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Tethered To God Through Simplicity



Pastor James Clarke’s sermon for Sunday, October 23, 2016. This is the third sermon on Stewardship. You can listen to the sermon here.

I don’t like upgrades, I hate upgrades… This has been a difficult week in our house with upgrades. I get comfortable with a way of doing things and kaboom! It’s all different.

Just a few weeks ago, we got Windows 10. I still go over and try find the old way. And then Comcast…

I don’t know how it happened, but we had to put in a new box for Comcast and everything’s different. 

It took me 5 minutes to find the Cubs game yesterday!

Then on my iPad, all of a sudden, it keeps saying, here’s a new software upgrade… Here it is.  Finally I said okay, and I punched it in, and then it takes how long to get it downloaded, and then I have a new  home page that is useless and I have to do all these things to get it back the way it was…  Anybody relate to this??

I really don’t get it – why we are never satisfied?

Or maybe it’s that business and media don’t want us to be satisfied. And we always need to want more.

There is a Buddhist saying: 50 things, 50 worries.

No one’s going to steal my car, right? Go ahead, bump into it, I won’t sue.

If I get a new car, it will cost another $1000 in insurance. And if I were to get bumped, it’s a hassle! You gotta take it to get it fixed and do all this stuff. Who wants another hassle?

The more we have, the more we have to worry about. And just like credit cards, I believe that upgrades are one of those spiritual forces of wickedness in the world!

The gospel text read this morning is also a well known one. It’s one of the more difficult texts for people. It is paralleled in Luke and the Gospel of Thomas. The Jesus Seminar has it as a pink color, indicating that scholars believe this was likely some of the original words of Jesus just, in case you were interested…

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will wear…look at the birds of the air… the lilies of the field… you of little faith.  But strive first for the kin-dom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I can tell you, anyone who lives like this will become a loser…. I guarantee it!

Don’t worry? Really?!

Don’t worry about my children, finances, pets, cars, getting burglarized, being fired, eating bad mushrooms… who knows?

Don’t worry about paying off college loans, getting a job, my child’s disability, getting a raise, and my transmission is whining again.

Don’t worry about that clod my daughter is going to marry, the IRS…

There’s everything to worry about, right?

Don’t worry about Beaver football?  I should!

Are you kidding me? Worrying is how we deal with life. So this is really counter-cultural to say not to worry.

We know that the fastest win in life, right? And you can bet they’re worried everything they get in the car!

Doesn’t it just make you mad when the crazy, speeding driver makes the light and it turns yellow on you?

This is the way of our world. Green=go, red=stop, yellow = go very fast!

So I play it safe, let people move in front of me. I will slowly move further and further toward the rear. Loser!

And if I don’t learn Windows 10 how can I compete?

How are we supposed to succeed if we don’t think about tomorrow?

And I know you’re all enjoying the election! 

Elections are always interesting to me, to get beyond my own worries about it, I like to listen for the values that are being expressed. What values are being expressed in debates?  Here’s just a few of them that I find:

Freedom is always unassailable.

Then there’s rights.

2nd Amendment rights, property rights, abortion rights, the right not to patronize LBGT people, right?

Conversely how often do you hear politicians speak of responsibility?

A week or so ago I watched comedian Bill Maher interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and Zakaria asked Maher if he ever thought about running for office, and Maher says he can’t because he’s an avowed atheist…

You have to believe in God. You don’t have to walk anywhere with that you just have to stand. We don’t want anyone to walk in their faith, you just have to believe in God, that’s about it.

And then there’s my favorite:

The value of MORE. More of just about anything and everything.

Back to the upgrade. Something new is always better.

Always, more economic growth. Unquestioned. In spite of the fact that economic growth is what is going to kill us.

Three debates!  Three debates, and not once a direct question about global climate change!!!???  What’s up with that?

Because we don’t want to get off the MORE gravy train. It feels great!

Well… After I was pretty sure the Beavers weren’t going to win yesterday, I picked up the New Yorker and there’s an article by Elizabeth Kolbert about Greenland.

Basically it says, Greenland is melting away faster than we think.

Not only that, but, what we experience now was decided a decade ago.

So, what we do now sets in stone what will happen 10 years from now. We’re locked in.

Climate change is a far greater threat to national security than ISIS!

Don’t worry? Are you kidding me?

As I was listening to these debates another thing I heard was corrupted values. Corrupted virtue is always worse than any vice

Freedom corrupted becomes license to do what I want, which is worse than any shackles. Just look at Donald Trump “unshackled!”

And if we think we have freedom because we have our own cars, think about it next time you’re in traffic.

Ironically there’s more freedom on the trains.

Belief in God corrupted leads to “God’s on my side.”

And MORE corrupted is 50 things and 50 worries.

Last week I said that 90% of spirituality is letting go, so this is a continuation of that larger thought.

Another thing Buddhists say is that suffering is caused by clinging and holding onto this or that. Worrying about anything and everything. Can we relate?

Last week in our Adult Sunday school class we talked about the author, Jim Wallis had spent a week in a monastery. And mentioned how difficult it was to go back home to Washington DC to the real world.

I can relate….

I remember going to a retreat and coming back and thinking, “these people are going so fast and they are so worried about everything.”

And then there’s all the technology… Everyday there’s something new!

Just imagine how overwhelming it is for young peopleA new product, upgrade, device, game… Something every day!

50 apps, 50 worries.

Way back when I was working with young people, one of the programs we always did was NEEDS vs. WANTS…

I really struggle about getting a new car, I really am… From my perspective I don’t really need it. But then my car stopped the other week, and I got an ear full about that hassle. I don’t want to get rid of it because I don’t like to throw things away.

A young person could survive without a cell phone. Right? Technically? 

But they wouldn’t do well in the social landscape, would they? The point is to continually keep the question before us: “Do I need this or is it a want?”

Remember in I Timothy 6 where is says:

For we brought nothing into the world,
So that we can take nothing out of it.
But if we have food and clothing
We are content with these
But those who want to be rich
Fall into temptation and are trapped
By many senseless and harmful desires
That plunge people in to ruin and destruction.

Can we be content with a flip phone?

really feel for Kim Kardashian who was robbed at gun point, in her hotel room in Paris. No one deserves that. But I couldn’t help but wonder what were you doing with over $7 million in jewelry? My limit is $1 million!

When are we satisfied? When are we content?

Can we be content with just food and clothing as the bible says? Tom Berlin says that consumption leaves a trail in the world, but it also etches a groove in our souls…

We have so much, and I believe grace for us is to be found in simplifying our lives. Simplicity is a healing force in our lives, and it will tether us to God.

I’m not good with money…. I never can balance our checkbook. If you’re within $10 dollars that’s good enough. I know this drives some people crazy.

Neither do I like to create a budget, but I do follow where the money goes and I deviously enlightened Paula once about how our spending is at Starbucks.

When we look at what we spend, are we spending on needs? And where are we spending on wants?

I don;t know if anyone remembers this, but it used to be that church was to be paid first.  I think the Mormons still do it, right?

In Berlin’s book he does suggest a budget, and paying the church first.

Simplicity is one of the classic spiritual disciplines, It is a means of grace, a means toward being closer to God

In his seminal book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says:

Simplicity is freedom.  Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.

The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. Contemporary culture lacks both the inward reality and the outward lifestyle of simplicity.

We must clearly understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic… we crave things we neither need or enjoy… this psychosis permeates even our mythology.  The modern hero is the poor boy who becomes rich rather than the Franciscan or Buddhist ideal of the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. Covetousness we call ambition.  Hoarding we call prudence.  Greed we call industry.

Who are our heroes?

What do we want to be?

What are our values?

Simplicity is a force for healing and transformation in our lives, not just a good idea, but a way to experience God more profoundly.

In our world, with the psychosis Foster talks about, perhaps simplicity is the most important to challenge ourselves to be closer to God.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

or in the Message:

God, my shepherd, I don’t need a thing.

Do we really need that upgrade? Or is it a spiritual force of wickedness?

I think Jesus would be content with a flip phone.

I can’t imagine St. Francis having one at all.

I don’t want to be a Luddite, but it seems to me that the Word of God is fairly clear on this… Certainly more clear on this than on most other issues that consume our political landscape.

Simplicity is a means of grace and a way to be more tethered to God. 

Richard Foster closes his chapter on the spiritual discipline of simplicity with these words:

God give us the courage, wisdom and strength always to hold as the number-one priority of our lives to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” understanding all that that implies.  To do so is to live in simplicity. 








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