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Oct 08, 2017

Cultivating Contentment and Generosity

Passage: Luke 12:13-31

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Enough

After my dad died suddenly, nearly 20 years ago, and some weeks after the funeral, my two sisters, mom and I gathered in our parents’ bedroom to go through dad’s closet.  Mom was going to give his clothes away but first wanted to know: did we want anything for ourselves?  I remember that we spent an entire afternoon, debating and negotiating – with probably a bit of fighting and arguing – over things like ties, sweaters and slippers, staking claim to them as though we were world leaders at a United Nations summit.  We acted as though these things were the most valuable commodities in the world and in the moment they were!  In the stage of grief called “bargaining,” we convince ourselves that if only certain conditions are met, it will be as though our loved one didn’t die.  “If only I have this piece of clothing, Dad will still be with me.”  We had to let him go, but we didn’t have to let go of his stuff.

Even though Jesus said, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” in moments of grief it’s hard to see that.  And though I walked away with a large assortment of things that day, 10 months later, most of it was gone.  I’d given all but a few pieces of sentimental clothing away.  10 years later?  I only have one item left.  And looking back, I would have argued over this stuff a lot less.

That’s the logic of the 10-10-10 principle, which asks us to consider 3 questions when thinking about whether or not we should do something; have something or even buy something.  1) How will I feel about this in 10 minutes?  2) in 10 months?  3) in 10 years?  The things we should really value in life are things that will be important to us in 10 years, and not 10 minutes.  Amy understood that as we were preparing for marriage 19 years ago.  We originally had a wedding party of 5, but Amy wanted to raise the number to 7 in order to include my sisters.  I, thinking in terms of the next 10 minutes, thought this wasn’t necessary.  “They’ll be fine having another job in the wedding,” I said.  But Amy said, “No they have to be in the wedding party, because we will spend more time with them over the course of our lifetime than with anyone else.”  That’s 10-year thinking.  And it’s true.  We haven’t seen any of those 5 friends of hers in over a decade.  But we see my sisters every year.  What seems important in the moment may not be in the long run.  And what we value in the long run may not seem that special in the moment.

Today is week 4 of our sermon series based on the book by Adam Hamilton called “Enough.”  Our focus this month is on how we can be faithful recipients of all that we have in life.  Thus far we’ve talked about very practical things and given a biblical basis for doing them: the importance of living below our means; not buying things we don’t really need (even if we can afford it); and how to save for future emergencies.  But all of this concrete advice is designed to lead us to a spiritual goal.  Cultivating gratitude and contentment in our hearts.  As Paul said in Phil 4:11 – “I have learned to be content with what I have.”  And we want to emulate him in this.

Last week we focused on the figure of Joseph, who taught us the value of storing our goods to guard against a future emergency.  This week we see the danger of storing our goods.  Read Luke 12:13-21.  A man doesn’t have enough room in his barn to store his abundant harvest (his possessions).  So he tears down the existing barn to build a bigger one that canstore all of his stuff.  And he thinks that he’s all set for many years.  But that very night he dies and none of his many possessions could save him.  This is a tragic story.  But the question is “What is the real tragedy?”  Is it the man’s fear of letting go of what he had, which led him to hoard and stockpile his possessions?  Is it that in doing so, he thought his “soul” was safe (as though our souls’ worth is measured by how many possessions we have)?  Or is the fact that he wasn’t generous the tragedy?  He was good at saving and frugal spending, but not giving.  Was the tragedy that he didn’t realize he “couldn’t take any of his stuff with him when he went?”  That he gained whole the world, as Jesus said, but he still lost his life?

One could make an argument for any of those.  But for me the tragedy is that he died alone.  There’s no mention of anyone – no wife, children, friends.  He took his last breath alone without anyone holding his hand or offering prayers over him.  That’s sad.  Remember, Jesus told the story to two brothers who are squabbling over the family inheritance as if to warn them, “Be careful that in your dispute over money you don’t end up like this man; who had all the possessions anyone could want, but no one to care for him when he needed it most.  In the 10-minute window, possessions are often very important.  But in 10-year thinking, they never are.

Which leads us to contentment and gratitude.  The way we cultivate these things is to live by our eulogy and not by our resume.  This idea is not unique to me but it is a good way of thinking of the message of our scripture today.

Resumes are things we begin creating once we start looking for jobs and we keep building and adding to our resumes as we go through life.  Resumes are about us and we write them.  We are the ones who decide what goes on them.  Resumes show what we’ve done and accomplished.  On our resumes we put things like degrees we earn, and awards and certificates we’ve won.  Resumes are about filling ourselves with achievements that make us look good in the eyes of others.  “Look at my bigger barns filled all of the great things I’ve accumulated in life,” our resumes say.  They are about thinking in the 10-minute window.  How can I present myself in the best possible light to make me look attractive to someone now – in this present moment?

But eulogies are different. They are words that others speak for us – at our funerals when we are not able to say anything at al.  They are not about what we did in life but rather what we did with our life.  I’m always impressed and inspired, listening to eulogies.  It never ceases to amaze me that when people eulogize their loved one, there is no mention of how much money they made, or how many awards they won, but about what kind person they were; their kindness; their sacrifices; the lessons they taught; how they were there for them over the course of a lifetime.

That’s because eulogies are not about filling ourselves but emptying ourselves of the wisdom we’ve learned and giving generously to others the life lessons that defined us.  Eulogies are about thinking in 10-year terms (about what’s really important in life), like leaving a legacy, which we can’t do by hoarding things to ourselves.  The tragedy in Jesus’ parable today is that the man with bigger barns lived his life according to his resume only!  Sure, he seemed to have everything.  But beyond the surface, there wasn’t much there.  And when it came time for his eulogy to be spoken, there wasn’t anything to say or anyone to say it.

As long as we are seeking to be employed, resumes will be important.  And none of us probably wants to think of dying today.  I’m sure we’d much rather bask in the joys of the living.  But a way to develop a grateful heart and cultivate contentment for what we do have in life is to think about how you want to be remembered when the eulogies are spoken over you; and living your life according to that desire now.

So as we close today, I invite you to take these questions with you into the coming weeks: What 5 things do you want to have said about you in your eulogy?  What kind of person do you want to remembered as being?  Are you living that way now?  Would someone looking at you today recognize the person you want to be remembered for being in your eulogy?  What would your life look like now if you lived according to that eulogy more fully?

We can’t help but live more gratefully, contentedly and generously if we do this.