The Content of Contentment
- Author: Rev. Stephen J Cornils is a pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN.
- Updated: 07/15/2013
- Copyright: Stephen Cornils is a pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN.
Hebrews 13: 5-6, 16
Im this sermon, Stephen Cornils ponders what brings contentment. He states: "We discover the content of contentment when we view the purpose of our lives not as reservoirs for accumulation, but as a channels for the goodness of God."
The Content of Contentment
Hebrews 13: 5-6, 16
Sept. 19, 2004
One of the most vital lessons for living appears in today's text, the 13th Chapter of Hebrews. As I studied this inspired teaching it seemed especially targeted for each of us today. Nestled in a series of suggestions for living we discover the content of contentment:
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for (God) has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid" (Hebrews 13: 5-6).
Most of us have discovered that money is attractive and alluring. Some might even say that money is seductive. When smitten with money people jump to the unblinking conclusion that the more money they have, the happier they will be. Despite the familiar saying, "Money can't buy you happiness," many people actually believe that money and contentment go hand-in-hand.
Before we know it, the pursuit of money demands increasing attention and energy, until the lust for money becomes a driving force in our lives. People make enormous personal sacrifices, and stop at nothing, because of their intoxicating love affair with money.
This fall, television viewers will be presented with a second season of "The Apprentice," in which aspiring entrepreneurs attempt to curry the favor of the god-like billionaire, "The Donald." What greater glory than to be rich and important like him?! Millions will watch Fear Factor and other stomach-turning spectacles in which the feverish pursuit of money evokes outrageous, often degrading behavior.
Many of us shake our heads at the insanity of these antics, and yet, if we are honest, most of us would admit that money is one of the main motivators in our lives as well. If you are in a love relationship with money you will discover that money is a jealous partner who always wants to be in control. For example, when contemplating our next purchase--something we may or may not need, but something we really want (plasma TV, new vehicle)--what is the first question we most often ask? Not, "will this purchase bring out the best in me and my family?" No, the question is, "Can I afford it?" Or, "Can I put it on plastic?" Money controls the decision.
Some might wonder, what's wrong with loving money? What's the problem if money becomes the principal player in our lives? Suppose we take the long view and begin our consideration with the end in mind.
There was a man who worked all his life and had saved all of his money. He was a true miser when it came to his money. He loved money more than just about anything, and just before he died, he said to his wife, "Now listen, when I die I want you to take all my money and place it in the casket with me, because I want to take my money to the afterlife. So he got his wife to promise with all her heart that when he died, she would put all the money in the casket with him. Well, one day he died.
He was stretched out in the casket, the widow in black was sitting next to her closest friend. When the ceremony was finished, just before the funeral director closed the casket, the wife said, "Wait just a minute!" She had a shoe box with her, which she carried forward and placed it in the casket. Then the funeral director locked the casket down and rolled it away.
Her friend said, "I hope you weren't crazy enough to put all that money in there with that stingy old man."
She said, "Yes, I did. I'm trying to be a good Christian. I can't lie. After all, I promised."
"You mean to tell me you put every cent of his money in the casket with him?"
"I sure did," said the wife. "I got it all together, put it into my account and wrote him a check."
Dear friends, what are his chances of cashing that check in the casket? And even if she would have included a debit card in the shoebox, we can be reasonably certain that there are no ATM's beyond the grave.
That's why we are warned about loving money. We can only love money so long and then, one way or another, through a financial reversal, an unforeseen circumstance, and certainly at death--no matter how much we money we have, and no matter how much we love it, "a fool and his/her money, are soon parted."
By the way, I have been imagining a reality TV episode of my own. I'm sitting across a conference table with "The Donald" as he hisses to those aspiring and perspiring young entrepreneurs, "You're fired." I image a response like this: "Mr. Trump, let's consider a long-term perspective. When the last day comes for us, as it surely will, and as we must stand in judgment before the King of the Universe who holds title to all things---'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof'--- on that day the only thing we need fear is hearing a voice from heaven say, 'You're Fired.'" Talk about a fear factor.
Our Lord doesn't teach us to frighten us, but to free us from unrealistic dreams, and unhealthy attachments. Describing the temporary value of money and the relatively short shelf-life of our possessions, Jesus said, "Put not your trust in that which moths can destroy and thieves can steal." There is no possession, no matter how precious that will keep us content.
Which raises a related concern. Imagine, the following scene:
A doctor offers advice to a distinguished, expensively dressed gentleman. "There is nothing physically wrong with you," she says.
The patient is incredulous. "Then why do I feel so awful?" he asks. "So sad and sluggish. I've got a big new house, a brand new car, a new wardrobe, and I just got a big raise at work with stock options. Why am I so miserable, doctor? Isn't there some pill you can give me?"
The physician shakes her head, "I'm afraid there is no pill for what is wrong with you."
"What is it, doctor?" he asks, alarmed.
"Affluenza," she answers gravely. "It's the new epidemic. It's extremely contagious. It can be cured, but not easily."
The scene, of course, is imaginary, but the epidemic is real. Affluenza's costs and consequences are immense, though often concealed. Untreated, the disease can cause permanent discontent. Were you to find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition might be something like the following:
affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.
Reminds me of the telling title of Greg Easterbrook's recent book, "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse." He writes, "Ever larger numbers of people enjoy reasonable standards of living, but may feel an inner pang on the question of whether their lives have purpose."
We might not go so far as comedian George Carlin, who once described a house as, "just a pile of stuff with a cover on it." We may however agree with Dr. Richard Swenson of Menomonie, Wisconsin who observed that many of his patients suffered from what he now calls "possession overload," the problem of dealing with too much stuff. "Possession overload is the kind of problem where you have so many things that you find your life is being taken up by maintaining and caring for things instead of people."
Keep in mind, we are placed on this earth to love people and use things, rather than the other way around.
Much more could be said about the epidemic of affluenza, but let's fast forward again to the last picture show as vividly described in the closing paragraphs of the book entitled, "Affluenza:" "When your time comes and your whole life flashes before you, will it hold your interest? How much of the story will be about moments of clarity and grace, kindness and caring? Will the main character--you or me--appear as noble and gracious as life itself, or as tiny and absurd as a cartoon figure, darting frantically among mountains of stuff?"
With that disturbing picture in mind we quickly return to this present point in time and the lesson we all would do well to learn: "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have."
Picture each one of us rising and shining each day, responding to our Lord's lesson, rising above the reach of money saying, "Money, you are not the boss of me. Materialism. You do not control me. Affluenza, I am taking the cure. I have other loves who deserve my love and loyalty (family, friends, noble causes, most of all the Lord) and to them I will be true."
We discover the content of contentment when we view the purpose of our lives not as reservoirs for accumulation, but as a channels for the goodness of God. Picture God's plans flowing through us. Remember, contentment is more about distribution than accumulation...
Most of us could use some practice in contentment. This past week I was getting worked-up about a home improvement, asking the question, "Can we afford it?" After stewing for a while, it was as if the clouds parted, God broke through, as if to suggest, "If you are going to preach about contentment, you better know what you are talking about. A scripture came to mind: "There is great gain in godliness with contentment"(I Timothy 6:6). The content of contentment is happiness, gratification, pleasure, serenity, comfort all wrapped in a spirit of thanksgiving and peace--all of which our Lord intends for us, and which only our Lord can provide.
I looked around my home and yard with new eyes, thinking about family, friends, this wonderful Mount Olivet congregation, my amazing colleagues, faith and freedom, forgiveness... and soon I was feeling astonishingly blessed. Sensing a positive change in my disposition, Leslie walked out to the deck and asked, "What's up?" I replied, "I'm having a reverie."
And even when the sun is not shining and we face the downside of life, we discover lasting contentment in an ongoing personal trust relationship with the Lord. Facing the exigencies of life and death and everything in between, our Lord promises, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Even if we get fired; even when we fail, the content of contentment remains safe in our confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid." Amen.
Pastor Stephen J. Cornils