Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 23, 2008

2008.11.23 “Living Simply in God’s Grace”

Central United Methodist Church

Rev. David Haley

“Living Simply in God’s Grace”

 November 23, 2008

As global markets free-fall, resurging one day and dropping yet further the next, we are faced as a nation and as members of the World Society with really frightening thoughts about our future.  How will a $700 billion economic stabilization plan affect us?  Someone will have to pay for it, though parts of the plan seem necessary.  We are worried.

And I was invited to join in your NCS Commitment and celebration, and bring you a message about stewardship. 

Now I have a few stewardship sermons.  But they didn’t seem to have the right tone for these times.  So I invite you to think with me about stewardship today a bit differently.  It will be a challenge – our culture and the messages we have heard for decades promote consumption and want. 

These thoughts come from a book I discovered over the summer.

I am a book-lover.  And every once in a while, I buy a book because I am drawn to the title.  And so I found one this summer, a collection of essays, entitled Longing for Enough in a Culture of More.

Longing for enough in a culture of more… I experience this longing, and yet, I can so easily get sucked into wanting better, faster, newer, more.  I wrestled with these essays for my daily ruminations with God, and I share with you a few ideas that continue to work within me as I try to integrate “Enough” into my daily journey.

How do we challenge the culture’s patterns of excess and the desire to have it all?  Martin Luther of all people gives us a simple clue.  He once said that God created our fingers so that the money can slip through.  He wasn’t talking about waste, or frivolity, but rather to our basic longing to do good.  To hold our resources lightly, for they are really all from God, and use them to do good and to make a positive difference in the world.  Luther’s gives us this picture that our fingers were created to allow us to part with money and also to live free of being enslaved by money. 

Now God also gave us the oppositional thumb – to hold tight.  And this – this gives us the ability to acquire.  Perhaps a dangerous creation.  And our own John Wesley gives us the balance:  Earn all we can and save all we can.  God gave us skills, and talents and intellect, and we are to use these gifts to gain and to save. These are godly acts when balanced by the third: to give all we can.  Now Wesley does not say to give everything.  Yet he challenges us to ask the question of ourselves: “what do my family and I need, really need?  What is the minimum that we can live on that we meet all of our needs, and have enough?  And what is the most that we can then share?  Aah, the fingers and the oppositional thumb.

(A Senegalese parable says it a bit differently: A monkey cannot climb a tree if his hands are full of food; the monkey must learn to eat only what it needs that day and trust that God will provide for his needs in the future. Otherwise the monkey cannot live as God intends. There is no grasping or hoarding of God’s gifts for life; there is simply trust, day by day, in the sufficiency of God’s grace; these creatures show us a powerful example of how God ensures sufficiency, Enough. St. Augustine said it this way, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”)

This story and these theologians send us back to the basics, to the intentionality of asking ourselves what is Enough, of actually trusting the One we routinely ask for daily bread to see to it.  

Jesus talks about this in today’s gospel lesson.  On this Sunday, Christ the King Day, we celebrate the coming Reign of Christ and the full circle of God’s good Creation. This passage in Matthew’s gospel helps us focus on our true “treasure”.  Christ reminds us that we have inherited God’s grace and unending love, and this heavenly treasure is ours to enjoy and share.  It is “good stuff”.  It satisfies like our accumulating piles cannot.  We must choose, says Jesus  – we cannot serve both God and money (for we will end us loving one and hating the other).

How do with live “enough” and not just get by, but thrive and live richly? As God’s children, I suggest it has a lot to do with the company we keep.  Those whom we admire, revere – our guides and mentors – these are the folk who help us know where we are grounded – and whose we are.  One author – Bill Bryan – calls these people the “durable saints”, those whose lives are long on generosity and trust and giving. 

I have been privileged to have these saints walk through my life – and alongside me just when I need that re-centering on the “enough-ness”.  Maude & Drewer – 40+ years as missionaries in India, they retired about a mile down the road.  Like pastors’ families, they had no home of their own, only an acre or so of land on the edge of the country.  So, Drewer, who taught Indian peasants how to farm, and Maude, who helped women develop cottage industries of their handmade goods, they decided to build a sod home in the side of a hill.  They had a bit of help from a plumber and an electrician, and they built it themselves.  It was cool (literally) in the summer and heated in the winter with a wood-burner.  They treated themselves to season passes to the local symphony.  And younger women in the church and the community were drawn to Maude for her wisdom and her stories and her love of God.  We talked one Christmas about gifting – and our Christmas offering.  And she, who had seven children said, “I wouldn’t think of making my gift to the Christ child any less than gifts to my kids!”  Hmm – No wonder we are drawn to her.

My friend Kate, a much younger “Saint” loves this earth and takes her role as an environmental steward so seriously.  She won’t use things like saran wrap or plastic containers – she and her family don’t just think about their carbon footprint, they have one small bag of garbage per week.  She and her daughters investigated child labor abuses and decided they would no longer buy any article of clothing made in Bangladesh – and she tells the time one of her daughters was shopping and found this gorgeous sweater.  When she saw the label, she sadly put it back.  And the 14 year old explained to her friend why she would not have this lovely thing. 

Maude and Drewer and Kate and CC – they want to say at the end of their day that they leave the world having asked less than they have given.  And these durable saints, don’t flaunt it, but show me how to thrive and laugh and live joyfully with enough.

Finally, The very first essay in my haunting book reflects on “The Modesty of God”, in the Genesis I creation story.  Our Creator God, bringing light from darkness, painting the seas and the fields, calling-up every kind of plant and animal, and creating us – in God’s own image to be responsible for its all.

And what does God say at the end of each day as God looked around?  God says “It is good”.  No exclamation point, no hoopla, no adjectives like stunning, amazing, awesome, stupendous. God says, “It is good.”

Recall the creation account: It is good.  God gets in there, rolls up God’s sleeves, does the job.  Then takes a breather. 

In our very first meeting with God we come to know God as simply Good.  I am drawn to this Good God – this loving, trustworthy God.  And as I seek Enough in my life, it is connected to so much Good: knowing God is with me for as long as I remember; a loving group of family and friends; work that I love giving me opportunities to witness to our God; health and wealth, and a little less stuff, thanks to the recent floods and six inches of water in our basement.

I long to share this attribute of God.  In the light of God’s grace, God shows us Enough.  This picture of God helps us find a boundary for our longings, our wants, in our daily walk in a society of consumption.  Instead of looking over the fence or to TV commercials for a guide, God shows us the basics.  The Goodness of God from the beginning of time is the story of God and God’s people.  I want to put that “Enough-ness” within me.

I suggest that we need to make a list of questions and hold ourselves accountable to answering before we begin the Holiday Shopping Frenzy.

Do I or they really need this?

Can I afford it?

How was it made?

Where will it end up when it’s no longer useful?

Is there something under my tree for the Birthday Boy?

( I have brought some wallet cards called Shopping for the Glory of God and invite you to take one as you leave today.)

We are Enough as God’s lovely children.  And most of us have enough.  We need only get the message into our hearts.

Poet Wendell Berry reflects on simple goodness in the fall migration of Wild Geese, where he says, “We pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear.  What we need is here.”


The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end.  In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves.  We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes.  Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here.  And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear.  What we need is here.


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