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Cultivating Contentment | A Sermon on Luke 12:15

This is the text for the message I will be preaching tonight and tomorrow morning..

I blame it all on the ice cream truck. Let’s all go to a happy place together for a minute. I call it…summer. Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon. Your chores are done, the kids are all playing calmly, and you are just about to close your eyes for a much deserved nap. This is the picture of contentment. And then it happens. The music starts to play. It’s faint and distant at first, just on the edge of your consciousness. As it grows, you feel a strange energy swell in your household. Before you know it, the picture that was idyllic summer calm has transformed into the bedlam of a house full of sugar deprived maniacs.

“Dad, give us money. We need ice cream! Ice cream!!!!”

And that’s how it works. With one silly tune from a simple wandering ice cream vendor we switch from contentment to discontent.

We all have ice cream trucks in our lives. Maybe it’s fashion. You just have to have that new handbag. Or gadgets. How can you live without an ipad, or a 4G phone, or a Kintect. There is always a bigger house, a better car, another step up the company ladder, a more appealing spouse. The grass seems to be greener, where? …on the other side of the fence.

In this third week of our series on Make it Simple, we are talking about how to cultivate contentment in our lives. How to resist the song of the ice cream trucks as they incessantly drive up and down the streets of our lives.

Contentment.  It comes from the Latin word continere.  Container, contains, content, content, full, satisfied. It is the the feeling of having enough.

How do you measure that?

“A third piece of pie Aunt Mildred? No, thanks, I’ve had enough.”

“Alright, buddy, give me your keys. I think you’ve had enough.”

 “Oh yes, it must have 7 bedrooms. We have two children after all. One for us, one for each child, a guest room, a workout room, my craft room, and George here needs his man cave. I don’t know George, do you think that will be enough?”

Are you content today?

When my wife heard that I was preaching on contentment, she just laughed. Contentment has been one of my biggest struggles in life. Maybe you can relate to that. I’m a goal oriented guy. I’m never satisfied with status quo. It can always be better. I can always tweak it. There’s always another book to read or another degree to earn or another challenge to tackle. Then, once I get something, I quickly become bored with it and want to move on to the next thing.

Isn’t that what drives our culture in the United States? There is always a bigger car, a better job, a faster computer, a more appealing spouse. So often I feel like we are like those little hamsters on the wheel.  We run and run and run, but we really get nowhere.

One of the theme songs for the last few decades has been, “I can’t get no…” right “satisfaction.” But I try and I try and I try…

Jesus has something to say about this in our Gospel reading today. Let’s read his words aloud. They are found in Luke 12:15 “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The simple message today is this. Aquiring things will never satisfy us.

So, how do we stop the hamster wheel and cultivate a sense of contentment in our lives?

We are working with this book titled  Enough, written by Adam Hamilton. In the chapter on contentment, Hamilton offers us four keys to cultivating contentment.

The first key comes from John Ortberg, a pastor and author. He says we should practice saying the following phrase, “It could be worse.”

Try it with me…”It could be worse.”

The next time you walk into your apartment, or condo, or your house and you see the things that are broken or dirty, or the pile of mail on the little desk in the kitchen, tell yourself, “It could be worse.” The next time you get in your car and notice the guage that doesn’t work, or you pull up at the stop light next to the latest model that’s all bright and shiny, tell yourself, “It could be worse.” The next time you walk into work and the same cycle of gossip or routine starts to kick in, tell yourself, “It could be worse.” The next time you sit down at the dinner table and look at your spouse, tell yourself… OK, sometimes it’s more of a think it, than a say it.

The truth is that we are among the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world. It is very easy for us to forget that.

I would like to add something to the habit of saying “It could be worse.”  I challenge you to place yourself in a situation where you serve someone who is in a more difficult situation than you are in right now.

This month, in fact, we have an opportunity to do just that. On February 20th we will host our next week of Family Promise. For seven nights in a row a group of families will come into our building and we will become their home. We will have a chance to feed them, offer them a warm safe place to sleep, and get a chance to interact and just hang out.

I’ve served as an evening host both times we’ve done it now, and I will tell you this, it makes you stop and think. When I drive away from my “shift” and pull up to my house where I have a bedroom and my kids have everything they need, it makes me realize, it really could be much worse.

There is a sign-up table in the Narthex today, and I encourage you to join us in this amazing ministry.

The second key that Hamilton suggests is to ask yourself this question. “For how long will this really make me happy?”

I think all of us have at least one thing that is our weakness when we are walking through the store. It’s that ice cream truck that jumps out at you and shouts, “You have to buy me, you can’t live without taking me home!”

Maybe it’s an electronic gadget. Or a video game.Or chocolate.

I have a long list of them, but one of my weaknesses is movies. It’s the strangest thing. I have this burning need to own a movie. When I see a great movie I can’t wait for it to come out so I can buy it. And I don’t just want to buy the movie, I have to have the deluxe collector’s edition with 14 hours of behind the scenes extras. It’s like a drug.

When we came into some financial crisis in our lives we were forced to simplify our lives. It was painful, don’t let me fool you, but we did it. One of the things we learned was, “You know what, we really don’t need to own movies.” We found this amazing thing called redbox. I can pay .99 and watch the movie. I don’t have to pay 25 or 40 dollars so that I can watch the movie once and have it collect dust on my shelf.

A really good habit is to practice the 24 hour rule.  Never buy something on impulse. Always say to yourself, “I’m going to sleep on it and pray about it, and if I still think I need it, then I might consider buying it.”

The third key that Hamilton suggests is to develop a grateful attitude. There is an old saying that says, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

Have you ever noticed that when you are with new people they seem almost perfect? When kids go over to a friends house they say, “Man, your parents are so cool. My parents are always nagging me.” Or when your kids bring their friends over and they are so polite and charming, and you think, “man, these kids are so nice, and all my kids ever do is fight and whine.” Or when you meet a person of the opposite sex and thing, “if only I would have met you sooner, because you would have been the ideal fit for me.”

Those are dangerous thoughts, because they’re just not true.

The next time you are tempted to think those negative thoughts about your spouse, or your kids, or your parents, or your job, go for a walk, or take some time and make a list of all the good qualities about them. Remind yourself of all the good that you have been given.  You’ll be amazed at how simply dwelling on the good will transform your attitude in gratitude.

Now, these first three keys are good. They are really practical, and they will help you to cultivate contentment. But, in many ways they are like putting a Band-Aid on a melanoma, or pulling the head off of a dandelion. They don’t really get to the root of the issue.

The fourth key does. The fourth key is to ask yourself, “Where does my soul find satisfaction?”

This week as I’ve been meditating on the idea of contentment, it hit me. Discontentment is a root of all kinds of evil that goes all the way back to the garden. Back in Genesis, in the creation story, God creates humanity. And we have it all. We have all the food we need. We have fellowship with each other. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. They had nothing to hide. They had no fear of each other.  No pretense. And, they were in open fellowship with God.

Now think about that for a minute.  What is it that we really want? Do we really want a car, or a computer, or a piece of chocolate? No. What we want is to be loved, to be accepted, and to feel significant. The reason we fill our lives with this stuff is because, somehow we believe that these things will lead to those things.

So, what went wrong? The serpent came up to Eve and said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” In other words, you are lacking something. God is holding out on you. You are deficient and you need to fill the void that is in your life.

Crunch. They bite down, and their eyes were opened. But what they saw was not that God had been holding out on them, but that they were capable of hurting one another. They now had the knowledge of evil and we have been afraid of each other and hiding from God ever since.

But here’s the truth. God has given us everything we need. That is how we were created. God loves us, period. We were created by God, we are valued by God, and there is no greater significance in the universe than that. That is what grace is all about. It’s a gift. We do not have to do anything to make God love us more.

This deception that God is holding out on us, or that there is something more to be gained in life has infected every aspect of human existence, even our religion. So much of our theology is based on this idea that God is disappointed with us and must be appeased by our good behavior. That is just another form of the hamster wheel that creates a pit of longing in our soul that can never be satisfied.

But, when we stop and realize, hey, wait a minute. God loves me. Me. Not my stuff, not my status, just me. Do you know what that does? That fills me up. That gives me the ability to stop focusing on myself and the process of filling the bottomless pit of my perceived deficiency, and have the freedom to love you. It gives me the freedom to stand before you, naked and unashamed, and say, This is me, I’m OK with me, and I would like to love you.

I don’t want to take from you. I don’t need you to complete me. I just want to love you.

When we come to this table each week, we come to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient. God demonstrated his love for us when Jesus was willing to die. In his broken body and his shed blood we are reminded that we need to die to all that junk, and be restored in the relationship that God has given to us.

Today, as we move through the rest of this service and prepare for communion, I challenge you to use this time to have a conversation with God.  Ask the Spirit to sift through your heart and find all the ice cream truck buttons, all the desires for stuff, and try to see them for what they are.

And when we pray the Lord’s prayer together, can we authentically say, “Give us today our daily bread.” And that will be enough.