Well-Fed Or Hungry

(Philippians 4:10-23; Matthew 22:15-22) J G White
Sunday, Oct 22, 2017, UBC Digby

October 17th was just a few days ago, Tuesday.  It was the the 25th annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  We have been hearing, for more than a decade, of the campaign, and organization, called Make Poverty History.  Get rid of poverty.  Thanks to our thinking at the Worship Committee, today is a ‘poverty Sunday’ for us here, though we have no great actions for this day.  

We did read someone else’s mail today.  Bill read it.  A letter from Paul to a Church in the area we now call Turkey.  But really, the letter is also meant for us.  It is very personal, and very old, but very compelling and inspiring.

Paul, near the end of his letter to the group of Christians in Philippi, speaks of the financial support they had given to him.  He was traveling and needy, and, yes, the little Church supported him.  It is interesting what he says about his experience.

Paul appreciates the renewed concern for him that the Philippians had recently shown.  Remember, he’s a captive now, incarcerated somewhere by the Roman authorities.  

Paul says he has learned to be content with whatever he has.  He knows what it is to have little, and to have plenty.  From experiencing many circumstances, he knows the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry. He claims he can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens him.

So, four things.  Paul has learned.  Once he did not know, but he learned, thru the years.
Two, it was from his experience that he learned.
Three, he suggests there is a secret to this, a secret to dealing with being poor or being well-provided for.
Four, he credits Jesus the Christ as his source of strength for being able to be poor and not to be poor.  

I got thinking and wondering about what I have learned about this, what my experience has been, do I know any secrets, and do I strongly rely upon Christ?  I happened to be looking this week at a book of prayers I have, by the great Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann.  It’s called ‘Prayers for a Privileged People.’  The prayers in it challenger the pray-er to step out of the world of merit, achievement, production, and consumption and into the realm of a God who startles and pushes us out of ordinariness. (From the back cover.)

And it hit me – that’s it, I am a privileged person.  I enjoy many assumed, unnoticed privileges.  Let me count the ‘blessings’ in my 47 years of life and reflect on being hungry or well-fed, so to speak.

I was born in 1970 in a hospital in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Not in a place of less health care or of rampant diseases.  Or of abject poverty.

I was born healthy – a bit jaundiced, but healthy. Been quite healthy ever since, unlike so many people on Earth.

I was born to a couple who are still together today, after fifty years of marriage, this month.  The divorce rate in Canada is about 38% right now.

I was born a male, in a part of the world where this still means I am more privileged than the other half.  

I was born white – not just my last name, my ethnicity, which means, white privilege, compared to other races.  So I never found myself on some Secret Path to escape residential school and find home, such as Gord Downie told, of Chanie Wenjack, who died 51 years ago today.

I grew up and got to go to school, a happy school.  It was available and expected, and many people today on Earth don’t get this.  

I grew up and got taken into a religious tradition, the Christian Church.  Most young people today in NS don’t get such an introduction into a faith community.

I grew up and never was sexually abused.  I was never hit or hollered at or neglected.  Little did I know that many were not so ‘lucky,’ all around me, and now say, #metoo.  

I grew up in a home that got a microwave in the kitchen when they were new, got a computer when I was barely a teen, got a VCR when they came into vogue, and got an above-ground swimming pool in the backyard by the time I ended high-school.  I did not know if I knew many people who did not have most of these things.

I grew up in a family that got to go on vacations – usually a trip driving up to Montreal and Oshawa each year to visit family.  Did other kids not get to do that?  I didn’t think about it.

I grew up in a family where my father worked hard, but worked at a business from out of our house.  Did I think about kids with a parent who was not home much?

I grew up and went to college.  I got to live in a house in that town where I did not even have to pay rent – I just had to do a few chores: mow the lawn, shovel the snow, vacuum the carpets.  There are many people for whom the doors to universities or trade schools are closed.

I grew up and figured out I was a normal, ordinary, heterosexual male.  I finally, at age 37, got married to a wonderful woman.  How many people have struggled, and been oppressed, because of their sexuality?

Out of university I got a great job, for 5 ½ years.  Then another job in my field for 12 years plus.  And then another great job, here in Digby.  I’ve had a pension plan and a health plan.  I’ve always known there is unemployment and unemployability, but I don’t know it.

I could go on, but this is long enough, for now. I realize, a bit more, what I do not know. I have not learned what the apostle Paul learned, back in the day.  I have learned, from my experience, no secret of relying upon Jesus when I am poor. And the other side of the coin is this:  I have not learned, from my experience, the secret of relying upon Jesus when I have everything I need.  Even though that has always been my experience.

Dear old Paul speaks of both, eh?  I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all thing through him who strengthens me. (Phil 4:12-13)

Your life experiences are different from mine, though some things will be the same.  Perhaps a few of you have lived ‘a charmed life,’ as I have.  Maybe a few of you have had a grindingly hard life, compared with me.  For most of you life has been somewhere in the middle.  

There is a place for our experience, for learning, for the secret of living not matter what, and for relying upon God, which Paul, and yours truly, find strong in Jesus Christ.  

For me, and some of you, we are to learn this as we are well-fed and have plenty.  And our experience will broaden as we have fellowship with more of the world’s poorer people – including those right in our neighbourhoods.

No wonder we have so many stories of Jesus about poverty and riches.  Ready for another list? Here are words of Jesus – not to be used out of context, but to remind us how often He spoke of these matters.

“The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Give to everyone who begs from you…

“love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.

“give, and it will be given to you. …for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten…

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.

“Sell your possessions, and give alms. …For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

“none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth…

“No slave can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Not to mention many of Jesus’ parables, such as the parables of  the Sower and the Seeds, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son, the Dishonest Manager, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Ten Coins or Talents.  And this is a sampling only from the Gospel of Luke! Not to mention today’s story about the Roman coin from Matthew 22.

Jesus knew every kind of person can be trapped.  The poor trapped by the longing, struggling for enough.  The rich trapped by protecting it and seeking more.  Those in the middle trapped by having enough but obsessed with having more.  Whatever we have or don’t have, money and stuff takes control of us, at times.  So it is real good news – if it is true! – that our Jesus can teach us, by experience, the secret of being strong and content in all circumstances.  

I think of lists being, well, often dull.  But since I am using them today, let me conclude with a third list; a list of actions that you and I can consider, amid the poverty and riches of our world.  

Study Jesus’ words about need and want: take Him seriously and do some of what He says!

Consider what your ‘privileges’ are, and as you do, you will see more clearly those without them around you.

Take time to look into some spiritual practices or ‘spiritual disciplines’ like these: Fasting. Frugality.  Simplicity.  Try some on for size.  Hey, along with your gratitude challenge you could take on a fasting challenge!  

Remember the slogan, Live simply so others can simply live.  Work out how you can do something so others will have more in this life.

Think and pray about how we ‘do church,’ on Sunday mornings and other times.  Are there things that could hinder people with little money (or with heaps of money) from taking part?

Find out how to help out at our local Food Bank, Soup Kitchen, or Salvation Army. Or other ministry.  Help them.

Spend time with people whose life is quite different from yours.  Look for more chances to do this, anyway.  See what Christ sees – real people of real value [and I don’t mean monetary value!].

Or, look back on your own life story, count the blessings, count the curses, and see what you have been learning, in your heart and soul.  Thank God for what you find!

And may you help others find contentment in whatever their circumstances.  AMEN!

Think and Do

(Psalm 106:1-5, 47-48; Philippians 4:1-9) J G White

Sunday, Oct 15, 2017, UBC Digby

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard… —put it into practice.

Think. And Do.

About three years ago I wanted a scripture reminder for myself, to put up right in front of me at my desk, here in the Pastor’s Study.  I wanted something positive for every day. I chose words of Paul from Philippians 4:8&9.  

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

To ponder good things, count blessings, be thankful on purpose – is good in an of itself.  It is even commanded, or mandated, if we take this scripture to heart today.  The power of gratitude is understood by many people.  Not just Christian believers.  The practice of thankfulness is widespread.  I have a non-religious friend, for instance, who has this personal habit: to start each day by making a list of ten things for which he is thankful.  

Heather shared a challenge of a similar format.  There are many ways this can be done.  But why do it?  Why?

Counting blessings helps develop a positive focus and perspective.  Gratefulness is a gift for us in this life.

It was in 1978 that the Quaker author and teacher, Richard Foster, put out his excellent book, Celebration of Discipline.  After chapters on prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, confession, meditation, and so forth, he ends his book with a chapter on Celebration.  Celebrating as a Christian practice, a spiritual discipline!  He talks about Philippians 4, saying:  If we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be joyful, that is, full of joy.  

Counting blessings trains one for greater gratitude.  Yet the harvest of gratitude is greater than this, more than simply feeling better.  It results in good things we do.  We think, we contemplate… and this effects what we do, how we live our lives.  

Among the thousands of Christian organizations in the world is one I know called the Center for Action and Contemplation.  Based in New Mexico, USA, last week it celebrated it’s 30th anniversary.  Note the name: the Center for Action and Contemplation.  It’s founder, and team, believe that the contemplative life – prayer and meditation and so forth – must go hand-in-hand with action, doing, serving, speaking, making a difference!  

Thankful contemplation trains one for greater action.  Our forms of prayer – including contemplation, meditation, silence, fasting – all can prepare us, train us, for living.

Never having been a sports fan or player, it amazes me how many people are such devoted fans or become so athletic. I am learning this even from our four and a half year old grandson, Dryden.  Dryden is being trained to be a great hockey fan, and hockey player!  

Dryden can sing.  He knows O Canada… the whole tune and his own version of the words.  He knows Queen’s We will rock you!  Why does he know these two songs?  They are played at hockey games!  

When he and I play hockey in his living room, or in our hallway, I see the copycat moves of Dryden.  Imitating what happens in real hockey on TV.  The face-offs, the slapshots, the goalie moves in the net, the body checks, even lately the fights of the players!  

Dryden is playing, acting the parts very well.  But, but… he is signed up for hockey at a local arena this year.  His mother was alarmed at the cost of enrolling him, not to mention the equipment needed for a 4 ½ year old who does not even know how to skate yet!

But, of course, this is the beginning of the real training.  Just imitating the players and their moves will not make Dryden a good hockey player.  The hours on the ice, the exercises, the routines, the steps towards skating and being part of the team will take years.  It’s all in the training.

So, a spiritual activity such as thankfulness is part of our training, as humans.  Dallas Willard wrote, no one ever says, “If you want to be a great athlete, go vault eighteen feet, run the mile in under four minutes,” or, “if you want to be a great musician, play the Beethoven violin concerto.”  Instead we advise the young artist or athlete to enter a certain kind of overall life, one involving deep associations with qualified people as well as rigorously scheduled time, diet, and activity for the mind and body.  (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 8)

So too with our human spirits, and the lives we lead.  The inner thinking, and the doing.  Taking up a gratitude challenge can be part of our spiritual training that results in a true actions that flow out of gratitude, and the way we live will be better.  

Of course, as with everything, we learn much from our mistakes.  When Richard Foster wrote about Christian Meditation thirty years ago, he spoke of experimenting.  

Let me suggest we take an experiential attitude toward spiritual realities.  Like any other scientific endeavor, we form a hypothesis and experiment with it to see if it is true or not.  If our first experiment fails, we do not despair or label the whole business fraudulent.  We… try again.  (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 23)

So, you try to become more thankful.  You try a method.  You fail.  What did you learn?  How will you change your method on your next attempt?  

At this time of year, we may be drawn to meditation upon creation, quiet thankfulness for the beauty of the land.  Some of the great writers would call this study, study of nonverbal books.

A young man named Andre describes the time when he observed a moth being reborn from its chrysalis during a classroom lecture.  He was filled with wonder, awe, joy at this metamorphosis, this resurrection.  Enthusiastically, he showed it to his professor who replied with a note of disapproval, “What! Didn’t you know that a chrysalis is the envelope of a butterfly?  Every butterfly you see has come out of a chrysalis.  It’s perfectly natural.”  Disillusioned, Andre wrote, “Yes, indeed I knew my natural history as well, perhaps even better than he… But because it was natural, could he not see that it was marvelous?”  The boy was Andre Gide, French author and winner of a Nobel Prize for literature in 1947. (Quoted in Foster, p. 73)

To think with thankfulness will change what we do, how we do it.  And sometimes thinking is doing.  One thankful action is Celebration.  To celebrate life… well, sometimes it comes naturally, but it also takes practice, purpose, and training.  No wonder Paul reminded the Philippians to think about the good things.

So we celebrate!  Richard Foster tells of a couple who plants a tree for every wedding anniversary.  On their farm they now have a little forest of some forty trees that bear silent witness to their love and fidelity.  (Foster, p. 199)

What things do to you do to celebrate?  What simple, beautiful thing can you do to say “Thanks,” for something good in life?  Taking these little steps is part of your transformation.  We think about the good things in life, what’s possible.  When we do them, life truly is good.  

At the end of his ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus told one final story.  “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:24-27)