Monday, August 1, 2022

Half empty, half full. . .

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13C, preached on Sunday, July 31, 2022.

I sometimes tell people that being a pastor is a walk in the park.  And they smile because they think I work only on Sundays so it must be true.  The only problem is that the walk in the park is in Jurassic Park!  Just when you stop to gaze at the beauty, a T-Rex bends down to eat you.  But that is true of every job, every family, and everything.  There is always something to diminish your joy.  The key lies not in focusing on the distraction but on the treasure of God’s grace.  As long as Adam and Eve desired what God desired, they did not notice the tree or want its fruit.

We live in a half full, half empty world.  And it seems we spend most of our time arguing about whether it is half full or half empty.  That is the power of envy.  Even if we might agree that all of the seven deadly sins are the worst, I fear that envy truly is the worst sin.  Envy steals our every joy and refuses to allow any moment of pleasure or satisfaction at what we have.  The reality, however, is that we are constantly comparing our lives, our possessions, our wealth, our looks, our size, our reputations, and our identities to others.  A few of us might see the glass half full but the instinct in the Christian heart is to lament what is not there.  Surely the devil is behind this because he delights in making us miserable.

The answer to envy is not a fuller glass; it is to be grateful.  Gratitude is God’s gift to the restless heart, the wandering eye, and the glass half empty.  Contentment is not the blessing of those who have much, it is the choice of a heart moved by the Spirit.  And with that we muddle into some of Jesus’ most famous words.  “A man’s life does not consist in what he possesses,” says the Lord.  No, indeed, a man’s life consists of being possessed of an awareness of God’s rich mercy, the recognition that we did nothing to merit or earn any of it, and the delight not simply in the gift but in God the giver.

Jesus makes His point with the tale of an envious and successful farmer.  This man swallowed the lie that he was in large and in charge, that he earned everything he had, and that his things would make him happy.  He bought into the lie that he was responsible for his success and that he deserved it.  He swallowed the bait of envy hook, line, and sinker.  His walk in the park turned into Jurassic Park.  As quick as it all came together, God pulled his life apart.  His time was up before he could take joy in those things he worked so hard to accumulate.  In the end, his soul was required – remember how Jesus says to worry more about the soul than the body?

Apparently this man did not get the message. None of us get it.  Life does not consist on accumulating the most of anything or in the claim to have done it your way.  In the end, the things that were so important never seem to be enough.  The more we have, the more there is for us to want.  You cannot store up the moments or money of life until that perfect moment when you spend it all.  You are not blessed by your things but by the God who gives tem to us.

The down side in all of this is that in order for you to own what is yours, you have to ready to give it all away.  As long as you are on the prowl for more of anything, what you have will never be enough to satisfy your want.  Whether you are on Fortune’s list of richest or homeless or somewhere in between, a grateful heart begins by ending your preoccupation with what you don’t have.  That happens by giving up your claim on them so that they can give up their claim on you.  The point of this is not poverty but to have a heart empty enough that God can fill it,

It seems so hard to live off the grid of money, possessions, experiences, and stuff but it is not quite as hard as we would make it out to be.  Greed consumes and envy leads to despair.  Before we can learn contentment, we must stop trying to fill the glass.  It does not matter if the glass has a dollar sign on it or a popularity poll or the face of your children or grandchildren or as many experiences, trips, travel, sports, person expression, and memories as you can, stop filling the glass.  Stop comparing yourself to anything else.  It is all the devil’s lie.  Every job is a park with dinoceras, every family disfunctional, every bank account not enough, every closet too small. . .  Stop trying to fill the glass.  Let the Lord fill you with an abundance of His mercy and grace.  Focus on the eternal and the things you lack or want or are jealous of will diminish and your peace will grow.

No man can add to their length of their days.  No present life is worth giving up eternity.  No woman worth losing your soul and no man worth the lies he might tell you.  Your joy begins with gratitude and that gratitude comes from being possessed – not possessing.  Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You were bought with a price.  You belong to the Lord who paid for you with His blood.  Your future is not yours to define but God’s to give.  The Holy Spirit has taken you over by Water and Word. Redeemed by Christ for life in Christ, you are rich.  Your treasure cannot be consumed by moth or diminished by inflation or decay into dust.  Your treasure lies in Christ, is given you from Christ, and belongs you as long as your are Christ’s by baptism and faith.

This world’s claim on you and its allure is fleeting.  Christ’s claim is eternal.  The devil will tell you how poor you are but do not believe him.  You are rich toward God.  This world may insist that your glass is half empty but Christ has filled you.  This world tempts you with uncertainty but God offers you true certainty through the blood of His Son.  You do not need to satisfy every desire to be happy or to fill your mind with memories to have lived your life well.  God has set you free of this sad world of discontent, misery, envy, and jealousy.  Do not surrender yourselves to it anymore.  

When we say with Scripture: “You brought nothing into this world. You will take nothing out of it” this is not some depressing fact to make us humble.  Instead it is how you are released from the chains of your prison and help you see that if you have Christ, you have everything and you have it forever. Giving up all things gains all things. That is the lesson of the Cross.

So, let us turn away from envy and its fear of not having what we want and turn to Christ who has given us eternity.  The Lord will require our souls from us – either through the promise of baptism and its gift of new and everlasting life or on the day of judgment when our secret wants will be revealed and condemned.  If we insist upon possessing everything, we will end up with nothing.  But possessed by the Lord by baptism and faith, we have every true and lasting treasure forever.

Sin has made every life a walk in Jurrasic Park and desire has been our undoing from the get go.  But God will not share you.  Do not think that God is satisfied with only a piece of you or that you can be saved by holding onto only a piece of God.  You can have only one master – not God and money or God and experiences or God and accomplishment or God and entertainment. No matter what you say, you are possessed with what you love.  Better to be a slave watching the door in the Lord’s House than to own a tattered tent in a world that is passing away.

In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

A saved sinner said...

You could just as well have preached on Ecclesiastes.