"Incredible wealth” and “breathless pace”—these are two of the most prominent features of Western societies as the old millennium ends and the new begins. True, it is breathless pace for all and incredible wealth only for some. Yet the eyes of all are set on material wealth and so we keep running, faster and faster.
As a pastor in New York City, I've found myself challenged to think more deeply about “stuff." I've come to believe that the truth about what we too casually name “materialism” is not so simple. It ought to be clear, after all, that God doesn’t hate stuff. Witness the creation story. God invents stuff. At the end of each of six days, God engages in self-congratulation, pronouncing serial evening benedictions on the stuff created that day: “Good!”
One of the strengths of my Anabaptist tradition is that it takes the Bible and biblical authority seriously but also expects believers, particularly younger people, to argue and raise questions about the text. The parable of the shifty steward in Luke 16 was a delight to my friends and me in our coming-of-age years.
Jesus called the young ruler to a new kind of material life, a life given to serving the poor with the “materials” of tears, blood and sweat. Clearly, this life is not marked by the kinds of happiness used to sell goods. But we do honor Jesus’ call in our culture when we honor volunteers and all those who serve others.
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The church I serve is located in the midst of one of the busiest retail merchandizing areas in the country. Our closest neighbors are Bloomingdale’s, Marshall Field and Lord & Taylor. So I have the opportunity to observe firsthand how the stores and the city prepare for Christmas.
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