How Much is Enough?

Last week we heard about a man who had wonderfully good fortune, and who consulted with himself to determine that his response to this good fortune should be to build big barns to keep all his stuff in. Jesus called him a fool.

This week we hear Jesus advising his disciples to sell their possessions and to give alms, and not to worry, and yet to be always prepared for the knock on the door.

What came in between these stories were the lines many of us know and love - but find so hard to live out:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. ... And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  ... Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. ... Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

This is why Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, little flock.” Jesus is asking us to think differently, to recognize the goodness and abundance that is all around us, to know what real life is, and to hold on to our stuff more lightly, willing to trust that there is enough. He asks us to be intentional about our reliance on God, the source of abundance and love. He is asking us to live out the kingdom values.

That requires us to think differently about “enough.” It’s not about money or clothes or square footage. The world abounds in life and opportunity, but if we are slaves to things and money for things, then we are not really participating in the real world. We are just participating in the Market. We are in danger of just serving our stuff, of spending our lives serving that master.

But how exactly are we to live out the kingdom values? How do we show that we are willing and able to rely on God? Does God really expect us to give away all our possessions? What about taking care of ourselves and our children? Does God want us to be homeless? Is God asking us to be irresponsible?

I don’t think those are the right questions, the ones about “irresponsibility” and “being homeless”. The real question is how might we become willing to rely on God and not on possessions or status. It’s not about being homeless but it is about resisting putting our faith in our buying power and prestige.  Which is counter to The American Way, which encourages us to consume and stockpile and acquire so that we can insulate ourselves from the things we fear.

But no, Jesus says, striving for all that keeps us distracted from what is really important. Think differently! Live differently! Be countercultural.

Well, how does one do that, anyway? 

We practice it. Over and over again. And we can start small. When we have anxieties about things, we can practice letting them go. 

When I lived in Atlanta, the city of snarling traffic where everyone is tempted to be mean and grasping behind the wheel, whenever I felt anxious about getting to where I was going on time, I would make myself stop and let someone in instead of planning to cut them off.  It was amazing the unexpected calm I felt after that, realizing that I was still going to get where I was going, and probably still on time. I could be generous in even a very small way, and it was good.

And I learned that whenever I feel anxious about money, my response should be to give money away. Not by spending it on something to make me feel safer but to give it away. Write a check to charity or cause. Buy lunch for someone, even someone I don’t know. Pull out a $20 instead of a $1 to put in the collection plate or donation box. Because I still have enough after that. I always do. Practicing giving away money helps me become less anxious about money and more willing to put it to use for furthering the kingdom.

And I learned, after receiving a scary diagnosis, to let go of my life altogether, to trust that my loving and faithful community would care for my family if I was not able to. Through that experience, I got my real life back, and knew abundance I’d never imagined before.

Being generous in our thoughts, words, and deeds not only helps us quell our anxieties but trains us to live out kingdom values. When Jesus says we need to be ready because we don’t know when the knock will come, it isn’t about steeling ourselves for judgment, but being ready at a moment’s notice to join in God’s work, which we can more clearly see when our vision isn’t obstructed by our big barns and our big anxieties. 

Is this simple or easy? No. Is it a one-time event? No. We have to discern, over and over again, when we need to repent of relying on ourselves and our positions and our stuff, which separates us from one another and from the reality of the world around us.

Real life is scary. It’s filled with pain and sorrow and heartbreak. But it is also filled with so much wonderfulness - unspeakable beauty and tenderness and delight and love so powerful it makes the heart nearly burst with joy. That’s what the kingdom is like.

And so, let us strive for that kingdom, here and now, in our own lives and in the life of this parish and community. Let us learn to see God’s presence around us and to be reassured by that. Let us learn to let go of our grasping and instead open our hands in generosity. Let us learn to see and act upon opportunities to work to build up the kingdom, instead of building up fortresses designed to distract and shield us from real life.

Do not be afraid of real life, of not having enough, of not being enough. You have enough. You are enough. God knows what we all need. In God there is always enough, and more than enough. Don’t be afraid to let go of your own plan for your own salvation and believe and trust instead in God’s overflowing goodness, goodness that is more and better than you could ever ask or imagine. 

Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Be free.


Bill Bynum said…
The first sentence of Hebrews 11 in today's scripture reading "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" has to be some of Paul's best writing, and your essay is right on the mark. Thanks for a thought-provoking sermon.
Thanks, Bill - although scholars are in agreement that the actual author of Hebrews is unknown. Some have their pet theories, but all seem to agree that the writing in Hebrews doesn't go with what they know about Paul's writing. Luke Johnson thinks Hebrews was written by Apollos, although he has no evidence other than his own hunch.