Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
I love the simple and straight forward translation of those lovely words in Isaiah 55:1-3 in the Common English Version. The translation reads: “If you are thirsty, come and drink water! If you don’t have any money, come, eat what you want! Drink wine and milk without paying a cent. Why waste your money on what really isn’t food? Why work hard for something that doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will enjoy the very best foods. Pay close attention! Come to me and live. I will promise you the eternal love and loyalty that I promised David. It is good to remember that we as Christians emphasis that idea of spiritual food every time we take communion. So, there is a hugely rich and deep meaning to these simple verses.
This is one of the great invitations of the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures-on a level with "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden." It is an invitation to dinner, to a meal that will be far more satisfying than an engraved invitation to the White House or Buckingham Palace, because this is a feast that lasts far longer than any seven-course meal served on gold or silver plate. Not to mention a whole lot more tasty and warm since such state dinners are often cold and tasteless. The host issuing this invitation is not merely a president or a reigning sovereign. This invitation comes from the Creator of the universe!
This invitation even though it is over 2500 years old, remains as relevant for us today, as it was in the mid-sixth century B.C.E. when the prophet first wrote it and shared it with the exiles. Over the centuries the Christian church and its members have often entered into forms of captivity similar to the Babylonian Captivity. Luther and the Reformers invited the church, captive to a false doctrine of salvation by good works, to feast upon the grace of God. George Fox, and in our time, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., invited Christians to return to Christ's way of non-violent persuasive love. William Lloyd Garrison and others confronted the American Church, attacking its cultural captivity to the degrading system of slavery-and later others challenged segregation in the name of God. Dorothy Day dared to call the Church to trade its comfortable acceptance of the status quo to champion the cause of the poor. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany and the Berrigan brothers in America challenged those who would make an idol of their nation and its lust for power over "lesser breeds without the law."
Today, when billions of dollars are spent in the media to convince us that we are what we choose to buy and display to others, the invitation in Second Isaiah comes as a warning to resist the "powers and principalities" that would shrivel our souls so that we become merely statistics of a consumption-driven society. Each time we come to the Lord's Table for the spiritual meal offered, might we pause there and think upon the words of Isaiah 55. In Christ's meal, which points to the coming Messianic banquet at which believers will be gathered "from east and west, north and south," we receive the "Bread of Life" and thus are saved from accepting "that which is not bread."
May we who call ourselves Christians, the spiritual descendants of the 8th and 6th century prophets, by our words and deeds continue to "call nations that you do not know" to join us at the table where the only true Bread is offered to a hungry world. Someone has written that the inner hunger within us has a God-shape to it that only God can fill-or as Augustine put it, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."
Originally, as most people will know if you have preached even a few times on texts from the latter part of Isaiah, the invitation was issued through an unknown prophet to the dispirited prisoners of war living in Babylon around 540 B.C.E.-or rather, to the descendants of the original POWs who had been marched off from the ruins of their beloved Jerusalem in the year 586 B.C. Isaiah of Jerusalem, whose name is applied to all of the 66 chapters that comprise what we know as the Book of Isaiah, flourished during the latter half of the eighth century when mighty Assyria threatened Jerusalem. By the sixth century, Assyria has been conquered by the Babylonians, and Isaiah has been dead for over a century and a half, when God, through his prophet, issued this invitation. The fires that consumed the walls and the temple of Jerusalem have long since gone out, and the wailing of the Psalmist, proclaiming "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange and alien land?" has been overcome by the reassuring words that begin this new section of Isaiah, "Comfort, comfort my people…" During much of the two generations-long Babylonian Captivity the sage advice of the prophet Ezekiel has helped sustain the faith and hope of some of the Jews, and after him has come the one whom scholars call Second, or Deutero-Isaiah," and whom I like to call the Comforting Prophet.
This prophet knows history and current events-and most of all, the ways of the sovereign God. He has discerned in the stirrings in the east and in the incursions of a people led by Cyrus God's hand at work among the affairs of nations. He even has called Cyrus God's "anointed" one (see Ch. 45), an instrument of God to do God's will in restoring Judah, once mighty Babylon is conquered. Apparently many of the Jews, after two generations in Babylon were prospering and not so desirous of returning and rebuilding a ruined city, hence this appeal to them, with its question, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?" Especially when they can have for nothing the genuine bread from God, which alone will satisfy their deepest hungers. Thus God, through this Comforting Prophet, expands upon the invitation by urging the people to "listen carefully to me" and to "eat what is good and delight yourselves in rich food." He seeks to renew the covenant made with King David and to remind them again that they are to be a missionary people to "nations that do not know you." He closes this section with the plea to seek God, to return from their present ways to the merciful Lord God, the One who is so unimaginably different from them and their ways.
Money does not make us happy. However, there is one thing that will fill us with delight or if you will with happiness and that is God’s love. Only God can fill us with happiness. We can never find happiness in possessions or the other clunky things in our tech laden society. To get a hint of where happiness comes from look at our friends. This gives us a hint that true happiness comes in our relationships. And the ultimate relationship is with God.
I once asked a couple about to be married how they were doing? I got a wonderful report about their jobs and hopes and dreams. However, when I finally asked if they were happy, they said yes. Then the bride to be started to cry and I asked “why?” She sobbed out that she felt things were going so well and that she was so loved. The groom holding back tears nodded vigorously that he felt the same. So, for them as for us all we find happiness in the love of others and not career or money. The ultimate happiness is in loving and being loved by God.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way. That was a true proverb of the wise man, rely upon it: "Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure, and trouble there with." Benjamin Franklin. (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 310)
Money is an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything except happiness. Anonymous. (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 309)
"Nothing that is God's is obtainable by money". Tertullian, (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 311)
"Money buys everything except love, personality, freedom, immortality". Wisdom. (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 311)
It is interesting that the latter sentiment is recognized by those who created the current Master Card advertising campaign. The 30-second spots show scenes of people enjoying each other and moments of deep friendship and love, during which the narrator admits that some things cannot be bought-but then adds, "But for everything else there is Master Card."
"All the riches of the world and the glory of creation, compared with the wealth of God, are extreme and abject poverty." St. John of the Cross. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 1052.)
The moral problem of our age is concerned with the love of money, with the habitual appeal to the money motive in nine-tenths of the activities of life, with the universal striving after individual economic security as the prime object of endeavor, with the social approbation of money as the measure of constructive success. J. M. Keynes. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 642.)
The love of money is a form of infantilism. The man who loves money is the man who has never grown up. He has never passed from the world of fairy tales into the world of philosophy. Robert Lynd. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 642.)
"Shrouds have no pockets." Anonymous. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 643.)
Heaven must be populated at this moment with the generous rich of every century who gave of their wealth, of their service and even their lives to prove their love of God in the service of their neighbors. Ignatius Smith. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 863.)
Genuine Christianity teaches men not so much how to make and save riches as to how to get rid of them with the greatest possible advantage to their eternal salvation. Ignatius Smith. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 864.)
Advertising is the organized effort to extend and intensify craving-to extend and intensify…the working of that force which is the principal cause of suffering and wrong-doing and the greatest obstacle between the human soul and its divine Ground. Aldous Huxley (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 9.)
Millions of dollars are spent annually to entice people to dedicate themselves to "the cult of things," nice things which are phony, valueless, glamorous, sinful…all of which can stimulate the passions, beclouding the power of value-judgment. Roland Simonitsch. (From the World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 9.)
The world with all its goods cannot content the heart of man; for he was created not for them, but for God alone; hence God alone can make him happy and content. St. Alphonsus De Liguori. Ibid, (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966.], p. 1076.)
In the film The Bread, My Sweet Dominic Pyzola labors "for that which is not bread" in one of those glass towers that fill the Pittsburgh skyline. As a high-ranking executive at a financial firm that buys up other companies, his job is to decide who is to be fired at their new acquisitions. However, to provide work for his two brothers, one a would-be actor and the other mentally challenged, Dominic has bought a small Italian bakery in an ethnic neighborhood.
Every morning he stops off to help the brothers in preparing the dough and placing the loaves and rolls into the oven. Then he walks upstairs to chat with the former owners, Bella and Massimo. It is apparent that Dominic loves spending his time at the bakery and visiting with the older couple, which have come to regard him as a son. Their own child, a grown daughter has been out of the country for many years taking part in anti-poverty programs. Then one morning Bella asks to speak alone with Dominic. She reveals that she has been feeling pain in her abdomen. She requests that Dominic take care of Massimo. The worried Dominic accompanies her to the hospital, where they learn that she does indeed have cancer, and that she has waited too long. There follows a series of events, including the return of the daughter Lucca. To please Bella who longs for a grandchild, Dominic, shortly after meeting Lucca, asks her to marry him. When his shocked brother asks why he is doing this before the two can really get to know each other, Dominic replies "I want to do something for someone else for once." It takes some convincing for Lucca to agree, the two making a pact that they will divorce after Bella passes on.
In the meantime, Dominic has been growing so sick of his cut-throat job, that when he is offered a promotion with a huge pay increase, he turns it down, quitting instead so that he can work full time at the job which he has come to love-baking bread and goodies at the bakery. Dominic has settled for that which is truly bread, work that instead of harming others, as his former job required him to do, built up and brought people together. (Almost everyone in the neighborhood stops by during the course of a day, not just to buy bread, but to share their lives with one another as well.)
Nine days after the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran, which killed more than 28,000, and after rescue workers had given up searching for more survivors, a 97-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble. How she survived for so long without water or food is unknown. But the first thing she asked for was a cup of tea. She longed not only for the sustenance that food and water can bring, but for a sign of hospitality, of love and inclusion.
It’s somewhat embarrassing for me to admit this, but as a child, my family’s World Book Encyclopedia’s “M” book opened directly to the article about money. As an 8-year-old, I was fascinated by all the different bills that existed and the perceived happiness they would one day bring me (spoiler alert: the $100,000 bill that I so longed for is no longer in circulation). Although my obsession was admittedly a little weird, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only person who has thought about money and happiness before. The two topics, in fact, have quite a few websites associated with them: a quick google search revealed that “money” clocks in at 3 billion hits and “happy” at 2.9 billion. (People still seem to be fairly idealistic, though, as “love” garnered 7.8 billion hits).
But, what’s the link between how much money people have and how happy they are? In the 1970s, Richard Easterlin published a highly influential paper suggesting that, contrary to what most people might have imagined, there was no relationship between absolute income and well-being. Richer countries, in other words, did not necessarily have citizens who had a higher level of subjective well-being. Within a given country, however, the expected relationship arose: richer people were happier than poorer people. Easterlin’s conclusion was that relative income is crucial for well-being. You’ll be much more satisfied if you have an income of $50,000 in a country where the median income is $25,000, than if you have the same income in a country where the median income is $100,000. So, that’s two major findings: 1) between countries, there is no relationship between well-being and income and 2) within countries, there is a very strong relationship between the two.
Richer countries, then, do not necessarily have citizens who are “happier,” but they do have citizens who are more satisfied with their lives. This finding may sound strange, but it makes sense when you consider the variety of factors that lead to happiness. Diener and colleagues found, for example, that learning new things and having a strong social network were good predictors of feelings (like happiness). Positive feelings, like happiness, may be slightly influenced by income, but are more influenced by things like general temperament, the people you spend time with, and the types of activities that you do.
So, does money matter? Yes, but it depends on what you mean by “matter.” You may be more satisfied with your life if you have more money, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happier. Happiness and satisfaction are simply different things. Being in the upper echelon of the income distribution won’t necessarily put you in the upper echelon of the happiness distribution. But engaging in meaningful activities and surrounding yourself with engaging friends might go a long way toward getting you there. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-edge-choice/201303/does-more-money-make-you-happier)
Peoples' levels of happiness only increase as income increases up to a point, after which there are reduced benefits to happiness as you increase your income. This number is probably smaller than you think, although it depends on where you live, but it is usually between $60,000 and $80,000.
I'll explain this with some examples.
Imagine you are only earning $8,000 a year. You will barely be able to afford food, let alone shelter, and you will likely be very stressed or living off other people by scavenging.
Now imagine you are earning $80,000 a year. You can afford a house, a car, to go out, have nice dinners, and gather some savings so you can afford medical bills or travel. You can also woo your next woman (or man) or enjoy time with your current one.
But now imagine you earn $800,000 a year. Your house might be bigger and you might fly first class instead of economy, but you are doing basically the same things as before but are working a lot harder and don't have as much time to spend with friends and family. Also, the sex isn't really going to get any better just because you have more money.
Now, earning $8 million a year, or $80 million a year, is pretty unlikely, and it's also an absurd amount of money usually acquired by making money with money, not from actually working harder or contributing more to society.
If you want to increase your happiness levels, then be altruistic. Help other people. This is one of the interesting findings of research in positive psychology.
Most people actually think of pleasure, not happiness. They think of the pleasure of eating an ice cream or of going to the movies. But your happiness from these activities looks very much like a square wave. You are happy during the event, but half an hour later it has very little effect on your current state of happiness.
However, humans are wired for helping others. We get a nice long tail of happiness: Days later, you can close your eyes and get a warm, happy feeling as you remember helping your friend with something that mattered to him or her. (https://www.inc.com/quora/money-wont-make-you-happy-heres-what-will-accordin.html)
So here is a list of 10 reasons why money will NEVER make you truly happy!
1. Instant Gratification– This is what having money gives you, Instant happiness. But what happens when that feeling subsides and you are back to being unhappy? Happiness is an inside job, that’s why!
2. It Doesn’t Fix Relationships– In fact when you throw money into a relationship, it can either make it or break it. It is one of the #1 things couples argue about! So believe me when I say, just because you have money does NOT mean you are guaranteed to have a healthy relationship!
3. Root Of All Evil- It has long been said that it is the root of evil, but why? Well most of the world’s problems have ALWAYS been because of money! Wars have been started over it. Money = Power The more money you have the more power you have and with power comes greed, ego, corruption and more! You see where I am going with this?
4. Mental Illness- People who suffer with depression or anxiety disorders (like me) tend to think if they had more money they would be happier. But this is false. This is a disorder or chemical imbalance that needs to be treated the right way. Money can’t fix that!
5. Friendships- Money and friendships do not mix. Lending or borrowing money from friends can have some serious consequences. Lot’s of friendships have been destroyed because of money. Also if you have ALOT of money you can attract the ‘wrong’ kind of friends, if ya know what I’m saying!
6. Family- Same as friendships, Money and family don’t mix!
7. Studies- Here is one of many studies on the Psychology of Money and Happiness.
8. Things- If you have a lot of money, you can buy a lot of the things, but those ‘things’ will only make you happy for a little while. When the happiness is gone you start chasing it again with materialistic delusions of happiness. It won’t work. It’s called a delusion for a reason!
9. Never Enough– No matter how many things you have or money it will never be enough! It’s human nature. We want something, we get it, and then we want more, bigger, better! Its almost the definition of insanity. You keep going and going, chasing a feeling that nothing you “buy” will ever truly give you!
10. Peace- You can’t buy it, only attain it once you learn to come to peace with your decisions in life. We only get what we give!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying money is completely awful, it buys us our food, our homes and much more. But it seems people put their entire lives on hold to chase money because they think it will make them happy! (https://thriveglobal.com/stories/10-reasons-why-money-will-never-make-you-happy/)
There is a wonderful internet thing called LifeHack. It is all about making things better. From teaching you how to properly tear cling foil to dealing with the major issues of life. One of their articles asked: Do you ever come across those people who are always upbeat and no matter what life throws at them, they just seem to roll with the punches? It’s quite possible they’re following a formula for happiness–right now. You can increase your own happiness quotient by doing these 14 things proven to make you happy.
Start with a Good Dose of Gratitude
Being consciously aware of what you’re thankful for can actually change your level of happiness. When you wake up each morning, spend time time recalling all the things for which you feel grateful. Start with simple things: Do you have a roof over your head? Enough to eat? It might be helpful to start a gratitude journal.
Make Sure You’re Giving Back
Do you give 10% of your income to your favorite charity or church? There’s something about giving that allows you to receive more in return besides just the awesome act of giving to help others. When you give, you’re sending a message to the Universe that you know everything’s going to be all right. By giving, you’ll be taken care of, too. You see it from those with very little to those who have millions: you have to give to get and by doing that, your happiness increases.
Laugh Every Day (It’s Better than Money)
Do you spend time each day laughing? Do you purposefully find something to laugh about? When you laugh, you release a happy hormone called oxytocin. It’s a hormone that uplifts us as we share experiences with others. Even just making yourself smile will put you in a better place.
Foster Good Relationships with Family and Friends
Happy people don’t spend large amounts of time alone. By spending time with people you like, you forge supportive relationships that help you in times of stress. You also bond with others through common experiences, such as life’s ups and downs. They become your support network. People who don’t spend as much time with family or friends are more prone to loneliness and depression.
Take Some Alone Time
In contrast to spending time with family and friends, it’s important to step back and take some time for yourself, by yourself. You can recharge your spirit and find a little peace in a little bit of silence. Taking some time away and being alone can do wonders for your mood and outlook.
Do What You Love
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Do what you love, because the money will follow?” Doing things that you love to do–and even better, getting paid for it–are good ways to boost your levels of happiness. When work feels like play, you’re more likely to enjoy other aspects of your life better, too.
Volunteer Your Time
When you give of yourself, either by time or talent, your focus shifts from your life to that of others, helping you realize that, just maybe, your own problems aren’t that bad. You invariably forge new relationships and experience an uplift in your spirit.
Get Enough Exercise
When you take time out for exercise, you’re doing your body good in more ways than one. First, you’re doing what it was designed to do: physical exertion. Humans were made to move around and the body works best when it does what it was meant to do. Second, as you exercise, you release those same feel-good hormones as mentioned above. Third, when you take some time to exert yourself, you reduce your stress levels. All around, you need exercise to function optimally.
We all make mistakes in life–that’s part of the human condition. But with a little forethought, you can try to avoid making big mistakes. Even then, they still happen. That’s when it’s best to learn to forgive–yourself and others–because everyone else just trying to get through life the best they can, too. They’ll make mistakes, but the trick is, moving on from them.
Take Time to Meditate (or pray)
Sitting down, lighting a candle and doing some deep breathing for ten minutes are all it takes to relax your mind and body. In doing so, you get in touch with your inner-self, and invariably, you’ll get to know yourself a little better. That’s definitely a booster on the happiness scale.
Deal With Clutter
Are you overrun with books and papers piled everywhere? Too much mail sitting on the hall table? Why not tackle a small task each day for a month in an effort to de-clutter your life? When you’re not running around looking for items you can’t find, when everything has its place, you’ll automatically be less stressed and in a better mental state. That’s a great place to be on Monday morning when you’re trying to get out the door and you already know where the lunchboxes are, and the bills you have to mail.
Get Enough Rest
Ever notice how cranky you are the afternoon when you’ve only had five or six hours of sleep? Many of us are suffering from sleep deprivation which can lead to higher levels of stress and edginess. After a good night of sleep, you can tackle your daily tasks in a more calm, alert way. It’s so much better than experiencing that awful sluggish feeling in that oh-so-important meeting with your boss. Your body will thank you, too.
Eat Healthier Foods
You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” It’s true. If you spend your time eating package after package of boxed noodles, canned dinners or fast food, your body is going to let you know by gaining weight, feeling sluggish, and quite possibly having a host of health problems. How can you look and feel your best if the foods you eat are not good for you? By eating better you’re not only taking care of yourself, but you’ll also feel more vibrant and energetic. You’ll literally be healthier from the inside out.
Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
This is definitely easier said than done, but if you can condition your mind to focus on the good that you are doing and the good things in your life, you’re not going to be tempted to focus on how others are doing. (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/14-things-proven-make-you-happy.html)
Science has demonstrated that certain foods for which we have a craving are often laced with the very nutrients we need. A yen for salty food indicates a need for more salt, while hunger for a banana may indicate we yearn for potassium, even if we are unaware of the true chemical composition of bananas. Our bodies have a built-in wisdom, which we ignore to our peril.
Chapter 55 of Isaiah starts off with a whole set of commands which call us to take our attention away from whatever it is we have been concentrating on and look at what God is doing. In the first 5 verses we are bombarded with attention-getting words: Ho! Come! Listen! See! Clearly we are meant to be drawn away from one feast and into an entirely different one.
Anyone who spends five minutes in line at the grocery store will recognize that while our media maintains an obsession with being thin, our purchases betray our truer heart. We expect our food to comfort us. Obesity did not become the newest national epidemic by anyone's hand but our own.
In commenting on the grueling schedule of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby once explained, "Applause, laughter and commendation are food and drink to him." People magazine is filled with people of whom this can be said. What endeared Bob Hope to our hearts was not what was food and drink to him but what he did with that food and drink: traveling more than 10 million miles to entertain remote GI's in war zones, raising and giving away millions of dollars to charities and using his unerring sense of timing to offer the sincere gesture at just the right time. (People, August 11, 2003, pg. 53)
As much as we might wish that money and possessions would last forever, they don't. When the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis died, many of his affluent friends was eager to find out the true extent of his fabled wealth. Yet when they approached family members and asked, "How much did he leave?", the reply they gave was "Everything."
We often allow our emotions to override our reason in determining the value of things. If we were entirely reasonable, we would forsake all else to pursue the things that have eternal worth. But the immediate allure of worldly possessions at times leads us to focus on those things instead. The National Geographic (September 2003) told about an experiment that was conducted in 1993 where people could win a dollar if they drew a red jelly bean from one of two bowls. The one bowl contained 100 jelly beans, of which 7 of them were red. The other bowl had 10 beans, but only 1 of them was red. Of course, the rational thing to do would be draw a jelly bean out of the latter bowl. After all, only 7% of the beans in the first bowl were red, while 10% in the second bowl were red. Yet many people chose a jelly bean out of the first bowl, because they said that they felt as if they had a better chance of winning. In a similar experiment, clinicians were found to be much more likely to release a mental patient from a hospital if they were told that the patient had a 20% chance of becoming violent again than if they were told that 20 out of 100 such patients would become violent again. Both statements, of course, are mathematically equivalent. But the researchers found that the latter statement created a visual image of violent patients.
Although Isaiah may tell us not to labor for perishable things, our work habits certainly don't seem to indicate that we are following that advice. According to U. S. News & World Report (9/8/03), counting vacations and public holidays, Europeans take an average of six to seven weeks off from work every year. In contrast, Americans average only 10 days of vacation each year, plus public holidays. The European Union recently mandated that member countries provide workers with a minimum of four weeks off each year. The United States has no similar law. Yet when Americans are away from work, they're not necessarily going away from home. The average American today spends only 4.3 nights of vacation away from home. That total is down from six nights 25 years ago.
American workers seem to have a growing sense that there is more to life than what they are getting from their work. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (9/1/03) report, 52% of all Americans say they would eagerly trade a day's pay for an extra day off work each week. Yet the poll, conducted by the Center for a New American Dream, revealed that 46% of Americans say they can't afford, or aren't sure they can afford, even a modest pay cut because of the need to keep up with housing, health care, and other costs. Three out of five workers say they feel pressure to work too much, and four out of five wish they had more time to spend with their families. The organization that sponsored the poll seeks to counter the culture of commercialism.
Money certainly is a symbol of how we set our sights on material things, rather than on spiritual things. European money in particular is becoming a symbol of how we not only set our sights on material things, but how we use those material resources for destructive purposes. The British newspaper, The Telegraph (6/28/03) reported that almost all Euro notes that are in circulation have at least some trace amounts of cocaine on them. Just three days after the new Euro notes were introduced in January 2002, researchers in Germany found that 3% of them were contaminated with an average of 0.4 micrograms of cocaine particles. Seven months later, that figure soared to 90%. The most highly contaminated notes were found in Spain. Apparently rolled-up banknotes are often used to sniff cocaine. Because the Euros are made from pure cotton, cocaine crystals easily stick to them and get passed on to other notes.
Given the choice, instead of filling ourselves with things that are truly good and beneficial, we prefer to satisfy our transient hungers with lesser things. A report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (7/1/03) found that in schools where students are offered an "a la carte" cafeteria, students stay away from the fruits and vegetables, loading up instead with junk food. In previous generations, all students generally ate lunches that met certain nutritional guidelines that were established by the U. S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program. Today, however, more schools are giving students additional options at lunchtime, including permitting them to buy food from vending machines. In those settings, nutritional guidelines no longer apply. As a result, the most frequently purchased foods in school cafeterias today are high-fat and high-calorie items like hamburgers, pizza, french fries, cookies, cake, and soft drinks. Today vending machines are found in 15% of all elementary schools, in 55% of the middle schools, and in 76% of all high schools. One impact of all this is that obesity is becoming an increasing problem among children, with a third more adolescents being rated as obese compared to a decade ago.
From children's earliest years they learn to hunger for things that do not truly satisfy their needs. According to Time (11/10/03), of children who are under the age of two, 10% eat candy every day, 11% eat pizza every day, 23% drink sweetened beverages daily, 21% eat french fries each day, and 25% eat hot dogs, sausage, or bacon daily.
Instead of hungering for things that have eternal significance, it seems that we have an insatiable desire to focus on material possessions. According to the British newspaper, The Independent (8/31/03), there may soon be a television station in Great Britain that airs nothing but commercials. Already people are drawn to stations like the Home Shopping Network, which is almost nothing more than a series of endless ads and promotions for various products. The new commercial channel would give viewers the opportunity to see all their favorite ads from the past. For instance, promoters of the new channel believe that a lot of people will be quite eager to be able to see a re-playing of all the Budweiser commercials that have ever been produced.
We convince ourselves that there are so many physical things that we need to survive that we often fail to ever look beyond those material things. A hermit from India, though, may be evidence that we need less of the things of this world than we might have imagined. According to the BBC (11/25/03), Prahlad Jani, a holy man, or fakir, claims to have neither eaten nor drunk anything for several decades. To check into the man's claim, he was held for ten days of observation at the Sterling Hospital in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. During his time at the hospital, attending staff verified that at no time did he eat or drink, nor did he make use of the restroom facilities. Despite his deprivation of food and drink, doctors say that his mental and physical condition is fine. In general, people can live without food for several weeks, but the average person can go without water for only three or four days. Disciples of the Indian holy men ascribe extraordinary powers to them, which allow them to live without any outside nourishment. Prahlad Jani spends most of his time living in a cave near the Ambaji temple in the state of Gujarat.
A massive famine struck Russia from 1932-33. During that period a peasant reported that the people's hunger had become so great that "we've eaten everything we could lay our hands on-cats, dogs, field mice, birds. When it's light tomorrow you will see the trees stripped of their bark...Even the horse manure has been eaten. Sometimes there are grains in it."
A widow was quite lonely, so she went to the pet store to find some animal that could keep her company. She ended up buying a fabulously expensive talking parrot, which she figured would be just the thing to lift her spirits. After several days had passed and the bird still had not spoken, the woman returned to the pet shop and complained. The owner said, "What your bird needs is a ladder for his cage. When he's climbing up and down, he'll be sure to talk." The widow tried that, but still the bird didn't talk. She returned to the pet store and complained some more. "What you need is a swing for the cage," the owner said. But that didn't work either. Next the woman purchased a mirror for the bird, but that didn't cause him to talk either. After a week had gone by, the woman returned to the pet store one last time. With tears in her eyes, she reported that her expensive parrot had died. The owner was deeply embarrassed, "Didn't he ever say anything before he died?" The widow replied, "Yes. Just as he was taking his final breath, he said, 'Don't they have any bird food at that pet store?'"
"When I pray for bread and get it, I think about bread and forget God. When I pray for bread and don't get it, I think about God a great deal" (African proverb)
"The sole purpose of life in time is to gain merit for life in eternity" (Augustine)
"The only way to get our values right is to see, not the beginning, but the end of the way, to see things, not in the light of time, but in the light of eternity" (William Barclay)
"He who has no vision of eternity will never get a true hold of time" (Thomas Carlyle)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: O God, You are our God! We search for You!
People: Our souls’ thirst for You! Our spirits hunger to be filled by You!
Leader: You alone, O Lord, are able to satisfy all our deepest needs!
People: You are the one who has sustained us in times past! You are the one whom we praise and worship, from this time forth and forevermore!
Merciful Lord, although You supply us with our daily bread, our cravings and desires never seem to be quenched. You provide us with all that we truly need, yet we devote our lives to searching for more and more. We confess that we live in a culture where lust has been turned into a virtue and where greed is no longer a sin. We admit we judge ourselves and others on the false basis of money or fame. Holy God forgive us for our misdirected priorities. Grant that we may turn aside from the glittering allures of this world, so that we may humbly accept the invitation You extend to us to be our Provider. In the name of our Savior we pray. Amen.
Loving God, for all Your blessings we give You our thanks and praise. For food and drink, for friends and family, for health and happiness, and for all the many ways You abundantly fill our lives with good things, we offer our gifts before You as a sign of our gratitude and devotion. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Faithful God, we are, like the words of that old song, "looking for love in all the wrong places." You stand before us and offer us grace and mercy, and You hold out Your arms to us, inviting us to share in everlasting fellowship with You. But instead, we search for love and satisfaction elsewhere. And so, we've become a people who try to gratify ourselves with false gods like money, sex, and drugs. Just like the Hebrews in the wilderness looked with disdain on the manna You gave them, we often turn up our noses at the blessings You shower upon us. Help us in our desperate search for happiness to find the sudden joy in finding it in our love of others and most importantly in our love for You, Dear God.
God of compassion touch our hardened hearts. Lead us to accept the invitation that You extend to us, to send into our lives all that we truly need and that You will provide for Your people in every land. Send forth Your healing power upon those dear to us who are suffering, and be near to those who perhaps are unknown to us yet whose needs are great. And pour out upon us Your peace, that peace that goes beyond all understanding, which only You are able to give. May that peace fill our world and guide our steps back to You. We ask all these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.