Well, November is now upon us…and that means that you're going to hear a lot of talk about being thankful over the next few weeks. In the coming weeks, you’re probably going to hear someone recounting the story of the first Thanksgiving. And you’ll be reminded that if the Pilgrims could be thankful after all of the hardships that they faced in their first year living in the new world then you can be thankful too.
When you turn on your TVs, you’re going to see countless news stories offering you “5 Ways” or “8 Tips” or “10 Secrets” to being more grateful. When you scroll through your social media feeds, you’re going to see at least a couple of your Facebook friends sharing something they’re thankful for every day between now and November 23.
But even though we’re all going to hear a lot of talk about being thankful over the next few weeks, the simple truth is that we aren’t great at being grateful.
We aren’t great at being grateful.
The truth is that when it comes to being grateful, most of us sound a lot like a character named Dudley Dursley…who just happens to be Harry Potter’s cousin. Early in the first book in the series — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone — we find out exactly what kind of person Dudley is when his birthday rolls around. We’re told that:
Harry was frying eggs by the time Dudley arrived in the kitchen with his mother. Dudley looked a lot like [his dad, Harry’s] Uncle Vernon. He had a large pink face, not much neck, small watery blue eyes, and thick blond hair that lay smoothly on his thick head. Aunt Petunia often said that Dudley looked like a baby angel — Harry often said that Dudley looked like a pig in a wig.
Harry put the plate of eggs and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn’t much room…
The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley’s birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had gotten the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television, a video camera, a remote control airplane, sixteen new computer games, a gold wristwatch, a VCR [remember the Harry Potter series is set in the 90s, so getting a VCR was a big deal], and a racing bike. Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley…hated exercise — unless, of course, it involved punching somebody. Dudley’s favorite punching bag was Harry…
Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell. “Thirty-six,” he said, looking up at his mother and father. “That’s two less than last year.”
“Darling, you haven’t counted Aunt Marge’s present, see, it’s here under the big one from Mummy and Daddy.”
“All right, thirty-seven then,” said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned over the table.
Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger, too, because she said quickly, “And we’ll buy you another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, Popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?”
Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally, he said slowly, “So I’ll have thirty…thirty…”
“Thirty-nine, sweetums,” said Aunt Petunia.
“Oh.” Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. “All right then.”
Now, most of us would never want to admit that we had anything in common with a character like Dudley Dursley. Most of us could never imagine complaining that we didn’t receive enough presents for our birthday, or for Christmas, or for any other occasion — especially if we had already received enough presents to stock a small appliance store. So most of us imagine that if we found ourselves in Dudley’s shoes we would feel grateful for everything that we received.
But the numbers tell us a different story. Here’s what I mean, back in 2019 the average American household spent $511 on Christmas gifts. Now, $511 will fill a lot of stockings…but in 2020, the average American household went from spending $511 on Christmas gifts to spending $648 on Christmas gifts. That’s an increase of almost 27%.
And it only gets crazier from 2020 to 2021. In 2020, the average American household spent $648 on Christmas gifts. In 2021, the average American household spent $886 on Christmas gifts. That’s an increase of almost 37%. That’s insane.
Now, to be fair, Christmas spending did go back down a little in 2022. The average American household only spent $826 on Christmas gifts. But that’s still more than $300 more than we were spending on Christmas just a couple of years ago.
But it also shows us our real attitude when it comes to gratitude. And even though we know we should be thankful for everything we have, we still want more.
Even though we know we should be thankful for everything we have, we still want more.
But as followers of Jesus, we know that’s not how we’re supposed to be. And we actually see this message all throughout the Bible. In places like Psalm 118:1, we’re told, “Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever.” And in Ephesians 5:20, we’re told, “always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5, we’re told, “Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens.”
So from these passages alone, it’s pretty clear that God wants us to be thankful for what we have. But that doesn’t change the fact that we still want more. So what are we supposed to do when our natural desire to acquire more contradicts the way that God wants us to live our lives?
Well, that’s what we’re going to be talking about this Thanksgiving at Melbourne Heights. We’re going to be talking about how we can be more grateful in a greedy world in a series of sermons we’re calling “Enough Is Enough.”
And, as we start thinking about how we can combat our natural desire to acquire more even though it contradicts the way that God wants us to live, I can’t think of a better way to start than with the passage of scripture we’re going to be looking at today.
So, if you've got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn with me to Luke 3. And while you’re turning there, let me tell you a little more about the book of Luke. The book of Luke is essentially a biography of Jesus. So in the book of Luke, you can read about Jesus’ birth and baptism, you can read about his ministry and the miracles that he performed, and you can read about his crucifixion and his resurrection. But the passage that we’re going to be reading today takes place before Jesus begins his public ministry.
In the passage that we’re going to read today, we’re going to meet a man named John the Baptist. And John the Baptist spends his time preaching and teaching to help prepare the way for Jesus. And that’s exactly what John the Baptist is doing in the beginning of Luke 3. John the Baptist is preaching and he is showing the crowds that the way they are living their lives contradicts the way that God wants them to live…only John the Baptist isn't quite so polite about it.
John the Baptist actually calls everyone in the crowd a brood of vipers, and he tells them that God is about ready to wipe them out if they don’t change their ways. And that’s where we’re going to pick up in this passage. So let’s take a look at Luke 3 together, and we’ll start reading in verse 9. Here’s what John the Baptist says as this passage begins:
9 “…Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
Luke 3:9-10 (Common English Bible)
Now, let’s pause right here for just a minute because what we’ve read in these two verses is what we’ve been talking about throughout this sermon. In these verses, John the Baptist tells the people in the crowd that they haven’t been living their lives the way God wants them to…just like we haven’t been living our lives the way God wants us to. Instead of being grateful, we’ve been greedy.
And John the Baptist warns the people in the crowd that God is about ready to chop them down if they don’t change. So the people in the crowd respond by saying, “What then should we do?”
And that’s the same question that you’re probably asking too. You know that you’re supposed to be grateful instead of greedy…but what can you do about it? Well, as we keep reading in Luke 3, we’re going to find out what we can do. So let’s pick back up in Luke 3:11. It says:
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”
14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”
He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”
Luke 3:10-14 (Common English Bible)
So, in the verses that we just read, there are three separate groups who have heard what John the Baptist has been preaching. There are three separate groups that know that they haven’t been living their lives the way that God wants them to. So there are three separate groups that ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?” And the way that John the Baptist responds to these groups teaches us a lot about how we can live our lives the way God wants us to by being grateful instead of greedy.
So what does John the Baptist tell these groups? Let’s start by looking at what he tells the tax collectors and the soldiers. But before we look at exactly what John the Baptist says to the tax collector and the soldiers, there’s a little more that you need to know about both of these groups.
In Biblical times, both tax collectors and soldiers were in positions where they could essentially take whatever they wanted. If you were a tax collector, the government expected you to collect a certain amount of money for the government that varied based on where you worked. So, if the government expected that you would pay them a million dollars a year that was all you had to give the government. But that doesn’t mean that was all you were allowed to take from the people you taxed. The government didn’t care if you were able to extract two million, or three million, or five million dollars from the people you taxed. As long you paid the government the million dollars they expected.
So this meant that tax collectors could earn a fortune. We actually see this play out in the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus is a tax collector who has been ripping people off for years. But when Zacchaeus meets Jesus, his life is changed forever. And he agrees to pay back anyone that he has cheated four times what he took from them.
And the same thing was true for soldiers. Now, being a soldier has never exactly paid well. But in Biblical times it was not uncommon for soldiers to supplement their income through extortion. So some groups of soldiers kind of behaved like the mafia. They would charge fishermen, bakers, and even tax collectors protection money. And if any of these small businesses refused to pay up, the soldiers would make them regret it.
So when these two groups ask John the Baptist, “What should we do?” to live our lives the way God wants us to, John tells them to stop ripping people off and be happy with what they have. And that’s the first thing that we have to do if we want to be grateful instead of greedy. If we want to be grateful instead of greedy, we have to realize that enough is enough.
If we want to be grateful instead of greedy, we have to realize that enough is enough.
John the Baptist wants the soldiers and the tax collectors to learn to be content with what they have because God has given them what they need. God has given them enough to keep food on their tables. God has given them enough to put clothes on their backs. God has given them enough to have a roof over their heads. God has given them enough. And enough is enough…so they don’t need to keep trying to get more.
And the same thing is true for us. We need to learn to be content with what we have because God has given us what we need. God has given us enough to keep food on our tables, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads. And enough is enough…so we don’t need to keep chasing more.
So, if you want to live the life God wants you to live – if you want to be grateful instead of greedy – you have to realize that you have enough…and enough is enough.
But the tax collectors and soldiers aren’t the only ones who asked John the Baptist what they needed to do to live their lives the way God wants them to. The entire crowd asked. And John told them:
11 “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
Luke 3:11 (Common English Bible)
As John the Baptist speaks to the crowd, he doesn’t just tell them that God has given them enough. He tells the crowd that God has given many of them more than enough. He tells them that they have more than enough to keep clothes on their backs and food on their tables. And then John the Baptist tells them what they need to do about it.
John tells them that instead of being greedy – instead of trying to accumulate even more shirts and more food – they need to share their abundance. John the Baptist wants the crowd to realize that if they have more than enough they need to do their part to help those who don’t. So the second thing we need to do if we want to be grateful instead of greedy, we have to share our abundance.
If we want to be grateful instead of greedy, we have to share our abundance.
What that means is that if you have a closet stuffed with clothes, you need to donate some of what you have to help others in need. If you have a pantry that is jampacked with food, you need to donate some to help those in need. If you have enough money to cover your bills, you need to donate some to help those in need.
That’s the life that God wants you to live. God wants you to live a life where you realize that you have enough. And enough is enough…so you don’t have to have more. But you do need to help those who don’t have enough.
So if you want to be grateful instead of greedy – if you want to live the life God wants you to live – be content, and help those who don’t have enough.