“Living in the Material World”
April 2, 2017
I'm living in the material world,” George
Harrison once sang. “Living in the material world…I got born into the material
world/Getting worn out in the material world.”
You know what he means.
Our bodies fail. Accidents happen. Our institutions are attacked. Things fall
An awareness of
these realities can distort how we live—or it can lead to a deepening sense of
grace—a sense of God’s care for all of creation, and, yes, even for us.
Diane Komp is a pediatric oncologist at
Yale who treats children with cancer. She was once asked how she finds hope in
families where a child has a terminal illness.
“I have asked them,” she says, “‘If you
were going to rewrite the story of your life, would you wipe out any memory of
this experience?’ And the truth is, for many families, they never really knew
the important things of life before this threatened loss or actual loss came to
“Although they would not want the
physical or emotional suffering of their child, they don’t want to go back to
being the same person.”
She adds: “The message out there is: go
after one of everything you can acquire, and that’s the way you’ll make your
family happy. Money and possessions. And all of these families learned that
that was a lie”[i]
You’ll make your family happy with money
and possessions. “And all of these
families learned that that was a lie.”
What do we really value? Our children
and their safety, our neighbors as ourselves, the health of the planet, the
peace of the nations of the world?
Or one of everything we can acquire?
“Where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also.”
Lent is traditionally a time for us to
reflect on our spiritual lives, which can prove difficult because the Christian
faith is material to its very core.
Our scriptures announce that his
earth—and all creation—had a beginning point in the God who created heaven and
earth. By faith we have the ears to hear the good news that the from the dirt
of this good earth the Creator God brought forth good human beings and breathed
into the spirit of life.
We began these days of Lent with the Ash
Wednesday reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are dust.
We are part of the earth, connected to it, rooted in it. But the scientists and
the singers tell us we are stardust. So the ashes with which we began these
days are more than a grim reminder of our mortality. They are “a pledge of
resurrection,” a promise of life.
And this is the purpose of Lent—to
better know who we are—so that we might better follow in the ways of Jesus
Christ in this material world.
If we pray it is so that we might enter
into a life giving conversation with the God in whom we live and move and have
If we fast, it is so that we might know
our hunger and thirst for righteousness.
If we give something up, it is so that
we might be better able to take up what really matters to us.
If we give something away it is so that
we might begin to store up treasure in those places where God is most
evident—often among the marginalized and dispossessed.
In all of this we tell the good news
that is peculiar to us—that in Jesus the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
We speak of God becoming a human being—becoming dust as we are dust.
We are material beings living in the
Not that this is always easy.
The temptation is always there—we can
confuse the human with the divine, we can confuse the material with God.
Which brings us to those words of Job.
In his attempt to defend himself to his friends and before the living God, Job
begins by being very clear that his is a just and righteous person. He cares
for others, he feed the hungry, he clothes the naked, he gives to the poor. He
does not worship money. He is not the servant of two masters.
But Job does make it clear that trusting
in wealth is as close to idolatry as worshipping the sun and the moon. Our
possessions can possess us. Setting our hearts on what we have, we lose sight
of the graciousness of God.
Maybe this is why Jesus talked more
about money and possessions that about almost anything else. Wealth can distort
our vision and warp our values. It can keep us from seeing the image of God in
each human being. It can keep us from seeing that the earth is God’s.
In the adult education sessions during
Lent, we’ve been looking at the ways that encounters with other religions can
deepen and enrich our own faith. This morning we were talking about Buddhism,
greed, non-attachment, and compassion. After giving up a life of privilege and
luxury, Gautama Buddha discovered that there is something skewed at the heart
of human existence. We suffer, he said, because our minds, our hearts, and our
actions are riddled with greed, hatred, and delusion. So a Buddhist paraphrase
of the words of Jesus might tell us: “The things you are greedy for, the things
that you wish to possess, will take over your mind and heart and imprison you.”
“Where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also.”
The way forward for Buddhists as well as
for Christians, is not simply a path of withdrawal from the world. We are
living in the material world—and always will. The way forward is a letting go
that results in compassion—the ability to see and to respond to the suffering
of others in this material world.
There are many ways to do this—and
following our Congregational tradition, we do not limit our compassion and our
concern to the forty days of Lent. We seek throughout the year to respond to
the suffering world in ways that put our wealth, our treasure at the service of
Of course we have long used Lent
and the One Great Hour of Sharing offering as a way of reordering our
priorities, as a way of showing compassion.
For two years in a row now,
Congregational UCC has been one of the top 100 givers to One Great Hour of
Sharing in the United Church of Christ. Last year we gave $4,900 to this
special offering that provides support for refugees, immigrants, and victims of
natural disasters as well as ongoing health, education, and agricultural
efforts nationally and globally.
We can do better.
The need for money to fund
medical care, disaster relief, and especially, relief for refugees has never
been greater. As our government acts to build a wall, deport thousands, and cut
funds for humanitarian work around the world, our giving takes on an even
greater importance this year.
I invite you to follow in the way
of Jesus Christ, the way of compassion, and to give generously to the One Great
Hour of Sharing offering that we will receive during worship on Palm Sunday,
If you have already decided how
much you are going to give, double that amount.
If you haven’t yet decided,
surprise yourself—shock yourself, even—with how generous you can be. When you
write that check you should be asking, “What am I thinking, giving this much?”
Parents, help your children to
give using those banks that we handed out. It’s hard to talk with children
about other children who are suffering, but many of your children are very much
aware of that suffering. Gently help them to see how they can help others.
I’m not asking you to give so
that we will continue to be on that Top 100 list. We might be. We might not.
But either way, refugees will have water to drink because of your giving;
people who lost their homes in natural disasters will find shelter because of
your giving; around the world women and men, boys and girls will get the health
care they need and would otherwise miss because of your giving.
I’m asking you to give because
Jesus calls those who would follow him to put place our hearts and our treasure
in the same place.
Respond the needs of others with
the same compassion that you have known in Christ.
[i] New York Times, Sept. 17, 1995 quoted in
“Voluntary Simplicity” issue of UCC Connections.