A mid-week Homily for Lent
March 18, 2020
Rev. Paul Harris
Greetings Friends and Neighbors,
You may be watching a Facebook Live broadcast today at www.facebook.com/HuntUMC or you may be reading this text on my Journal page available on my website www.pauleharris2017.com or on the home page of Hunt United Methodist Church at www.huntumc.org
Welcome to a time of uncertainty! I demand security in my life to function well. It is part of who I am. So the fluctuations and variables introduced into our conversation today brings anxiety. There is Good News for me and for you!
I speak today about a spiritual discipline referred to as SIMPLICITY. And one of my favorite authors and teachers on this discipline is Richard J. Foster. This morning, I re-read the chapter on Simplicity in his book Celebration of Discipline.
Foster says that the “Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Simplicity begins in an inward focus and unity. Thomas Kelly is quoted as coining the phrase to describe this inward focus – it is The Divine Center.”
In my words, when we practice a spiritual centering that helps us focus mind, body, and soul in obedience to God and in alignment with the teaching of Jesus Christ – we are given the capacity to trust God completely for all things, for all time. But sometimes, I need to be reminded. Especially when something like a new and much unknown virus threatens my security. I can imagine you may have similar feelings.
I believe that a heightened need for security in these frightening times can lead to an irrational desire for objects, assets, and stockpiles. We covet things when we get scared. We want to be assured that our supplies will be available and in abundance.
Before corona virus, a life in simplicity had been emphasized in the voice of Marie Kondo. Younger generations were leading all of us toward the notion that de-cluttering our lives could lead to a more simple life. And a more simple life could lead us to new ways to share community and life. Now, this concept in simplicity seems inadequate. How is my giving away material goods and possessions going to provide more security in my life? Simplicity – no thanks!
I wonder, what do we need to survive this time of self-quarantine, homebound isolation, social distancing, travel restrictions, and so on…? I asked myself this morning: What is essential for my physical well-being and my spiritual health? And beyond that – what does my congregation need from me, their pastor? What do my aging parents now in a locked down senior living center require? How will it be provided? If not careful, a simple focus can be quickly overcome by ALL that screams at us in light of the worldwide health scare. How do we maintain a discipline of Simplicity in these days?
Richard Foster says, “Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.” Please Lord, do not allow me to act in these ways. Lead me on the path of simplicity. I pray.
Foster’s chapter on simplicity yielded some important insight as I re-read it this morning.
First, Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is NOT ours to keep, and that can be freely shared with others. Secondly, the Bible speaks about simplicity throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament. The concept of the Jubilee Year in fact called the people of Israel on occasion to return land rights to original owners lost in debt. Jesus taught that a disciple could not follow both God and mammon. Foster says, “Jesus challenged the rich young ruler not just to have an inner attitude of detachment from his possessions but literally to get rid of his possessions if he wanted to experience the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19)
DO NOT COVET. A strong command given in the Torah that disciplined a wandering people to respect one another and the needs of the community.
Certainly Foster suggests that God intends that we should have adequate material provision. So what do we make of the simplicity called for when it comes to material goods and our false understanding of scarcity?
What is enough? Why are people in their fear buying up all of the toilet paper on the shelves of our grocery stores? Maybe it has something to do with our fear of supply interruptions? Or just a basic fear of whether or not the financial crisis will worsen and cause companies to go out of business and folks to lose their jobs?
Everybody breathe… Let us take a pause…
Security is one of my strongest needs, both physically and spiritually. I don’t think I am alone on this. The days we now live can lead me to be anxious. And yet, as a pastor, I am called to be a no-anxious presence in my faith community. The practice of this spiritual discipline called Simplicity is made easier and certainly makes more sense in terms of the words of Jesus when he said,
(Matthew 6:25-33 CEB)
25 “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? 27 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? 31 Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32 Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The central point for the discipline simplicity is to FIRST seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom. First things first friends. What do we need to thrive in the days ahead?
I say to myself and I say to you, Let us follow best practices for individual and community health. AND in terms of spiritual health, DO NOT WORRY. Help others to discover this spiritual practice by enacting it in your own life. I will do my best to be non-anxious. I will do my best with God’s help.
God loves you and so do I.
More soon on the details of this practice, stay tuned…
Along the Way
Pastor Paul Harris
Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Richard Foster, Harper & Row Publishers, 1978.
Simplicity, Wendy J. Miller, in the Series Holy Living Spiritual Practices for Building a Life of Faith, Elaine A. Heath, General Editor, Simplicity, Wendy J. Miller, Abingdon Press, 2019.
Author: Paul E Harris
Journal posts from a pastor and spiritual friend