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Freedom of Simplicity

 
 

 

We’ve had to simplify our lives a bit recently as the result of life circumstance – Paula not working. So we are looking at what we spend money on… And as I look at the things of our lives and many seem trivial. All the entertainment feels indulgent and in excess.
Much of it has lost its appeal and there is a freedom in not being engrossed in all of its mania.
We begin our Stewardship Program this Sunday. Each year during this time we take time focus on stewardship as we make financial plans for the coming year.
This year I will be using an old book – published in 1981 – by Richard Foster: Freedom of Simplicity. Foster’s first book became a best seller: The Celebration of Discipline about spiritual disciplines and practices.
Foster is a Quaker, and therefore not a part of the Reformation theology that is distrustful of anything that seems like “works”.
Foster revived the belief that what we do is important in our spiritual lives – that it isn’t just about what we believe. And one of the things we do; one of the practices is: Simplicity.

Freedom of Simplicity was published after Ronald Reagan was elected president and with that came deregulation of anything that stymied business.
The biggest of these was changes that allowed for credit to expand – VISA, Mastercard, American Express. We could now buy on credit!! And we did!
Car companies were allowed to turn truck chaises into cars. Viola the SUV was born!
In addition to that, many things we created and marketed in the 80’s: Personal computers (do we all remember floppy discs?) cell phones, camcorders, FGAX, Walkmans, CDs, HD TV and big screens.
There were so many new things to buy. And we could…. On credit – so we did!
The economy expanded; everyone was happy. At least we thought we were happy, but were we?
In the midst of all of this Foster starts his book with this:
Contemporary culture is plagued by the passion to possess.
The unreasoned boast abounds that the good life is found in
accumulation, that more is better. Indeed, we often accept
this notion without question, with the result that the lust for
affluence in contemporary society has become psychotic:
It has completely lost touch with reality. Furthermore, the
pace of the modern world accentuates our sense of being
fractured and fragmented. We feel strained, hurried, breathless,
the complexity of rushing to achieve and accumulate more
and more frequently threatens to overwhelm us; it seems
There is no escape from the rat race.
Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania.
37 years later this mania has only gotten worse. Cell phones are no longer a privilege but a necessity. We still drive large gas guzzling vehicles. And Black Friday has become one of the most important days of the year
Is this who we are supposed to be?
According to Foster, Simplicity is not only good for the soul, It is fundamental to the meaning of Christianity.
Starting with the Old Testament, Foster give us the background for Christian Simplicity, the concept of radical dependence on God pervades the Old Testament.
The radical dependence of the entire creation upon God is a
central teaching….we have no independent existence, no self-sustaining
ability…. We are not the captains of our souls not the masters
of our fate.
No independent existence!?
Not the captain of myself?!
These ideas are simply un-American!
But they are biblical… so get over it
And it’s not only Radical Dependence, it’s also Radical Obedience
The deeper reality of obedience is the kind of spirit it works into us.
It is a spirit that crucifies greed and covetousness. It is a spirit of
compassion and outreach. It is a spirit of sensitivity and trust.
But we’re not done: Do we all know about the Jubilee?
This is in Leviticus 25: Every 50 years all the wealth would be thrown into a pot aAnd then redistributed equally. Slaves were set free – all debts were canceled.
This principle of equitable distribution rather than hoarding and
Managership rather than ownership was as revolutionary then as it is now.
The purpose of land is to serve the needs of humanity rather than
To provide the means of self-aggrandizement.
What often gets me is when some Christians harp about what it says in Leviticus 18 about homosexuality but ignore what it says in Leviticus 25 about sharing the wealth!
The New Testament: There’s the Magnificat: Mary’s song:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
And lifted up the lowly
He has filled the hungry with good things
And sent the rich away empty
And in Matthew 6, the text read today about where our treasure is you cannot serve God and wealth.
In the gospels there is a radical identification of God with the poor.
What is wrong with American Christians today? Don’t we get this?
In our government today one almost has to be wealthy to be elected! Look at Trump’s Cabinet. They have more wealth than a third of Americans combined.
Our problem with democracy is that we are actually a plutocracy
Jesus Christ and all the writers of the New Testament call us to break free
of mammon lust and live in joyous trust. Their radical criticism of wealth
is combined with a spirit of unconditional generosity. They point to us
a way of living in which everything we have we receive as a gift.
And everything we have is cared for by God, and everything we have is
available to others when it is right and good. This reality frames the heart
of Christian simplicity. It is the means of liberation and power to do
what is right and to overcome the forces of feat and avarice.
Then Foster writes about the Saints. The Desert Fathers who sat on polls – for their whole lives!!
The Desert Fathers renounced things in order to know what it meant
To have the single eye of simplicity toward God.
And let’s not forget St. Francis who owned nothing, walked bare foot and lived for others.
All of this is to say again, Simplicity is fundamental to what it means to be Christian.
So, are we all supposed to live like the Amish?
Do we all know how the Amish live? They do not own cars but use horse and buggy.
They cannot adorn themselves in any way. Not only no bling they can’t even have buttons.
They have no cell phones – actually, they don’t have any personal phones!
They don’t use electricity.
Obviously, they don’t have computers or TVs. No video games either.
Can our children imagine this? – Life without screens!?
The opposite of the Amish is the Prosperity Gospel, who believe that if one has enough faith one will be blessed. In every way – in our relationships, in our work and also materially and financially.
Joel Osteen: When you focus on being a blessing God makes sure
You are always blessed with abundance
God wants you to be a winner, not a whiner
God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.

There’s a belief that you’re supposed to be poor, suffering
And show your humility. I just don’t see the Bible that way.
I see that God came and Jesus died so that we might live
An abundant life and a blessing to others.
What translation is he reading, I wonder?
This reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11: (which I’m sure is a Prosperity Gospel favorite)
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
Plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.
When asked people often choose this verse as a favorite and these can be inspiring words. But it isn’t truthful to be taken out of the whole of Jeremiah.
Have we read Jeremiah? It is chapter after chapter of warning and indictment, of the Wrath of God, and exile and how people will have to suffer.
And then there are these few verses of hope:
Then when you call upon me and come to pray to me,
I will hear you… I will let you find me…. And I will restore your fortunes. …
But only AFTER the Exile
This is how Joel Osteen reads the Bible:
The Prosperity Gospel was born out of the Power of positive thinking specifically, Norman Vincent Peale, who was a pastor in New York, and guess who went to his church? The Trumps.
Paula White, another Prosperity Gospel preacher, is considered President Trump’s personal pastor. A pastor on retainer?
Imagine Trump hearing these words in a sermon:
Champions have courage to keep turning the pages because
They know a better chapter lies ahead.
You are on the verge of complete breakthrough in every area of your life.
Spiritually, financially, and relationally God has shown me that this is a
Season of victory for His people. As I went deeper in the Spirit the Lord
Revealed that before the breakthrough comes certain things must be
Dealt with. Specifically, there must be a complete defeat of your enemies.
Don’t we know how much Trump would eat that up!
A Champion
A Season of victory
A complete defeat of your enemies
Once again, what Bible translation is she reading?
Kenneth Copeland who not only has a jet he has an airport and numerous jets.
And when asked why he needed them he said because when up in the sky he felt closer to God. What?! That can’t work in coach?
Which of these, the Amish or the Prosperity Gospel fits better with American culture?
If we met with a devotee of the Prosperity Gospel and an Amish person in Fred Meyer, which one would stand out?
Easy answer: The Amish. Meaning that the Prosperity Gospel devotee fits better Into American culture.
The Amish would be considered as the anomaly; the weird one.
And which one would be closer to the Bible?
Easy answer: The Amish.
John Wesley gave a powerful witness to simplicity in his life and fortunately he was OK with buttons… And would be OK with cell phones and digital cameras too.
Richard Foster says this of Wesley:
Examples abound of Christian simplicity in the task of evangelism, in the service of the poor, and in the cause of social justice. The vigorous evangelistic efforts of John Wesley and the early Methodists are well known. The simplicity of their lifestyle gave integrity to the Gospel they preached. Wesley told everyone that, if at his death he had more than 10 pounds ($23) in his possession people had the privilege of calling him a robber.” Near the end of his life he wrote in his journal very simply, “I left no money to anyone in my will, because I had none.”
Our own heritage includes valuing simplicity. Not to the extent of the Amish, but also in stark contrast with the Prosperity Gospel.
We believe simplicity is foundational to the Gospel
In our last Vision Team meeting, we set out to identify our core values and we came up with what I believe are some good words; like compassion and inclusion (I won’t spill all the beans). But simplicity never came up
Part of the reason it didn’t come up is because it wasn’t on the list of words we were using as examples.
Why wasn’t it on the list? Efficiency was on the list
Forward looking, hard work, physical vitality were on the list.
Accomplishment, self-esteem and success were on the list.
What’s worse, why didn’t I think of it?
Here I am preparing for Stewardship and the theme of Simplicity and I didn’t think of it. We may have to rethink this…..
Here’s the bottom line in the words of Richard Foster:
The witness of simplicity is profoundly rooted in the biblical tradition, and most perfectly exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. In one form or another, all the devotional masters have stressed its essential nature. It is a natural and necessary outflow of the Good News of the Gospel having taken root in our lives.
One cannot serve God and money at the same time. So basic to Jesus. So fundamental to the Way. So, look around our world and tell me we see?
Amen.

Pastor James Clarke

Freedom of Simplicity. The Sermon for Sunday, September 30, 2018. Scripture: James 2:1-8 and Matthew 6:19-24

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