Simplicity and Solitude (Outward Spiritual Disciplines)


Pastor Linda Friesen
Seventh Sunday of Pentecost


TEXT: 

Psalm 46 (read by reader):

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

10"Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."

11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

 

Matthew 6.19-34:  Jesus is speaking to his followers with a lesson on simplicity… is it really that easy?

L:         “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

ALL:     20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

L:         22"The eye is the lamp of the body.

ALL:     So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

L:         24"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

ALL:     You cannot serve God and wealth. 

L:         25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

ALL:     26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

L:         Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing?

ALL:     Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?

L:         31Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

ALL:     33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

L:         34"So do not worry about tomorrow,

ALL:     for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

 

KIDTALK:  Simplicity and Solitude- ‘Tis a gift to be simple!  Key to happiness and fulfillment is to put God FIRST and then add in the rest of the “stuff” of life!

VIDEO:  The Work of the People- Jesus and the kingdom with Brian McLaren  (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/jesus-and-the-kingdom)

SERMON:

Dear Friends in Christ… grace and peace and JOY to you from our Lord and Savior.

Joy- the outcome of living into these Spiritual Disciplines that we have been studying and exploring together; a new way to experience the world around us.   Today, the Outward Disciplines, our focus on Solitude and Simplicity.  Just a reminder about the virtual discussion on our sermon blog, The Talking Pew, where we will look at all four of the outward disciplines as named by Richard Foster (Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service) and our face-to-face meetings on Mondays at 10am and 7pm. 

My Sabbatical finally began on April 4th as I boarded a plane for Phoenix AZ.  Funny thing was, I totally did not think that I needed a Sabbatical.  In fact, I had been granted a Sabbatical the year before but because of the transition of our Faith Formation Team, the Board and I agreed that it would be best for me to postpone my time so that I could help in the transition.  No problem.  After all, I was not feeling like I really needed to be away for an extended amount of time.  Now in 2013, I was once again granted time away for Sabbatical, for an intentional time of rest and renewal.  Still, as I left, I did not feel as though I was at the point of burn out or even fatigue.  Yes, like many of you I was tired of the MN winter and so I was very excited about entering the warm and dry AZ climate and beautiful landscape… but really, I did not think that I was in NEED of this thing called a Sabbatical… until I got there!

I began my time away at Spirit of the Desert, a Lutheran Retreat Center in Carefree, AZ (great name, eh?  Carefree!)  I was literally the only one at the retreat center for two days; even the staff went home at night.  The first night I was kind of lonely.  I wondered just what I would DO… no TV… just me, myself and I… but then I settled into Solitude- a space of being still, a place where God had the opportunity to bring a hush to my life so that some inner soul work could begin.

I quickly settled in to a routine of early morning hot yoga, a 2-3 hour coffee shop visit for a chai, breakfast and some deep reading and then a trip to the mountain desert for a trail hike; time to ponder the meaning of what I had read and the world around me; time to be still.  I had moved from a place of loneliness, an inner emptiness, to a place of solitude, an inner fulfillment.  Solitude… more than simply silence… an opportunity to be still and know that God was God… and I was not. 

I hardly knew it, but I discovered in my solitude that I been leading, what one author terms, “a hurried life”. 

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well.  As Carl Jung writes:  Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil.  And so it was (and often is) with me.  I am “in a hurry” as I go from place to place, skimming my life, just brushing the surface, rather than actually living deep into my life, the life that has been gifted to me by the Creator of the universe!  I take it for granted- literally running through it without even noticing.  On Sabbatical, in Solitude, in being still, I noticed time and the value of it. CS Lewis writes, We live in a world starved for solitude…  I had been starving and I did not even realize it.

One of the great illusions of our day is that hurrying will buy us more time.  Consider this:  Time magazine noted that back in the 1960’s, expert testimony was given to a subcommittee of the Senate on time management.  The essence of it was that because of advances in technology, within 20 years or so people would have to radically cut back on how many hours a week they worked, or how many weeks a year they worked, or else they would have to start retiring sooner.  The great challenge, they said, was what people would do with all their free time.  So… how’s that working for you?  Not many of us would say that our primary challenge in regard to time is what to do with all the excess.

We will buy anything that promises to help us hurry.  Technology gadgets or apps for our smartphones that offer better time management; new kitchen gadgets to speed up the process of food preparation.  Dominoes became the number one name in pizza not because of their gourmet pizza, but because the company promised to deliver in 30 minutes or less- selling delivery not pizza!  We hustle through the drive thru lane, not because they sell good (or good for you) food or even, in most circumstances cheap food, but because they sell fast food… and if we have to wait in the line, we become irritated!  Consider this:  When fast food was first introduced, people still had to park their cars and go in to eat.  Soon this became an inconvenience for us, so drive thru became the norm so that we could eat in our cars and vans rather than around a table.  Hmmmm- what’s wrong with that picture- but we all buy into it.

Time, we are always looking for more.  Ironically all our efforts have not produced what we are after; a sense of what we might call time-full-ness; a sense of having enough time.  And yet we are given, gifted with time, each of us 24 hours in every day, and it is us who decides how to steward, how to use this gift.

Jesus never seemed to hurry.  Jesus always stayed connected to his Father in heaven.  Jesus took time away from people to be still before God, to stay aligned with his Father’s wishes and desires.  Jesus went to the wilderness for an extended period of fasting and prayer, a time of solitude as his ministry was launching.  Jesus entered a time of solitude when he was choosing his disciples, after he had healed a leper.  In the gospel stories of Jesus’ life, we see this pattern of solitude continued to his final days on earth when he again withdrew to the Garden of Gethsemane to be still with God, to reconnect, to be certain of God’s desire for his life and for his death.  Jesus often taught by example and so it is with the discipline of solitude.  In being still, I discovered that in my hurried life I had stopped leading a “simple” life, but had complicated it.  I had complicated my life with many good (yes very good things) but I had left behind a simpler way… I had left behind THE WAY. 

Jesus speaks to his followers about life, about security, about trust… Let’s listen in on his words from the gospel story as Matthew writes it.  We will read this together, in parts, it is printed for you on the back of your bulletin- from Matthew 6:  see text

Enter the spiritual discipline of simplicity, that is, keeping first things first, seek first the kingdom of God.  The discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.

We live in a fractured and fragmented world; we are trapped in a maze of competing attachments.  One moment we make decisions based on sound reason and the next out of fear- fear of what others might think, fear of scarcity, fear of not having enough.  And yet this text, this truly good news of Jesus, tells us about God’s abundance for us, are you not of more value than they?  The implied answer is yes, yes, you are!  Do we believe it?  This is kingdom living… and it is defined simply as simplicity- first things first.

In our “hurry up” lives our need for security has led to an insane attachment to things- stuff- junk.  We rent storage units filled with stuff we neither use nor need… why?  Just in case!!  Just in case what?  Jesus declared war on the materialism of his day and I would suggest that today he speaks no differently into our world, not because he doesn’t want us to have stuff but because of how this stuff impacts our lives.  Jesus declares, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”  He saw the grip that wealth can have on a person.  He knew that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, which is precisely why he commanded his followers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”  He is not saying that the heart should or should not be where the treasure is.  He is stating the plain fact that wherever you find the treasure, you will find the heart.  Jesus wants your heart.  All of it.  So where is your treasure?

Having said this, I must add that God intends that we should have adequate material provisions; we should not be paupers.  The discipline of simplicity simply sets possessions in proper perspective.  In fact, simplicity rejoices in the gracious provisions from the hand of God.  It is simplicity that reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us, a needed perspective in today’s world.  Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others.

Listen to the focal point of Jesus, listen to the abundance… as Jesus penetrates our hearts with these words of poetry about how God cares for his creation and even more so us…

Do not worry about your life… look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them…  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin…. Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things

Jesus then quickly moves us to his central point:  But strive first for the kingdom of God… then everything else necessary will come in its proper order.  EVERYTHING hinges upon retaining the first thing as first.  Nothing must come before the kingdom of God.

When we practice this discipline of simplicity- seeking first God’s kingdom- we gain a new perspective about how we are called to live in this world today.

In closing, I would like you to consider this short 3-minute video on Jesus and the Kingdom by noted church leader and author Brian McLaren:

VIDEO:

Solitude, be still and know that I am God, and Simplicity, strive first for the kingdom of God.  These two disciplines will change how you view this world and will have an impact on how you live in this world.  Are you ready?  On earth as it is in heaven…. AMEN