message that, you know what, there's still time to free yourself from the weight of all that stuff. You don't have to be like the rich fool. You can be like the disciples, who just simply, walked away.


The parable of the rich fool. You know what another title might be? "Stuff makes you stupid." Really. It does. I started looking around my office. You know how many preaching robes I have now? Four. There's the one I got when I first became a preacher. Another one that's white, which I don't think I've ever worn once. There's the lightweight choir robe I stole from Scott and Carla with the hole in the sleeve where I got too close to an Advent Candle and almost set myself on fire. And then there's this one. Four robes. That's not only unnecessary; it's stupid. I can't wear more than one at a time. Why not donate a couple to a new preacher-boy or girl graduating from seminary with $20,000 in debt? You know what? I think I will.

You probably don't have a stack of preacher robes at home. But I'll bet you have more winter coats than you can wear at one time. How many do you need? Really? Don't wait, because, as the parable warns, the week after next might be too late.

I doubt that any of you will totally walk away from everything. But are there things you can walk away from? Are there things you can give away? Can you start there?


Imagine if our whole church started giving our extra stuff away this week... how much would it be? If we took it as a challenge, maybe even a friendly competition, how liberating, how exciting, how joyful and kind of even, fun, could it be?

How much lighter would you feel? How much cleaner would you feel, if you walked away from a few boxes of your unclean spirits?

Now, it's probably true that the disciples didn't have that much stuff to start with. Which, in a way, might have made walking away from it that much harder. But once they did, one they found out how much they didn't need, I'm betting they figured out what they really did need.

How about you? What can you live without? And in living without it, what will you find out you really need?