Keep Life Simple

given on November 9, 2008

Life certainly has not been simple this week, has it?  We have each had our own daily agenda items to manage; we have working; we have been keeping up with the household chores; we have checked on our family and neighbors; and the list just keeps growing.  On top of our daily lives, we have had one of the nation’s most complicated processes wrap up—a presidential campaign—and have witnessed one more historical change.
All of these issues are just daily life and we know that we all manage, as we seem to do every day.  The old KISS principle just does not seem practical or at least rational.  Still it works:  Keep It Simple.  (The other S can be your own choice such as Susan, Sister, Silly, or another choice of your own.)
Apparently the KISS principle is as old as this world is.  Think about it:  God created the earth and then just told Adam and Eve only one major rule—do not eat of the tree of knowledge.  And what did they do but complicate things by eating that one apple!  Now we live in a world where the choices we make just keep complicating things.  I certainly am not a good role model for this, but I honestly do try to keep it simple because I focus on Jesus’ one commandment—love your neighbors as yourself.
Of course this brings up the question that if Jesus tried to simplfy our lives with one basic commandment and we do follow it, why in the world does our life get so complicated?  Let’s begin by looking at the social principles under the Economic Community.  In this global, business or financial centered world, there are far too many categories to keep life simple.  The United Methodist Church divides up the economic community into these categories:
∑ Property
∑ Collective Bargaining
∑ Work and Leisure
∑ Consumption
∑ Poverty
∑ Migrant Workers
∑ Gambling
∑ Family Farms
∑ Corporate Responsibility
∑ Trade and Investment

Looking over that list we can immediately see how our lives have become so complicated that it is difficult to keep life simple.  We all fall into more than one of those principles and trying to keep up the one commandment while wrapped up in these issues, not to mention all the others we have discussed, how in the world are we to keep it simple.
The introduction to the economic community reads:
We claim all economic systems to be under the judgment of God no less than other facets of the created order.  Therefore, we recognize the responsibility of governments to develop and implement sound fiscal and monetary policies that provide for the economic life of individuals and corporate entities and that ensure full employment and adequate incomes with a minimum of inflation.
Just in our country we are witnessing right now the immense responsibility we have placed on our governmental leaders to keep our economic system stable.  We can attest to how small the world neighborhood is since we watch the reports daily, even hourly, on the ups and downs of our stock market and now the various stock markets in Europe and in Asia.  We certainly are unable to keep it simple financially and we are looking just at the worldwide economic community.
What about our own personal economic world?  Are we keeping it simple?  Consider the rich young man that spoke to Jesus:  “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  Don’t you know he was expecting a simple answer, which he could pull out some coins, and do.  Think how he must have felt when Jesus replied:  “Why do you ask me about what is good?”  Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
Right then that young man must have thought, no problem.  I have been brought up in a strong Jewish faith and those Ten Commandments are easy.  But Jesus was trying to make life even simpler for the new Christians and he listed only a few of those ten but added one more:  love your neighbor as yourself.
Again the young rich man must have thought he had it made, but Jesus threw in a zinger that he was completely unprepared to hear:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”
What a shock!  The young man even turns away saddened.  I am sure we would too.  Still John Wesley heard that story and looked at his community and knew that to love your neighbor as yourself, you had to make a change.
One of my favorite Methodist resources is a small book by Henry H. Knight, III, Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists.  I found this book shortly after reading The Purpose Driven Life and thought this book is the Methodist version.
Knight identifies the practices as prayer, scripture, word & table, renewal & healing, Christian community, Christian lifestyle, serving our neighbor, and sharing our faith.  Under Christian lifestyle, he brings together the scripture and John Wesley’s teachings into a KISS principle.  By using the guidelines he presents, we can take this complicated economic community we live in and keep life simple.  At the same time, we can practice what Jesus tells us in loving our neighbors and following him.  Knight says, “…that how we live and what we value are directly related to our ability to be faithful disciples.”  Those words sound oddly familiar to Jesus’ explanation to the disciples after the rich young man walked away:
“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or rather or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
In the study notes of the Life Application Bible, I learned that the disciples had been thinking,
“…that if anyone could be saved, it was the rich, whom their culture considered especially blessed by God….in the Old Testament, obedience often brought reward in [the earthly] life…good people would always be rich, and suffering would always be a sign of sin.”
Can you imagine the confusion?  And consider our confusion in our culture today.  In today’s world, we are living affluent lifestyles and our young people are indicating that they expect to begin their independent lives at the very place their parents and even grandparents have struggled to reach.
Knight addresses this point by sharing Wesley’s viewpoint.  “…desire for riches subtly but ever so certainly leads us to trust in them rather than God…the desire to obtain or hold on to possessions impedes our ability to truly love our neighbor.”  After completing the Forty Days of Purpose campaign, I struggled with some of the Baptist elements, but one chapter I commonly refer to as the Methodist chapter, took Wesley’s motto and lifted it up as a means of reaching a truly Christian lifestyle.  Knight’s Christian lifestyle is outlined in the section “Living Simply.”  Just that title alone is almost enough to keep us faithful to God’s teaching.
Knight breaks down “living simply” into just three steps:
“First, we need opportunities to talk about our lifestyles…to help one another discern what faithful discipleship meant in terms of everyday life.
“Second, we need to resist the cultural pressures to give our lives meaning through consumption and possessions.
“Third, we need to find ways to live more simply.”
Under the third step, Knight makes the connection to Wesley even more obvious.  He shares how Wesley explains living simply:
“…Wesley’s three rules for the use of money…first was gain all you can through honest labor, diligence, and wisdom, but never at the expense of our neighbor or in ways harmful to our health.  The second, save all you can, was not a call to accumulate wealth but an admonition not to waste money by throwing it away on expensive or superfluous possessions or to gain the admiration of others.  The third was the one even Wesley’s Methodists found difficult, but Wesley believed was the key to everything: Give all you can.  As stewards of all we have received, we are to use it all in ways that glorify God and manifest divine love.”
Wesley probably even said it a few times:  Keep it simple, Sinners.  Or maybe he was less judgmental:  Keep it simple, Servants of God.
From the lengthy review of our United Methodist social principles we are completing today, we are going to end on this note:  Keep life simple.  Jesus tried his best to make sure we understood this through all of his teachings.  He certainly simplified the rules of the Old Testament by reducing all the laws to simply “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Our challenge here in the 21st century is to follow Wesley’s guidelines of how to live a simple life, too.  I am just glad that we have someone like Knight who can even make Wesley’s suggestions simpler.
Normally, the tradition is to use this Sunday as a Stewardship Sunday.  Many churches end capital campaign drives, have pledge cards to sign, and run tallies to see if the members have reached a goal.  Thank goodness we can keep it simple.  All we have to do is follow Wesley’s guidelines.  We have the resources personally to keep God’s work moving.  We join with the United Methodist community to serve our global neighbors as well as our backyard neighbors.
I applaud you on managing to reach your goals personally to keep life simple and to live comfortably but not extravagantly.  I congratulate you that as a small United Methodist community you work together to join in the giving that reaches around this world.  I feel fortunate to team up with you as we do keep life simple, but focused on the word and the work of God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Sometimes we see this great big world filled with goodies that we want, but those things will never match up to the glories we experience here on this earth and later in heaven because we love you.  Help us keep life simple by focusing on your word and living as Jesus taught us:  to love our neighbors as ourselves

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