1 John 2:15-17
When the Metropolitan Alexis felt his life was drawing to a close, he summoned Sergius to him, wishing to bless him and appoint him as his successor. Fearfully, Sergius declined. One of the symbols of authority worn by the Metropolitan was an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary suspended by gold chains. “From my youth up,” Sergius replied, “I have never possessed or worn gold, and now how can I adorn myself in my old age?”
The excerpt in Holy Women, Holy Men states that Sergius was “simple and gentle in nature, mystic in temperament, and eager to insure that his monks should serve the needs of their neighbors.” Our readings today remind us of several facets of what makes up a piece of the monastic lifestyle–love of God, a desire for wisdom over “stuff,” and a charge in Luke’s Gospel that we must seek to be active listeners in the process and to be mindful of what has been bestowed upon us–“Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”
That part about “from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away” really sticks with me. I think back to the much more financially lean times of my life. It never failed–when my bank account was getting down to zero/zip/nada, it always seemed like I could always count on something like a flat tire, my furnace gasping its last breath, or a major plumbing leak to be foisted upon me.
In short, it’s the mindset of scarcity. When our means feel scarce, we almost expect for things to become more scarce just to kick us to the curb even further.
When we live our lives like there is never enough, guess what? There never will be enough. One of the things I’ve mused about over the years is it never matters how much any of us make, we get to the end of the week or the end of the month and say, “Where did the money go?”
Yet when we look at the life of Sergius, this monk of very little means influenced an entire country and helped myriad people. The life of Sergius is counter-intuitive to everything our popular culture tells us.
Our culture seduces us with the delusion that our wants, are, indeed, our needs. It confuses us even when we try to do good and live more simply. We have so many choices in our society it’s hard to discern what the “good” choice is.
For instance: I really don’t care much for certain mega-chain stores. They fill their shelves with things made in places that I can’t vouch for their labor policies, and I don’t always agree with the labor policies of these stores themselves. But in little old Kirksville, MO, the big box store provides jobs for several people I know personally. It’s all good to be high and mighty about our principles, but in small towns that can have tremendous local economic repercussions. My choice to stick to “green” or “fair trade” might cost my neighbor his or her job, because in a small town, I would have to buy those things online sometimes.
The impossibility of these kinds of choices brings us back to this business of “living more simply.” What, really, are our needs? How many our wants morph into “needs?” Compared to the bulk of the world, we are the ones who “have,” and are probably the ones to whom “more will be given.” But why is it so painful to even think about what we could give up so that others can have 1/10th of what we have?
The answer, I believe, lies in that business of changing our life pattern from “a mindset of scarcity” to “a mindset of abundance.”
Last time I checked, God’s grace is not a finite quantity. God’s mindset–one of abundance–frees us from the need to hoard. Hoarding our money, our time, our stuff, and our emotions only sidetrack us from the possibility we have enough. Once we admit what we have is enough, it actually allows us to be lavish and extravagant in our giving with few regrets–and living more abundantly, over time, makes us feel abundant.
What, in our lives today, can we risk doing without, in order to plant the seeds of a real sense of abundance?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid