The Gospel Reading (Proper 13, Year C, RCL)
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:13-21
In my previous life, I worked in sales, marketing and management. I was a packaging specialist. In my last position before entering into the ordination process and going to seminary, I worked for a large paper distributor in Michigan as the Industrial Sales Manager. In my division of the company we concentrated on industrial plastics and papers. Anything that was not considered fine paper was included in my division.
I remember years ago, we marketed two of the largest sanitary paper manufacturers in the world, Scott paper and Fort Howard. The big paper companies merged and took on new names. Scott paper is now known as Kimberly Clark and Fort Howard as Fort James. I’ve been out of the business for about a dozen years now, and I have no idea who owns who or the status of the current paper market. Scott Paper was known for their ingenuity and for bringing new inventions and innovative marketing techniques. For example, they are the company that introduced the Jumbo Roll Tissue and the JRT Junior., We use the JRT Junior dispenser in our restrooms. Fort Howard was known for their price, and their strategy was to copy what Scott Paper did and to try to come in with similar products at a better price.
This was a long time ago, and I’m dating myself now. This was before everybody had laptops, personal computers on every desk and cell phones in their pockets. I remember the first cell phone I had. It was a large bulky phone that plugged into my cigarette lighter. And, I had this portable antenna that I would stick on the top of my car. The reception was poor and the cost of service was astronomically high. It was also the days of micro-fish and when the fax machines starting getting popular, and there were scores of different fax machines that all took different kinds of paper. It was a nightmare in the paper industry.
Anyway, back to the story. Scott Paper was on the cutting edge. They cornered the industrial market with contracts with the major airports, General Motors and other national companies. It was in the days when one of their proud themes was ‘virgin pulp’. They promoted the theme that their paper was all virgin, and not recycled. Can you imagine going to market today with a theme like that. Fort Howard was just the opposite. They promoted themselves as the earth friendly company, and most of their paper was manufactured from recycled paper. We all know who changed the market, right? Fort Howard warned companies that you could get splinters using Scott Paper’s toilet paper. Of course it was not true, but it sounded scary.
I served on an environmental action committee in my local church, and it is kind of an oxymoron that someone that marketed volumes of paper and plastic products through a network of distributors. I did some research on Fort Howard. They were leaders in the environmental ‘friends of the earth’ paper company. I discovered that they were also known as the biggest polluter of the Fox River in the Ste of Wisconsin. Yes, they were manufacturing paper made from recycled paper, but polluting the waterways of Wisconsin. Scott Paper, on the other hand was manufacturing paper from virgin pulp, but had a good reputation for not polluting the waterways.
Nobody markets paper as virgin pulp anymore. That went out long ago. They all promote the three R’s, reduce, reuse and recycle. It is interesting though that national paper companies like International paper, Kimberly Clark and Fort James are the largest tree farmers in the world. Paper pulp for sanitary paper comes from soft wood, tees that are harvested every 5-7 years. When the trees are cut, there are new trees on their way right beside them that are cut in following years. It’s the clearing of hardwood trees used to make expensive furniture, flooring and other products that are more frequently cited as environmentally unfriendly.
As stewards of God’s earth, we are responsible to preserve it as much as we can, to reduce, reuse and recycle. We should try to leave our world as a better place for the generations to come. As from the words of a song from Blood Sweat and Tears: “And when I die and when I’m dead, dead and gone, there‘ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on”.
Using our resources creatively. Naomi and I have a house on a little lake north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s on a lot that includes almost 2 acres, a lake front, some woods and sits on a hill overlooking the lake. It is a four-bedroom house with a two story two car garage, where we ample room for storage. We moved from there to a studio apartment in New York City. You can imagine the downsizing. But, we had already been doing that. Naomi is much better at downsizing and getting rid of things we don’t need. She was the executive director of a refugee resettlement agency in Grand Rapids, and was always looking to see what we did not need, and then giving that away.
Where your treasure is, so will your heart be also. I was watching a show once on the History Channel about hoarders. It’s unbelievable what people store in their homes. Naomi’s grandmother was kind of like that, not to the extent of what I saw on the sow, but she kept all magazines, newspapers and lots of other stuff. When she passed away it was a nightmare cleaning out the house. I remember coming into the house one day and going to one of our bedrooms that we set aside for reading, and my favorite old chair was missing. Naomi told me I didn’t need that old chair, that it was kind of an eyesore and put a different chair in its place. I loved that old chair. Remember the TV show Frazer, where Frazer’s dad had this frumpy old chair in the middle of their front room. This was a chair similar to that one, I’m sure.
We moved from NYC to Philadelphia, out of a small apartment to another two story rectory with a full basement. Then we made the move from Philadelphia and downsized again into the apartment we are now living in., but I have learned to appreciate downsizing and I look forward to spring cleaning. We had a rule in NYC, because our place was very small, that whenever we bought a new piece of clothing, we had to get rid of something. Naomi helps me out because I’m not so good at getting rid of things. So, at certain times I will bring out all my shirts and ask Naomi which ones she thinks I should get rid of, and it feels good to reduce and give things away that someone else might be able to use. You know, in my closet, I’ve got a long wool coat and a couple other coats that I will probably never use again. I need to get rid of them. Naomi will be pleased. It feels good to get rid of things you don’t need. It’s part of being a good steward of what God has given to us.
One of the things Naomi and I have been talking about lately is being better stewards of our time. When I look at scripture, and then allow the Living Word to become a bigger part of my life, and when I allow the Holy Spirit to challenge my desires, it’s a struggle of desires. My desires and comfort get in the way sometimes of being a good steward of my time, resources and abilities. In this case, Naomi and I have been talking about our need to watch less of movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime, and some other British company that we now subscribe too, but it’s hard to break bad habits. I’m not saying we need to cut it out completely, but it’s like a financial budget. We have to limit our use.
As stewards, how do we use our time in ministry to others? We are a part of the universal Holy Catholic church. We are also members of the Anglican Communion worldwide, members of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, a part of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, and a part of the St. Alban’s community of faith. We also work with other local churches, the First Presbyterian, First United Methodist, St. John’s Lutheran, First Lutheran and other churches. I meet every month with a group that represents Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist and Jewish clergy.
There is a wise verse that I like from Ecclesiastes: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. (Eccl. 4:12) And there’s another one of my favorite verses from the same book: “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success”. (Eccl. 10:10) It’s wise to use our talents, gifts and resources by linking up with other churches to do more effective, more creative, and using the talents and gifts of many to reach out to the needs of those beyond our walls, to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, and to love others”> It’s our calling as stewards of God grace, doing the work of the ministry.
“Where your treasure is, there your heart well be also. Naomi recently went to a wellness day put on =by the Pension Fund of the Episcopal Church, and it was focused on being stewards of our physical, mental and spiritual health, as well as our financial health. We are still working on that, but our desires and comfort levels always seem to get in the way, but we are still working on it. When I worked in sales, my goal every year was to increase my sales quota and therefore make more money, and I did. But I’m not in that world anymore, and neither is Naomi. We chose to walk away from that world to do what we are doing now, and we are overwhelmed at times with how rich we are in God because of it. But, now we have to budget our time, resources and abilities. It’s always been a struggle for us, and I can see it as a struggle to continue.
My desire is that we as a church can be stewards of Gods, grace, and to offer hope, love and peace to those inside the walls and those outside the walls of this church. We all struggle with our own desires and comfort levels. That’s the continuum that we reflect in our liturgy and in the writings of the New Testament. We have been saved, we are being saved, and we shall be saved. The Apostle Paul says “I die daily”. In other words, as we become participants with God as stewards of our time, resources and abilities, our desires will begin to take the shape of Gods. Desires for us.
So that when I die and when I’m dead and gone there will be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on. Let’s leave am environmental imprint, an imprint of our resources, time and abilities for the generations to follow so that they too can continue on the work after we are gone.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Sunday, July 31, 2016
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, California