Ghandi is known for many things, one of which is his now famous quote, we are to “live simply so that others may simply live.” While Ghandi was not a Christian, this quote summarizes the way our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, lived his life as well. Jesus did not have a house. He did not have possessions. He traveled from town to town, house to house, sharing the good news about the Kingdom of God.
Now before you get too worried, hear this, I am not asking you to give up your possessions and your house and travel town to town, house to house for the sake of the Gospel. To do so would certainly be a very specific call upon your life from God. But I do believe that time and time again scripture asks us to live in a way that is contrary to the world around us, a way marked by simplicity.
I’m not sure many of us know what it is like to truly live uncluttered lives. I have heard many people reminisce over the years about how much more peaceful, maybe even nicer, it was to live in times when things didn’t clutter our homes, family was the center of who we were, and you had to make your own fun. In fact, maybe even one or two of you were among those to share such reflections with me. And that may very well be true - things were certainly different. But I also believe that living an uncluttered life, a simple life, is about so much more than having less material possessions to deal with.
Simplicity is a state of being. In the words of author and missionary Chris Heurtz, “Simplicity has become my posture and intention to live free from the bondage and control of anything other than the embrace of God”. This is what makes simplicity part of our discussion on simple spirituality - not the absence of things, but rather the intentional way that we live our lives so that they are wholly focused on God. Even having uncluttered lives does not guarantee that our focus is right - but having an uncluttered life certainly raises our chances of focusing on God instead of other things.
The author of the book of Proverbs shares the wisdom that those who trust in riches, or the wealth of the world, will eventually lose something - their power, their status, their sense of meaning - but those who are righteous will flourish. I recently was visiting with a shut-in from our parish talking about gardening. She loves to to garden and was sharing with me an article about different techniques to grow some of her favorite produce. What struck me in the article is that no matter what way you choose to garden its the simple things that matter the most - rich soil, good earth quenching rain, and sunlight. It started getting me to wonder what are the simple things that we need in our spiritual lives, in the lives of our congregation that we need to flourish. It’s not the big fancy things - its the simple things that matter most - deep relationship with God, a place to grow with other Christians, a place to share our faith with other. The simple acts of reading scripture, praying and practicing spiritual disciplines. We can plant our spiritual gardens using the newest techniques or ancient ways, but at the end of the day, its the simple things that yield the growth.
Hertz continues, “Simplicity is letting God be truly God, surrendering to that in all areas of life as an act of submission to God.” We will talk more about submission next week, another thing that is very hard, but simplicity requires us allowing God to be God, which is sometimes the hardest thing to do in our spiritual lives. Often one of two things happen along our faith journey. Number one, sometimes we start to act as if we are God. We certainly don’t set out to act like this, but slowly, over time, we buy into the false belief that we are in charge our our destinies, that we are the masters of our lives, that it is our job to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. As soon as we let this belief sink into us, it starts to change us. We start to act as if God isn’t the one who provides for us, but that we provide for ourselves. And when that happens it is really hard to live a simple life - because if something is ours and ours alone, it is really hard to give away in service to God. Its hard to lay down who we are and what we have for God’s glory and honor and Kingdom.
If number one hasn’t happened to you, perhaps number 2 has. When we don’t let God be God, sometimes we allow other things and people to become masters over us, taking God’s place in our lives. The gospel of Luke warns agains this happening, when Jesus teaches that no one can have two masters because they are going to lead you two different directions. So you can’t serve both God and money. What Luke is not saying is that we cannot have money, rather he is pointing out that we can’t base our life decisions and actions on two things leading us opposite directions. You can’t always follow the call of God upon your life and work on your nest egg. You can’t always base the next ministry decision of the church on both what God is leading you to risk through prayer and what the checkbook says. Because it doesn’t always match up. Part of letting God be God, part of the simplicity of our faith, is trusting that God will provide and living into that trust, daily.
I have done a bit of traveling and have some beautiful memories of times spent abroad. But perhaps nothing wrecks your sense of how things are then stepping outside of your comfort zone and getting to know different places and meet new people. Perhaps nothing wrecked my understanding of simplicity then traveling on a mission trip to Russia. Our time in Vladimir, Russia wasn’t what you would typically think of a mission trip - it wasn’t about building buildings or structures, but building relationships. On our first trip together we helped lead a retreat for young adults to grow in faith. My understanding of the Russian language was pretty much please, thank you, and a few colors, so I didn’t quite understand what the leader was saying when he was talking about how our spending habits reflect our faith - it sounded like he was chastising one of the young women for spending a certain amount of money that wasn’t unreasonable on clothes - in fact it was about what we may spend on two pairs of jeans today. When I was able to ask one of the translators about it later, he noted that an amount of money that was normal to me was astronomical for them - and that the presenter was trying to encourage all to be thoughtful and simple in their spending not wasteful.
What he taught that day blew my mind. Sometimes what we look at as simple could actually be perceived as wasteful by others. There is no right or wrong way to be simple, because it is going to look different for each of us. But at the end of the day, we need to think about if our spending matches up with our understanding of priorities - especially as Christians. Is this necessary or superfluous - is it useful or wasteful? Simplicity isn’t about judging by what we have or don’t have, but rather how we hold on to them, how we perceive them, and how they align with our faith.
One last story about simplicity from my time in Russia. On the same trip I told you about earlier, we were visiting people’s homes. We had one cardinal rule that went against everything we understood as Americas - don’t compliment anyone on anything in their home. It made no sense to us - we do it all the time. Telling people how beautiful their scarf it or how we admired a certain piece of furniture. One of my team members forgot the rule and complimented our host on a beautiful picture that hung in the entrance way - the next thing you knew she was taking the picture home with her. For our host so valued the relationship she had with the young woman, that she wanted to give her the thing she complimented straight off of her wall. In her words, it wasn’t about the picture, for the picture was simply a thing, but about sharing the love of God with my teammate by giving her that beautiful thing.
Oh brothers and sisters, how much we have to learn about simplicity. To learn about sharing what we have, straight off of our walls and in our homes, to share the love of Christ. To learn about letting God be God. To learn about living simple lives so we are freed to share the gospel message! May we leave this place seeking to grow in our simplicity so free us to serve God! Amen!