Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pentecost 9-C Sermon: How much is enough?

Preacher: The Rev.Dr.Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector, Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Shelby, NC
Lectionary: Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15,(16-19), Luke 11:1-13

When Steve and I were young parents we were truly blessed with three wonderful, healthy children, good jobs, a house of our own, new cars, membership at the country club, a great church home, family and friends we loved all around us. It was an amazing time in our lives, so full of joy. But underneath it all was this constant current of dissatisfaction.

Our house wasn’t as big or as well done as some of our friends so we were constantly planning how to improve it. We even bought land in an exclusive new neighborhood where we planned to build our dream home – the one that we were sure would truly satisfy us.

But Steve hardly ever had time to play golf and we rarely enjoyed the benefits of our club membership. We were in a constant frenzy shuttling the kids to music and dance lessons, sports of one kid or another, the doctor, art camp, every VBS in town, overnights at friends’ houses or our house. It was exhilarating and exhausting!

In the midst of this we learned that Steve’s father was going to die, so we pulled up stakes and moved to Alabama to help Steve’s mother care for him through the process of his dying. We rented a nice big house on the country club golf course, got good jobs again, joined a church, taught Sunday School, coached softball, and started the frenzied pace all over again.

But that current of dissatisfaction remained underneath it all.

Sixteen months later, Steve’s father died. Shortly after that his mother told us she was fine and we should return to the life we left in Valdosta. And that’s when it hit us. We didn’t want to go back to that life. We wanted something different.

So one night we sat down at our kitchen table, laid out a map of the US on it and opened up to ourselves total freedom of choice. We could go anywhere… do anything … there were no boundaries on our choices. It was an amazing, liberating experience.

As we considered what we really needed we asked ourselves this simple, but important question: how much is enough? How much salary do we really need? How much time do we want to spend earning that salary? How many cars do we really need (we had two extras at the time)? How many activities do our kids really need to be involved in?

In the end, we chose to go back to Valdosta but with a different approach to our life there. We found satisfying work, eventually sold the extra cars, bought a bigger house that was already built in the neighborhood we wanted, and limited our kids to one extra-curricular activity each.

We didn’t rejoin the country club – and amazingly, our friends didn’t desert us. We lived a simpler but more satisfying life.

‘How much is enough?’ became our guiding principle and it still is. Living from this principle has taught us not only that we could be more satisfied with less, but also that what we thought we needed, what the TV commercials and magazines told us we needed, was a lie - “empty deceit” as the writer of Colossians calls it.

We don’t need the whitest smile, or the biggest house, or the newest clothes to be satisfied. In fact, those desires were the source of the undercurrent of dissatisfaction we used to know and they distracted us from truly appreciating the blessings we already had.

They also distracted us from the work God was calling us to do. Living in Selma and caring for Steve’s parents taught us that previously, we had been devoting too much time and attention to ourselves – working to get what we thought we needed and didn’t have - instead of looking out and noticing where God might be calling us to give from the bounty of the gifts and blessings God had already given us.

What seemed at first to be a nightmare - the impending death of Steve’s father - ended up providing us with one of the most significant, transforming experiences of our life together.

This is the lesson offered to us in today’s Gospel from Luke.

In this part of the gospel story, Jesus has completed his earthly ministry and is heading toward Jerusalem where he will be arrested, tried, and crucified. (he’s going to die). On his way there, he has been instructing his followers on what it means to be his disciple – hearers and doers of his Word. He has welcomed back the seventy he sent out on a test mission and opened the door for women to sit at the feet of the Master and be disciples in his name. Then he goes off alone to pray.

When he returns, his disciples ask him to teach them to pray and he responds with what we now know as The Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. This prayer is found only in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The form most Christians use in Sunday services is the longer form found in Matthew. The doxology at the end of the prayer (for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours) wasn’t part of the original prayer. It was added later.

We don’t know what language Jesus used to teach this prayer. It might have been Hebrew, which was the formal language of prayer for Jews. More likely, it was Aramaic, Jesus’ hometown language. It was recorded for us in Scripture in Greek.

I’ve given you a version of The Lord’s Prayer found in the New Zealand Prayer Book. It is a faithful version of this prayer that uses different words than we’re used to hearing and I hope we will use it today to help us hear the substance of this prayer anew.

Let’s read it together: "Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven: The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. With the bread we need for today, feed us. In the hurts that we absorb from another, forgive us. In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen."

One thing I like about this version of the prayer is that it makes clear to us that God is the one acting: feed us, forgive us, strengthen us, spare us, free us… The one place we act is in choosing whether or not we will let the hurts from sin be absorbed into us, into our lives.

Sin separates us from God and from one another, and whenever we absorb the hurt from sin into our lives we give our energy and attention to it instead of to the purpose God has in mind for us. Living in this absorbed sin becomes a habit over time, and even though we know it’s presence is destructive, we work to preserve it because it has become familiar – until it finally becomes ‘what we’ve always done.’

But it steals our life from us nonetheless, and distracts us from our true purpose.

Another thing I like about the Lord’s Prayer, in any version, is that Jesus taught us to ask for what we need this day - right now - not what we think we might need or what the world tells us we should need. Then we are to trust that God will provide it and it will be enough. Bread, as it is used here, isn’t just food, it’s whatever is needed to sustain life. It could be knowledge, or patience, or hope, or friendship.

When we pray this prayer Jesus taught us, we are being invited to step out of our habitual ways of seeing and understanding, remembering that many times blessings don’t look like or feel like blessings - at least not at first. But God is always faithful and God always keeps God’s promises – and God has promised us forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

It’s pretty simple really, good news, transforming news - and it is enough.

1 comment:

robinb said...

Well Said, Mother V.