Which Tent is Yours?

Luke 12:13-31
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

The Stewardship Team of Peace had a meeting recently at which each of us did a book review. The book Robin had read was entitled “Enough” and the author, Adam Hamilton, a Methodist minister, asks the question, “Which tent is yours? Contentment or Discontentment. That line stuck with me. I thought to myself how often my attitude is shaped by which tent I’m living in. How often my behavior toward others is shaped by the tent I’m living in. If I’m discontent, well, it is nearly a sure thing that my discontentment will affect those around me. I’ll be grumpy, irritable, or angry, blaming someone else or something else for all that’s unsatisfactory in my life. How happy I am sometimes depends on whether I think your tent is better than mine.

Which tent do you live in most days? Because if you are discontent, then you will be tempted to use food or alcohol to rid yourself of discontentment, or you will try to fill your sexual appetite with images or activities to rid yourself of discontentment or your will fill your garage with cars or your house with furniture or your closet with clothes or your home office with the latest electronics or your schedule with entertaining activities – all this to try to rid yourself of discontentment. You’ll want other people to make you happy. But none of this really works. These solutions are only temporary fixes because the root problem – your need for deep spiritual contentment – is not satisfied.

I read an article in the NY Times the other day about the increasing number of narcissistic children who have had the world of their parents revolve around their whims and wishes, who grow up to be narcissistic adults, sometimes with a diagnosable problem of egocentrism. How does one learn to be content instead of discontent? How do we teach children to be content? Well, clearly it is not by getting everything we want. No, contentment is learned NOT having and by choosing NOT to have, so that others can have. Ben Franklin once said, “Contentment makes a poor person rich, and discontentment makes a rich person poor.”

Scripture teaches us over and over again that contentment is found in putting God first and everything else second. But we keep trying to buy the American Dream. The good life as defined by most Americans is a life of acquiring things, being upwardly mobile. The good life defined by Christianity is in being content and generous with what you have. The good life means I’m growing in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, as we discussed last Sunday.

Hear the parable of the rich fool, also known as the parable of the bigger barns, and hear loud and clear the reassurance that if God provides for the birds and the flowers, God will take care of you.

NRS Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 22 He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-- you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

If Jesus told the story today, it might sound a little different: A rich person has a very successful business with large profits. And this person wondered quietly, “How should I invest my money to make even more money from my profits?” I could buy Ford stock. It’s doing very well these days, though of course a mutual fund is always the safest way to go. Then again it’s a buyer’s housing market. I could buy a place at the beach, in the mountains. That would be a good investment. Or I could expand my business with promise of making even more money next year. With even more money next year, I might have a boat and a brand new car. I could remodel this house, landscape the yard. I could travel the world, get a new computer, flat screen tv, new Ipad or Iphone. And God says, “Look here, you silly person. Don’t you realize how short life is? And why must you accumulate so much and think you are entitled to so many pleasures?”

Why do you live in such lovely, spacious, comfortable houses filled with good things while there’s five acres of orange grove out there waiting for my house of worship, my center for ministry?

It is a matter of trust. And a matter of compassion. But most of all, it is a matter of self-discipline. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

I was really pleased to read this week that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have challenged their fellow billionaires to give away at least half of their money to charities before they die. They have convinced forty of the wealthiest people in the USA to take an oath to spend fifty percent of their wealth for good of the society. You can go to Giving Pledge.org to read more about this. I went to their website and wrote a thank you note. Skeptics call it a publicity stunt, but advocates say it will draw in about 600 billion dollars in philanthropy, about twice as much as last year’s giving among Americans. Now while these folks can give away most of their money and not even feel it, I still celebrate the fact that they are encouraging each other to give generously for the benefit of people beyond their heirs. They have enough and they know it, so they’re making a commitment to be more generous.

It has been a tough couple of years for most of us. Maybe you feel like your barns are shrinking, not growing. For some of us there’s been a season of unemployment, for nearly all of us, our houses are now worth less than we paid for them. We are living in the aftermath of the financial storm. We were, as a country, foolish like the man in the parable. We spent beyond our means, we and our economy is still trying to get on its feet. We all need to learn to live more simply, if we are to carry on with Christian lives, making a positive difference in our church and in the world. We must remember that we are in this together. My decisions affect your decisions. We do not live in isolation. Your new outfit makes mine look older. Her new Iphone, his new car potentially puts pressure on others.

Can we learn to be content with what we have or will we forever want newer, bigger, better? Can’t we just be satisfied? Or will we keep disposing and replacing? Can we resist our driving desires because we know loving God best means putting other things second? It’s about self-control. Can we resist food we do not need to eat? Can we resist buying things we do not need to buy? Can we resist entertaining ourselves constantly with activities which cost money and learn to be happy with a simpler lifestyle? Can we stop complaining about our spouses, partners, co-workers, children and our neighbors, and learn to be content?

This brings me to a subject which is not popular and rarely gets any attention from us, except the occasional mention during Lent. Fasting. Fasting is really about food, but it has a deeper spiritual meaning. Fasting is about saying “no” to our desires, our impulses, in order to build self-control and dependency on God. I invite you to fast through a meal or two to develop self-control. Fast from criticizing those closest to you and judging others by comparisons. Find ways to build up instead. Fast from shopping, learn to walk through a store without buying anything. If you feel the urge to buy something, wait a few days, and the urge will probably go away. It’s not that you must say “no” to everything, but that you can say “no” to anything.

How many of our bad spending decisions are impulsive ones? The other day Rebecca was in her piano lesson with Gia and she asked me to buy her some $2 flip flops from Walmart. I did not really want to walk into Walmart because I know what happens to me there in twenty minutes. I can’t walk in and just buy $2 flip flops. No, before I know it, I’ve spent $40 on stuff that was not on the list. And half of it we justify because it was on sale. And the merchants have learned to ease us through our spenders’ guilt by telling us how much we saved. Someone said to me the other day, maybe it was one of you, “I knew when the clerk said I had saved $104 dollars on my purchase, that this, which sounded like good news, was not really good news.”

Same thing happens when you turn on the tv just to see what’s on and relax for 30 minutes – two hours later, you’re still wasting time watching inane stuff on tv. Fast from television which is breeding discontentment. Fast from sweets. Fast from sugary drinks. Fast from anything which has you in its grip. You can have only one master, one Lord. The only way to learn to depend on God is to depend on God. The only way to be really free is to depend completely on God for your contentment, to be grateful for what you have, and to discover the joy of trusting God for your future.

Contentment and simplicity go hand in hand. Learn to be secure and free in who you are. You can never adequately secure yourself with what you have because someone’s barn will be bigger than yours. As the Shaker’s taught us, “Tis a gift to be simple and a gift to be free.” Bigger is not better. Bigger is more complicated, more expensive, more to maintain. Simpler is better. Simple contentment. Simple gratitude. Simple trust in the Lord of life to give you all you need. God knows you need food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care.

So resist the culture of competitive affluence. Separate need from want. Be content, not discontent, because we have a God of love who came to give us real freedom in Jesus Christ. There is no need for fear when God will provide. There is only need for simplicity, trust, and generosity toward the One who will sustain you.

I am not my own. I belong to you, Lord. Use me as you will, as much as you will.
Teach me to share generously, to live more simply, to be content with what I already have.