What weighs you down in life? Is it your things, the expectations of others or your own worries and fears? We too often let the tyranny of measuring-up weigh us down and keep us much too busy and our lives much too cluttered. Come worship with us, lighten your load, and reorient your priorities this Sunday. All are welcome!
And 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. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Recently, I attended a retreat for pastors in our denomination called Credo. It was a time of reflection, renewal, and transformation. It was incredibly life-giving as well as informative and just helpful in some really practical ways.
One of the things we learned about was the pastor’s pension program that I, thanks to Calvary and all the churches I’ve served, am privy to when I retire. We learned about other ways to save for our future as well, 403bs and IRAs, and what priorities we might have when saving.
I, representing a typical millennial, asked about my student loans, and actually found a manageable way to pay them off before my own kids go to college. If just for that, I think this retreat was well worth it.
All this talk about savings and retirement and financial planning is mostly a foreign language to me, for several reasons.
One: my parents are immigrants to this country, and while some immigrants come and are incredibly successful, many struggle day in and day out just to survive. My parents were of the latter variety. They started completely over when they moved here, as most do. They took whatever jobs they could get, from janitorial work to construction work, but mostly in the dry cleaning world. They eventually owned their own dry cleaning business, and while it brought in a good amount of income, it was never enough to pay all the bills.
I am my parent’s retirement plan, the only investment they’ve made, other than social security, that will provide for them as they age.
So, part of it is the way I was raised: my childhood understandings of money, what I was taught and wasn’t taught, and what my parents modeled for me growing up. They didn’t save because they couldn’t save; there was never enough.
Now, I should note, there was always enough to tithe to the church, that was part of their budgeting, no question, but never enough to put into savings. So, that’s one reason.
But another reason is that I am a pastor. And I do not mean to malign my colleagues because many pastors are excellent and well-versed when speaking about matters of money.
But just to share my story: I grew up in the church, and I loved it. My congregation, the denomination, my faith, the Bible, they were all such a source of comfort and wisdom to me. As a teenager, I read the Bible cover to cover; the gospels multiple times.
And quite frankly, what our scriptures say about wealth, and money, and possessions are… well, you heard the passage today from Luke: “Do not worry; do not fear; strive not for things but for God’s kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms.” There’s this cavalier, almost impractical attitude towards saving and accumulating wealth.
In fact, in Luke chapter 12, just a few verses before what we read this morning, Jesus tells the parable of a rich man. Let me just read Jesus’ words, it’s Luke 12, starting in verse 16 if you want to follow along.
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s a pretty clear lesson, isn’t it? What’s the point in having so much that it will last us years when tomorrow is not promised to us?
Friends, if a financial planner reads this passage of scripture to you as you plan out your future, run the other way. It is not sound financial advice, at least not according to conventional wisdom, even I know that on some level. And yet these are the very words we find in this book that so many of us revere and hold up as the most important book in our lives.
So, yeah, I was that person at the retreat raising my hand asking, “Ummm… I’m really grateful for this pension, but is it theologically sound?”
The PC(USA)’s Board of Pensions would argue yes, that they have sound theological reasons for such a program.
But that’s my hang up about money. I’m guessing you probably have some, too. Maybe not just like mine, but we all have them, don’t we?
Our culture doesn’t really provide the environment for us to have a healthy, grounded, God-centered relationship with money, does it? And the things we buy and own, I would argue, are an outward expression of our finances.
Now, granted some of our things hold so much sentimental value that they are more than just things; they are memories and an embodiment of relationships and love.
But most of our things are just that, things. And they simply display to the world the money we have.
Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives writes this: “We have more ‘things per person’ than any other nation in history. Closets are full, storage space is used up, and cars can’t fit into garages…” He says, “Everything I own owns me. Why would I want more?”
But let’s be honest, the accumulation of money and possessions is really just a symptom of an underlying illness – the dis-ease of wanting to matter; wanting to be valued and be valuable; needing to prove ourselves and our worth through our things, our bank accounts, and our accomplishments.
Part of why our lives are so cluttered; cluttered with things, yes, but also cluttered with busy-ness is due to the tyranny of measuring-up; measuring up to societal pressures, to family pressures, to the pressures we put on ourselves of who we “should” be, what we “should” have, how we “should” be living.
Now, I’m not saying, “Don’t save for the future.” And I’m certainly not saying, “Live in abject poverty.” Absolutely not. Jesus also tells us that he came so that we might have life and have it abundantly.
So yes, save and live abundantly, but consider, when is it all enough? When will we have enough? When will we be enough?
Commentator Alan Culpepper notes:
“Those who do not have enough to live on – to feed, shelter, or clothe themselves – naturally are anxious about how they will live. Those who have opportunities to develop a better life than they now enjoy worry about how they will get ahead. Those who have all they need and more are anxious about maintaining and protecting their wealth.”
So when and how does it ever end?
We live in a society that has distorted the meaning of “abundance” to suggest lavish luxury. We live in a society that constantly compares our lives to others, making us feel like we can never keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or whomever we might follow on Instagram or in real life.
Abundance doesn’t mean conspicuous consumption or unchecked materialism.
“Abundance” means: I have enough, so I will make sure that you have enough, too. That is the abundance of God.
Now, “enough” means different things for different people, depending on our life stage and circumstance. For some, a studio apartment is enough. For others, a bedroom for every kid feels more like enough. Only you, in prayerful discernment and conversation with God can decide, what is enough for you. I will say the PC(USA)’s Book of Order calls us to, “Shun ostentation,” so keep that in mind in your discernments (PCUSA Book of Order, [F-2.05]).
Now, whatever “enough” might be for you, the reality is that most of us here this morning have enough; not all of us, but most of us.
So, our job is to help create a world where everyone else has enough, too.
We can do that in many different ways:
by sharing and giving away some of what we have;
by refraining from buying more and pushing-back against a consumer-driven society;
by supporting systems that pay people fairly, that offer affordable housing, that provide a safety net for when people face extenuating circumstances;
by buying a Street Sheet,
or by making space for God in our lives and in the world.
Friends, when might we decide and declare that: “This is enough.” that “We have enough and that we’re good.”?
Because you see, God has already decided and declared that you are enough, that you are indeed good. You are God’s beloved child. And whoever you are, whatever you bring, in this very moment, is enough for God.
You have nothing to prove. Your worth and value lie simply in being created in the image of God, and indeed you are.
In this season of Lent, as we reconnect with an unhurried God, find rest in knowing that you are enough; you are enough for God.
And you are invited to be liberated from the peril of possessions, to free yourself from measuring up, and to dive deeply into and unconditional, unending, and unearned love. Rest in love this Lent, dear friends.
God loves you. Just the way you are. You are enough.