The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry
“Make A Space”
Scripture Reference: Matthew 8:18-22
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
One year for Lent we gave out copies of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. What fun that was. The congregation had a ball and experienced a newfound freedom. The book, or closer to the point, the method of Marie Kondo can be freeing.
Essentially her method is to go through everything you own. You start with your clothes; you go onto the kitchen; the bathroom; the garage; the attic. Yet you don’t go to the spaces to organize them. You go to all the places in your house to collect. You collect everything you own by category. And then, then comes the intriguing moment. You look to each item and ask about joy; you consider the purpose and the use each item.
It doesn’t take long for mounds of clothes to be ready for the local thrift store. For we all have far too many clothes, some that have been with us for decades. And the duplicates begin to appear. You ask yourself do you really need twelve different mixing bowls? Do you want to keep the wine glasses from a New Year’s eve party with the date 1998 on it?
Kathy and I did it. There were interesting moments. We followed the method and started with our clothes. And then we moved to the stemware, crystal, etc. Then we began to consider our stuff. Stuff is what I call anything we keep but don’t necessarily use.
There was a delightful moment when we realized that we had hauled a silver chafing dish across the country six times without ever taking it out of the box, without ever using it. It was a wedding gift, a nice gift. It was so nice we kept the dish even though we had no use for it.
As we considered the silver chafing dish being in our home for nearly 30 years, we fell upon a theme of Marie Kondo, we were keeping this dish from giving someone joy, someone out there needs this silver chafing dish, someone will rejoice with it. We gave it to our local thrift store along with a few boxes of crystal and stemware, plates and bowls of which we simply had far too many.
If you follow her method to the end, what you will find is space. You will look at space differently. The drawer is not for junk, so much junk you must empty it out to find anything. The drawer is to be kept free of clutter. And the closet, the pantry, the shelf is not to be heaped or piled with things. The space is meant for certain items, for a type of clothing.
In the end, we not only realized we had too much stuff, but we were creating a lot of chaos. The method of Marie Kondo was so intriguing because it showed not only the clutter, but also the way we can live life with a sense of purpose and freedom. Each space had a purpose now.
From 2015 to 2017, the self-storage industry boomed, doubled in the United States. It went from 18 million square feet, to 36 million. It is a 50 billion dollar component of our economy. Analysts suggest this is urbanization. Real estate is getting smaller, pricier, and thus we can’t keep all of our stuff in our homes. Instead of laying aside or giving away our extra stuff, we buy extra storage space.
At some point, though, this must end. There is a moment where all the stuff goes away. This moment happens to everyone because at some point, be it death or long-term care, we can no longer keep our stuff.
In the last decade there has been a movement, a kind of reckoning regarding too much stuff. Some call it the minimalist lifestyle, or the tiny house. Each is an attempt to live without ownership or with as little as possible. I recently watched a video of a young woman who wants to live out of her car on purpose. And I have seen the shows on television where someone wants to live in a few hundred square feet. But they want each square foot to be really cool.
And it is cool. The idea of being without trappings, without the weight of obligation or rent or a mortgage. How intriguing is the notion of just walking away from all the demands and obligations and bills and payment plans. There is power in the austere, the unencumbered, the freedom from any ties.
The desire for austerity, for a life of unencumbered motion, can be seen in our reading, foxes have dens, birds have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. We can see this austerity in the minimalist trend in our culture, the desire for a tiny house. Yet, this is not new. Monastics have been living this life forever. The monk’s cell, the simple habit, the renouncing of all earthly possessions: this was not invented by HGTV.
Many people, through the centuries, have heard the words of Jesus here and tried to live them literally. People have renounced all their possessions; or sought to leave their past behind, to cut the ties with family, to enter an order or a community where a new life, a new family is found.
The teaching of Jesus here, this image of life unencumbered, of being free is squandered, though, if we seek to live it literally, to follow it as a straightforward mandate. As one who just faced the loss of a father and the obligations that come with it, nothing could be farther from Jesus had I turned to my mother and said, “let the dead bury the dead.” No.
And so is also the case with seeing this teaching as an ideal for a measure of our life. This is part of the minimalism, the tiny house, the tidy room. Live without as much stuff as possible. Resist the temptation to collect, to keep, to store up. For heaven’s sake don’t rent a storage space. Why? Because the goodness of life is found with the less you have. This is not as bad as the monastic path, but it is still a misreading of our passage. Jesus is not calling his disciples to a sense of austerity or a modern look of clean lines; Jesus is calling his disciples to freedom.
You and I have a lot of stuff in our hearts. There are fears and untruths and anger and misconceptions. We have them; we collect them. The heart is our soul’s home and for most people the house is quite cluttered.
We all have rooms filled with childhood moments, teenage moments, moments from our time of early adulthood. If we are lucky, the rooms continue to be filled with memories over the course of a long, happy life. Some of the stuff in these rooms, some of the memories are treasures; some are just trash; some of the stuff in our heart, though, some are ideas and definitions and demands that hurt us, destroy us. This is what Jesus called the darkness in us, or evil.
In our reading today we get a glimpse of what it means to follow Jesus and in following him we will lay aside darkness, evil. To do this though we have to clear out the false securities, the home we have made with fear. To follow Jesus, we must leave behind definitions and certainties destroying us. That is the promised freedom, the good in the good news. We can put these aside. Yet to do so, to find such freedom we must be willing to question everything, to see all of life as open to doubt. The traditions (let the dead bury the dead) and the security (the son of man has nowhere) both must be faced with complete honesty. In this honesty we can find what should be kept and what should be cleared out of our heart.
If we look to history, we can see this clearing out. What was hated before is now our freedom, our possibility. Did we not believe a short time ago that women were categorically, qualitatively, inherently weaker, lesser than men? Did we not believe, just a short time ago, that separate can be equal? Did we not trust the idea that a homosexual is simply wrong? Did we not?
If we look to this, we will see that at some point along the way someone dared to live without a den or nest, to live without the false security of our confusion; at some point in our life together some one was honest and dared to say, I don’t believe that is true, that is a dead thought, a dead way to live, let the dead bury the dead.
I am haunted by a story told of a young teen, a black teenager, who what the captain of a swim team. In the summer before his senior year, the members of the swim team were told by the coach that their captain couldn’t join them at a lake house; he was not able because he had a job and thus could not spend July and August swimming each day in a lake and being fed and housed by the family of the coach. What a shame to have missed such an opportunity. But it had to be.
Only, none of that was true. The teen didn’t refuse the offer because he had a job; he didn’t accept the offer because it was never made. The house where the swim team spent their summer was owned by a woman who refused to let a black teenager sleep under her roof. And the coach, not wanting all to miss this glorious opportunity, simply lied.
The teen, become a man, told this story in a recent book. He described the feeling of heartbreak and confusion that occurs in betrayal. He was confronted with the darkness, the dishonesty, we all possess in our hearts. To his credit, he quit the team, but he did so only after he spoke with honesty to the coach and offered a clear reason. He was betrayed by the lie and the inability of the coach to not stand up for him.
In that moment, the teenager became someone who chose, who dared to speak the truth, to live without the safety of dishonesty. He was someone who let the dead bury the dead; he left the coach to his own demise. Most importantly the young man made a space for freedom in his heart.
There are people who are making a space for freedom. The space is made with honesty and daring and humility. We are blessed by these people. They can be a public figure, a person of renown; but they can also be a friend who refuses to abide our dishonesty, who speaks to us in kind words, not meant to shame, but also not meant to allow our fears and falsity go unquestioned. They make a space for us to live in freedom.
To follow Jesus, to be his disciple, is to make space in our own heart. We make this space for freedom when we lay aside the falsities we cherish, the stuff that destroys us. Our hearts can be so cluttered with trash, with things we have no need of whatsoever— littered with grudges or insecurities or delusions become hatred and derision and prejudice. We can become so filled with these there is no longer space for freedom.
Make a space in your heart for freedom. Lay aside the false securities, the lies we cling to. Reach for what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. Remove the lingering definitions allowing the acceptance of injustice. We have too many dead ideas, dead definitions; we must let them go to their own demise. Let the dead bury the dead. Be bold; be brave. Have the courage to follow Jesus unto freedom. Make a space in your heart for freedom. Amen.
- Ruth 1:11 - 17
- Matthew 8:18 - 22