Strawberries or Chocolate?  Your Answer Says a Lot

            I heard an interesting thing the other day.  I shared it with some of you this week.  There was a teacher who tried an experiment with her college students.  She told them that in two weeks, she would be coming to class with a box of strawberries and a box of chocolates, depending on what each student wanted.  Looking out two weeks, 80% of the students said that they would take the strawberries.  After all, strawberries are good for you.  When the two weeks past, the teacher came in with her boxes and, as she asked them to recall what they ordered, 80% of them said that they chose the chocolate.  It’s like the statistic I read recently: 87% percent of Americans who own running shoes don't actually run.

           It’s an interesting phenomenon that, I think, applies to people everywhere:  good intentions but not always good actions.  The same, they say, can be said for how we plan for our retirement in America.  The average 40-year old has saved less than $1,000 for retirement.  Why?  Overwhelmingly, the reason given is that millennials want to have their cake and eat it, too.  In other words, they want to live life to the fullest, even those with children rarely cut back on anything but instead, put the burden on others like grandparents, relatives, and most significantly, they put the burden on their own future.  “Oh, I’ll just work harder and make more money in the future.  I’ll have Social Security.  I’ll have my parents’ inheritance,” they think, but this is the issue:  how we think about money, our health, and our overall well-being is greatly tied to how we treat and discipline ourselves spiritually.  I can’t emphasize this enough:  the spiritual disciplines that our church calls us to observe are not about our bodies really but our souls.  Fasting is not about losing weight but about discipline and saving enough food and money to feed your brother and sister who are hungry.  When we’re full all the time, when we’re entertained all the time, when we’re in a constant state of satisfying our needs and desires, can we really be thinking of anyone else?  When people are right with God, they tend to be hard on themselves (there’s an inner struggle) but they’re easy on other people.  But when they are not right with God, they are easy on themselves and hard on others.  When we’re right with God, we look up the ladder of salvation as St. John described it and we see the Saints above us succeeding, reaching the Kingdom and making us want to succeed and be saved also.  When we’re not right, we can only look down at the sinners below us and gloat over our own progress. 

           In the 1880s a young Christian man found employment in a pawnshop. Although he disliked the work, he did it faithfully "as unto the Lord" until a more desirable opportunity opened for him.  To prepare himself for a life of Christian service, he wrote on a scrap of paper the following resolutions: "I promise God that I will rise early every morning to have a few minutes--not less than five--in private prayer. I will endeavor to conduct myself as a humble, meek, and zealous follower of Jesus, and I will try to lead others to think of the needs of their immortal souls. I hereby vow to read no less than four chapters in God's Word every day. I will cultivate a spirit of denying myself and will make myself a prisoner of love to the Redeemer of the world." That young man was William Booth, who later led thousands to Christ and founded the Salvation Army.

           It’s no different in our tradition.  Today, we celebrate those who fathers who led the church back from heresy, many of whom were not only theologians but also philanthropists in the greatest sense:  offering comfort and assistance to the needy.  What they were able to accomplish was not due to wealth but to poverty, their own poverty.  It’s interesting to me how the poorest states in our country – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana – are also the most generous whereas the wealthiest, in our area, are at the bottom of nearly every list of giving.  Listen to St. Paul’s writing to Titus. 

We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

           If there’s anything to learn today, it’s that we should be so extremely grateful for the blessings God has given us but we also need to insist as a Church that we’ve been blessed for a reason and that has little to do with our comfort and self-fulfillment.  God has blessed you so that you will be a blessing to others.  So, let’s devote ourselves also to good works and to generosity.  If you are, indeed, the good soil who hears the word, the fruit will show it.  Did you save others with yourself?  That’s the question.

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