July 12, 2020 Sanctuary Celebration Worship, Sermon-The Wisdom of Simplicity

Jul 12th  |  The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming |  Proverbs 15:15-17

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“Simple pleasures are the last refuge of the complex.”

Oscar Wilde had the great ability to say important things in poignant
ways that made you laugh, even when that laughter came from the
conviction of guilt. I certainly do not need to stand up here this morning and tell you that life is a complex and complicated proposal - even before the advent of the Corona pandemic. Life in the 21st century is hard - it is problematic - it is challenging. Life is hard work, especially if you are attempting to live a life that those around you neither value or understand.


Living as a disciple of Jesus Christ is hard work, especially when we are trying to live an authentic version of Christianity and not the popular pablum version of Christianity that is all sunshine and no shadows. A life of faithfulness is hard work - trying work - complex work.

And, according to the wisdom of Proverbs, the common sense of a life
lived in relationship with God is found in - for want of a better word -


“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”


Our challenge for the morning is to explore the idea of simplicity as a
vital part of authentic discipleship.

“Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.”
- Alan Perlis, computer scientist and professor at Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University. He is best known for his pioneering work in programming languages

Dr. Perlis seems to suggest that there comes a point when complexity ceases to be comfortable and creates tension and stress. When we have had enough And we know that to be true. When we reach our breaking-point, we will look for a different way to live. When life becomes more burden than blessing, we will actively look for that which brings our lives meaning and purpose, comfort and joy. When we can no longer bear the way things are, we will look for a new way.

“The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity.”
- Douglas Horton, American Protestant clergyman and academic leader noted for his work in ecumenical relations

But finding the path of simplicity is never easy. Finding simplicity itself
is complex. Discomfort and discontent are great indicators that a change is needed. That change may well be a move toward a simpler life. 


But what would make life simpler? There is no one answer to that
question. Each of us responds in a different way because simplicity is an individual practice. What make my life simpler might make yours more difficult.


During my college years, I lived among the Pennsylvania “old order”
Amish. No electricity - long, hard days of physical labor - no mechanical
power equipment - no extensive, elaborate wardrobes. I woke in the
mornings to the sounds of horse drawn buggies on brick streets. I admired them then and admire them still. But I could not live that life and not feel as though things had suddenly become far more complicated. 


Each of us must determine what “simplicity” means for us.
But, how do we do that?

“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.”
- Edwin Way Teale, American naturalist, photographer, and writer


One of the great life lessons I now wish I had learned far earlier in life
was this: there is a difference between what we “want” and what we “need.” Those who grew up during the days of the Great Depression are nodding their heads right about now. We “baby boomers” came late to the party, but we are there now. And the generations that followed us? Many of them are learning the difference, but too many were never taught the difference - either by word or example. For the most part, we have failed to accept, adopt, and advise the appropriation of a simpler lifestyle. Too often we have taught the lesson that real - authentic - even valued meal is one of a fatted ox, rather than a simple meal of vegetables eaten with those we love.


We have taught our children and grandchildren to major in the minors
of life, rather than to build a life built on simplicity. 


“To find the universal elements enough…
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter…
to be thrilled by the stars at night…
to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring…
these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
- John Burroughs, American naturalist and nature essayist,
active in the U.S. conservation movement


Maybe a life of simplicity begins by becoming aware of the beauty and
wonder that surrounds us. The beauty of a blue summer sky, the green of a corn field, the cooling presence of a gentle breeze on a hot afternoon, the quiet of the evening, the joy and beauty of plants and flowers. Too often we have become so busy, living our complex lives, that we fail to even notice the rewards of simply being alive. We convince ourselves that we need to travel great distances at great expense to take in the simple wonders that are right outside our window.


It’s not that the simpler joys aren’t there. They are - in abundance! But
it could be that we fancy ourselves so busy, so essential, so integral to the industriousness of life that if we should pause to consider a cloud, the world economy would collapse. Perhaps once all the corona-madness is said and done, we will have time to truly consider the term “essential worker” and whether most of what we do is, in fact, “essential.”


“The art of contentment is the recognition that the most satisfying and the most dependably refreshing experiences of life lie not in great things but in little. The rarity of happiness among those who achieved much is evidence that achievement is not in itself the assurance of a happy life. The great, like the humble, may have to find their satisfaction in the same plain things.”
- Edgar A. Collard, Canadian journalist and historian


There’s a statement of amazing truth and insight. I have known some
very wealthy people and I have known some very poor people. As I consider both ends of that economic spectrum, there were just about the same number of rich people who were happy as there were poor people who were happy. Happiness has little to do with the balance in the bank. Some of the wealthiest people I’ve ever known were so driven to get “more” that they never had time to enjoy much of life at all. The question was, “How much does it take to make a person happy?” The answer given was “one dollar more.” The answer was from John D. Rockefeller.


Happiness is rarely found in the complexities, complications, and
convolutions of life which are often created by our desire to have more.
There is a direct connection between happiness and contentment. 


“Those who buy what they do not need steal from themselves.”
- Anonymous


And, of course, simplicity becomes even more fleeting when we ground
the value of ourselves and our lives by what we have and what we think we need. We consider ourselves “successful” if we have this or that - if we have a little more than someone else - if we can go to the class reunion and show them all what we’ve become and what we have.


We succumb to the temptation not to value ourselves as children of
God, created in the image of God, called into partnership with God - but by what we have, what we can buy, how much we can spend, how often we can buy a meal instead of preparing a meal and sharing it in love - even if it is vegetables. We steal from tomorrow in order to satisfy the insatiable wants of today.


“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”
- Will Rogers American stage and film actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator


When things are getting to close to home, it is always wise to insert a
moment of levity. Will Rogers and, of course, Mark Twain always do that for me.


But there is powerful truth in that statement. If we are spending money
on things we don’t really want, just to impress others, it may be time to question our sanity.


“Live simply that others might simply live.”
- Saint Elizabeth Seaton, founder of the Sisters of Charity


And because we are Christian people - connected to God through Jesus
Christ, simplicity also comes with a moral imperative. If we can learn to live more simply, we will discover the true amount of excess we have - and we will begin to see ways to put that excess to work for those who have far less than we will ever know. When we learn the lessons of simplicity, we can begin to meet the challenge of Matthew 25 - of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, comfort to the variously afflicted, and hope to those who have given up. By learning to live in a greater simplicity, we can heal the broken and restore the creation.


“To know you have enough is to be rich.”
- Lao-Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and writer


“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”

Relearning what is valuable, what is soul-feeding,
rediscovering the roots of happiness and contentment,
retrieving that peace which passes all understanding,
recapturing life as God meant it to be, if that sounds like something you might be interested in, may I suggest you begin exploring ways to live more simply?


Lao-Tzu was right. But so was this other fellow I’ve met along the way.
He said, 


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.
You cannot serve God and wealth. (Mathew 6:24)

“Tis a gift to be simple...‘tis a gift to be free.”
“Sing God a simple song...for God is the simplest of all.”
“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it.”


For now and evermore. Amen.