Leave Scarcity Behind – Live Life Abundantly!
Pastor Jeff Wells, November 9, 2016
Readings: Luke 12:15-21; Mark 12:41-44
I am very fond of the parable of the rich man in the Gospel of Luke 12:15-21. The parable helps to remind me not to get too caught up in the material stuff of life. The man in the story thought he was livin’ large. He thought he had it all together. He thought, “Finally, I have enough stuff to sit back and relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” But he was about to lose all the wealth and material goods he had accumulated – he was about to lose his life. Surely, he had enough grain in the old barns, but he was addicted to accumulating wealth at the expense of paying attention to the things that really matter.
The teacher and psychotherapist, Ron Siegel, tells the story of a wealthy patient who had recently sold his company for 30 million dollars, but came to Siegel complaining of being very unhappy and discontented with his life. In spite of working together for a while, they were not making much progress. Then, one day the man came into his session and said he was ready to end treatment. Dr. Siegel asked “Why?” The man replied, “I have come up with a solid plan to turn the $30 million into a new enterprise that will quickly be worth $50 million. Then, I will be content.” Comedian Jim Carrey once commented, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What did he mean by that? What is the content of abundant life? Surely, it does not consist of the accumulation of wealth or material things. Once a rich young man asked Jesus, “What must I do to attain eternal life?” Jesus did not say, “Hey, you’ve got enough money to have an abundant life.” Do you remember what happens in the story? First, Jesus got the young man to provide the general answer: “Live by the commandments,” including, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” But he did not stop there. Then Jesus gave an answer specific to this person. He said, “You’ve got another problem. You have a lot of wealth and you are so attached to it that it is preventing you from giving it or yourself in service to others. Go sell all that you have a give it to the poor, then you will have treasure in heaven.”
Abundant life is not about accumulation or acquisition at all. It is not about abundance for ourselves, in the way most people define abundance. The rich man in the Jesus’ parable had an abundance of wealth and plentiful grain in his barns, but he was not living life abundantly – because he was focused on himself. Abundant life consists of giving ourselves for others – giving away abundantly out of our wealth, our talents, our compassion, our forgiveness, our passion for justice, and our love to benefit others and the common good. To the extent we do that, our own lives are enriched and expanded and we experience abundance ourselves. A Buddhist teaching says, “If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way.”
Giving of ourselves and our resources enhances our sense of well-being. In essay a couple days ago in the New York Times, the Dalai Lama and a co-author cited studies that showed that, “Americans who prioritize doing good for others are almost twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives. In Germany, people who seek to serve society are five times likelier to say they are very happy than those who do not view service as important. Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.” I am convinced the reason for that is the way God created us – with a deep need to serve others and the common good.
So, why don’t we do this more? Selfishness, greed, and fear sidetrack our created goodness, generosity, and desire to give. Too often, we live out of a fear of scarcity. We live like the man with the barns full of grain – anxious that there won’t be enough. We are afraid we won’t have enough time, energy, money, love, and so on, to live well. So, we hoard these things instead of giving them away. Part of this is about material reality. There are many desperately poor people in the world – there is scarcity in their lives – not because there is not enough food and other material resources in the world, but because we fail to share sufficiently. We do not share enough as nations, as societies, or as individuals. Yet, often you will hear poor folks say something like, “We don’t have much, but we have enough.” I would venture to say that attitude is more prevalent among the poor than among the rich. There is enough – as long as we focus on what’s important. That’s why Jesus could say, “Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear.” It is why the apostle Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It is why a poor widow with only two coins could donate them to the temple treasury. All of them were focused not on themselves, but on giving themselves for others. In doing so, they were living life abundantly.
From a very young age, I felt a strong urge to give and to serve. I am sure that I learned a lot of that from the example of my parents. I also experienced it as a call from God. I have always given much of my time and offered my abilities for others or for what I perceived to be the common good. For virtually all of my adult life, I have given away at least 10 percent of whatever income I had – when I had plenty and when I had little. And I assure you that I nearly always felt like I had enough of what mattered – especially since I came back to faith and involvement in the church, I have always felt like I received more than I gave.
Let me share a personal story about serving others. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Diane and I took in two families who had been affected by the storm. One family stayed for a month and the other couple stayed for two months. We had six adults, two teenagers, two dogs, and two cats living in the house. We sometimes had sixteen people around the dinner table. The truth is we would have been happy to have them stay longer. It rarely felt like a burden. In fact, in spite of the stress these families were under, we experienced so much love and joy and laughter during that time that it far outweighed any sense that we were making a “sacrifice.” We were getting as much as we were giving.
Virtually no one gets to the end of their life and says, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at my job and less with my family.” Almost no one says on their deathbed, “I wish I had made more money and bought more things.” Instead, one more often hears I wish I had repaired this or that relationship. I wish I had spent more time with my kids or grandkids. I wish I had been brave enough to give more of myself away.
If you want to experience this abundant life Jesus offers, be courageous enough to give away your time, your money, and your love. If you are, you will experience in abundance the gift of life given to you by God.