According to our “Enough” study, I’m supposed to preach on the American dream – about how the quest to have it all has taken it all away from us. I’m supposed to preach on the difference between abundance and the life abundant. I’m supposed to preach on our need to consume and acquire and what we give up in the process.
But all of that seems very trite when we remember that brothers and sisters not too far from here were rocked by an earthquake. All of that seems vanity when we think of the lives of missionaries and doctors and orphans and moms and dads and brothers and sisters in Haiti. All of that seems just plain foolishness, when we consider those who have nothing.
I am a part of a number of online communities that have been sharing stories of the lives of people who have been affected by the earthquake in Haiti. I have been praying for the rescue of and now mourning the loss of the head of our United Methodist Committee on Relief, who was killed in the rubble under our meeting place in a hotel there. And I read this letter from a friend’s parents who are working at a hospital in Haiti.
“Hospital Ste. Croix is standing. John and I are fine. The administration building collapsed, and our apartment collapsed under the story above. We have nothing we brought with us to Haiti… Someone who was here gave me some shoes, and I found another pair of reading glasses that will work, so I have what I need…
Everyone connected with the hospital is alive except that we have not heard from Mario… several people lost members of extended family. The St. Croix church is cracked, I don’t know how badly. Eye clinic looks fine…
At night we sleep in the yard behind the hospital where the bandstand was. It has fallen, as has the Episcopal school. There are 2-300 people who sleep in that field at night. They sing hymns until almost midnight, and we wake up to a church service, with hymns, a morning prayer, and the apostle’s creed. The evening sky is glorious. In the field there is a real sense of community. Of course, we are the only blancs (whites) there… People have shared with us and we are getting a chance to feel how Haitians really live…
I have never understood joy in the midst of suffering, but now I do. The caring I have seen, the help we have received from the Haitians, the evening songs and prayers. Are wonderful. The people will survive, though many will die. Please pray for us. And pray that we and the hospital can be of help to the people here. Suzi.”
One of the lines that really struck me was the one that said: we have nothing we brought with us to Haiti, but someone gave me shoes and I found a pair of reading glasses, so I have what I need.
That is an amazingly different way to view the world than through the American Dream.
Living under the quest for the American dream, we have a constant need for bigger and better stuff.
Did you know that the average American home went from 1660 square feet in 1973 to 2400 square feet in 2004?
Did you know that there is estimated to be 1.9 billion – yes, billion with a b- 1.9 billion square feet of self-storage space in America? We have so much stuff that we don’t even know what to do with it or where we will put it.
And to get all of that space and all of the stuff to fill it, we have exploited our credit systems… and our credit systems have exploited us.
In the past twenty years, the average credit card debt in our country rose from $3,000 a person to $9,000 a person.
Thursday night, someone in our group mentioned that we have a hole in our lives that we aren’t quite sure how to fill. So we try to fill it with money and possessions. But are we happier? Are we filled? Do we have as much joy in our hearts as the woman serving in Haiti who has only a pair of shoes and reading glasses?
I’m not saying that we should sell everything we have, or throw it in to a ravine and go and serve the poor… although those were the very instructions that Jesus gave to a young man seeking his kingdom.
No, I’m instead saying that maybe our vision of what abundance looks like is a bit off.
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus isn’t chastising people for their wealth and celebration… he joins together with friends and family at a wedding feast and when the wine runs out and the party threatens to fall apart… Jesus provides. Jesus takes ordinary things like jars and water and creates abundance.
In Psalm 36, we are reminded of God’s abundance… How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36: 7-9)
God desires abundance in our lives. An abundance of life. An abundance of joy. An abundance of hope. An abundance of relationships.
And – an abundance of the things that we need to live in that simple, generous and joyful way.
I was struck by a column this week by David Brooks in the New York Times. He wrote:
“On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.
This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services…”
This week was a reminder that stuff isn’t always the problem. People around the world need safe places to live in and well constructed buildings. They need access to medical care and they need proper roads and clean water. And not having access to those things created a disaster that far exceeds the earthquake.
I don’t know very well the history of Haiti. What I do know is that it was a nation of slaves who overturned an oppressive government. And I know that although we as a nation benefited from their success and were able buy a whole boatload of land from the defeated French for a measly 1 million dollars, we did nothing to help them. I know that their culture is very different from ours and in some cases religious practices too, but hey are still our brothers and sisters in the human race. They are God’s people too.
And yet some among us have called them cursed.
Amen. And Amen.