Sunday, October 12, 2008

Facing Up

Philippians 4:12 “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.”

Of the seven deadly sins, the only one that has appeared regularly in the headlines is lust. Now, in our current financial crisis, another of the deadlies is grabbing all the attention. Greed. Nobody is questioning that greed is the underlying factor in all of our financial woes. And I mean nobody. Democrats and Republicans agree. Business owners and blue collar workers acknowledge it’s true. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor all recognize that we are in this fix because of greed.

While I’m as upset as anybody that we are where we are and that nobody was apparently minding the store, I am pleased that the topic of greed is grabbing headlines. Jesus talked more about issues surrounding money and possessions than about any other topic outside of the Kingdom of God. To me that’s a sure-fire indication of where Jesus thought our spiritual danger lies. I have been convinced for many years that greed is our national sin and have railed in both my preaching and my writing that our neurotic obsession with issues like gay marriage has been an attempt to avoid facing up to what’s really killing us.

The desperately sad thing is that it’s not just killing us. Our greed is taking down the innocent in other countries as well as in our own. The financial crisis caused by our greed needs a solution, and I’ve come to think that the bailout is the lesser of two evils. But we need to do more than solve the crisis. We don’t just need a bailout. We need repentance.

Repentance, of course, is not just saying we’re sorry. In its biblical context it means to turn around and actually go in a different direction. Repentance is not about what we say so much as how we prove our words by our actions. While it’s natural to turn and point our fingers at the enormous greed evident on Wall Street, each of us needs to face the role that greed plays in our day-to-day lives. And then we have to repent. Turn around. Change.

That’s where these words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians come in. In order to curb our greed, we need to learn to be content with what we have, even if it’s not as much as my neighbor. Anyone who has lived the life of keeping up with the Joneses can tell you that you never do catch them. The Joneses always have more and will make you feel small by comparison, even if you live like a king compared to most of the rest of the world. Paul, on the other hand, says he has learned the secret of how to be content even when he has so little that he goes hungry. Verse 13 gives us a window into that secret, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our greatest resource is not our material assets but the power of God within us. It’s wind power, renewed by the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit. It’s the power of a little boy willing to share his lunch of loaves and fishes with 5,000 people. It’s the power of leading through service and of dying in order to gain eternal life.

These next years are not going to be easy, no matter what the final bailout plan looks like. But we have an opportunity in this crisis to build a foundation for our country on a rock instead of shifting sand. Each of us can learn to be content with what we have. During the Great Depression people learned that lesson and we have come to call them “the greatest generation.” Contentment led to service. The sharing of hardship led to empathy for the poor and a willingness to create policies to help all Americans dig out.

We have the opportunity now to be the next “greatest generation,” not just for America but for the world. We can do it through Christ who strengthens us.

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