May 11, 2014/Fourth Sunday of Easter
I have a confession to make. I watch the show Hoarders. I tell this as a confession, not because it’s a reality show and I tend to be condescending toward most reality shows; nor because watching it makes me feel better about the condition and cleanliness of my own house. I feel like I must confess because watching this show makes me feel like a voyeur. I understand that’s the real intent behind most reality shows. They feed the public’s need to be a fly on the wall in someone else’s life. But when I watch Hoarders, I’m not just seeing real people’s lives on screen. I’m witnessing these peoples’ sickness. I’m witnessing their sadness. I feel guilty about that; so much so, that there are times when I have to turn it off because it’s just so sad and so hard to watch.
The one thing I will say is that Hoarders does a good job of showing how complex compulsive hoarding really is. As of 2013, compulsive hoarding, also known as hoarding disorder, is now listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; better known as the DSM. It is a real sickness.
Compulsive hoarding, whether its uncontrollable accumulation of stuff or even of animals, is dangerous to say the least. Hoarding turns homes into unsanitary and unlivable disaster zones. A person’s hoarding can be so extreme that kitchens and bathrooms become unusable. Often what prompts the hoarder to finally seek help is the reality that disaster is looming. A marriage or another significant relationship is about to collapse; children may be or have been removed from the home by a child protection agency. Other family members are prepared to report the hoarder to other kinds of agencies because of the real danger that the hoarding creates. What I find so sad is that these people who hoard know that their relationships are falling apart. They know they’re on the verge of losing their home or going bankrupt. They understand that their families are going to be separated. They may comprehend that their lives are literally in danger. But they can’t stop hoarding. They are embarrassed and ashamed, but they can’t stop. Hoarding takes the place of love. It takes the place of intimacy. It takes the place of connection. Their stuff, most of which you and I would consider junk to be thrown away, consumes them.
I know that hoarding is an extreme example. But it does make me wonder if there is link between the growing prevalence of hoarding disorder and our modern lives. This is just my speculation; it’s not based on any significant scientific or sociological research. But let’s face it: most of us have a lot of stuff. That doesn’t make us hoarders, but we have a lot of stuff. We have an abundance of things. When we helped my parents move last summer, I was flabbergasted by all of the stuff that needed to be packed. Now my folks had already done some major downsizing before that move, and both of them are extremely organized. But there was still so much stuff. I certainly can’t point the proverbial finger. I have a storage room that I have been trying to clean out for about a year now. I’m slowly making some dents, but it is overwhelming to say the least. I also know that as quickly as I get rid of stuff, more stuff will come in to take the place of the old stuff. It’s just a lot of stuff.
Why do we have such a preponderance of stuff? Is it because we live in a consumer driving society? Is it because we are bombarded with messages that stuff will make us happy? Is it because we fear scarcity? One concrete way of dealing with that fear is having stuff. Perhaps that’s one reason why hoarders hoard – they fear scarcity. With this preponderance of stuff that we accumulate in our daily lives, it is easy to become confused with what abundance is and what it isn’t. Especially in light of the words we hear from Jesus in the last verse of our passage from John’s gospel.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
I’m sure that none of us hearing those words thinks that Jesus was talking about material possessions. Although, let’s be honest, the prosperity gospel is alive and well in our culture. There are plenty of preachers, big name preachers, who offer the message of the prosperity gospel week after week. If you just believe hard enough, if you just cling to your Bible tightly enough, you will be blessed with plenty. Though that plenty isn’t always specified out loud, the underlying message of the prosperity gospel is that plenty is an abundance of the material. Nice houses, nice cars, nice stuff, nice lives.
Yet again, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of abundance. In order to really get to the heart of abundance as Jesus speaks of it, we have to look back to the story in chapter 9 that precedes this one; the story of the man born blind. It’s a story that we heard back in Lent. A man is born blind. Jesus heals him then leaves the scene. While Jesus is gone, the man is interrogated by the religious authorities, repeatedly. His parents are interrogated. He is interrogated one more time. Instead of being joyful, the authorities and the people with them are fearful. So the result of this miraculous healing, this giving of sight, is that the man is cast out of the synagogue. He is cast out of the community.
Jesus tells the religious authorities that just because they can physically see doesn’t meant that they can see the holy in their midst. They may have sight, but they are still blind. He follows those words with the words we read in this passage. In verse 7 Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate.”
I am the gate. This Sunday in Eastertide is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday, but in these particular verses, Jesus doesn’t talk about being the shepherd. Jesus talks about being the gate. The gate is the way to green pastures. The gate is the way the sheep who hear the voice of the shepherd enter into those pastures. The gate is the way to abundant life. Jesus is the gate. So if we want abundant life, if we want salvation, we have to go through the gate.
None of this is surprising. I doubt that the idea that salvation comes through Jesus is news to any of us. But I think the question that is begged from this passage is what does this abundant life look like? What does salvation look like? When Jesus said that he came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, to what and when was he referring?
Let’s go back to the story of the man born blind. Do we think his salvation came only after he died? Do we think that he finally experienced abundance when he left this life and went to the next? Or did salvation come to him in the form of sight? Think about it, he went from a life of darkness, a life of begging just to survive, to a life of sight! Would there be anything more abundant, more salvific for a person born blind than to receive sight? With sight came the ability to provide for himself, to envision – no pun intended – a new of living and being. With the giving of sight, that man was given a life he hadn’t had before. He was given an abundance of joy, an abundance of hope, an abundance of love. He was given sight. That was his salvation.
It seems to me that an abundant life and salvation isn’t something that is reserved for a future existence. Jesus came to give abundance and salvation to us now, right now. Again, this isn’t a promise of prosperity. It’s not about stuff. It’s about abundance. If Jesus meets us where we are, then maybe salvation does as well. If we are lost, then salvation comes in being found. If we are hopeless, then salvation comes when we realize that reasons to be hopeful abound. Jesus came so that we might have abundant lives, saved lives right now.
But do we live those abundant lives? Do we believe that salvation is ours at this moment? Are we living large lives, filled with an abundance of love, joy, hope? Or are our lives small? Do we live more out of a fear of scarcity, a fear of being without rather than living in trust that we will have enough? Once again, trust is the key word. I think trust is at the heart of an abundant life. If we don’t trust that we’ll have enough to live, to survive, then it’s downright hard to be abundantly generous. If we don’t trust that we are loveable, then loving others abundantly is practically impossible. Without trust we cannot hope. Without trust we cannot fully love. Without trust we cannot fully live. Living large, abundant, love filled lives, requires trust. It requires trust as individuals and families. It requires trust as a congregation. Do we trust that we’ll be okay as a church? Do we trust that we will be provided for so that we can provide for others? Do we come together in trust or out of fear? These are tough questions, I know. But I believe they must be asked, even though I don’t really have any answers. Jesus came so that we could have life – abundant, plentiful, large life. Let us trust, with everything we are, heart, mind, and soul, that we are loved abundantly. Let us trust that an abundance of love will be with us always. Let us trust in the abundance of God’s love, so that we may love abundantly in return. Let us live large. Let us live abundantly. Let all God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.