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Live Simply: Share Enough Sermon
Philippians 4: 11-12

October 23, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

It seems like for many people, a thin line on the graph is of utmost importance for their lives. The line of which I am speaking is the line of the Dow Jones average, which (as most of you know) rises and falls regularly. There are a number of people who watch this line with their hearts in their throats – their retirement and other important investments are tied up in the stock market, and they wonder if that line will stay high enough that they will have enough to live comfortably the rest of their lives.

God offers us another line … it is this line in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry; of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This is the lifeline upon which our very lives depend – the line which God has thrown to us to save us, no matter what direction that other line is trending. It is God’s love, and it doesn’t rise or fall. It remains steadfast and offers us a grounded place to be.

When my late brother, Russ, and his wife Lisa were expecting their first child, they were told after the ultrasound that they were having a little girl. Now, they pledged to love this child deeply, but my sister-in-law was very close to her father and she wanted a boy to name after him. Well, the day of the child’s birth came and to their great surprise, it was not a girl – he was a bouncing baby boy who they named, “Lloyd” after Lisa’s father. She was so excited that she wondered if it really happened; she thought she must have been dreaming, and during that first night of life for little Lloyd, Lisa had the nurses bring him into her room a number of times so that she could check the diaper, just to make sure that it wasn’t too good to be true – that she had indeed had a little boy.

Have you ever had a surprise like that? One which made you thank the giver of that surprise over and over again? Have you ever felt this way about the economy of your life? Usually if the market line is high, we are “cautiously optimistic” – in other words, we are happy, but wondering what might come tomorrow. And when it is low, we cannot think of much else besides that situation. Unfettered joy is rarely attached to the economy of our lives. But it is not so with God’s economy, that steady line which defies the Dow Jones line in its reliability. In God’s economy, we are blessed more than our efforts, and we are called to notice more than our own personal needs and the manner of lifestyle to which we can sometimes become accustomed.
Our culture usually measures blessings as money, health, accomplishments and material assets. In our sinfulness, many people have either forgotten or never known that it is God who is the originator of those blessings. God is not against money. God is not against us having a bank account and saving up for retirement through the stock market. God is also not against us passing out some of our money! We are living in the story and the abundance that God provided for us. Spread the wealth! God made us who we are as his own people. As God’s people – the church – we are stewards of God’s message, which is radically different than the world’s. We are not among the fearful who read the daily front pages wondering when our end will come. We are not among the proud who promise to do everything in our efforts to provide for ourselves everything that we need. We hold to the promise that God’s abundance is unearned and that God’s generosity can shape our own generosity! We trust that the life at the top of God’s steady lifeline is rich, satisfying and enough!
The challenge of being God’s stewards is the fact that we do not control God’s economy. We are called daily to trust that God will indeed provide all that we need to live. As Christians we are also expected to base our money decisions upon this assurance. We are called to expect to be ecstatic over the good news of God abundance for us, just as my brother and his wife were incredulously thankful when they had a healthy son. They did have a wonderful daughter later, by the way, and Lucy and I are her godparents!

Every year when we talk about stewardship, we pastors have to fight the battle of doubt. How can we be certain that we have and will continue to have enough, with the uncertain history of that Dow Jones line, and the threats of unemployment, sudden illness or accidental injury, disaster or loss always looming as a possibility in our lives. I for one am a pastor who has reminded you that these things can happen to good and faithful Christian people, just because we live in a sinful world. I cannot promise you that if you try to live more simply, to share more with your church and other people in your community, that nothing will happen to you to surprise you in a very negative way.

What I can promise you is this – trusting in God’s economy, you will always have enough. Even if my family and I were forced to sell the nice 4 bedroom house that we live in and move into a cramped apartment; even if we were to drastically “downsize” our lives in major ways, we would have enough not only to live on, but to share. And maybe our lives might even be fuller because of it!
I began this series by talking about my parents and their faithfulness. The story of their lives and family is really a two-part story. When they were first married they both came from simple, poor backgrounds and lived in the same way. My four siblings were all born within 6 years of each other, and they tell me stories of how they were allowed to have pop and chips on Friday nights only, and that was their treat. Six years after my closest sibling, I came along. Dad had already become a partner in a business, and when I was about 9 years old he formed his own business. He was successful, and I could have pop and chips any night of the week that I wanted … and I often did! My parents knew what Paul was talking about when he said, “I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” They never spoke of those hungry, needy years as being sad, miserable times. Because of their faith and trust in God, they were joyful in all of these circumstances. I am sure that many of you know this same phenomena!

My parents taught me never to put limits on what we can do. That is why we – the small congregation that we are, basically a Sunday-to-Sunday church in our ability to keep up with expenses – can do things like hunger walks, sponsoring tables at fundraisers for homeless victims of abuse, collect food for pantries, and generally turn our attention to helping the hurting of our community in the name of Jesus Christ. We are committed to focusing more on that steady line of God’s word more than the fluctuating line of the Dow Jones for the guiding principle of our lives. We are committed to celebrating the presence of God and the promise of the economy which will always provide enough for us in all circumstances. We are committed to sharing so that others may have enough to live their lives on.

I invite you to look at the insert in your bulletins. On one side is a “step up” chart. You can find yourself there for last year. Find the statement from last year and divide by 52 – that is how much you gave every week. Trusting God’s promise to provide enough for you, your congregation is asking you to step up one step, or to give just a few dollars more every week to work toward stepping up so that our congregation can continue to worship, learn, fellowship and serve together.

On the other side of the sheet you will find something to take home – it is for you a reminder of this day and this time. Pray and talk with your God and family about your part in this congregation, and put down an amount for you to remember. Keep it with your check book, bills or statements. And remember, living simply is a blessing in itself, but doing so together helps us to be a blessing to others. Amen.