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September 29, 2019 Sermon

"When is Enough, Enough?"


Old Testament Scripture: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15


The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3awhere King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.


Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.


And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.


Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19


Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Sermon: "When is Enough, Enough?"


You know, sometimes the problems of this world seem overwhelming. Disease, poverty, homelessness, hunger, it can seem that there is too much to do, too many to feed. And there is simply not enough money.

I know that when Karen and I are approached by people in need at church, sometimes we have to remember that we simply can’t help everyone, that our resources have limits, and that there are other churches and charities in town that can also step in and help.


But it’s hard to see someone in pain, someone in trouble, and not be ale to help them. It’s hard to think of that one person in need, and multiply that by thousands, by millions. It’s overwhelming.


For one person. For one church. It’s overwhelming.


But I wonder if the problem isn’t so much that we don’t have the time or the money to address some of society’s ills, but rather, we haven’t made it a priority of society. We think of the problem as one that we have to solve individually, by ourselves. We don’t think of it as a problem that can be solved best by all of us at once.


And because we don’t think of it as a societal problem, we don’t approach it as a societal problem, and we don’t put our resources to the best use. We forget that that when Jesus has just a little bit to work with, just some bread, just a couple of fish, he can work miracles.


And we forget that. We forget that with Jesus, there is enough.

And along with this hyperactive individualism, this unwillingness to address societal problems as a society, we are sick.


There is a pernicious illness some have called affluenza, a disease that causes us to always be wanting more, more money, more things, more stuff, more stature, more fame, more success, more of what we see on the Instagram accounts of other people, more of what we see on TV, more, more, more, more, more.


More is addictive. I was struck by a recent truck commercial where the tailgate has 6 different ways that it can be put down. A recent review called it great gadget to have, even if it is completely unnecessary. And for those who want even more, and who doesn’t want even more? the tailgate can be fitted with Bluetooth speakers, because I remember growing up picking rocks, that I wished I had some Bluetooth speakers in the tailgate of the truck.


More is where it’s at. We want more. And it’s making us sick.


And our society is doubly sick because we have not only come to accept without question that more is better, we also think that less is bad. It’s so axiomatic that more is better, that we don’t question it. Of course more is better. It’s simply better.

And our economy depends on us believing that more is better. The stock market depends on us striving to get more. Bigger houses, better cars, more money. The idea of more is better is an integral part of how we think of ourselves, the way we measure our own value. We lift up the idea of ‘more’ as a virtue, and to question the validity of ‘more is better’ is to question the American dream itself.

Recycling is almost seen as unpatriotic. Reusing, re purposing are words that hippies use. When McDonald’s wants to do a facelift on a franchise, they tear down the whole thing, and build it from scratch. More, bigger, louder, faster, brighter, newer, we don’t stop to think why these might be better, we just assume that they are. It’s a given.


The problem is, this obsessive quest for more is killing us. We mistake money for value, we mistake wealth for worth. We spend our money on things we don’t want or need. Our mortgages are upside-down, our credit is hyperextended, we live from crisis to crisis, beyond our means, under water, on a tightwire of debt. And with every purchase, we feed the machine that always wants more.

Let me give you some examples of our perverse understanding of value, the way our need for more has warped our perspective.

Let’s start with the important stuff. According to the United Nations, it would take $30 billion a year for ten years to end world hunger. Now, that sounds like a ridiculous amount of money. $30 Billion is an unreachable, unimaginable amount of money. There is no way for us, as a society, as a world, that we could find that kind of money. World hunger is just too big a problem for us to fix.

Except, until you realize that the defense budget for the United States in 2019 is $700 Billion. There is always enough to buy more missiles, more warships, more rockets, more bombs, more guns, more planes, more tanks. I wonder if we spent some of that money on ending world hunger - let’s see, $30 billion is what, 4% of our Defense budget? – we wouldn’t need as much money for guns. Is there any room for that kind of thinking?

$30 Billion sounds like a lot until we remember that we spent more than $10 Billion dollars on college athletic tickets alone last year, according to ESPN. Or that the National Football League took in more than $9 Billion last year, according to Forbes magazine. Isn’t that amazing? In just American football dollars, we have already spent more than half of what we would need to end world hunger. If we factor in the NBA and Major League baseball, we have arrived at our goal of $30 Billion dollars. Yet, there is still world hunger. We have placed a higher value on sports than we do on the lives of human beings.

But America is not alone in our sickness. Our European brothers and sisters don’t always know the value of money either.

For instance, the English Premier league took in almost $4 Billion dollars last year. The German Bundesliga came in second with over $2.5 Billion. La Liga from Spain was third, with just under 2.5 Billion. Of course, most of that was just to pay Lionel Messi. Sorry, that was an inside soccer joke. Are there any soccer fans in the congregation? Hello?

Lower on down the list we find Italy and France with just around $2 Billion apiece. And so, if we take just the top five soccer leagues from across the pond, we have over $13 Billion dollars. And if we figure in that in 2018 Russia spent $12 Billion just on the Word Cup, we as a human race, will spend well over $25 Billion dollars in world soccer revenues alone.

To put it in perspective, all in all, worldwide sports revenue tops $471 Billion a year.

In other words, every year, we spend more on watching sports than it would take to end world hunger 15 times over. Let me say that again: We spend on sports more money each year than would be required to end world hunger 15 times over.
There is something very wrong with that.

Now, I’m not trying to bash sports. I’m simply demonstrating the strange, the diseased sense of priorities we have developed as a society.

And it’s not just sports. The artistic nerds get into the action as well. In 2017, worldwide revenues for Fine Art topped 64 Billion Dollars. Global Music Revenue came in at over 26 Billion. That’s enough to beat world hunger three times over right there. Global revenue for movies is somewhere around 40 Billion Dollars. And that’s just the Avengers!

Just kidding.

All in all, we spent about 700 billion on the arts in 2015. That’s about that same amount as we spent on guns. I guess that’s a good thing, in it’s own strange way, but still. We spent a lot of money on movies, music, and paintings.

So, it’s not that the money is unavailable. There is enough money. It’s that we spend it on other things. And we usually spend it on ourselves.

I don’t mean to make us feel bad. These statistics are just to make my point that we, as a society, are sick. Our priorities are fundamentally and tragically out of whack, and as Christians, we have allowed ourselves to become sick as well, in order for us to fit in. Our own spiritual health has been compromised in order for us to be at home in this culture.

And there are compelling reasons to get sick. Our friends are sick. Our families are sick. Our neighbors are sick. Our bosses, and our co-workers are sick. And in order for us to avoid being accused of being un-American, or unpatriotic, or un-whatever label gets thrown at people who are countercultural, we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the contagious virus of always needing more. It is easier, and less stressful, in some ways, to just be sick along with everyone else.

But I wonder, if there isn’t something inside each of us that hopes we were created for more a complete, more meaningful life than simply grabbing for the next rung of the ladder.

And I think that we were.

And so does the Apostle Paul.

And so does Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us over and over that we were created for so much more than just one more lap on the hamster wheel. But in order to find that sense of peace and freedom, we first have to let go of our stuff and embrace the countercultural radicalness of enough. The problem is, enough is not a simple thing.

Because living with enough does not depend on an outer change of behavior, on our actions; on giving everything away, on taking a vow of poverty, but rather it depends on an inner simplicity that can only come from a complete upheaval of the way we think about the things we have, and the way we got them.

As long as we think that we earned our stuff, that our stuff reflects who we are, that we deserve the things we have, that they are ours, that we got it all on our own, then we will never have enough. Because if we genuinely think that it is we who determine our own worth, if we genuinely think that it is up to us to earn our own way, if we buy into this idea of rugged individuality, then the idea of ‘enough’ can never fill the hole in our lives that wonders if we can ever be worthy of the love of God.

Because it doesn’t matter how rich we are, we can never buy the assurance that, even in our worst moments, we are still loved. We can never buy the promise of God’s love and forgiveness. These things are gifts, and they are outside our reach, whether you are the disabled vet on the street looking for his next meal, or Warren Buffet in Omaha. And yet these gifts are given freely, to all of us, without condition.

In other words, enough is not about how much we have. It’s what we do with what we’ve got, and it’s how we thank the one from whom we got it.

In today’s scripture, we find Paul giving all kinds of advice about money and riches. Paul is not shy about telling Timothy how dangerous wealth is, and the temptations it brings. He talks about the distractions of money, the pain it causes. And his advice is simple. Be content with the small stuff. Find pleasure in the small stuff. Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that more is better. Because it’s not. If you have more, share it. If you don’t, be grateful for what you do have.
But in Paul’s advice we also see that a life of enough is more about the inner workings of our souls, rather than the outer workings of our actions. “Pursue righteousness,” he says. Rather than a life of striving for more, he instructs Timothy to consider, “godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness,” as higher ambitions.

And we’ve heard this language before. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God. That we can’t store up our treasures to take with us. That where our treasure is, there our heart will be.

All of these sayings point to the same truth, that a life that is counter-cultural to the sickness that pervades this world begins with first seeking out and embracing a different kind of world altogether. A world in which we spend more on hunger than we do on sports or abstract art. A world in which we spend more on disease than we do on pop music or action movies. A world in which the first are last, and the last first, and the poor are blessed, and the meek inherit the earth.

This is the world that Jesus calls us to seek first, the world that Paul tells Timothy to pursue. And it is in the pursuit of this world that we find the simplicity that will allow us to let go of stuff we don’t need.

In the next few weeks, we will be beginning our Stewardship drive for the church. As we think, as a church, about the commitments we will make to fulfill the priorities we place on mission and programs, I also invite all of us, as individuals to consider our own sense of mission, and our own commitments to those things that we see as priorities.

And so, as we pray and plan and think and dream about next year, I encourage all of us to consider three small changes in the way we think about our stuff that will set us on the path to better spiritual health:

If what we have is received as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for in a way that pleases God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will be able to experience the sort of inner freedom from anxiety that will lead to a life of enough.

On the other hand, if we believe we have earned what we have, and if what we have we believe we must protect at all costs, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will inevitably live in the kind of anxiety that makes it impossible to have enough, no matter how much or how little.

And no one wants that kind of stress.

May God be with us all as we re-consider our relationships with our stuff, with each other, and with our God. Amen.
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