Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 John 6:24-35
Pentecost 11 Lectionary 18 B
August 4/5, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
The late George Carlin had an irreverent and outrageous routine called “Stuff.” It went like this. Don’t worry. I have edited his profane routine for a family audience.
Sorry I am late. I was in the wrong dressing room. Gotta have a dressing room because I gotta have a place for my stuff.
That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know?
I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff.
That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.
A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that junk you're saving. They don’t want your 4th grade math papers. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get………….....more stuff!
Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. You move and you gotta put your stuff in storage. There’s a whole industry dedicated to watching over your stuff.
Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff. Somebody else's stuff is all over the place! And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. A bedroom they haven't used in about eleven years. Someone died in it, eleven years ago. And they haven't moved any of his stuff! Right next to the bed there's usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there's NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else's stuff is on the dresser.
Have you noticed that their stuff is junk and your junk is stuff? And you say, "Get that junk off of there and let me put my stuff down!"
Sometimes you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff, when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house. It's the second version of your stuff. And you're gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu and you open up your suitcase and you put away all your stuff. "Here's a place for stuff. Put a little bit of stuff there. Put some more stuff here. Look! Here's another place for stuff! We got more room than stuff! We gotta go out. Can’t have this. We gotta buy more stuff!"
(From . . . Funny Stories and Jokes . . . by Charley Brindley)
George Carlin’s “Stuff” reminds me of today’s First Reading. The Israelites, freed from slavery in Egypt, had begun their long journey through the wilderness. It didn’t take too long for them to start longing for “the good old days” back in Egypt and all the “stuff” they left behind there. They fondly remembered the meat, the bread, the full stomachs, plenty of water and a stable routine. The great irony, of course, is that all that “stuff” back in Egypt had been killing them.
So why did they want to go back to all the “stuff?” George Carlin’s routine suggests an answer. They like we want to accumulate “stuff” because “stuff” makes us feel safe and secure. We drag around all that “stuff” because the “stuff” assures us that all is OK even though the world around us is swirling with change.
In the First Reading, the Israelites found themselves alone in the wilderness, alone with their leader, alone without all their “stuff.” They only had their God and His promise. That should have been enough. But it was not enough. They still had to have their “stuff.” So they complained.
The same thing happens in today’s Gospel. Jesus had just fed a large crowd of over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish. The crowd was so infatuated with Jesus’ power that they wanted to make him their “bread king.” They wanted more “stuff.” Jesus would have nothing to do with that. He flees in a boat to Capernaum only to have the crowd once again intercept him. They want more “stuff!”
Everyone wants more “stuff.” As George Carlin makes clear, this “stuff” is more than the “stuff” we can put in our mouths or chew between our teeth. This isn’t just the “stuff” we pack in a suitcase, stuff into our wallets or deposit in a bank account. This “stuff” has religious significance. This “stuff” assures us that our lives matter. This is the “stuff” we trust to keep us safe when all else seems to be crumbling.
This is what the great comedians have always done. Their jokes expose the hypocrisy of our lives. They make us laugh at the absurdity of our collection of “stuff.” Like Jesus and the prophets before him, comedians expose the embarrassing and deadly truth from which we all seek to flee: “stuff” does not make our lives meaningful. We can never have enough “stuff” to keep us safe. “Stuff” finally kills us. We cannot live WITH “stuff” . . . and we cannot live WITHOUT it.
The George Carlin’s of this world point out the absurdity of it all, but they have nothing more to offer us. All we can do is . . . grin and bear it.
BUT . . . not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God who led Israel out of slavery into the freedom of the Exodus, not the God whom Jesus called “Father.” This God also offers “stuff,” but it is HOLY STUFF. This “stuff” is totally different from all the other “stuff” of this world.
Even though the Israelites complain, God still graciously and generously covers the ground every morning with a bread-like substance that satisfies their hunger. There is just enough to last the day. There is just enough to keep sustaining them on their journey. There is just enough to keep them trusting in the gracious God who would not turn his back on them. So stunned by this HOLY STUFF, they did not even know what to name it. All they could say is manna (the Hebrew phrase for “what is it?”).
Of course, the Israelites wanted treat this HOLY STUFF as if it was just like any other “stuff” in this world. They would hoard it. They would hide extra portions in their suitcases, believing that only with more “stuff” could they be safe. But the “stuff” rotted and became the food of death. God’s HOLY STUFF could not be transformed into just another version of the same old “stuff” of this world.
The crowd following Jesus in today’s Gospel does the same thing. They think that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5000 is just another version of the same old “stuff.” Jesus multiplication of loaves and fish was not a gracious gift from God but just another scheme to get more “stuff” out of Jesus.
“Jesus, we will believe and follow you, IF you give us what we want. IF you give us a new job, better health, more happiness, . . . more ‘stuff’.”
But Jesus will have no part of such foolishness. He is not about making deals. He fled this crowd once. He was prepared to do it again.
However, just like what had happened many years before in the wilderness, when God gave the Israelites manna in spite of their complaining, God surprises us again. Instead of fleeing, Jesus offers himself. The “bread” that Jesus brings into this world is more than just food for the stomach. It is “bread from heaven.” It is the “bread of life.” It is more than just “stuff” to clutter the closet or pack the suitcase. Jesus’ “stuff” is “Holy Stuff,” utterly unique. There is nothing else like it in the whole world.
“I am the bread of life. I am the HOLY STUFF that you have been looking for. Give me your fears, your worries, your doubts, all the ‘stuff’ that is weighing you down, all the ‘stuff’ that you are trying to carry to Honolulu and beyond, all the ‘stuff’ that is killing you. I will carry it for you . . . all the way to the end, where it will crush me just as it will crush you.
“But I will also give you my ‘stuff,’ my life. Even though I was crushed, I rose again. Therefore, I can give you the love that no one or nothing else can. Your hearts will never hunger or thirst again. You will always know that you matter, not because of the stuff you’ve stuffed in your pockets but because you have me.”
George Carlin ridicules the notion that the meaning of life can be found in “stuff.” But Jesus promises that the meaning of life IS found in “stuff,” HOLY STUFF, His “stuff,” the “stuff” of his love and mercy. In Him is the “stuff” we can count on no matter what.
That changes everything! We can at last see the “stuff” of this world for the foolishness that it is. We can glare at the world and say, “Stuff it!”
When we look at the “stuff” we still have, it even looks different. I remember last month seeing someone interviewed after his home had been washed away in a flood. I expected to see someone all broken up and despairing. Instead he said, “All that ‘stuff,’ it was only ‘stuff.’ I still got Jesus.” He may have lost his stuff but he still had HOLY STUFF.
Because of God’s HOLY STUFF, the ordinary “stuff” of our daily lives is also HOLY. We are able to use our time, talent and treasure not just to accumulate more and more “stuff,” but to use it to meet the needs and satisfy the hungers of the world around us. We can feed the world with the love of God.
The world can never have too much of this kind of “stuff!”