1 Timothy 6:6-10
(The “Enough” Sermon Series is based on Adam Hamilton’s book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity. I use Hamilton’s suggested structure and major themes, adapted for use at Liverpool First UMC.)
Enough: When Dreams Become Nightmares
In a quiet Mexican fishing village, an American who was on vacation saw a local fisherman unloading his catch. He decided to approach him. The American asked the fisherman, “why are you finishing your day so early?” The Mexican replied “Oh Senor, I have caught enough to feed my family and a little extra to sell for today. It is now time to go for lunch with my family and have a siesta. In the afternoon, I can play with my kids. In the evening, I will go to the cantina, drink a little tequila and play the guitar.” The business professor was horrified at the fisherman’s lack of motivation to succeed. He answered, “If you stay out at sea until late afternoon, you will easily catch twice as much fish. You can sell the extra, save up the money and in six months, maybe nine, you will be able to buy a bigger and better boat, and hire some crew.”
He continued, “In another year or two, you will have the capital to buy a second fishing boat and hire another crew. If you follow this business plan, in six or seven years, you will be the proud owner of a large fishing fleet.” “Just imagine that! Then you can move your head office to Mexico city, or even to L.A. After only three or four years in LA, you float your company on the stock market giving yourself, as CEO, a generous salary package with substantial share options. In a few more years - “ listen to this!“ you initiate a company share buy-back scheme, which will make you a multi-millionaire! Guaranteed!”
The American got very excited at the prospect himself. He said, “I definitely know these things. I’m a well-known professor at a US Business School.”
The Mexican fisherman listened intently at what the animated American had to say. When the professor had finished, the Mexican asked him, “But, Senor Professor, what can a person do after getting millions of dollars?” Now, the American professor hadn’t thought that far. He was taken aback by the question. So he quickly figured out an answer “Amigo! With all that dough, you can retire. Yeah! Retire for life! You can buy a little villa with a picturesque fishing village like this one, and purchase a small boat for going fishing in the morning, You can have lunch with your wife every day, and a siesta in the afternoon, with nothing to worry you. In the afternoon, you can spend quality time with your kids, and after dinner in the evening, play guitar with your friends in the cantina, drinking tequila. Yeah, with all the money, my friend, you can retire and take it easy.”
Puzzled with the American’s suggestion, the Mexican fisherman replied, “but, Senor Professor, I do that already!” (1)
Even if we don’t mean to, most of us have a hard time not getting caught up in what we might call the American Dream, this concept that we work hard, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and eventually we will become successful, and have good things, maybe even be well-off. Comfortable. Not rich – I’ve met people of so many different economic backgrounds, and yet no matter what they earn, I’ve rarely met a person that will admit to being rich – but well-off. And we want our children to be more successful than we have been. To have a little bit more. Pastor Aaron has said the same thing in a slightly different way, but I’ve read somewhere that most people say they would be happy if they had just 20% more income than they do now. The trouble, of course, is that people say that no matter what income they are at. It is always 20% more.
A little more. It seems so safe, so innocuous, wanting a little more. But if the American Dream is to always have a little more, when are we satisfied? When are we content? When do we have enough? I preached my first sermon when I was a teenager, at my childhood church in Rome, NY, under, as I’ve told you, the guidance of my then-pastor Bruce Webster. The text was the parable of the Rich Fool. Jesus tells it in response to a man who wants Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute between him and his brother. He tells about a rich man who had so much grain stored up in his barns that he was running out of room. What should he do? Well, he tore down his barns and built bigger ones, and told himself he could be ready to eat, drink, and be merry. Only, God says to this man: “You fool, your life is required of you tonight. And all these things you’ve prepared – whose will they be?” Jesus says, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” All these things you’ve prepared – whose will they be? These words have stayed with me throughout my ministry. When I started my first pastoral appointment, after struggling as a broke seminarian, and for the first time was employed full-time, I felt rich beyond imagining. I could not fathom how I would ever need more money than I earned there. And yet, my salary has grown as I've added years of experience and changed appointments, and somehow, I seem to find ways to use it up. To feel, even, that I need it. Just a little more. I watched myself change from a person who moved into my first parsonage with stuff I could mostly load up in cars and a small U-haul, to a person who actually had to get rid of some furniture when I moved to Liverpool because I just had too much stuff to fit nicely into my new house. Am I living the American Dream, or am I just building bigger barns?
Rev. Adam Hamilton, who is pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Church of the Resurrection, wrote a series called Enough that is the basis of the sermon series Pastor Aaron and I will share with you in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and our Ingathering in late November. Rev. Hamilton writes that in actuality, the American Dream has become a nightmare, both because people can’t live up to the expectations of the American Dream, and the process of getting there, or even managing to “achieve” the dream doesn’t actually bring people the happiness they’ve been seeking.
Hamilton says the nightmare is the result of two illnesses we have: Affluenza and credit-itis. Affluenza is our “constant need for more and bigger and better stuff – as well as the effect that this need has on us.” Consider this: In 1973, the average new home size was 1660 square feet. In 2011, it was over 2400 square feet. And there is estimated to be above 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in the US. Credit-itis, says Hamilton, “is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis.” Today, for Americans who carry credit card debt, the average amount of that debt is in excess of $15,000 per person. But credit-itis isn’t just about credit cards. The length of car loans, student loans, and home mortgage loans are continuing to increase, and the savings of the average American is continuing to decrease.
But the problem is deeper than bank accounts and credit card balances. The problem is a spiritual problem. We have lost sight of our identity. We’re created in God’s image, and we’re meant to desire God, to put God first, above all else. Instead, we find ourselves desiring stuff. Pastor Aaron talked about commercials last Sunday, and suddenly feeling like he needed what he saw advertised. I went to pick up groceries at Wegman’s this week, and lost count of the number of things that caught my eye and caused me to say, “Maybe I should get that.” I didn’t, usually, make the purchase. But the desire, the want, was there. We’re supposed to find our security in God, but instead we find it in the accumulation of wealth. We’re called to be generous, but we find ourselves worrying about, obsessed with having enough for ourselves. All of this works to separate us from God, and that separation is sin, because we are led to make other things more important in our lives than God. And that is idolatry, and that is the sin that is mentioned most often throughout the scripture, beginning to end. What gets in between us and God? All the stuff we put there. As we read in 1 Timothy, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
So what do we do? How do we move beyond the dream-become-nightmare that we’ve been living with? We start with a change of heart. All through the gospels, Jesus calls people to repent. We don’t use the word repent very much these days, and if we hear it, outside of church, we might most likely picture someone with a cardboard sign yelling on a street corner about the end of the world coming. But repent is just a more formal word that simply means a change of mind. Or, to get at it better, a change of heart. Adam Hamilton suggests that each day we start with the prayer, “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help me be single-minded in my focus and my pursuit of you.” Clear, simple, and powerful.
And, we allow Jesus to be at work within us. Jesus calls us to prepare for the kingdom of God, which is here, waiting for us to embrace, when we daily seek to do God’s will in the world. We are called to simplicity, faithfulness, and generosity, and with Christ at work in us, we can make a real impact with our time, talents, and resources. When we set ourselves free from chasing after the American Dream, we find that we can live God’s dream for us, as we live and act in mission.
God invites us to have a change of heart, to allow Christ to work within us, and to remember that we are people in need of God who offers us simple gifts, that we might live in joy and generosity. (2)
As we close, I invited you to put your hands in your lap, with your palms facing up, and I invite you to repeat this prayer after me, line by line:Change my heart, O God.
Clean me out inside.
Make me new.
Heal my desires.
Help me to hold my possessions loosely.
Help me to love you.
Teach me simplicity.
Teach me generosity and help me have joy.
I offer my life to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(1, 2) Rev. Jan Wiley, www.cumchb.org/sermons/2010/101010_sermon.doc