Sermon for March 11, 2018

 

March 11, 2018

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

 

THE WORD IS “ENOUGH”

Isaiah 58:10-11    Luke 19:1-9

The fourth in a series of seven.

 

This is our fourth week in this series on single-word life- changers from God’s Word.  We’ve had some good words so far, and we’re going to have a very good one today, but first I thought we would take a moment for review.

Does anyone remember the first word we looked at in this series?  No?  No one remembers?  Actually the word was “no”.  I’m just playing with you.  I’m just trying to keep up with those clever Sesame Street introductions we had for the first two words.  The first two words were “no” and “yes”.  In that order, because you have to say “no” before you can say “yes”.  Then we had the hard one.  “Sorry.”  It means more than just “my bad”.  It requires us to be painfully honest with ourselves, with each other, and with God.

Today’s word will bless your life but it will also mark you as a non-conformist.  What do I mean by that?  Make a fist with your hand.  Like there is something in your hand that is really important to you.  You are not going to let go of it.  You are not going to let it slip through your fingers.  In fact, you are so worried about losing it, you are squeezing it.  You are squeezing it so hard you can feel the tension running through your entire body.  This is the way most people live.  Holding tightly to what they have.

Now hold out your other hand, palm up, as an open hand reaching out to God.  You are ready to gratefully receive whatever God places in that hand.  But you will hold it loosely.  You will be willing to share it gladly.  Because it doesn’t belong to you.  And it’s not the most important thing in your life.

You can go through your life like this.  Or, you can go through your life like this.  And the word that is behind the open-handed way to live is “enough”.

You can be a taker or you can be a giver.  Most people are takers.  Actually most people are kind of a hybrid of the two, but more taker than giver.  Most people have a hard saying the word “enough”.

Because they want more, even though they don’t need more.

Goldfish are like us.  They want more, even after they don’t need more.  As long as you put more goldfish food in their bowl, they will keep eating it.  They don’t know when to stop.  They don’t know when they’ve had enough.  And pretty soon you will find a goldfish floating on the top of the water.  If you can’t say “enough”, it can kill you.

I’m starting to do more exercise with the arm muscles that push me away from the dinner table.   I like to eat and I used to be able to eat and eat and never gain weight.  Those days are over.

People in France were asked, “When do you know you’ve had enough to eat?”  The most common answer was, “When I feel full.”  People in America were asked the same question.  The two most common answers were, “When my plate is clean.”  Or, “when the television show is over.”

I think it’s partly a cultural thing in this country.  We don’t know when we’ve had enough.  It kills goldfish.  Obesity kills humans.  And it’s not very good for our spiritual health either.

Here’s one way to look at it.  We can draw two lines.  This first line is the level of the money and possessions I currently have.  And this second line is the amount of money and possessions I would like to have.  This is the line that would be “enough”.  Once I get here, I will no longer need to continue pursuing more and more and more.  I will be able to rest content with what I have.  And the area between these two lines we might call the “discontentment zone.”

This is what a lot of us devote our lives to.  Moving from here to here.   We want to be happy and we are convinced that when we finally get to this line, then we will be happy.

Except there is a problem.  We get to this line, the “enough” line, and it’s not what we thought it would be.  It’s not “enough”.  So we draw a new line and we create a new “discontentment zone” and it becomes a never-ending quest.  Because “enough” is never “enough”.  It is a very common form of insanity today.  Sanity is being able to say:  “Enough.  I have enough.  I have had enough.  I will have enough.  I don’t need more.”

There are two Bible stories that help us with this.  First, I just want to mention briefly the Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau.  Jacob is the classic taker.  He takes his brother’s inheritance.  He takes two wives and also his wives’ two maids.  He ends up with lots of children and lots of wealth.  And yet he is not happy.  He is living in fear.  Esau is tracking him down.  Esau wants him dead.  His luck in taking and taking and taking is about to run out.

Except it doesn’t turn out that way at all.  In a moment of sheer grace, Esau forgives his brother.

Jacob was not expecting that.  That was the last thing he was expecting.  He figured his only hope was to buy his brother off.  So he has what the Bible calls a “present” all ready to give to his brother.

Two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten he-asses (Genesis 32:14-15).

 

That is the Old Testament equivalent of a substantial investment portfolio.  Maybe if he gives his brother all this, his brother won’t kill him.  Maybe if the taker can show that he is now a giver, he can escape with his life.

But even before he can make the offer, Esau forgives him. Esau sees all that Jacob was prepared to give him, turns it all down, and says, “I have enough.”  But Jacob insists.

Accept I pray you, my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough (Genesis 33:11).

 

Both brothers speak the words that can set them free.  They are the words that can set us free.  “I have enough”.

Then the New Testament story.  The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was wealthy (Luke 19:1-2).

Zacchaeus understood money.  He was good at it.  He knew how to make it.  He knew how to play the system to take it from others.  Tax collectors in that day were notoriously dishonest.   They were essentially legal robbers.  Nothing could be done to bring them to justice because the whole Roman Empire was on their side.  But they were hated.  Zacchaeus was hated.

That was OK, because he had money.  If you have money, you can put up with a lot.  But pretty soon, that wasn’t OK.  There was an emptiness in his soul that not even money could fill.  A spiritual emptiness.  So he got interested in a spiritual teacher whose name kept popping up in conversation.  Jesus.  And his interest was piqued when he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, where he lived.

He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was

short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead

and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way (19:3-4).

 

Zacchaeus was short.  He was “a wee little man”, as we sing in the song.  Money made him feel big.  Money made him feel important.  Money made other people think he was important.  But all that was wearing off now.  It always does.  So we have this rich, important man hiding in a tree, hoping no one would know how much he wanted to see Jesus.  And then, the last thing he expected:

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (19:5).

 

Really?  Zacchaeus says, “My house?”  The people say, “His house?  Doesn’t Jesus know who he is?  Why would he want to go to the house of the most corrupt, dishonest, greedy man in town?”  Really??

But here’s the thing about Jesus.  Whatever your financial

story – it might include debt, bankruptcy, dishonesty, cheating, embezzling, prison time, or maybe just plain, simple greed –  whatever it is, none of that is a barrier to Jesus coming to your house.  None of that disqualifies you from God’s grace.  You just have to say the four words so far in this series.  “No” to my old way of life.  “Yes” to Jesus.  “Sorry” for my sins.  And “enough”.  I have enough.  More than enough.  Enough is less what I have right now.

Because look what happens once Jesus gets to Zacchaeus’ house.  No one could have seen this coming.  He says to Jesus:

Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back five times the amount.

 

Very funny, Zacchaeus!  “If I have cheated anybody out of anything.”  You know very well you have cheated everybody out of everything!

But he’s going to do something about that.  Five-fold restitution to those he has robbed.  Half his possessions to those who are poor.

Here’s what Zacchaeus was saying.  Here is what I have now.  Here is what I would have if I hadn’t been such a scoundrel.  Here is my enough line.  And the difference between these too lines is not my discontentment zone.  It is my generosity zone.  I’m going to make a generous restitution and then give 50% away.  Because 50% of what I have with God is more than 100% without God.

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham.  For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10).

 

It’s no small thing that Zacchaeus is called a “son of Abraham”.  If you were an Israelite, the greatest thing anyone could say to you is that you are a son of Abraham or a daughter of Sarah.  Abraham and Sarah are the beginning of Israel.  They are highly revered.  It’s been a long time since anyone called Zacchaeus a son of Abraham.  They’ve called him a son of something else, but not a son of Abraham.  But that’s what Jesus calls him.

And Jesus says something else.  “Salvation has come to this house.”  Not that Zacchaeus has bought his way into heaven.  That’s not the way it works.  Salvation is a free gift, not something we earn.  But the word means more than going to heaven when we die.  It means living the way we are meant to live while we are alive.  It means healing and deliverance.  In Zacchaeus’ case, it means sanity.  It’s insanity when enough is never enough.  That’s where Zacchaeus was, but that’s not where he is now.  He has discovered the new math, where 50% of what I have with God is more than 100% of what I have without God.

Most people still live by the old math.  If I have 100%, take away anything at all and I have less than 100%.  That means I’ve lost something.  I have less and therefore I am less.  Because I am what I have.

God sees it differently.  Here’s what God says through his prophet, Isaiah:

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy

the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs

in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (58:10-11).

 

It says God “will satisfy your needs”, not gratify your desires.  Our needs are few, our desires are unlimited.  At some point we simply have to say that word.  Enough.

If enough is never enough, we will always live in that discontentment zone.  We will never be satisfied.  We will need more money, more house, more things, nicer things.  It’s a dead end pursuit.  You don’t have to believe the Bible to see that.  Because all the money and things we accumulate over the course of a lifetime don’t mean a thing when we reach the end of our lives.  As Christians, we believe there is more, but not even prosperity gospel Christians believe that more means more stuff.  You’ll never see a U-Haul trailer being pulled by a funeral coach.  I believe I heard Billy Graham say that.

There was a man who was miserable in his life.  So he prayed that God would give him a better life.  God answered his prayer.  God said, “I will give you a better life, but it won’t come cheap.  You’re going to have to give me all your money.”  The man emptied his pockets.  He gave it all to God.

He said, “God, I’m happy to give you all my money.  It’s a small price to pay for a better life.  But now how am I going to put gas in my car?”

God said, “You have a car?  You didn’t tell me that.  You’re going to have to give me the car.”

The man said, “All right.  Here are the keys to my car.  But now how am I going to get to my job?”

God said, “You have a job?  You didn’t tell me that.  You’re going to have to give me your job.”

The man said, “All right, but how will I pay my mortgage?”

God said, “Mortgage?  You have a house?  You didn’t tell me that.  I want your house.”

The man said, “But God, how am I going to take care of my family?”

God said, “Here’s the deal.  You give me all your money, you give me your car, you give me your job, you give me your house, and I will give you the better life you seek.  Then . . .  I will let you use my money and drive my car and work at my job and live in my house.”

One day it’s all going back to him anyway.  When we are good stewards of what God lets us have, when we hold it lightly like this (open hand), not tightly like this (clenched fist), life goes so much better.

I could keep going.  There’s a lot more I could say.  But this is probably . . . enough.

 

Lord God, living in the zone of discontentment gets old.  Because it’s not life as you want it lived.   We need you in our lives.  We need you running our lives.  We need you giving us hope and purpose and joy in our lives.   God, we lay before you our financial lives.  We are in all different places.  Some of us have way more than we could ever need.  Some of us are in serious financial distress and we honestly don’t see a way out.  But there is a way out, your way, whether we have a lot or a little.  And it begins with acknowledging that it all belongs to you.  We belong to you.  And in you, we have enough.  This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.