by Julia Sterne
June 1, 2015
7 min read
Have you ever been listening to a sermon Sunday morning and had that sinking feeling, “Oh boy, that is totally me. He is talking right to me. Oh Jesus, help.”
Well that happened to me last week. And it is only complicated by the fact that it was my husband declaring the correction. Luckily I knew it was a complete coincidence that he was speaking on the topic, and not in any way actually trying to correct his lovely wife (fingers crossed).
So if you were there for the sermon on Sunday May 24th, you may remember this part:
In order to see what really matters to a city, what is important in a specific culture, we should look to the tallest building. Historically cities have had moments where the tallest structure is the cathedral, or the legislature, or, now more commonly, a commercial building with its oversized name scraping the sky.
In Vancouver, it is the Shangri-La. La-di-da. A fancy-shmancy luxurious, and even opulent building filled with million dollar condos and a five star hotel. This is the tallest point in Vancouver. And it is according to anthropologists an emblem of what matters most to us Vancouverites.
Now, I am not from Vancouver, but I still fit that stereotype. I live a simpler life than some, but it is luxurious by the standard of many. I do like nice things, even fancy things, and can get a little glazed over at the thought of a 15 million dollar penthouse with the best views in Vancouver and its very own pool. Drool.
I would not normally peg myself as having a taste for the lavish, but offer me the penthouse at the Shangri-La and I would live there in a heartbeat. Offer me a four star dining experience, I am there. A day at the spa? Yes, please. The list could go on. I will clarify that I do not think luxury means you are rich, or in debt, or bad with money. I think you can be fiscally responsible and be lured by luxury. But it is a hard line to walk!
So the lure of luxury works strongly on me. I see this in my prayers about vacation. I pray for God to “bless us” every time I go on a holiday. I am open to the variety of his blessings, but if they come in the form of a first class seat upgrade, a free dinner at the hottest restaurant in town, or gifts showered on us magically by the hotel, he is really speaking my vacation love language. It is a language asking to be pampered and spoiled rotten. Even now it makes me wonder how he could “bless” my next trip! Oh man, I am totally sucked in by the lure of luxury.
At first I do not really see any harm in luxury. If you can balance your cheque book at the end of the day, who cares? Shouldn’t we “treat” ourselves every now and again? There is nothing morally wrong with purchasing higher quality items. A carpenter should be paid a good wage for that beautiful hand carved rosewood dining table. It’s not like I encrusted it in diamonds. And even if I did, if I can afford it… (I kid, I kid).
But in the sermon I was warned there is a danger. It is not morally repugnant to like nice things or even buy them, but luxury can become a slippery slope. It can be a desire that grows instead of shrinks. I cannot imagine living in that opulent penthouse and wanting more, but according to human observation across time, dissatisfaction could be my end; dissatisfaction because there is always more luxury waiting and calling. The writer of Ecclesiastes echoed this warning through generations: “You can have the best but it is all empty at the end of the day. Ashes. And dust.”
We can mistakenly pursue luxury to an extreme and we can find luxury irresistible, because we are looking for something that luxury just cannot provide.
So personally, the damage may be buying things I cannot afford, or becoming greedy with money, or giving less to those in need, or becoming more selfish. The damage may be even deeper still, feeling discontent, empty or depressed. And communally, the damage can be a bunch of dissatisfied humans running around trying to get what’s best for themselves. To me, that is actually the scarier picture: humanity hell bent on grandeur and sumptuousness, digging deeper into discontentment, greed, and even selfishness. Focused on getting our own luxury, we may even lose sight of others, becoming isolated in our pursuit, sinking into loneliness and ending up alone.
In reality, this is actually a glimpse into the cultural and sociological struggles of Vancouver. There is a large part of the population struggling with loneliness, a lack of purpose, and mental illness. I cannot blame the lure of luxury alone, but the tip-top of the Shangri-La does speak something over us as a city.
You can see why I said, “Oh Jesus, help.”!
And thankfully he does. He is our helper. He knows we are creatures of comfort. He knows we like to have luxurious things, to feast and drink good wine and wear beautiful garments and rest on soft pillows and even be anointed with expensive sweet smelling oils. Jesus enjoyed these things as well! He was even mistakenly called a glutton! And I am pretty sure when we get to heaven this King of ours is going to throw an epic party unmatched in history. It says he will crown us, robe us in wedding garments, and we will feast at his banquet table! Sign me up.
So this is not really about luxury at all, but perhaps the lure. It is about those things, which call out to us and make promises they cannot possibly keep.
The penthouse calls me and says “I will make your life easy and secure and enjoyable.” Holidays and fancy vacations call me and say, “I can offer you rest and rejuvenation.” Putting nice things in our house says, “You will feel at home and happy now.” A spa day calls, “Here let me lift your burdens and take care of you.” The Land Rover says, “You look cool and likeable behind my wheel.” The latest fashion or sophisticated watch says, “I can make you beautiful and attractive.”
Can you see the problem here? There is no way a watch can make me beautiful or confident. There is no way a car can make me likeable. There is no way a penthouse can bring me security. Things are just things. The false promises I used above are the danger. We can mistakenly pursue luxury to an extreme, we can find luxury irresistible, because we are looking for something that luxury just cannot provide.
Only God can actually provide for these promises. He is the one who calls to us and says, “Let me carry your burdens. Let me give you rest. Let me crown you with righteousness. Let me clothe you in dignity. Let me protect you and secure you. Let me bring you unending joy. I like you. I think you are beautiful. I am with you always.” He is the only power in the universe that can fulfill these promises. Anytime we look outside of him for these things we will be dissatisfied. And if we continue to pursue them outside of him we can dig ourselves deeper into the true troubles of discontentment, sadness, poor money management, relational conflict, insecurity and selfishness. We will struggle as many struggle.
And we will struggle without Jesus. Whether it is due to the lure of luxury or some other empty promise we pursue outside of Christ. Luxury is not evil. The lure itself is not even what is evil, but it is dangerous. The lure of luxury can become a place for evil to enter our lives when we try to find answers to the desires that only God has promised us. So join me in my prayer: “Oh Jesus, help.”