Sermon Preached at Stouffville United Church
Rev. Capt. Dr. John Niles
Philippians Sermon Series –
Finding Joy Right Where You Are
Second Sunday of Lent
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I Can Do All Things Through Christ: 2023 Youth Theme (YouTube)
Two old friends met each other on the street one day. One looked sad and almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has happened to you, my old friend?” The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.” “That’s a lot of money,” said his friend. “But you see,” the sad man continued, “two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand dollars, free and clear.” The friend replied, “That sounds like you have been very blessed.” “You don’t understand!” the sad fellow interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million from her.” The friend was really confused and said, “Then, why are you so sad?” “This week I didn’t get anything!”
Karl Barth, a famous theologian that influenced a lot of Christian thought, was asked what was his deepest theological thought. He responded, “That Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There is something in this tremendous concept that should bring us joy: Jesus loves me, this I know.
Humans tend to look for joy and happiness in the wrong places. But it has been proven time and time again that material things and the accumulation of riches do not bring happiness or contentment. On the contrary, many times it is these material things that produce sadness and pain and rob us of true contentment. If riches where the fountain of happiness, then North Americans would be the happiest people in the world. The United States has one of the richest economies in the world. Several years ago, this country had more than 5 million millionaires and 269 billionaires. The country which came closest to this was Japan, with 29 billionaires. However, the research indicated that only 20 percent of North Americans were happy.1 Maybe that is why psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois says, “Materialism is toxic to happiness. More so the wealthiest materialists are not that happy as those that do not worry about obtaining or spending anything.”
But what is contentment? Contentment is connected to a good frame of mind. It is a feeling of satisfaction with life which is not based on circumstances. The 17th Century German philosopher and theologian, Immanuel Kant, pointed out: “Give a man everything he desires and yet at this very moment he will feel that everything is not everything.” The problem of dissatisfaction is a uniquely human problem.
Yet, St. Paul said, I have learned to be content. ” Rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Phil 4:10-11)
The lack of contentment that marks our nation is reflected in many ways. We see it in our high rate of consumer debt. We aren’t content to live within our means, so we go into debt to live just a bit better than we can afford, but then we suffer anxiety from the pressure of paying all our bills. Of course, the advertising industry tries to convince us that we can’t possibly be happy unless we have their product, and we often take the bait, only to find that we own one more thing to break down or one more time consuming piece of equipment to add more pressure to an already overloaded schedule.
Philip Yancey writes of a spiritual seeker who interrupted his busy, acquisitive life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed him to his simple cell. “If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it.” John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).
It wasn’t just that fact that St Paul was writing this from prison that he learned to do without. It was because contentment had become a state of mind. While he had been isolated and concerned about the churches that he had established throughout what is not modern-day Turkey and Greece, He was able to remain content.
The famous Aesop story of “The Boy and the Nuts” tells of a little boy who once found a jar of nuts on the table. ‘I would like some of these nuts,” he thought. “I’m sure Mother would give them to me if she were here. I’ll take a big handful,” so he reached into the jar and grabbed as many as he could hold. But when he tried to pull his hand out, he found that the neck of the jar was too small. His hand was held fast, but he did not want to drop any of the nuts. He tried again and again, but he couldn’t get the whole handful out. At last he began to cry. Just then his mother came into the room. “What’s the matter?” she asked. I can’t take this handful of nuts out of the jar,” sobbed the boy. “Well, don’t be greedy,” his mother replied. “Just take two or three, and you’ll have no trouble getting your hand out.” “How easy that was,” said the boy as he left the table. “I should have thought of that myself.” Contentment is an issue of the mind, not the heart. Learning is acquired and not assumed, it is practical, possible and progressive.
An airline pilot was flying over the Tennessee mountains and pointed out a lake to his co-pilot. “See that little lake?” he said. “When I was a kid I used to sit in a rowboat down there, fishing. Every time a plane would fly overhead, I’d look up and wish I was flying it. Now I look down and wish I was in a rowboat, fishing.” Contentment can be an elusive pursuit. We go after what we think will make us happy only to find that it didn’t work; in fact, we were happier before we started the quest.
Did you notice what Paul said? He said, he has learned the secret to being content. In other words, contentment is something that does not come naturally, it is an acquired taste.
Paul said, I have learned to be content. But not just to be content. He has learned to be so in any and all circumstances “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.” (Phil 4:12)
Two youngsters were closely examining bathroom scales on display at the department store. “Have you ever seen one of these before?” one asked. “Yeah, my mom and dad have one,” the other replied. “What’s it for?” asked the first boy. “I don’t know,” the second boy answered. “I think you stand on it and it makes you mad.”
For a generation that defines hardship as not seeing the latest movie, not having the latest video game or keeping up with the Joneses, having less or doing without must be quite a challenge! Have you asked yourself what you can do without? For example, the personal computer may be an indispensable tool for many since its arrival on the scene, but hardly for everyone. The results of from a survey of 1,005 respondents on the subject “Couldn’t Live Without This Invention” couldn’t be any more surprising.
At the bottom of the list of eight inventions people could not live without, to the horror of young people, is the personal computer. Only a mere 7.6% says they could not live without it. Even a blow dryer – at 7.8% – is considered by respondents, as more important than the PC. Much more essential to folks – at 13% – is the microwave oven and aspirin, which is the only item not consuming electricity, garnering 19% of the votes. TV is at 22%, and telephone at 42%. Only two items have gotten majority backing. The light bulb gets 54% backing. What do you think is the most indispensable invention people could not do without? 63% of the respondents agree it is the automobile, compared to a mere 7.6% for the computer. (Business Week, Feb. 19, 1996)
Contentment is adjusting without regret to the challenges in life. Contentment comes from within and not from what is happening in the circumstances around us. The fact is our circumstances change. We often can not do anything about them. But we can choose how to respond to them.
During World War II, Dr. Frankl was imprisoned at Auschwitz, where he was stripped of his identity as a medical doctor and forced to work as a common laborer. His father, mother, brother, and wife died in the concentration camps. All his notes, which represented his life, were destroyed. Yet Frankl emerged from Auschwitz believing that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
“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.” (Phil 4:12)
Thomas Fuller, 17th Century English churchman and historian, once remarked: “Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire; not in multiplying of wealth, but in subtracting our desires.”
Here are some quotes on contentment:
“Contentment is a decision to be happy with what you already have.”
“Contentment is not receiving the things we want. It is the realization of how much we already have.”
“Contentment is when you are happy where you are, with whom you are and who you are.”
“True contentment is realizing that life is a gift, not a right.”
“If you are content, you have enough to live comfortably.” (Plautus)
“Since we cannot get what we like, let us like what we can get.” (Spanish Proverb)
“Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty.” (Socrates)
“The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.” (Lin Yutang)
“Contentment means that whatever we do not have we do not require.” (Alexander McLaren)
“To be content makes a person rich, but to be malcontent makes a rich man poor.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Contentment means satisfaction on the inside, no matter what is going on outside.”
St Paul said I have learned to be content and all circumstances and the secret of doing so is because of Christ. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)
The strength Paul refers to is spiritual and divine – through Him who gives me strength. The nearest translation for “en-dunamoo” is “empower,” from the words “en” or “in” and “dunamis” or “power.” This word occurs merely seven times in the Bible, once in Acts describing Saul who grew “more and more powerful” (Acts 9:22) and six times by Paul, True contentment is not denying oneself of the supply of things, but depending on Christ for the supply of needs.
Paul Harvey tells the story of Ray Blankenship preparing his breakfast and gazing out the window, when he saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his Andover, Ohio, home. Blankenship knew that farther downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the floundering child. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. Blankenship surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about three feet of the yawning culvert, Ray’s free hand felt something protruding from one bank. He clung desperately, but the tremendous force of the water tried to tear him and the child away. “If I can just hang on until help comes,” he thought. He did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, for this selfless person was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew. Ray Blankenship can’t swim. We love rescue stories. Most of us will never forget Midland, Texas in October 1987. After being trapped nearly 60 hours down a dark, abandoned well shaft, little 18-month- old Jessica McClure, was rescued. We remember how good it felt when Army private Jessica Lynch was rescued from her Iraqi captors. We love rescue stories!!
As great though as those rescue stories are, they pale in comparison to the greatest rescue in history—the saving of all humanity by a loving God. Who never leaves, nor forsakes us, but rather, jumps in the mess with us to give us the strength we need to go on. You think about that. Amen.