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They're Out To Get You
August 6, 1995

LUKE 12:13-21

Roselyn Nelson invited me to read poetry to her eighth grade communication classes at Rivera Middle School last October. By the way, contrary to what we often hear, all three classes were polite, attentive, and friendly. I had a wonderful time reading Casey at the Bat, Annabelle Lee. As it was near Halloween, Roselyn suggested I read, Little Orphan Annie came to our house to stay, which ends with the admonition, The goblins'll git you if you don't watch out! Perhaps the goblins won't get you, but there's something else. Don't dismiss me as being paranoid. Beware! They're out to get you. Watch out. Be on guard. If you're not careful, you'll lose your very life.

Can't you see them all round you, looking for every opportunity to get you, to swallow you. They'll take your time, they'll take your money, they'll take your priorities, they'll take over your house, they'll take over your garage, they'll take over you, and what then will be left?

God called him a fool. God said to the man, This very night your life is being demanded of you. Actually, the original Greek says, Fool, this very night they shall demand your life. They are out to get you. Who are they? They are things. The man had so much he decided not to add on to his barns, not to erect a temporary shed; no, he decided to tear down his barns and build newer, bigger, better barns-- to do what? To store all my grain and my goods, he said. My grain and my goods, my things! Notice, God does not accuse him of injustice, or immorality, or even greed. God calls him a fool! The man thought he had things, so many he had to tear down his barns and build newer, bigger, better barns to store them. He thought he had things, but the things had him! He thought he was well off, until God told him he was possessed. They got him!

While I was working on this sermon this past week, the New Yorker magazine arrived with a delightful article called, Object Lesson, by Noelle Oxenhandler. Packing for a move can be a therapeutic way of letting go of the past, until your possessions decide that they're not leaving. As she happily sorted out her things in preparation for moving, the first few days, she wrote, I still felt firmly in control of the objects in my possession. They confirmed my sense of self in a comforting way, linked me to my past, reminded me of people I loved, and flattered my aesthetic judgment. But, soon the sheer number of things crushed her ability to govern. And, the objects know this: they have become aware of their power over me; they sense fatigue and my gathering confusion, and they are moving in for the kill....Objects swirl, grimace, shatter, and laugh horribly, and the body just keeps moving to pick them up, wrap them, and set them in a box. And then, the things unleash their final power. In a wild, random way, they begin to multiply. Have you noticed how things breed? I think they do it at night. You come back in the morning, and the closet is fuller. There's surely more on the shelf than there was last night. Beware, they're out to get you!

Yes, it's humorous, but there is a serious side as well. Do you doubt you can so focus and center your life on things that there is little left over? Is the accumulation of things really the purpose of your life? Is your worth really measured by the things you own? Did God put you here on earth to be consumed with consuming? Must you have the latest, the fastest, the biggest, the newest (or, if your thing is antiques: the newest old stuff)? Must you have newer, bigger, better?

Those of you who know me might well be asking, who am I to talk? I live in a beautiful house, I drive a flashy convertible, I enjoy comfortable vacations, I like to go on trips, I am surrounded by nice things. It's a constant temptation. We really cannot live without things, and I don't believe there is anything wrong with having nice things, even toys. But, the temptation is: Who's in charge? Me or things?

Who possesses whom?

How can you tell if things are getting a hold over you? Will you take this assessment?

Out of all the things you own, if you could keep only one thing, one possession, what would it be?

Would you be willing to give it up for God?

What is God's definition of your success?

What per cent of your income do you give to do God's work?

The best test of whether you are in charge of your things, or your things are in charge of you, is the tithe. The time-honored biblical principle of giving back to God 10% is the faithful way of keeping your priorities straight, of breaking the bond of selfishness, of breaking the hold things may have over you. The very essence of life is not hoarding but giving. God so loved the world that he gave... Living is giving. Sharing is caring. God has blessed us with abundance, God has blessed us with things, so that, out of gratitude, we may do his work.

After World War II, a husband and wife were getting ready to go to a memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The man had been killed in the war. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had given his life. The window cost $50,000.

"What a beautiful thing to do in honor of their son," the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, "What are we going to give?"

"What are you talking about?" he said. "We don't need to give anything. Our son came back alive and safe."

"That's exactly what I mean," she said. "Our friends lost their son, and they are giving $50,000. We got our son back, and we are not giving anything."

Living is giving, giving in gratitude for all you have and are.

Beware! Things are out to get you! Fool them, give them away.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris