Proverbs 30:7-9

Proverbs 30:7-9
May 3, 2015
Joanna Harader

When Ryan and I were first married, we were seminary students living off my church internship stipend and his occasional substitute teaching at the Catholic school across the street from our 1-bedroom apartment. We were fine. We had enough.

And sometimes, with the self-righteousness that only 20-something seminary students can muster, we would talk about his parent’s wealth. (Nevermind that their wealth was the reason we had no car payment and Ryan had no school debt.) We thought it was a little ridiculous that they were building on to their lake house just when the kids were moving out. And his mom’s wedding ring—my diamond is one of the small diamonds that had fallen out of her ring. Insurance paid to replace it, then she found it in her car. “They just have diamonds laying around,” we’d say.

When we were with his parents, they would sometimes talk about how much money Ryan’s aunt and uncle had. “They live in that gated community. And do you know how much those two fancy cats cost them? Not to mention how much they paid to be able to bring them over when they moved back from Europe.”

Now, Ryan’s aunt and uncle are lovely people; committed Christians. I distinctly remember having dinner at their house one time. As I looked around at the nice furnishings, china cabinet full of crystal, the apparently very expensive cats, they began talking about a couple they knew that were just obscenely wealthy. . . .

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Give me only my daily bread; what I need for today; just enough. Only it is hard to discern what is enough. We can always find people who have less than us; those people who make us feel rich by comparison. But I think more frequently we are aware of people who have more than us. People whose wealth makes us feel poor by comparison.

It’s true that there are people with more money than you have. That’s true for every person in this room—unless someone is hiding a very big secret. It’s also true that the media exaggerates our sense that others have it better than we do. Remember the sitcom “Friends”? A barista and a sporadically employed chef sharing a spacious two bedroom apartment in Manhattan across the hall from an out-of work actor and a guy with some random office job? In real life, people with those jobs would not be able to afford those apartments. Not if they also wanted to eat. Most of the people we see on TV and in movies live a lifestyle a step (or more) above what we can afford.

And, of course, the advertisers want us to buy stuff whether we can afford it or not. So the commercials feed the sense we have that our lives will be better if we can just get a little more money. If we can buy a house that’s just a bit bigger. A car that’s just a few years newer. A hairstyle that is a bit more flattering. A vacation that will take us away from all of our worries.

Maybe we feel like we’re doing fine until we read a friend’s Facebook post about their new house or car. Perhaps we can’t think of anything we lack—until we open up the SkyMall catalog and suddenly wonder how we have been able to function in life without our toilet paper roll dispenser also being a docking station for our ipod. Because remember that one time you wanted to listen to music while you used the toilet but your ipod’s battery was too low?

Most of you know that James is preparing to move into his own apartment in a few weeks. As we got started on the transition process, James made a list of things he needed and a list of things he wanted. He did a great job with that—he needs dishes, he wants an X-box 1; he needs a table, he wants a panel TV.

Beyond air, food, water, and the most basic shelter, needs and wants are tricky.It’s hard to discern what we need and what we just want. And it is hard to deciding when it is OK to indulge our wants. I bought some card-making supplies at a garage sale yesterday that I certainly do not need—not by any stretch of the definition of need.

Again, the media does not help here. Every day we encounter message after message that tells us we need things that are surely only things we want. And message after message that tells us that even if we don’t need it, we deserve it—whatever it is. We hear message after message that says, “Whatever you have right now, it is not enough.”

And the writer of Proverbs says:

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

The writer of this passage doesn’t just ask to be neither poor nor rich; they also give reasons for their request. If I have too much, says the writer, I might “disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’”.

It can happen. When we have more than enough money—we can forget our need for God in the midst of the ease that money can provide. Not always, of course. Even the most wealthy people hit rough spots. But still, if we are self-sufficient it is easy to forget about our need for God. And easy to miss out on the intimacy we can develop with God when we rely on God’s provision rather than our own wealth.

Being too rich can keep us from intimacy with God.

Of course, being poor has its own set of theological problems. Specifically, notes the writer, if I am poor I might steal “and dishonor the name of God.” This line makes me think of Les Miserables, with the good-hearted Jean Valjean suffering in captivity because he tried to steal a loaf of bread for his starving sister and her family. The decisions that poor people make are, of course, not always so clearly noble and tragic. Poverty forces people into very complex moral predicaments, and often there are no good choices available for someone who is truly poor. Being backed into this type of moral corner—having to make choices you would rather not make–can harm your view of yourself and your relationship with God.

I don’t mean to quibble with the writer of Proverbs, but I do want to point out that poverty can also keep people from intimacy with God. If you are poor, you take what jobs you can get—even if they interfere with Sunday morning worship or your weekly Bible study. If you are poor, you put a lot of energy into just getting by and may not have a lot left for prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices.

And, of course, wealth can lead to poor moral choices just like poverty can. Tax evasion; ponzi schemes; Enron; Haliburton . . . I won’t go into the gory details. There is something about wealth that makes people feel entitled; the wealthy are often oblivious to the realities of the world beyond their gated communities. I heard about some children at an elite school who were asked to write a paper on poverty. One girl wrote: “Once there was a poor little girl. Her father was poor, her mother was poor, her nanny was poor, her chauffeur was poor, her butler was poor. In fact, everybody in the house was very, very poor.”

As we think about the dangers of wealth and poverty, we should also think beyond the effects on the individual. There are dire effects for our communities and our entire country because some people live with extreme wealth while many live in poverty.

You’ve probably heard the sobering statistics about income inequality in our country. The wealth gap between middle and upper income households in the United States is at a record high. The richest 1% in the US owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. The average employee has to work over a month to earn what the average CEO earns in one hour.

I would bet not many CEOs pay this prayer from Proverbs:

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

The truth is, not many of us are really willing to pray this prayer. It goes against all of the cultural messages we receive. Society tells us that we are blessed when we have more—more money, more things, more, more, more. It seems odd to pray for God to not give us riches.

The Proverbs writer, if you remember, had another prayer too:

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,

Keep falsehood and lies far from me.” That is the first of the two things the writer asks of God. When I originally read this passage, it seemed to me that the two requests were oddly disconnected. Protect me from falsehood and give me just enough money.

But now I think that keeping falsehood and lies far from us is necessary if we are to avoid the temptation to seek out the riches we might be better off avoiding. The fact that blessing is connected to material wealth and accumulation is a prevalent falsehood of our society. It is so prevalent that it takes work to guard against it.

We have to frequently remind ourselves, and each other, that true blessing does not come when I have everything I want. Or when we get whatever we want. True blessing comes when everyone has enough.

So may God keep the falsehood and lies of materialism far from us. And may we seek God’s guidance and follow Jesus’ footsteps as we work toward a world that lives out the Good News: through the Creator’s abundance there is enough. For everyone. Amen.

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