SIMPLIFY: MAKING ROOM FOR GOD – RESIST THE EMPIRE, SEEK THE KINGDOM – SERMON RESOURCES
ENGAGING THE PRACTICAL TIP
Lent serves a time of deep self-reflection and internal inspection; a time to look at what has been getting in the way of our relationship with God, and to actively seek renewal and intimacy with God and each other. We have lots of tools to help us with this process: prayer, fasting, service, and the simplification of our lives in the presence of a loving Father. There is a heavy emphasis on “works” during Lent and this can be a pitfall. This is not an invitation to get back on the salvation ladder trying to use Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by our holiness, our fasting, our penitence or our good works. Your good works do matter to God, and he does want you to do them. They flow from a life that’s connected to him already, they flow from a place of appreciation for what God has already done for us.
“How much is enough?” how much money is enough for one to be happy? How much stuff does one need to be content? These types of concerns and the constant quest for “stuff” can dominate our thinking consciously or subconsciously, pushing God to the periphery, to the sideline of our life. Instead we need to learn to trust. We are invited to surrender, first ourselves, then our fears, and lastly our stuff.
When we allow clutter and the complexity it creates in our lives to rule instead of God, it turns our focus onto ourselves and it turns our emotions into fear, anxiety, and stress, instead of love, peace, and trust. Can we trust God that he will give our lives meaning and purpose? God really wants us to see the world and ourselves within the way he does, cared for, loved, protected. We create more time, less stress, more peace, more freedom, and reduce the complexity of our lives as we create a space for God in our lives.
In order to do this, we have to resist the Empire (the pervasive, persistent power that drives and motivates us). The Empire perverts our God-given identity by telling us to consume more to feel better. This puts us on an endless treadmill, though, since we will never be content with what we have and can never find satisfaction or meaning or purpose from what we’ve acquired. The Empire has trained us that we should use material things to satisfy our needs for identity, connection, community, self-esteem, challenge, love, and joy. The problem is this sets up an unquenchable appetite for counterfeit solutions to real soul-longings.
Jesus offers us a different way forward, he invites us to resist the Empire, by seeking first the Kingdom. The challenge that Jesus lays out for us is to reduce the complexity and change our priorities. Don’t seek second things first, seek first the Kingdom. It requires us to trust Jesus radically, to trust him with everything: ourselves, our fears, and our stuff.
SIMPLIFYING OUR POSSESSIONS
Thomas Merton in his book, The New Seeds of Contemplation says:
“Detachment from things does not mean setting up a contradiction between ‘things’ and ‘God’ as if God were another ‘thing’ and as if His creatures were His rivals. We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 21).
All the things we own are not in direct competition with God, however they are also not an indication of God’s blessing. The stuff is just stuff. We need to be sure that it does not have a hold of us, and we also need to hold onto it very lightly being prepared to let go of it if we need to. The spiritual discipline of detachment trains us to let go of things in preparation for the final letting go (death).
For the practical tip, we are inviting you to pick a space in the place you live, work, or play and try to declutter it this week. You are being invited to do this not because the things occupying the space are good or bad, but because they represent something to us. As you go about your space and pick up items ask them questions:
- What are you and what do you do?
- Do I need you?
- Do I love you? Why?
- How did you come into my life?
- Would I replace you if you were lost or broken?
- How often do I use you?
- Could someone else make better use of you?
The process of simplifying can become a means of getting more in touch with our fears and presenting those fears to God, where they have a chance of being addressed. As we release our hold on stuff and clear out stuff we also release the hold it has on us and allow space for internal spiritual decluttering. Cleaning can become a time of meditation, a time to bring our real self, fears and frailty, and all, before God in honest surrender, knowing that we are accepted. As we surrender the stuff, we surrender ourselves to God. As our physical space is cleared, so too is our internal space, creating more room for God.
Feel free to share your experience with others who have also tried this prayer exercise by commenting below or emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.