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Simplicity as Resistance


“Simplicity as Resistance”

March 10, 2024 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34

Fourth Sunday of Lent



Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  

‘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? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But 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? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.


This week two different people recommended the same book to me.  Given that our theme today is simplicity, I don’t think it was a coincidence.  The book is called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and as I began to scan the pages, this jumped out at me:

Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century spiritual teacher once said, “There is no greater obstacle to God than time.”  

There is no greater obstacle to God than time.  

I haven’t read much of the rest of the book but the premise is compelling.  Our obsession as a culture with hustling and rushing and worrying our way toward some future moment robs us of the present moment.  And when we lose touch with the present moment, we lose touch with God.  

Time is indeed a great obstacle to God.  

Have you heard of Hustle Culture?  It’s hustling and rushing and worrying our way toward some future moment or some future outcome.  It’s idea that there is always more and that more is better.  The harder you work, the more you can have.  The more you have, the better your life.  And it all starts with a good hustle today to make sure tomorrow works out as planned.  This isn’t just about the events on your calendar.  It’s about the worry we put into our retirement savings, the stress we invest in our children’s future wellbeing, the angst we find when we think we’re not doing enough, the fear we experience when confronted with pain.  Hustle culture is about staying in front of all of this.  Being on top of it.  Being in control.   

--

No better time to talk about hustle than on the weekend when we lose an hour, am I right?  Man, I really don’t like time changes.  I don’t like the way losing an hour makes me feel groggy for days.  I don’t like the mind games the switch plays on me when my whole body is adjusted to certain levels of light equaling certain times of the day.   And I really don’t like waking up in the dark again.  

But if there was a flip side, this is what it would be.   If we can be so willy-nilly with our clocks moving them up and back throughout the year, doesn’t that just prove that time is nothing more than an illusion?  

And now it’s time for the meme of the day. “Don’t forget to set your clock on fire this Sunday.  Time isn’t real.”  

I’m probably not the only one who wanted to set their clock on fire this morning when it was asking me to wake up at an ungodly dark hour.   

Time is so deceptive, though.  I especially feel this as the parent of a younger child.  The passage of time brings so much angst.  We watch the minutes turn into hours, hours into days, days into years and suddenly we realize we spent so much time worrying that time was going by too fast and hustling through the challenges of the day, that we missed being in the present moment.  

I’m the first one to say time is precious, but what I really ought to mean is that the present moment is precious.  And when we let our obsession with what comes next and how we’re going to get there distract us, we lose awareness of how irreplaceable the present is.

This is what Jesus meant when he said 

Do not worry about tomorrowTomorrow will take care of itself.  

---

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent.  And we’re working our way through a color wheel of spiritual practices.  We’re exploring different ways to access the spiritual world this Lent and thinking outside the box when it comes to traditional spiritual disciplines.  

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed a subtheme here.  Every spiritual practice we’ve introduced has had an element of being counter-cultural.   Because let’s be honest.  For a nation and culture that often identifies predominantly as Christian, we’re actually not very good at the spiritual practices Jesus teaches, whether it’s paying attention, or fasting, or turning tables or, this week, simplifying.  We need practice.  Lent doesn’t have to be a drag.  It can be a colorful exploration into the patterns and habits that fuel our everyday life. And when we see things that are actually doing more to separate us from God, Lent gives us the opportunity to push the pause button.  To step back from the cultural expectations around us and recenter on the counter-cultural message of Jesus.  

And this week is one of the best/ hardest messages to hear because as important as time is to the conversation, that’s not just where Jesus’ radical call to simplify ends.  If time is an obstacle to God, so too is our obsession with materialism.  Stuff.  Things.  Money.  Comfort.  

And these things are linked together with time in Jesus’ message as all being related to the want for more.  And it’s the want for more that pulls us away from the present moment and any concept of how blessed we already are.  How we are enough.  And that we have enough. 

When we store up treasures on earth and spend our days worrying about the future, we rob ourselves of the peace God wants for us.  God wants the luster of hustle to fade so that we see the beauty of what’s right in front of us.  God wants the obsession with the future to go away so that we replace worry with gratitude.  

In other words, simplify.  

If I were to ask you, “What, at this moment, is lacking?”  What would you say?  

--

Yesterday we noticed outside of the parsonage that there was a horse and buggy tied up to the telephone pole in our yard.  It’s not the first time I’ve seen an Amish vehicle like this parked so that its owners could shop in our church’s thrift store.  

When I see the Amish, I often think, ah, now that’s the simple life.  I have tenderness for the ways the Amish interpret the teachings of Jesus to resist so many of the trappings of our materialistic, chaotic hustle culture.  

But the temptation is to think simplicity is all or nothing.  As if to say when a buggy passes us, now that’s simplicity… and everything else is too far gone.

But this is simply true.  And also where the resistance comes in.  Simplicity is not all or nothing.  Simplifying our lives means making small decisions every day that resists the dominant culture of hustle and worry and materialism.  

Here are a few examples:

I’ve been watching a lot of college basketball lately, well really only one team, but still.  But the commercials drive me crazy.  So after not having a working remote for the last 10 years, we found out we could get a universal remote for a small amount of money and now we can mute the commercials.  So instead of being assaulted by all the things the world thinks I need to make my life better and more, I can have silence.  This isn’t the simplicity high road here, but it’s a small step.  

Here's another example.  

Observe without documenting.  This is a message for anyone who finds themselves filling up their phone with 10 angles of the same scene.  The root of this behavior is that we fear not preserving the moment in just the right way.  And so we spend the moment documenting it.  We think we’re preserving it.  But we’re actually losing it.  This week, can you observe a beautiful moment without feeling like you need to document it?  

How about this: 

Don’t brag about your busyness.  It’s not a badge of honor.  Brag instead about how you rested.  Or how you spent the day at home with your family.  Or how you said no to something.  


The list goes on and on.  There are so many small things we can do to bring simplicity into our lives from eating less fast food and growing more slow food in our gardens to mending and repairing things that are broken instead of just automatically tossing them out.  


I’d like to finish our message time together today by inviting Suzanne up to lead us in a practice of being present to the moment right in front of us.  Suzanne is going to lead us in a guided meditation.  



Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna


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