September 9, 2007
Rev. Tripp Hudgins
Readings: Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Matthew 6:25-34
Simplicity: A Gift from God
Such a lovely word.
Whenever I hear this word, whenever I say it I relax. I'm transported in my imagination to a pastoral scene. There's a porch and a wooden chair...maybe a rocking chair. The sun is shining and the fragrance of the tall grass rises with the heat to meet me.
I'm not hungry.
I'm not thirsty.
There's no stress, no pressure from some deadline or project. There's no competition and everyone I know is happy...
Simplicity is wonderful.
Well, that's what I thought. In spending time preparing for this sermon series I have come to the conclusion that I don't know the first thing about simplicity.
So, I had to start over.
I had to look again at scriptures, at devotional books, tomes on Christian discipline, magazines, news articles, whatever i could find. There's so much about simplicity out there to encounter. As a people, we are almost obsessed with it.
We want simple stuff, simple recipes from the food network, simple decorating tips from Real Simple magazine. We read about "great escape" vacations meant to help us simplify our lives...for three days and two nights in the Grand Bahamas.
Simple solutions for business.
I love it! Simple! Simple! Simple! It's all so easy. We make simplicity so...well..simple.
But its not. Everything I am learning about simplicity suggests to me that this is an incredibly difficult discipline. Simplicity is demanding.
How demanding is it? Well, lets look at a couple of definitions.
Francois Fenelon - 17th cent. French theologian and poet...
When we are truly in this interior simplicity our whole appearance is franker, more natural. This true simplicity...makes us conscious of a certain openness, gentleness, innocence, gaiety, and serenity, which is charming when we see it near to and continually, with pure eyes.Simplicity is the pearl of the Gospel. Lovely poetry but I am still struggling with a definition.
O how amiable simplicity is!
Who will give it to me?
I leave all for this.
Is is the pearl of the Gospel.
Richard Foster - a noted speaker and Christian writer says this in his book Celebration of Discipline.
Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear. The preacher of Ecclesiastes observed that "God made people simple; people's complex problems are of their own devising." (Eccles 7:39).Elaine Prevallet - a spiritual writer and director of Knobs Haven retreat center...
It is interesting to set the word "simplicity" alongside other words that have the same root. The root plex means "fold." Related words - multiplicity, duplicity, complicity - might suggest images of material spread out with many folds, two folds, folded together. Simplicity means spread out without folds...To be simple is to be free-flowing, unimpeded, not caught in folds or pockets, not sidetracked (p. 8 Weavings 1990)
unimpeded...not caught in folds or pockets, not sidetracked...
This is a good beginning definition for us, I think. But can you all understand now the complexity of simplicity? This is what causght me short. These are the things that make me stop and ask the questions...
Am I simple?
Do I live simply?
Am I even capable of it?
And, really, does it have anything to do with God?
Elaine Prevalette's writing is helpful here. She says that the word "simple" does not appear very often in the New Testament. But when it does, she says, it refers to "a manner of giving: a ready generosity, a liberality of spirit, a free-flowing altruism that is not folded in on itself."
a manner of giving...
Simplicity is a manner of giving.
a liberality of giving
Simplicity, says Foster, is freedom.
Simplicity is the gift of freedom.
...then do not forget yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery...(deut. 8:14)These are the words of Deuteronomy, the lessons that the ancient Hebrews learned from God, about God and had to rediscover time and time again.
"Do not forget yourself, forgetting the Lord your God..."The Hebrews' identity and God's identity are wrapped up in one another. The Hebrews' identity is founded on the notion that who they are is a gift from God. Their very freedom is a gift. And the idea could not be more straightforward...more simple.
For the author of Deuteronomy, freedom is found in God. All that they are, all that they were and still will be is wrapped up in God...in the very real freedom that they received by God's own hands...and the spiritual freedoms that came along with it.
This is a difficult teaching. They struggled with it.
Do not say to yourself "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth (Deut. 8:17)."But remember the Lord.
The Lord is freedom.
Simplicity is freedom. Be simple.
To be simple is to always remember the Lord, to remember who God is and who we are in relationship with God. The neglect of this memory leads to all kinds of trouble.
And interestingly a return to slavery. We become a slave to the complications we create, the injustice, the lack of mercy. There is no simplicity to be had. There is no freedom.
God's call is always...always to take us out of the house of slavery and into the house of freedom...into Simplicity.
You will hear these words again and again from Richard Foster...and from me. "Simplicity is an inward and outward discipline."
If we insist on keeping it inwardly focused alone it becomes empty, false promises and false freedom. If we insist on keeping it only on the outside not allowing the disciplines to change our hearts, then we are left with legalism...another kind of slavery.
Simplicity is an inward and outward discipline. It is freedom. It is a gift.
In our gospel passage this morning the worry that Christ speaks of in Matthew's Gospel is an inward worry...that inward dynamic of anxiety that most of us live with. It is an inward awareness Christ is asking of us. But he asks us to look outward to find solace in the midst of our anxiety. He's asking for a little perspective, a little trust. He wants us to remember who we are just like the writer of Deuteronomy does.
Do not worry saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What will we wear?" For it is the Gentiles that strive for all these things.And here we are again back in the Exodus.
Jesus says The Gentiles are the people who do not know their relationship with God. They do not know the fulfillment of the promise of freedom. Matthew's is a Jewish Gospel. He's a Jew, writing for Jewish Christians struggling within Jewish Communities.
Richard Foster hinges his understanding of simplicity upon this passage. For him it is the core of the discipline. Freedom is found here. Freedom is found in simplicity.
Everything in Matthew's Gospel also hinges on this sermon. What's interesting is that this passage is part of a much longer sermon...The Sermon on the Mount. Matthew begins this sermon with the Beatitudes and ends it with a story about a house built on sand and what happens when the rain comes.
The core of the Gospel of Jesus is in this sermon. And Christ will speak of inward and outward discipline, about peacemaking, about the merciful and the poor in spirit...and where we put our trust. All of this, all, is the discipline of simplicity.
Jesus can say all this because he knows the promises of God. He wants those who follow him to know these promises as well. He wants us to know freedom. He wants us to be simple.
He wants us to receive this freedom as a gift - a gift from God.
God brings us out of the house of slavery. God brings us into the house of freedom.
Jesus knows the slavery is real. It's spiritual and physical. It is inward and outward. He knows that we are all tied up in our anxiety, our stuff or lack thereof. We are tied up in our wealth and our poverty. God wants us to be free. Christ wants us to follow this call. Christ wants us to follow him.
It's so lovely.
But do we know what we've received and what it will ask of us?
At the beginning of this sermon I said that I don't know what simplicity is. I still feel that way. Such freedom as simplicity is foreign to me.
But I want to issue an invitation to you.
Will you come with me as I learn how to live simply? Will you journey with us as we step outside these walls and share what we learn? Can we do this together?
Because I am not sure I can do this by myself.
And I am not sure where it will lead us. But I do know that Christ has paved a way and that God has brought us out of slavery. Let us receive this gift. And then let us offer it to all who would hear.
Remember the Lord.