Last Saturday, I drove to Peters Township which is just south of Pittsburgh to see the Heights girl’s lacrosse team play. They won by the way! It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to drive there and so I was listening to the radio. FM stations come and go, but AM stations stay around longer and are interesting to listen to. I really never realized how important the NFL draft is to fans of Cleveland and Pittsburgh – duh!
But what caught my attention was not what the Browns or the Steelers did or didn’t do – but rather the advertisements between the news. This is hardly a scientific survey – but it was astounding that a majority of the ads were about the two most personal issues in our lives: sex and money. We don’t want to talk about those things – we are in fact pretty dysfunctional about these things – but talk about them we must. I am not going to talk about sex this morning (although I noticed that everyone moved up in their pew! And I will never forget when the interim pastor of the church I served in Winchester once, during his pastoral prayer thanked God for “good sex.” That really stirred things up!)
Anyway, it astounded me how many commercials were for sex enhancement and debt reduction – enough said. I just found that kind of ironic. The commercials painted a picture that I think is probably true: the average American is overwhelmed by credit card debt, feeling anxious about money, finances, retirement, education costs, support for children who are adults and in need of help, taxes, cable and cell phone bills. And when you and I are overwhelmed by finances, feeling anxious, unsettled and unsure – it is very hard to act as generously as we would like; or be centered on God, or sense God’s calling on our lives.
Each and every autumn we have a stewardship drive here and this congregation is remarkable because if the Stewardship Ministry does a good job of informing you about the real cost of running this church, keeping up the building, paying our staff, and living into our desire to be supportive in benevolence and justice you always respond. It is amazing and I thank you!
However, each and every autumn the stewardship drive causes many of you into feelings of guilt. It makes you feel terrible – you can’t give enough, it becomes one more bill to pay – it is overwhelming and you feel judged. You make an impulse pledge and then can’t fulfill it and that makes you feel worse. Folks stay away from church during these months and feel as if the only time the church reaches out to them is through a letter asking for more money.
I am leading a group of 12 intrepid souls as we dip our toe into the deep and troubling waters of finances using a curriculum of Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton entitled “Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.” Our third session is this afternoon.
It seems that one of the greatest temptations for us all is to live beyond our means. When we do that we are not at our best. We buy STUFF, and then more stuff – it is almost an addiction – more and more, better and better. We are not saving. The average credit card debt in America is over $8,000 per person. As individuals across this nation we are spending between 99% and 101% of our monthly income: Yes, we are spending more than we are making. And the number of people living pay check to pay check has increased – even people making a pretty good salary. And what we are told in order to fix this mess: buy more!
Rev. Hamilton says that one of the fastest growth industries in America is rented storage space to hold our stuff that our houses with two car garages, attics and basements can no longer hold. Hoarding is a “reality TV” hit! And it speaks to our collective brokenness.
Now Jesus was tempted, immediately after he was baptized. That is an important piece of information because it reminds us that the struggle to get clarity about who you are and what you need to be doing, is a FAITHFUL enterprise. God loves you – but finding out what that means when you are being judged by the larger culture by what you own, and what you have, what you wear on your back, what you drive, what you talk on – it is hard to hear God’s gentle loving voice saying to you, what he said to Jesus: “With you I am well pleased!”
We all go through wilderness. You and I get stretched and torn often in our process of coming to know who we are and whose we are… part of life – it is all about identity.
The devil tempts Jesus to be more than he is called to be. Note: I don’t believe in a personal devil that is the spiritual equivalent of God – we don’t believe in a dualistic universe – God is God and God is good. However, I do think that the term “devil” is a great descriptive term that describes the very real spiritual tendency within us all to drift away from that which God provides: peace, hope, joy, contentment. The “devil” wants you to feel diminished, anxious, not at peace, guilty, obligated, judged. And as long as you feel those ways – you are stuck.
Jesus was tempted, just like you and I are, to be something he is not. Jesus was tempted, just like you and I are, to live beyond his means.
The devil wants him to feed the hungry: “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But life is more than bread, or doing good things. Jesus says: my call is bigger than that. That is not who I am.
The devil wants Jesus to clear up any and all religious ambiguities: “Throw yourself off the temple and everyone will know that you are REALLY God’s chosen one.” And again, Jesus says “No! Life is more than self-promotion. That is not who I am.”
The devil tells Jesus to become king of the world – and Jesus says “No, my call is not in the acquisition of titles and wealth. That is not who I am.”
It works the same in our culture today. My identity is being shaped by outside forces telling me what I need to do, to buy. Buy that iPhone or the latest iPad because your old one of last year is not good enough. Trust me, I struggle with this. I don’t have an iPhone but I want one and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have one within the year – I am being honest. But I won’t buy it until I know I can afford it!
This is truly not to judge. Money is not evil. Making money is not wrong. Buying things that you actually have enough money saved up for is fine as long as you feel that sense of contentment and joy and it fits into your sense of deepest values. I won’t judge you…I might be envious, but I can only judge myself. All I am trying to suggest is: pay attention to where you are being tempted. Look at it deeply. Seek help, be honest with yourself, remember what God wants for you is peace and deep joy – not the weight of “keeping up with the Joneses.”
Deanne and I pay off our credit cards every month – we have our house payment and car payment and our tuition payment – those are the big three. We are doing pretty well. This church and the PC(USA) has enabled us to save for retirement and we are doing all right. But still, it is hard to know and fathom where our money goes, and sometimes I want to deny and ignore – but the first step is awareness, honesty.
I know that to the person, you want to live more simply and want to be more generous. You want to hold your wealth loosely and give it away. It makes you feel good! But sometimes you just can’t. God loves you. It is all right. You need to hear that, because it is true. Perhaps the first step towards fiscal management is to take a look at your monthly expenses – learn where it goes. Tell the metaphorical devil – to stop – as you get knowledge.
When you feel the urge to buy – wait at least another day. Don’t let impulse rule. Tell the devil: “I may get that iPhone after all but next month when I know that I can really afford it.”
Pay off your credit card debt. If that average American with $8,000 in credit card debt stopped using the card and paid the minimum amount each month – it would take 13 years to pay it off. WOW.
Credit – from the Latin CREDO – “I believe!” The culture, our economic system wants you to believe that you need more, you are not complete. The church declares: “In Christ we have everything necessary.” “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth! And in Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Savior.”
This is a spiritual crisis we are facing, in the wilderness, fed by fear that we are not valued and so we do not value ourselves, our gifts are diminished, others seems to be getting ahead – we have to do something, buy something, be something now – but the fix only lasts for a moment.
“ENOUGH!” – Jesus says, “Enough! Be gone, devil, be gone!”
And today, Jesus offers himself – his body, his blood – this bread, this cup – simple food but more than enough, more than enough.
Jesus invites you, offers his divine substance to you – not in judgment but in power.
Breathe deeply – no longer tempted beyond your means!