Jesus met a rich young man who asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus answered that question with a question, “What are the greatest commandments?” and went on to say, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said in response, “All these I have kept since my youth.” “Then there is one thing you lack,” Jesus said, “Go and sell your possessions and give them to the poor.” The young man walked away sad because he had many possessions and was not willing to give them up. Jesus said to his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. We in our world are very attached to our possessions. We become so attached that they become our gods. Think of all of our possessions—our houses, our clothes, our cars, our furniture, our dinnerware, glasses and silverware, our phones and other electronic devices—consider whether or not we can live without them. Some things we could give up easily and others we would have a hard time giving up. Why? Because they define who we are in this world. They bring us comfort and confidence in ourselves. But why is clinging to our possessions not something we should be doing? It is because those things are not who we are and those things will all pass away. What we need to cling to instead is our Savior, Jesus, because Jesus will be with us forever. He will last long past our every possession. He will define who we are beyond what we are on earth—we are children of God, saints in heaven, brothers and sisters in Christ. We don’t hang our heads in sorrow but go forth with joy with our head held high.
Loosen our attachment to earthly things. May we receive them with the condition of their surrender.
The petition struck me because at the moment I had lost my coat and was feeling sad about it. I was gripping too tightly to my earthly possession at that exact time.
These words brought home to me too that we as a society and we as Christians even, are clinging too tightly to the things of this earth: our homes, our clothes, our smartphone, our iPads, our furniture, etc.
We attach a lot of sentimentality to things and do not wish to part with “our stuff.” In the most extreme cases, this can lead to hoarding, which a whole television show is dedicated to. We think when we see a hoarder, “How could they get to that point?” But then we go down to our own basements and see box after box of “stuff.” Why are we holding on all of this?
At the same conference where I heard this petition, Pastor Chris Singer from Houston, TX, spoke about how he and his family lost all of their possessions in Hurricane Harvey and how their house was greatly damaged and at that time still uninhabitable.
But what came out of that experience for Singer was the realization that our lives are not about things, but about Christ, and how we can serve others through him. Their church became a crisis center for people who needed the basics to survive. And people generously donated items for the people in need to use to make it through this tough time in their lives.
All of this made me see that in many ways we on a daily basis need to loosen our grip on things. As Christians, we know that this earth and everything in it will pass away and we will have only our faith in Christ and his presence with us.
So loosen your grip by giving things away to those in need and sharing what you have with others. Be willing to surrender your stuff. Don’t hang on too much to what will pass away, but hang on to Christ. He will never let you go.
The concept of the gift economy recently came up in a meeting with fellow editors. Apparently the idea of the gift economy is gaining traction and interest again in our society, particularly among Christians, with speakers discussing it at various religious conferences.
What is the gift economy exactly? It is the practice of giving items to people without any expectation of anything in return. This is in contrast, of course, to our market-based economy and even the barter system in which goods and services are exchanged for money or other items in return.
Anthropologist Marcel Mauss studied these various types of economies within a range of cultures and introduced the terms reciprocity (the expectation of something equal in return), inalienable possessions (things that can only belong to an individual person) and prestation (a cultural offering of a gift or service). The type of an economy that a culture uses tends to say a lot about them as people.
So why is the concept of the gift economy trending in our world today? My hunch is that we, especially as Christians, are recognizing more and more that our culture today is driven largely by money, the stock market, sales and profits. And we in our Christian culture recognize that our life should be less about the bottom line and more about sharing love.
While traditional financial exchanges are important and necessary in a culture, of course, ultimately life should not be about a running tally of who gave what to whom and did those items match up monetarily. Life, in the Christian model, should be at its most essential about giving to others with no conditions. It should be about caring for others as people and not as customers.
The Bible even says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving should be about our hearts and our love for others, not about tracking numbers or keeping score somehow.
Our lives should first and foremost be modeled after Christ, who gave his life as a free gift for us that we can never repay. He gave his life on the cross out of love for us that we might show that same love to others unconditionally and live with him together in heaven one day.
Each day is a gift because of Christ, so we are called to give as freely to others without exception.
In an article in October 22, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Aisha Sulton relayed the story of how her father had shipped several boxes of her childhood memorabilia from his basement, but how only one tattered box actually arrived at her home. The note inside from the post office said, “During the processing of your package the contents became unsecured and required rewrapping in order to forward it.”
All that was left of her childhood possessions were a couple elementary and high school yearbooks. All the other papers, ribbons, trophies, journals, personal letters and photos that were in those boxes originally were gone forever.
Sulton said she felt a pinch in her heart for the lost items for several days afterward. But then Hurricane Harvey hit and she witnessed on the news how hundreds of thousands of people lost everything they had in the rising waters. She was able to put her own small loss into perspective and recognize the fact that, as Henry Havelock Ellis write, “All of the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
Which called to mind for me Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
For us a Christians, we need to always remember that we need to loosen our grip on our earthly possessions that will one day be destroyed, but to hold fast to the treasures of heaven of forgiveness, life in Christ, and salvation in him that will never pass away, but will be with us forever.
Think of ways this week that you can start letting go of some of your earthly possessions and ways you can begin to hold on more tightly to the things of heaven that really matter.
What is the church? It is a question that comes up more frequently these days amid technological and cultural shifts. Amazingly, Martin Luther actually wrestled with that same question 500 years ago. And thankfully for us, Martin Luther expressed what a church is by writing down what he called the seven visible marks of the church:
- The Word of God
- Holy Communion
- The Office of the Keys (Confession and Absolution)
- Called ministers
- Prayer, public praise and thanksgiving to God
- Bearing suffering patiently
Luther called these the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification or the seven holy possessions of the church.