Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Christmas, I had ONE thing on my Christmas list that I wanted above all other things. I wanted…an instant pot. The best new kitchen gadget for busy families, I’d heard. A safe pressure cooker type of appliance that makes things fast and good.
It was the ONE thing I wanted above all other things. And I made that pretty clear. I circled it in all the ads. I told Sid every time a sale on them popped up on Amazon. I started pinning instant pot recipes and would read them to Sid every time. I put instant pot cookbooks in our amazon cart. I wanted it. And I just KNEW I would get it.
Then Sid started putting presents under the tree. And none of the boxes were the shape of the instant pot I wanted so much. I pouted a little…but then in my head thought…well SURELY he is just keeping it downstairs until Christmas morning so I will be surprised! So Christmas morning got here. It wasn’t under the tree yet. But I waited patiently.
I opened all of my other presents. And they were wonderful. I have to say…Sid really did a rock star job with presents last Christmas. This beautiful Scripture scarf that I wear so many Sundays was under the tree. Tickets to a show were under the tree. Clothes I wanted…coffee stuff…pretty stuff. I had a very good Christmas!
But…no instant pot. And I have to admit…even with all those lovely presents, things that any other year would have made me feel so spoiled…even with all of those, I was left disappointed. I immediately got on pinterest and deleted the recipes I had saved. I may have even snuck into my room and cried a little. Not my proudest moment.
It was the ONE thing I wanted above all other things. And it wasn’t there. And I was disappointed. Until…about two hours later…when my parents showed up for Christmas brunch, with a brand new beautiful instant pot all wrapped up!
DIScontentment. Until I opened that instant pot, THAT is what I felt. In spite of all of the wonderful things I had received, the beautiful Christmas I was having, I was simply not content with what I had. I wanted that ONE more thing. Have you ever felt that way?
We all have things we want. Look at the lottery craze going on right now. 1.6 billion dollar jackpot, I think I heard? People are just dreaming about what they would do with that money! Because we all have things we want. Stuff we need. Dreams we want to live.
Although, frankly, the truth of our society is that even if we get EVERYTHING our heart desires, we will probably STILL be discontent. Even a BILLIONAIRE might be discontent. It seems it is how we are wired. See, as much as I wanted that instant pot, and as much as I use it…a short time later there was something else on my list that was the ONE thing I wanted or needed above all other things.
That is the way the world works, right? We open that gift and we love it for a moment. And then we move on to the next thing. We go on the perfect vacation and a day after coming back are ready for a different one. We find a good job and then get restless.
Just look at our disciples today. They have been with Jesus and witnessed so many of the awesome things he had done. They saw him teach and preach and perform miracles. They have heard his teachings about money and power and how greatness is found not in that but in service. And they have witnessed the joy of this service firsthand.
But they are not content. They want one more thing. Above all other things. It isn’t possessions they are looking for. No. It is glory. “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to just do this one more thing for us.” “What’s that?” Jesus says. “Grant us to sit one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.”
Serving, experiencing, joyfully following, witnessing…that wasn’t enough for these disciples. No. Now they wanted glory. They were discontent with what was in front of them and what was to be. They wanted more.
But Jesus had other ideas. Because he knew that such earthly glory was temporary and unsatisfying. His true mission…and the one he was calling them to follow…was eternal and lifegiving. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all.”
WE live as if our life depends on what is right there in that moment. On what NEED we have in that moment. On what DESIRE is filling our hearts. My life depends on getting this instant pot. This toy. This good grade. This vacation. This job. This glory.
In the Enough Stewardship series we are currently talking about, the writer calls this “Restless Heart Syndrome.” In the same way that Restless leg syndrome causes twitches and contractions in the legs, Restless Heart Syndrome causes twitches in our hearts…or in our souls. And its primary symptom is this discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something or experience something amazing, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else.
And while yearning for more can be God-given…yearning for love, yearning for a deeper relationship with God, yearning for a deeper prayer life…or being discontent with the way the world is so we can work harder for more…more justice, more peace, more love. While those yearnings and discontentedness can be God-given, those tend NOT to be the discontentments that drive us.
Instead, we are driven by our discontentment in our job or our marriage or our possessions or life in general. God must look at us sometimes and feel the same way Sid did when he gave me all those wonderful Christmas gifts and I cried for the instant pot. Because often in life it is as if we are saying, “I don’t like what you have given me, God; I want to trade it in and get something better.”
Today, God is calling us to a different way of life. To find contentment in what is eternal and life-giving, rather than what is temporary and unsatisfying. “Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions,” Jesus said in Luke 12. Life is far bigger than that.
So where do we find contentment? There are may ways to try: living with a grateful heart, discerning the satisfaction you might get from that thing you want above all other things, looking for the good in every situation and everything you have or don’t have. Those are all ways we can begin to find contentment.
But for me, it is found in what Jesus was teaching those disciples. Not only in today’s lesson, but over and over again. That true contentment is found in resting your soul in God. Saint Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” Our hearts are restless until we rest in God.
The truth of life is that we spend an awful lot of time thinking we have to have more, do more, be more. But if we are living the life God has called us to, we have truly found enough. Jesus said that the two most important commands we can keep in this world—the two most important things we can do in life—are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we keep our focus on those two things, we will find satisfaction for our souls…and lasting contentment. Because ultimately, loving and serving God and our neighbor is what is life-giving and eternal.
And we might even find, as we let go of all of that other stuff, that we will find our true joy. Not enslaved to this world’s desire for us to have more and be more and do more. But content with what we have. With who we are. With God. And with the love around us. Ultimately, isn’t that the most important thing we need? Isn’t love the most important gift we have?
THIS changes everything. It changes our schedules—learning what we can say yes and no to. Spending time with the people and things that matter. Cultivating time for self-care. It changes the way we treat one another. Putting love as our primary goal. Relationships as our best possession. It changes the way we treat money. Thinking about how we use it, how we spend it, how we share it. Simplifying our lifestyles so money isn’t our God. It changes the way we serve. Realizing that the call from God is what is eternal. Not glory or riches or power. But self-sacrificing love and service and mission.
Ultimately, THAT is what Jesus did. Jesus gave up everything for the sake of the Gospel. He gave up everything for love of this world and each one of us. And because he did that, we can do that too. Contentment is resting in that promise from our Savior. The promise that the cross is everything. What Jesus did is everything. And everything else—is extra. The cross leads to love and service. The cross means that no matter what we have, what we do, what we experience…God’s love never changes. God’s love, shown in Jesus, belongs to us forever. As we rest our souls in THAT promise, we find everything we need.
This month, we have been embarking on a congregation-wide study and worship emphasis called "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity." In October and November, we will look at some of the financial challenges facing us as a nation and examine our own spending, saving, and giving habits. In addition to exploring biblical principles of financial management, we will learn ways to assess our financial situation and develop a financial plan that will allow us to experience the true joy that comes through simplicity and generosity. At the end of the emphasis, we will have the opportunity to make personal commitments of giving for the coming year. We will consecrate these commitments on Sunday, November 11 and 18, You are encouraged to join the Enough small-group study on Wednesdays at 6 PM.
There are files below containing the letters we have sent out, in addition to other information related to this study. Please check those out! And keep checking back here for new resources and more information!
This is the handout we distributed on Sunday, October 14:
Six Key Financial Principles
to Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
1. Put God first in your living and giving. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
2. Prepare a spending plan and track all expenses monthly. (Proverbs 27:23-24)
3. Simplify your lifestyle; live below your means. (Matthew 6:19-33)
4. Provide immediately for an emergency fund. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)
5. Pay off all credit card debt and use cash, not credit cards. (Proverbs 22:7)
6. Practice long-range saving and investing habits. (Luke 14:28)
St. James Blog
Periodic notes and updates from the staff of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mason City, Iowa