November 18, 2012
Based on Psalm 16
“Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don’t need most of what I want,
and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity.” --Adam Hamilton
How much is enough? “Well”, you may say, “It depends on what we’re talking about. Can you have too many toys? Can you have too many computer games? How many computer games are enough to have? How many televisions are sufficient? During Patriots season you may need a television for the fans, and a television for, well no one is likely to confess to NOT being a Patriots fan.
It’s an interesting question though really. The things we enjoy in life include: sport, music, and the company of friends, books, boats, and good food. Can we ever get too much of a good thing?
We know for example, that all living creatures need water to survive. Water is a really great thing. In fact most of our body is made up of water. If we don’t get enough water, we die of thirst. If we get too much water, a rare occurrence, we flush all nutrients and electrolytes out of our cells. It’s called hypernatremia. Too much water can kill us too.
If you ever watch a particular team play football, you’ll notice that throughout the game the players stand on the sidelines and drink water or Gatorade to stay hydrated with just enough water to play well. Their muscles won’t fire properly without just the right amount of fluid.
The Bible is filled with stories of too much and not enough. There are parables about people who filled their barns to over-brimming and had to build even bigger barns. There was so much stuff in the barns that the contents eventually rotted. The Bible calls the people who owned the barns, fools. Stories of too much of a good thing always turn out badly.
We’re about to enter the Advent season when we celebrate the fact that God enters the world to turn our idea of who’s got the most and coolest stuff, and those who live in a constant state of deprivation upside down.
In Mary’s song in the gospel of Luke, she foretells of a time when God will bring the powerful down from their thrones and lift up the lowly “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She warns that God will show strength to scatter the proud who act as if they are better than someone else because of who they are or what they possess.
In like manner, the Bible is filled with stories of frightened people who worry that there won’t be enough. We understand that fear. Long ago the people of Israel followed Moses out into the desert, away from the unbearable life they had lived under a Pharaoh who abused them. Once they got out of sight of their former boss, you might have thought they would do a little happy dance and thank God every day for their sweet life. But no, they turned on Moses. "Why did you lead us out here into the desert only to let us die?" They did a lot of hand wringing over whether or not they would have enough to eat, enough to drink. It's an old, old story. Jesus addressed the same issue hundreds of years later when he said, "Do not be anxious about what you will eat, or what you will drink. As God so clothes the lilies of the field, will God not also clothe you? Take care of you? Give you what you need?"
But times have been hard in recent years. Many people have lost that which is most precious to them, that which they thought was secure. Many people, who had hoped to retire, watched their life savings plunge, or with the changing winds of politics in some companies, disappear altogether. Unlike earlier decades when layoffs were lamentable and business owners tried as hard as they could for as long as they could to take care of their people, we now live in a time when many people lose their life work unexpectedly over an afternoon meeting. Job here today, gone tomorrow. It's devastating. No wonder the writers of the Psalms so often wrote a deep lament, expressing the sorrow of feeling like the world is stacked against you.
Unlike most years in recent history, we now watch bright, capable, well-educated hard working people lose their shirts, and we hope against hope that we won't be next.
Whether we have a great abundance, or whether we live with a sense of scarcity, it's easy to understand the human tendency to hold on tightly to what we have against the possibility that it might be taken from us if we do not. Only the world measures us by what we have or have not.
God pours out God’s abundance upon us all the time. When our kids are little and we’re running every which way and we don’t have two nickels to rub together, God is there. When we get the dreaded phone call that the biopsy shows trouble, God is there. When our world as we know it seems to crumble apart, God is there, creating little miracles every step of the way.
Whether we live with abundance or little may matter to us, but God never sees our glass half empty. God is a full glass king of God. The antidote to the fear of having too little is close at hand. The cure for the pride of having too much and believing our success is all about us is nearer to us than we know. Most of us can reach for it right now from wherever we are sitting. The promise of God to provide what we need in abundance is written large in a place we can readily see it so we don’t forget.
Here, let me show you what I mean. I want to invite all of you to take a piece of paper money out of your wallet, purse or backpack right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $1 bill, a 5, 10, 20, fifty or $100. Don’t worry; I’m not going to take it away from you. If you don’t have one, borrow one from your neighbor, or look on with your neighbor. You might have to share one with your kids if you don’t have enough to go around. Does anybody in the choir need a piece of paper money? Don’t forget to give it back to me after the sermon or I won’t be able to buy my Thanksgiving turkey at Hannaford’s this afternoon. Don’t be afraid, if we can share a hymnal we can share a piece of money for a couple of minutes.
Now take a moment to look at the piece of paper in your hand. Notice that one side of the paper is black, and one side of the paper is green. Now turn it over to the green side. At the top of the piece of paper it has the name of our country. It says, “The United States…. that’s right, of America.”
Now look just under those words, The United States of America. If you are old enough to read, I want you those next four words together with me that are on the green side of the money. On the count of three. Ready? One…two….three….
”In God we trust.”
Who do we trust?
Isn’t it interesting that not even money trusts itself? Even money knows that it cannot rescue us from our fear of having too little or the pride that can come with having too much. The world is all about what is printed on the black side. We all want to be in the black. To be in the black means we think we have more than enough money. Everything’s good.
We’re all tempted to overdo it in order to stay in the black. We hoard what we have. We get tempted to build bigger and better barns, bigger bank accounts, fatter annuities, even if it costs precious time with those we love, even if we forfeit our health, our very life. We tell ourselves that we don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what will be required of us. So we hang on to what we have tooth and nail.
Now there’s nothing unfaithful about planning for the future. In fact, being a good steward requires us to take the necessary steps to take care of that which has been entrusted to us by God. The trouble is that we come to falsely believe that having it all will save us. Riches are transient, they cannot last. We’re all going to have to give it up, all of it, when the last bell chimes. Notice the Bible doesn’t say that it’s a bad thing to have riches. It says it’s a bad thing to love it too much. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t work to take care of our families and ourselves; it says that your life is about so much more than that. And whether we have much or little, we can’t make a life of money. We can only make a life that endures when we do what even money tells us to do. “Don’t trust me,” money says. “Trust in God.
Today is Thanksgiving Sunday. We bring to worship today many signs of our trust in God. We open our hands to indicate to one another that we are trustworthy. We share our canned goods to demonstrate that even if we give the last can away out of our pantry, we trust that more will be provided. We bring our tithes and offerings, a portion of all that we have received to dedicate it to God’s purposes through the morning offering. And we make a pledge to the church as a thank offering to God for all that God has done for us. But even more than that, we bring our very lives as a sign that whether we have little or whether we have much, we will trust God in all things. To do so changes everything.
When we trust God, we shift from hoarding people to generous people.
When we trust God, we move from a posture of holding back to a posture of letting go.
When we trust God, we live unafraid. This frees up our energy for this incredible life. Author Annie Dillard once said about the life of writing what I believe about our life of faith. Our life was created as a tool by God. We’re meant to be used and given away.“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” “The Writing Life, Ch. 5 (1989) In other words, our life was created as a tool by God. We’er meant to be well used and given away..
What Annie Dillard wrote about the writing life could be equally said about the life of faith. Our life is not to be hoarded for some secret gain, hidden until later, a better time.
When “In God we trust”, we may have not have much or we may have everything, but through faith, we will receive exactly what we need. And so we give thanks.