The Way of Dispossession: A Spiritual Uncluttering
Year C, Luke 14:26-33 Sermon to Pohick Church 9/2/22
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi, Rector
I don’t know about you, but it seems like I am always trying to get rid of clutter in my life! It feels like I’ve just emptied my in-basket or e-mail, and it’s full again. I clean out files, wash dishes, fold clothes, give away possessions — and they re-appear again in seconds!
At the beginning of my summer sabbatical, it took a few weeks for me to de-clutter – both externally and internally.
I even consciously let go of certain things here at Pohick. One at a time, I physically and symbolically pried my fingers off my I-phone, e-mails, snail mail, the internet, news, and social media. Within a couple of weeks, it was becoming really easy to hit “delete, delete, delete!”
Gradually, I was detaching myself from the clutter of myriad distractions and expectations — the world’s, yours, family’s, and yes, maybe most of all, my own! And I was attaching myself more closely to the Lord.
Jesus makes it clear that we must give up our possessions, or more to the point, what possesses us.
By practicing dispossession, how FULL my life was becoming! Letting go – detaching myself from that clutter to which I had been clinging — was making space for the One who is truly energizing and life-giving!
Detachment is the greatest spiritual principle that undergirds the entire Gospel.
In today’s reading, Jesus challenges us to detach from our most precious possessions using some pretty shocking language:
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
He’s saying the heart of the spiritual life is to love God, then love other things and people for the sake of God. But as St. Augustine once said, we sinners fall into the trap of “loving the creature and forgetting the Creator.” And that’s precisely when we lose ourselves.
When we treat anything or anyone less-than-God as God, we get into trouble.
This is why Jesus is telling his followers they have a distinct choice to make: Seeking and possessing Jesus must be first and last. All else in life needs to find its meaning in relation to God.
Of course, Jesus makes this point in typically Jewish fashion: through wild exaggeration and stunning hyperbole. His message is that crucial: He’s saying “hate” any created thing in the measure that thing or person has become a god to you. For it’s precisely in that measure that they become dangerous to your soul.
Jesus is also saying this taking-up-of our cross, and dying-to-what-we-possess is an urgent task for the sake of God’s kingdom. Clearly, there’s no better time than the present in our world today, to practice detachment.
Our world seems obsessed with – perhaps even possessed by – severe over-attachments to things, ideals, and even relationships.
For instance, we often over-identify with having the perfect family unit – and as a result we over-emphasize family time. And yes, this includes our most precious relationships: father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.
Many of us place leisure and bonding time with family ahead of regular worship and prayer. Our participation in God and Christian community takes second place to family and social life. And we wonder why the world is losing its way!
In addition to our relationships, we cling to our things – money, possessions, degrees, status, titles, others’ approval, even legacies. We often cling to our wounds, bitterness, and resentments.
We tend to over-attach to experiences and activities, too. This phenomenon has a name: FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out.” But in order to be fulfilled, we don’t have to feel like hamsters on wheels. In fact, quite the opposite. We are made for sabbath rest, for sabbatical, same root word!
We also tend to cling to ideals that seem good on the surface – high expectations for safety or security, morality or knowledge, being right or supporting a correct social cause. As we do, we may be over-identifying with ideals that seem holy, but are not necessarily of God.
Yes, life often seems cluttered, and we don’t know what to do about it.
As monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton wrote: “Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nest gets with all that metal in them.”
So how do we de-clutter? How do we dis-possess ourselves of things with which we over-identify, those creatures that take priority over life-giving relationship with our Creator? Things we’re afraid we’ll miss out on?
First, we can concentrate on opening our tight fists. Spending time in silence with God, we can consciously name what clutters our hearts. With his help, we can pry our fingers off of them, one by one.
Remember, anything can be clutter if it keeps me totally absorbed in myself or in my closest relationships and things.
Even wonderful things like success, others’ approval, knowledge, beauty, causes, traditions, and pleasures become clutter when we seek these things madly and at any cost. When we obsess over having more. When we put all our energy into preserving them.
As my spiritual director Sr Adeline often said, the steps to freedom and abundant life are simply to: “Detach yourself from possessions. Attach yourself to the Lord.”
This process of detachment will at times feel painful. Evaluating clutter and de-cluttering may seem like carrying our cross, a kind of dying.
Yet, our God is a God of Resurrection. As we release our hold and open our palms, we will be free to receive all the new life our Lord longs to give us!
So be patient with yourself as you examine your clutter and decide what needs to go. It takes time to sort through and discard the stuff you’ve collected over a lifetime. It will demand your ongoing and lifelong effort.
Let us get started now, in this process of both external and internal detachment!
For Jesus is clear, and He is urgent: “….None of you an become my disciple if you do not give up your possessions.”
Our fullness of life and the coming of God’s Kingdom depend upon our willingness to detach from created things, and attach to God. Amen.