do we know enough?

Daniel 1:8-17
1 Corinthians 6:12; 9:24-27

Throughout Lent
and our consideration of deadly sins,
we’ve been referencing Scripture
as we consider what sins remain deadly
to us and to our world.
I hope and I pray
that as we’ve touched on such issues as
how much death our culture fosters—
as we’ve touched on consumerism and materialism
and our hyper-individualism,
the ever growing disparity between rich and poor,
you have some sense—
you do have some sense of their deadliness.

In our culture and our theology, sin is too often personal—
part of that hyper-individualism.
Sin’s not about the norms and values of our culture
that seek to shape us and our children
in images not so much like God.
No, sin is what we confess to in private,
and thus, too often, never have to deal with in public.
Sin is not the way things are,
it’s the things we do we shouldn’t—
which makes of sin entirely too small—
too inconsequential a truth.

So as we’ve touched on these cultural realities,
I hope and pray you have had some sense
of their deadliness as sin,
and I hope and pray as well,
that in the ongoing conversation of our worship,
you’ve been given cause to consider
how our faith might offer an antidote to what’s so deadly—
how our faith offers such an important resource
for living in our world—
truth that is relevant, powerful, timely,
and potentially redemptive—
this can save us.

This morning, in our Old Testament text,
we read about Daniel refusing the rich foods and wines
of the royal Babylonian court in order to remain
healthy and alert.
We can only imagine what all he would refuse
driving down our neon-lit streets!
He then proposes to the worried palace master
whom the king had made responsible for the exiled Jews’ welfare—
responsible for the royal rations allocated them,
that his health and that of his companions
be compared after ten days of eating vegetables and drinking water
to the health of those who indulged in the richer diet.

At a very practical level, we know,
beyond any shadow of doubt—
we know, supported by scientific evidence and research—
we know that a diet heavy on fruits and vegetables
with lots of water to drink
is healthy.
We know that eating locally grown—
we know that eating less sugar and less salt,
less saturated fat, less of that corn syrup that’s in just about everything,
fewer processed foods,
eating out less,
eating smaller portions of carbohydrates, meats and sweets,
is healthier.
We know all this. We all know this.

Do we know enough?
Evidently not.
Or knowing isn’t enough.
Even supported by scientific evidence and research—
even knowing the stakes.

The Bible advocates the cultivation of a discipline
that promotes health—
physical, biological health,
but it’s a discipline,
in our culture of indulgence and extravagance,
that promotes health at a deeper level as well.
Our need for—expectation of—assumption of—
defense of—hope for—investment in—
abundance masks the more profound truth
of a fundamental fear—
the fear of not having enough—
the fear of scarcity—
a fear stoked in just about every advertisement we see
that itself masks the fear of not being enough.

I checked.
According to The New York Times,
the average person is exposed up to 5,000 ads a day.
This was back in 2007,
and it’s gotten nothing but worse since then.
There are, of course, some that dispute that figure,
suggesting it’s much much lower.
More conservative estimates range through the hundreds.
But I don’t doubt the thousands.
Buy this and be well.
And the consistency of the repetitive claim belies the promise.

In our Epistle texts, Paul notes
that we should not do everything we can do.
In his words, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.”
We should not do everything we can.
That’s about as close to sacrilege in our culture as you can get.
And it’s back to that idea of some kind of discipline
that promotes health.
Again, more than just physical, biological health—
some kind of cultural health.

We should not eat all we can.
Should not drink all we can.
Should not buy all we can.
Should not do all we can.
There’s more that’s legal than that’s right.
There’s more we’re free to do than we should do.
But in our vigorous defense of freedoms,
we don’t want to talk about the need for limits
(or we’re selective in that to which we’re willing to apply limits).

I am often critical of business—particularly big business.
Have you noticed?
I’m really not anti-business.
I’m anti obscene greed.
I’m anti profit over any and everything else.
And business lacks the same disciplines we all do.
They’re people too, after all, right? According to our Supreme Court.

That’s not to say there aren’t some businesses
(as there are some people)
who have the perspective and the strength of will
to cultivate this kind of discipline we’re talking about today.
“In October 1994, … a consortium of semi-conductor companies
volunteered to give up (return, relinquish, give back)
a $90 million-a-year federal subsidy.
The consortium, Sematech, was created seven years earlier
to encourage U.S. production of semiconductors.
As a result, it began to produce them,
and by 1994 the future of the industry was assured.
So Semtatech decided to stop the subsidy
on the principle that they did not need it anymore”
(Michael Schut, editor, Money & Faith: the search for enough
[Denver: Morehouse Education Resources, 2008] 39).

Do we know enough?
Not always.
Or knowing isn’t enough.
But sometimes it is. Sometimes it is.

Paul goes on in his letter to the Corinthians
to later reference the discipline of the athlete—
the self-control required to excel.

And to some extent we understand the need to sacrifice
in order to succeed—
at least we say we do,
and maybe intellectually we do

Many of us followed the Olympics this past winter.
Many of us follow the Ravens or the Orioles,
the Blast or some other team,
and we have some sense of the regimen
elite athletes have to follow—
what they go through in order to excel.
Right?
The strict diet.
The hours of exercise.
The physical drills.
And the right balance of food and exercise and rest and practice.

We read horror stories of those who try and take short cuts.
Steroids.
Eating disorders.
Injuries.
Surgeries.
But we also know that short cuts are dreadfully tempting, don’t we?
And athletes, like businesses, are just people,
like you and like me,
some with healthy discipline. Some not.

And it’s not just sports, of course.
We know what it takes to succeed in music, don’t we?
Practice, right?
Lots and lots of practice.
To succeed in school—
work, right?
Study.
It’s not just going to happen.
To succeed at work?
Put in the hours—
maintaining—this is tricky—
some sense of of a healthy balance.

I think I’ve suggested before
the value of considering
the discipline of becoming me—of becoming you—
the danger of assuming it just happens.
Something does.
Something just happens,
But is the me who just happens
the me I want to be?
Or is the me I want to be
one carefully considered?
Shaped with self-control and discipline?

And there are some people
who have the perspective and the strength of will
to cultivate this kind of discipline we’re talking about today.
But what about the many more who don’t?
After all, how many elite athletes are there
compared to the population as a whole?
How many superb musicians?
Is it legitimate—
is it appropriate to talk about limits
within our freedoms
for those who don’t know how to live within them?

Herman Daly, an economist with years of service at the World Bank,
talks as many others do of ratios in earning,
what is sometimes called “limited inequality.”
Daly points out that “the military and the civil service in this country
both earn at a ratio of around ten to one:
the highest paid member of the military makes no more
than ten times the lowest paid member.
In academic circles the ratio is around seven to one ….
These ratios are in sharp contrast to CEO’s salaries—
the chair of General Motors versus the assembly line auto worker ….”
(Schut, 144)
To say nothing of Hollywood and professional sports.

We protect the freedom of people to make as much as they can.
Joe Flacco makes more than he needs or deserves.
But he makes what the market gave him, right?
And how dare we propose even the idea of imposing limits?
That’s the question, isn’t it?
Though I think our question, as followers of God,
as respecters of Scripture as teacher and guide,
ought be, how dare we not?

“Money is one of the most common subjects in the entire Bible.
Jesus spoke about it frequently. Opinions differ
as to the number of parables in the Bible.
In one count of 43 parables, 23 (or 62%) refer to money and possessions.
One of every seven verses in the Synoptic Gospels,
and one out of 10 in the four Gospels deals with money and/or possessions.
In the Bible there are 500 references to prayer,
slightly fewer than 500 dealing with faith,
but more than 2000 verses deal with money and possessions”
(Eugene Grimm, quoted in Schut, 39).

We are doing such a good job,
as the church in general,
of making peripheral to our living
what was central to Jesus’,
and of making central to our faith,
what was peripheral to Jesus’.

And the more we make what was central to Jesus
peripheral to our lives as individuals and as churches,
the more peripheral becomes our witness
as christians and as church in the world.

I’m always simultaneously tickled and embarrassed
when someone other than a follower of God
in the way of Jesus
articulates what I believe the church should be saying
so much more clearly and directly than the church tends to.
The English rock and new wave band, the Fixx
released a song in 1991 called “How Much Is Enough?”
that included these lyrics:
“Good enough’s not good enough
Don’t complain that you’ve got it tough
With all you have your life’s a bore
Can’t relax you want so much more
Blind needs won’t set you free
Can’t you see that
Time is slipping away?
But I got to say
How much is enough when your soul is empty?
How much is enough in the land of plenty?
When you have all you want and you still feel nothing
How much is enough?
(“How Much Is Enough?”
written by Ashley Woodman Hall, Cy Curnin, Scott Cutler
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI Music Publishing)

Now please hear this carefully,
I don’t know how to tell anyone when enough’s enough.
I don’t think that’s anyone’s place.
Because we don’t know, do we,
who’s supporting parents, for example.
Who has medical bills.
We don’t know what all goes into meeting the needs of children—
of providing for our childrens’ futures—
how much is enough.
Can there ever be enough to feel like enough—
to feel like we’ve provided them the security we want to?
But that’s not the best gift we have to give them, is it?
That’s not a gift we can give them—security.
More important is the assurance—
a confidence in their sufficiency—their blessedness—
our love for them.

So it’s not my place to say this is enough for anyone else,
but I think it is my place, as minister, as preacher,
to suggest that our faith promotes a discipline
that requires an ongoing assessment
do I know enough?

Novelist, poet, essayist, cultural critic,
environmental activist, farmer,
Wendell Berry, who said in an interview:
“I’m not a Baptist in any formal way.
I go to the Baptist church ….
I am a person who takes the Gospel seriously,
but I have had trouble conforming my thoughts to a denomination.”
Wendell Berry writes, “The great obstacle is simply this:
the conviction that we cannot change
because we are dependent upon what is wrong.”
Now I’ve heard that before.
I’ve thought that before.
But here’s what makes Wendell Berry Wendell Berry.
He goes on to state:
“But that is the addict’s excuse,
and we know that it will not do”
(Wendell Berry, quoted in Schut, 11).

Part of our faith is supposed to be about helping each other
cultivate the discipline of recognizing enough—
knowing it’s a moving, changing target,
and then help each other cultivate the discipline
of, once having recognized enough,
to then say (and mean) enough.
Because just knowing is not enough!
It starts by saying this is what we talk about.
This is appropriately on the table.
It continues with us deliberately modeling the discipline of enough
in various realms of life.
Steve Nichols was telling me about the healthier snacks
he keeps in his office, and I can learn from him.
The WEE committee has had off and on conversation
about healthier snacks.
But it’s also about enough screen time,
and that’s not just kids and TV and video games,
but parents and iPads and phones and computers.
Enough stuff, enough work.
And healthy is more involved—more complicated—
requires more of us—
isn’t as easy.
But we’re not called to the easy life.
We’re called to reject a good life defined by easy—
to reject an abundant life defined by stuff.
We’re called to a good life—an abundant life
defined by the presence of God with us along the way.

We confessed earlier
to not knowing the truth, the depth and possibility of enough.
Hear now words of assurance.
Yesterday at Margie’s memorial service,
I was struck in both Joanne’s words (Gerri’s sister)
and Dennis’ (Joanne’s husband’s)
how little they spoke of stuff and even events,
and so much more about conversations
and a way of relating—a way of loving.
Margie knew enough.
That’s why we gather in community.

So my name is John. And I’m an addict—
part of an addicted society—
addicted to stuff and to more,
and I need your help
to live healthier—
to make the better decisions I can’t make on my own.

And that’s enough
from me.

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