Happy is the person who wants what they have.
I came across this quote recently and it struck me as truly counter cultural. Our whole economy is built on creating exactly the opposite value: Happy is the person who gets an upgrade, a new car, a better job, or more fashionable clothes. We’re encouraged to be discontent with what we have. We’re taught that to be content is to settle for less. As a consequence we are more restless and unhappy with our lives than our grandparents, who had much less, lived more simply, and were more content. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that life doesn’t consist in the abundance of possessions; and then, in the next breath, he tells us not to worry. He ties the desire for more to worry and anxiety.
Advertisers are not fools, they use the same truth, only backwards: they get us to worry and be anxious in order to get us to buy. Almost everything we see and hear in the media encourages us to be dissatisfied with our lives as they are. We’re constantly told that our lives would be better and happier if we only had whatever they are selling now. Next week is a different story. And we do buy—both the product and the thinking behind the buying. It bothers me that we are routinely referred to as “consumers,” mere units of consumption, and it bothers me that it does not bother us. It’s evidence to me of how hopelessly captive most of us are to the belief in more and the economy of consumption.
I have a friend who, when asked if he’d like another helping at dinner, often responds with, “no thanks, I’ve had a gracious sufficiency.” It’s a great phrase; gracious sufficiency. Haven’t we all had our full share? Shouldn’t we all have a sense of gracious sufficiency? Don’t we all have more than we can say grace over? All of which brings me to the point.
These past few weeks I’ve been thinking about 35 years as a pastor, and spending the last five years with you. I want what I’ve had. I’ve been given a gracious sufficiency. You are more than I can say grace over. You are very special people. You love God. You celebrate life. You enjoy each other and care deeply for one another. You love your community. You are the most enjoyable and interesting collection of characters I’ve ever come across. I honestly come away from visits praying for you and thanking God for putting me amongst you…and for you taking me in.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that, “The unpardonable sin for a pastor is to complain about his congregation.” As Christians we need to learn to love, cherish, and appreciate each other; my job is to lead us in that direction. The best way I’ve found of doing that is to follow the advice of an African pastor who was asked about how he was able to lead his congregation to be so mature and gracious. “It’s easy,” he replied, “I just hold a crown out over their heads and let them grow into it.” My, how you have grown into yours! May God continue to bless and keep you in this place, to make his face to shine on you, and to grant you peace and joy, in every endeavor and ever circumstance!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie