A story by Leo Tolstoy tells of an older sister from the city coming to visit her younger sister in the country. The older sister talks of how much better city life is, but the younger maintains that it is country life that is best and that her husband is a good man and that because they lived in the country and had a simpler life, there was no way her husband, Pahom, could be tempted by the devil. Pahom says that the only problem country farmers have is that they don’t have enough land, but agrees that he could not be tempted. Unfortunately, the devil, who had been lurking in the kitchen, hears this and devises a scheme to trap Pahom, and it comes in the form of a unique offer from a large landowner: for 1000 rubles, Pahom can buy all the land he could walk around in a single day. Only catch: he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. At sunrise the next day, Pahom starts walking.
By noon, he had covered a great deal of ground, but not until late in the afternoon did he realize that he had perhaps gone too far in order to get back by sundown, so he picks up his pace even more. When the sun begins to sink, Pahom begins to run, but just as the sun begins to dip below the horizon, Pahom sees the place where he began, so with everything he had left, he sprinted as fast as he could, and just seconds before the sun disappeared below the horizon, Pahom staggered across the finish line. He then collapsed and died on the spot.
His few servants dug him a grave: a bit over six feet long, three feet wide and six feet deep. The title of Tolstoy’s story: How Much Land Does a Man Need? Turns out, not very much.
I suppose most of us really do have fairly simple needs. There are the basics: food, shelter, etc. And although we may each have a different understanding of how we’ll go about meeting those needs, they are for the most part within reason. However, when those basic needs are met, then our eyes and minds begin to look further and instead of seeking to fulfill our needs, we look to satisfy our wants. Those are OK as well, as long as they are within reason, do not deny others of their basic needs, and don’t consume us in our pursuits of them. It is when we go outside those types of parameters that our wants can lead us to greed, coveting, and then to other more grievous sin. We’ve talked about that in the past: that state of mind when we are never satisfied and can never have enough, no matter how much we have. However, this corrupt appetite for more is not limited to land or things or money, it can also play itself out in relationships, stimulation, thrills, physical perfection, achievements, all sorts of ways. It is as though our minds get bored, and like Pahom in his quest for more land, we will pursue the fulfillment of the appetite regardless of the cost. When we reach such a state, we will never be satisfied. It… fill in the blank for yourself… will never be enough. Hold that thought…
These past couple of weeks, during Morning Prayer, we have been reading from the first chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy. In chapter four, we begin to hear the teachings forbidding idolatry and the Lord comes right out and says why: “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” And anyone that has been following along with us in Morning Prayer can tell you, that in the next few chapters, God says, “If you do this, I will blow you up.” But, that was not a deterrent. There was Baal and Asherah and all the other gods of the lands they entered into and the people began to worship them as well. Why? Because they believed that these gods would offer them additional benefits. These were fertility gods, thought to bring rain and crops and all sorts of other benefits. They were the gods of the people in the lands they came into, so they wanted to get along. The Israelites did not cast out the One True God, Yahweh, aside however, Yahweh, did not see it this way. He saw it is a complete rejection of Himself, because in their hearts and in their minds, the people were saying, “The One True God… is not enough.” He is not enough, so we have to have all these others in addition to Yahweh, a bit like an insurance policy, in case Yahweh doesn’t come through.
Throughout the biblical history, this attitude of God not being enough and needing to be supplemented to fulfill both needs and wants has been a problem. God wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve, they wanted more, so they ate the fruit. God wasn’t enough following the Exodus, so they made for themselves the Golden Calf. As we just said, God wasn’t enough while they were in the land, so they worshiped the foreign gods. God wasn’t enough to lead them, so they called for the anointing of a king so that they could be like everyone else. There was Yahweh and there were all the rest and Jesus says, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” When God’s people decide in their hearts and in their minds that God is not enough, then their house is divided, and it cannot stand.
For us today, I do not believe that we intentionally or even consciously declare that God is not enough, but through our actions or inaction towards God, we are saying it. By placing our wants ahead of those things that God desires of us, we say that God is not enough for me to have fulfillment in my life. By not making time for the worship of God, we are saying that God is not enough for me to make a sacrifice of parts of my life for Him. By not making time for prayer, we say that God is not enough for me to commune with. Whenever God and our obligations to Him are pushed to the side in favor of anything else, we are saying that God is not enough and our house is divided. It is not that God does not want us to truly live—he wants us to have life and have it abundantly!—he desires that we have joy and enrichment and fulfillment, but we must take care that the pursuit of those things does not relegate God to a secondary concern in our lives that will divide our house. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness—do not be divided—and all these things will be added to you.”
Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Amen.