The Release of Cumber
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
August 4, 2019
Matthew 6:25-33 The Message (MSG)
25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
After Yearly Meeting Sessions ended, Sue and I took a very brief excursion to Nashville, Indiana for a night to celebrate Sue’s birthday and to regroup our thoughts before school and life sped up again this week.
During our brief trip we visited the artist T.C. Steele Historic Site (also known as the “House of the Singing Winds”) and then took the next day to walk around the artist colony of Nashville. Throughout our time, something kept catching my attention. Everywhere we went “simplicity” seemed to be a focus. It was the simplicity of life in Brown County that had drawn T.C. Steele to the area – as well as many other artists – moving from the bustle of city life to the more simple life. As we frequented the shops in Nashville, we read signs that spoke of living simply, needing to simplify, and even that simplicity is the key to renewal. It almost seemed as if it this all was a sign for me to return to my study of this important topic.
Actually, it is kind of obvious that a Quaker would be drawn to these thoughts, since “Simplicity” is actually the first of our S.P.I.C.E.S. But it is also interesting how many of the other spices like “peace” or “community” get much more attention in the current society in which we live. I am under the impression, after spending some time contemplating the subject this week, that simplicity is foundational to all that we do and a key aspect of our worship posture and spiritual practice. If anything, it is a key discipline to helping Quakers ground and nuture an active spirituality that has meaning and purpose in our daily lives.
What does a discipline of simplicity entail?
Let’s start with a very basic definition: A discipline of simplicity is the conscious act of not being tied to the things of this world.
I believe this is what Quaker and mystic Thomas R. Kelly wrote about in his classic A Testament of Devotion. He said,
“He (God) plucks the world out of our hearts, loosing the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He carry it in infinite tender care.”
As we discipline ourselves to not be tied to the things of this world, we then make room for God to put things into our lives that we can truly invest in that make a greater impact.
Or as one of my favorite Quaker authors, Catherine Whitmire wrote in her book, Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity,
“Living simply means adopting a lifestyle that avoids unnecessary accumulation of material items, or what Quakers have often referred to as “cumber.” It helps us seek outward detachment from the things of this world in order to focus our lives on the leadings of the Spirit. Living simply entails clearing our lives and our houses of Spiritual and material clutter so as to create more space for faithful living.”
Quaker writer, Mary Gregory takes another perspective we should consider, she says,
Simplicity does not mean
Getting rid of all your possessions,
But rather integrating them
Into your life’s purpose.
But for our study this morning, Quaker Richard Foster, who wrote the book, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World – what I consider a primer on Christian simplicity says there are two ways to look at simplicity: 1) inner simplicity and 2) outward simplicity.
Let us begin with that first way – inner simplicity.
As with many of the disciplines, simplicity begins with going inward – which could be described as a simplicity of the mind and heart.
Jesus tells us not to worry about the outer material things in our life (as we heard in our text for this morning), but to seek one thing – to seek God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom can seem like an archaic term, but to enter the Kingdom of God is to embark on the adventure of life. Jesus warned us that it would be costly in terms of personal wealth, security, and fame. Instead Jesus emphasized a goal to seek justice, love our neighbors, and live equitably and in peace with one another. This was what the Kingdom of God was all about.
Inner simplicity comes from keeping the first things first. Jesus makes the promise that if we put first things first, all the other things will come, but they will not have the hold on us that they would if we sought them first. Richard Foster says,
“As Jesus made so clear in Matthew 6:25-33, freedom from anxiety is one of the inward evidences of seeking the kingdom of God first. The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possession. Neither the greedy nor the miserly know that liberty.”
And here is the important part, Foster goes on to say,
“It has nothing to do with abundance of possessions or their lack. It is an inward spirit of trust. The sheer fact that a person is living without things is no guarantee that he or she is living in simplicity. Paul taught us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and often those who have it the least, love it the most. It is possible for a person to be developing an outward life-style of simplicity and to be filled with anxiety. Conversely, wealth does not bring freedom from anxiety.”
Much of this inner simplicity can grow within us through what the masters have called the “tilling of the soil of the soul.” A simple image of turning over the dirt to refresh the soil. We do this in many ways and through a variety of disciplines. Some of us meditate or pray on a regular basis, some of us fast from food or refrain from using social media, some of us spend time in nature, take walks, practice yoga, read or study, create art, or seek mindfulness training…and the list could go on. Each are a discipline or way to help stimulate and embrace a more simple outlook on life.
Also, please note, inner simplicity can also be fed by outer simplicity and visa versa, if we allow them to. Just as a heart of service can grow by actually serving others. This reminds me of a time that I heard a Muslim man be asked why he fasts during Ramadan. I have never forgotten his response. He said, “so, I will know the taste of hunger in my mouth, and I will have compassion on the poor.”
So outward and inward simplicity work hand in hand.
Foster says, “to describe simplicity only as an inner reality is to say something false. The inner reality is not a reality until there is an outward expression. To experience the liberating spirit of simplicity will affect how we live” –
just like the Muslim man whose physically experience of hunger turned to compassion.
This is why Sue and I used to love leading college students on weekend urban plunges in Chicago where we would experience homelessness, what it was like to live on the streets or be a part of a gang, the night life of drag queens and the LGBTQ community in Boystown, working alongside immigrants and refugees seeking hope. It turned those student’s physical experiences into compassion and personal desire to be change makers. Many have given up lucrative careers to serve in these places because the outward experience made an inward change.
Christin Hadley Snyder, who Catherine Whitmire quotes in her book, gets to the core of this outer and inner reality. She says,
“Simplicity is not so much about what we own, but about what owns us. If we need lots of possessions to maintain our self-esteem and create our self-image and to look good to our neighbors, then we have forgotten or neglected that which is real and inward. If our time, money, and energy are consumed in selecting, acquiring, maintaining, cleaning, moving, improving, replacing, dusting, storing, using, showing off, and talking about our possessions, then there is little time, money, and energy left for other pursuits such as the work we do to further the Community of God.”
Simplicity can seem overwhelming at its core, we must admit that our privilege and its effects on our neighbors and our own thinking. No sign in Nashville, Indiana asking me to “Live Simply” is going to make a real change, but it might remind me that I always have some work to do. Work in developing an inner and outer discipline of simplicity in my daily life?
That work, I believe, starts with some personal awareness. I have been compiling some queries that have and continue to help me in wrestling with simplicity and in developing this awareness more inwardly. I would like to share some of these queries that may help us not be so tied to the things of this world, so that we can consciously and actively respond.
When purchasing an item…try asking…
1. Will I own this thing, or will it own me?
2. How large of an ecological footprint does this item leave?
3. How much does creation have to pay for me to have this item?
I am reminded of Eziekiel 34:18-19, where God asks similar questions of Ezekiel,
“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clean water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?”
4. Are there ways to make purchases further the Kingdom of God?
5. Are there purchases I can make that will help charities (double the good)?
6. Am I buying things for their usefulness, not their status?
7. Do I reject anything that may be producing an addiction in me?
8. Am I developing a habit of giving things away? (i.e. de-accumulate and or downsize)
9. Am I simply believing all the hype and not seeking the Truth?
10. Am I learning to enjoy things without owning them? (using the library, borrowing tools or sugar from a neighbor)
11. Am I developing a deeper appreciation for creation?
12. Am I rejecting anything that will breed the oppression of others?
13. Am I shunning whatever would distract me from my main goal?
These are a good start in helping us become aware of our need for a discipline of simplicity.
Lastly, even if we try and work on our possessions and and work to de-accumulate, there is still another area that we may need to simplify and that is our schedules. Too often we feel that if we are not busy, we must be missing something or should find something to fill out time. This is especially true in our children’s lives - if our children are not involved in ever sport, music, art opportunity, etc…we must be depriving them. I don’t know about that.
Just as we need to reduce the material clutter in our lives, we need to reduce the schedule clutter. And yes, the church is just as guilty as any on this point.
The discipline of simplicity is not just buying less; it is also learning to do less.
I think that one of the best ways to practice simplicity of schedule is to take a Sabbath once a week. Obviously, this is one of the big ten – “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
When we hear about keeping the Sabbath – worship, resting, recreating, giving time to friends and family: keeping it holy, separate, different from the other days – we often say, “Oh that sounds very healthy, a really good idea, I’ll give that some thought…” But folks, let’s be realistic, we don’t say that about the other commandments – do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery… “Oh that sounds very healthy, a really good idea, I’ll give that some thought….” But we say it about taking a Sabbath.
Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives says this,
“The Practice of Sabbath is designed specifically to restore us, a gift of time in which we allow the cares and concerns of the marketplace to fall away. We set aside time to delight in being alive, to savor the gifts of creation, and to give thanks for the blessings we may have missed in our necessary preoccupation with our work.”
Well, next week, we will take a more indepth look at the importance of Sabbath in our lives and how it creates an opportunity for simplicity to flourish. So, I invite you to come back next week for part two…
For now, let us take some time to enter into waiting worship.
Maybe, take this time to read through the queries I read earlier that I have provided on a handout in the bulletin.