Romans 12:9-21; Matt 6:25-34
2nd Sun of Lent
St Barbara’s 25.02.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Being back in Africa over these last few days brought back many memories of when I lived in South Africa twenty-odd years ago.
For two of my three years living in Soweto, I lived in a garage. It was a garage with a normal pull-up door but fortunately no car. The garage acted as my bedroom, my kitchen, my lounge and my bathroom. There was an outside toilet and an outside water tap.
At first I thought it was a big sacrifice to live in such a small and simple space. But gradually the pleasure of living in such a space grew on me. There was no room for clutter, no room but for the most basic of essentials. I felt a freedom I had rarely experienced before.
I doubt I will my find my garage in an ideal home exhibition, nor is it a place that would work in our cold climate or whilst bringing up children, but it did teach me something important. Living simply, cutting back on some of the luxuries, can be seen as just sackcloth and ashes, a road of hardship and sacrifice, and yet it can be instead a road to freedom and liberation.
Indeed shortly after returning from South Africa The Daily Telegraph ran a 24-page colour supplement on the trend sweeping the nation – “down-shifting”. People giving up highly paid and highly stressful jobs to become organic farmers in North Wales or crofters in Scotland. People finding greater happiness in a simpler life.
Of course, such an attitude is nothing new. It has been part of the Christian tradition for centuries. St Aidan, a 7th century monk, was renowned not just for the power of his preaching but the integrity of his lifestyle. He would frequently be given gifts of horses and fine treasures by noblemen and kings, which he would then just simply give away to poor folk he met. Or John Wesley who lived at the same standard of living all his life, so that as his income increased, he just gave away more and more of what he received.
Living simpler lives can greatly help us all. Living simply can mean doing one thing well, rather than trying to keep countless plates spinning, and not enjoying or doing any of them well. Living simply may mean reducing the amount of clutter or the amount of distractions in our lives. Living simply may mean freeing up some of our resources to help others.
But the discipline of living simpler lives needs to start with an inward attitude.
Our Gospel reading reminds us that all we have is a gift from God. What we have is not our right, to be grasped hold of and protected at all costs. It is a gift that we have been fortunate enough to receive; a gift to be shared with others; a gift that God takes care of.
That means we are to be genuinely grateful for all that we have. The food we eat, the houses we live in, the clothes we wear. We are to be thankful to God for his gifts to us. Nurturing a discipline of gratitude is one we may all want to consider this Lent.
And we are not to worry about protecting and holding on to what we have. If God looks after the birds and the flowers, how much more will he care for us. We can place ourselves in his hands.
And because what we have is a gift, not a right, we can be free to share with others.
So if those are our inward attitudes, what can be some of the outward expressions of simplicity. Richard Foster, in his book “Celebration of Discipline” lists a few ideas. See if any of these may work for you.
Firstly, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status or because of what others may think. That may apply to a car, or clothes.
Second, reject anything that produces an addiction in you. Lent is a good time to break those things that we have come overly reliant upon. If you find yourself saying “I can’t possibly relax without… a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, watching the TV”, take note. If we are so in need of such things, this may be a good time to challenge their hold on us.
Thirdly, develop a habit of giving things away. De-clutter. Organisations such as Carriers of Hope can make far better use of items which are just taking up space in our wardrobes or cupboards that are rarely worn or used.
Fourthly, resist the need to upgrade to the latest model. The lure of new technology can be surprisingly seductive. Instead, ask the question, “what do I need to be able to do, and does my current device enable me to do that?”
Fifthly, enjoy things that are free – walking in nature, libraries, a cup of tea at home.
Sixthly, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others or damages the environment. That may mean buying fairly traded goods. It may mean stopping buying goods that cannot be re-cycled.
As we live more simply, we may find that another aspect of living generously becomes easier too: the act of serving others.
Serving others is a spiritual discipline. It is something that we need to work at as it is not something that comes naturally. Our reading from Romans gives us a number of examples of what this can look like:
It means sharing with people who are in need. As we’ve seen already, that could be about giving our unneeded clothes to charity; or it could be about volunteering our time to help others – the Good Neighbours Project is just one excellent example of a way we could share with others.
Paul writes about “practising hospitality”. We can begin here in church, in the way we welcome people who are newer to the church and make them feel at home. It can be inviting people over for a cup of tea, or meeting up in a cafe. It is about proactively looking out for those who could value some company, and reaching out.
Serving others is also about listening. Some of the most remarkable acts of service I have seen in communities around the world have started when people took the time to listen. Rather than just jumping in and assuming what was needed, they took the time to listen, to allow people to tell their story, to share their dreams. Serving others is about listening, about valuing people.
Why don’t you this week take time to think how you are living out these disciplines of simplicity and service in your life. Is there one thing that God may be prompting you to do?