Gracious and Generous God,
Enough, being it… feeling it seems so far away.
I’m never Satisfied.
I want more. I want more time. I want more stuff.
I want more pay, a better title and a vacation house;
one on a beach and one more in the mountains... to be satisfied.
I want to be smarter, brilliant, more resilient and honorary everything.
I want the highest GPA and A’s when the course is pass/fail.
I want the best recommendations and more awards… to be satisfied.
I want to tell the story and do it my way.
I want to be faster, stronger, smarter and win all the debates with the finest arguments.
I want the best house and the cutest family,
the right dress size and better selfies
to be good enough, to be satisfied.
I can’t even think in terms of enough. We didn’t learn that in school.
We run, and we run, and we run the race to be on top.
We keep working to keep up, a few more hours to be enough.
And then You, Loving God whisper, “You have no control.”
You weave your way through the narrative, nudging, urging, consoling.
You speak through the prophets and poets,
“You have no control. What are you going to do with your one precious life?”
You relax my shoulders heavy under the weight of wanting more.
You relax my grasp, weary with holding on.
You relax my mind and seed my heart with thoughts of something more.
You sing out, “Let go. You have no control, but you can have life and have it abundantly.
You draw us into a new narrative, with ancient rhythm and modern rhyme.
The story of striving for justice and equality,
replacing worry with wonder, stress with serenity,
debt with delight and greed with gratitude and generosity.
You co-create a new story, re-writing our schedules, re-balancing our budgets
focusing our time and gifts into a legacy of love and compassion,
that all may have life and have life abundantly.
And we, your beings so prone to fear and worry
say, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.
Scripture for Reflection
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Sermon by Rev. Debra McKnight
Enough. Abundance. Generosity. These are great words but hard themes for us to work out in the day to day. In Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda draws us in to this tension as the historic cast of characters raises the question of legacy. Eliza seems to anchor us with that would be enough, naming her desire to be a part of the narrative, and one not based in money but in connection and partnership. This is reflected back in a song springing from her sister’s lips about never being satisfied. And the thing that is compelling about this musical is not simply the opening of our eyes the the lives of historic figures, it is the felt experience of our every day that we see and hear. We dwell in these tensions. That’s perhaps why Miranda gets the rockstar treatment and history teachers are able to walk unassuming through the world. We love this story because we can feel it, we can hear George Washington singing, “History has its eyes on you”… and it’s not just to Hamilton. We can feel the tension in Hamilton’s quest to honor Washington's name… even to the point of violence, trying to control the narrative and hold General Lee accountable for slander with a duel. This theme to make a name and protect a name will come full circle when Hamilton’s own son does the same and dies in a duel, protecting his father’s legacy and name. Perhaps this question of legacy and the question of what we do with our life comes to a head when the musical concludes with Washington singing, “You have no control. Who lives. Who dies. Who tells your story.” This is where Eliza anchors us, perhaps in the way she anchored Hamilton to the questions of what is really important. She names her longing to be a part of the narrative, and in her heartbreak she takes herself out of the narrative, burning what is most important to her husband, his words, and by the end, she is the caretaker of the legacy. She is the author of the story and she does by discerning what is important. What really gives life. She does this by listening to all the men that fought with her husband. She does this by fundraising for a moment to honor Washington. She does this by creating safe space for children, just like her late husband, vulnerable children find a place of care in her orphanage. She creates a legacy built in love and service and generosity. And then the musical bids us to do the same.
That is the power of great art and beautiful stories. That is what draws us together in community, and I suspect it is what has drawn people together for as long as we could come together and make choices about what it means to be alive. That is why Jesus talked about abundance and living differently so much, I suspect. Because the question of legacy and the truth about who you are is typically most clearly told by two documents… your calendar and your budget. This is why Jesus spends a good deal of teaching time around time and money. “Stop what you are doing and follow,” he asks, transforming fishermen and tax collectors into disciples. Give it all up. Give up your time and your money. He preaches on individual budgets and community budgets… that keep poor people poor. He asks questions, he teaches and even flips over tables, and that kind of talk about money can get you crucified. Budgets and calendars explain and express values. What we value. Who we value. Perhaps even our sense that we can be enough if we have enough stuff, keep busy enough, or have enough control.
In fact, the one time Jesus says, “Today Salvation has come to this house,” is in Luke 19. And Salvation is not about Zacchaeus reciting a prayer and proclaiming Jesus as his personal Lord and Savor then getting back in his Jag (or the ancient Mediterranean equivalent) to go home. Zacchaeus is transformed and everything about his life changes, really changes. He was a tax collector, in collaboration with the Roman Government, and the only benefit to betraying your people in service is Rome is the chance to exploit them and grow rich. But then he encounters Jesus and he writes a new story. He crafts a new legacy. He gives half of everything he owns away and he repatriates, returns what he wrongly took with interest. He doesn’t need it anymore. He does not need the stuff to tell his story. He crafts a new one that replaces greed with generosity, struggle with serenity, and the false sense of control with community.
Our tradition talks about money, too. John Wesley wrote and preached and expected people align their life and their story with God’s story. He said, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. And Give all you can.” When he said earn all you can, he had this deep intention about earning in a way that was life-giving. This work could not exploit your well-being or anyone else’s. Earning must be done with care for what is life-giving. He invited thought about spending with intention and mindfulness toward the others in the economy. We have the same questions of shopping in a way that minimizes our carbon foot print, thinking about the makers and the care of the retail staff, was this product made in a way that was fair. He challenged laws and practices that kept the poor in poverty and called everyone to generosity. Everyone gave in the Methodist Society because it liberated people from the narratives that say you are what you own or what you can buy.
I don’t know where you find yourself in these stories. Maybe you are wanting to climb the economic ladder non-stop with Hamilton. Maybe you are ready to give everything away with Zacchaeus, or maybe you are thinking this whole earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can business is something you will consider someday… like in spring. I know where I am. I find this hard. I always have. If you looked at my bank account… or more accurately, my credit card bills about eight or nine years ago you would have said, “Oh, Debra McKnight loves shoes. She loves shoes more than anything. She loves shopping and has quite the shoe collection,” because that’s what my budget said, and it is where my free time was invested. Today I think I have gotten better, I wanted the story to say something different than I love shoes. And this liberated me to share, and the more I gave the more I gave, and the truth is I always had enough. But I still struggle… now it is more with the dollar bin at Target. All of those great little things that I could fill my home and Lila’s room with. Almost all of which is probably not fairly produced and is 100% something we don’t need. Mindfulness and intention are hard work when it comes to our wallets and our calendars.
A few weeks ago I was in a clergy meeting with a Pastor named Mike Slaughter. His congregation looked at the story of Christmas. They looked at this day and found that the average church member spent $1,600 on Christmas, literally in the name of Jesus, a peasant baby that grew up to ask people to give all their stuff away, people spent $1,600 on stuff. And they looked a little deeper and a lot of the Christmas spending was on a credit card that took an average of four months to pay off… by then the toys might even be broken. And worse yet, some folks were taking out payday loans, predatory loans that pray on vulnerable people. And when you take out a payday loan in December for 500 dollars, you have to pay it all off in January. And the truth is, folks who don’t have 500 dollars in December don’t have 500 dollars in January or February or March or maybe June or August. And the ugly truth of this loan is that you can’t pay on the the loan until you pay it all, so every month folks are trapped into taking out another 500 dollar loan to pay off the old one and spending 50 dollars. All of this in the name of Jesus, literally a story of Christmas about debt looming over people and spending on stuff. And so they set to rewriting the story. They asked people to plan what they were spending on Christmas and cut it in half. This meant they had conversations with friends and family about giving and what it meant. It meant they were intentional about the gifts they chose for children and grandchildren and everyone else. And it meant that they planned ahead and refused to go in debt in the name of Jesus. And then they kept going. They gave the other half away. The half they were going to spend last year they drew together in a special offering, and because they gave, they created springs of life-giving water in Africa. They have astounding ministries for GED seekers, for folks in recovery from addiction, and they are the fuel behind the United Methodist Committee on Relief supporting local communities with life-giving water. This church re-wrote their narrative around Christmas. The incarnation of God’s Love was not about stuff but about sharing. It was not about wanting more, it was about giving more. And it was not about the stress of going into debt to keep up with somebody else's understanding of Christmas.
What is your story? What is the narrative you are creating with God? What do you see in your calendar and you budget? The gift is we don’t have to struggle alone. We can write and re-write together. We can tell a story that is bigger than shoes or cars or titles or money or power. We can write a story about time spent loving and a life spent in gratitude and abundance. We are created in the image of God, beautifully and wonderfully made. We are enough, not one thing we can buy can make us better. Working 80 or 90 hours at the cost of our well-being or our family will not make us more worthy. We are enough. We are called to build a legacy of love.
May it be so, Amen.
© Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey