We’re going shopping… in a world of plastic.
Do you remember a recent shopping trip? What did the store look like? What caught your eye? I remember going shopping when I first moved back to the United States after three years abroad. (In1970, we moved from 3 years in the Middle East to the American Midwest – and moving from Beirut, Lebanon to Columbus, Ohio was the biggest culture shock of my life.)
When we left for Beirut, Rob was just finishing graduate school, and now he was going to have a real salary – and that meant I didn’t need to worry about every penny when I was shopping. (I’m not talking about sudden wealth here, just having enough to buy the basics without undue stress.)
Shopping in Beirut was a lot of fun, even a cultural adventure. It meant learning some Arabic and even more French, the languages of the markets. It mean going out every day to very small shops and sometimes to the downtown souk – carrying our shopping bags, like everyone else. And, since our boys were very little, when we took them along they were mostly unaware of things to buy. The most tempting thing for little boys was probably the bananas in the tiny shop across our street… where the owner, when he saw them, would just give them a piece of candy or a bit of bread (no charge).
When we moved from Beirut to the Midwest, Rob had an even better salary – and I had even more money to shop with. Our boys were now 3 and 4, the perfect ages to notice all the things for sale along the aisles, and especially the toys and candy and the little cars and trucks wrapped in gleaming plastic. How to get through the aisles without a melt-down? How to check out without buying candy or a new truck?
So I was very aware of shopping temptations for small children. But I blissfully unaware of what was tempting me. We now were renting a small house – which needed furniture, and kitchen gadgets, and decorations, and basic supplies. And in the years since we left the States, it seemed the shopping world had exploded in plastic. Not only were the little trucks wrapped in plastic, but the aisles of big stores were stacked with colorful plastic containers – just the thing to store whatever needing storing. And plastic containers were so cheap!
Plastic, even in the most gorgeous colors, is made from oil. And what are you going to do with all that plastic when you’re done with it? So cheap to buy, so easy to throw away – but where is it all going to go?
Even when, just a few years later, there was a national oil crisis and the schools in the Midwest actually shut down in the winter to conserve heat, the plastic continued to multiply in the stores – and I (and millions of others) continued to buy plastic.
Back in the ’70s, I never made the connection between oil and plastic. I never made the connection between plastic and landfills. And most important of all – while I saw that the check-out stands were designed to tempt small children, I never saw what was designed to tempt me.
Today’s Scriptures describe a world that God loves,
a world that God wants us to love, too:
Luke 12:27 Consider the lilies… We live in an interconnected world of lilies and ravens, people and animals, rocks and trees – all loved and cared for by God.
Luke 12:34 Where your treasure is … Seek what God loves and cares for; seek God’s kingdom.
Luke 12:33 Make purses for yourselves that don’t wear out…. Don’t care so much about things that won’t last.
Isaiah 1:17 Seek justice, rescue the oppressed…. Instead, care for all those who don’t have enough.
Jesus talked about money more than anything else except the Kingdom of God; in Luke’s Gospel, 1 of every 7 verses refers to money or possessions. Why so much talk about money? Didn’t Jesus come to teach us about our spiritual lives?
Jesus knew it’s hard to even look for the Kingdom of God when we are always looking for wealth. He knew it’s hard for us to care for others when we are always taking care of ourselves.
And (especially in Luke’s Gospel) the Kingdom of God is not purely “spiritual” – as we’ve heard this morning, God also cares for the ravens, the lilies and the grass of the field; God cares about the living conditions of the poor, and God cares for the bodies of the hungry.
In Isaiah God speaks to Israel: Do you think your worship pleases me? I have had enough of your burnt offerings! Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow… And Jesus echoes Isaiah: Money and possessions are to be shared with the needy – and as we strengthen the bonds that link us to others, God’s Kingdom will be building up among us.
So Jesus tells us: Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Today many theologians include the earth itself, with its ravens and lilies, its grasses and rocks and coal, and oil –the earth itself is needy. As we strengthen the bonds that link us to the natural world (as well as to God’s people everywhere), God’s Kingdom is building up among us.
But what does the world teach us about money and possessions?
Go back to that recent shopping trip – to the aisles, the shelves, the check-out lines. What message was that sending? You need more…more… more.
In Life Abundant, Sallie McFague says, “ We have become consumers – not citizens… or children of God… or lovers of the world… but consumers.”
Yes, Life Abundant suggests that consumerism is a religion. (In today’s America there is even a ‘prosperity gospel’ – God will make you rich! And if you are rich, you are favored by God!)
If consumerism is our religion, what are we really ‘worshiping’? What are our ‘spiritual practices’? What are our ‘holy days’? Valentine flowers and candy? Easter clothes and bunnies? Fourth-of-July fireworks and patriotic shirts? Halloween costumes galore? My own un-favorite holy day is Thanksgiving…. (You can tell your own story.)
What can we do?
Often, we lose hope. We know there’s so little that we can do.
I know that I’m not going to save the world with my shopping bag. But – I may change myself.
Maybe this shopping bag could become part of my own ‘spiritual practice’ – a practice that teaches me how to live with ‘enough’, that makes me less greedy, that makes me more caring of people, and of a world, that doesn’t have ‘enough’.
What would the world look like if ‘enough’ people learned to live with ‘enough?
What would Christianity look like if we Christians lived like we knew the world, and all its inhabitants – the widows, the orphans, the poor, the oppressed; the rocks that give us coal, the trees that give us houses, the grass that gives us bread, the animals that give us meat, the water that gives us life, the oil that gives us plastic, the whole world – is meant to be God’s Kingdom?
Preached on August 11, 2013
at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos