Devotional for August 4 – Simplify, Simplify!
Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
I think it was Frazier Crane in the old Cheer’s TV show who was quoting Henry David Thoreau saying, “Simplify, simplify.” To which Sam, the not too intelligent bartender, said, “Wouldn’t it have been simpler if he’d only said it once?” Yes it would. It turns out simplicity is very complicated, or at least that is my experience of it. I’m not very good at simplicity, although I try. Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives me personal anxiety attacks. Keep you mind on the things above? Not even close. I’m hit and miss with the whole impurity, evil desires, greed and obedience part. It’s in the second list where things really begin to fall apart for me, “anger?” Oh yes. “slander?” Sometimes. But the worst? Bad language out of my mouth. I blame it on my Lutheran tradition.
Once again Paul seems to be the guy who has it all together, is looking back and telling us how it is done. It’s where I get kind of angry with the Apostle Paul, which just sends me right back to his list. And we don’t even get to the good list in this reading. I’ve found it much more helpful to concentrate on positive attributes rather than negative ones. Then Paul drops a bombshell. It comes out of nowhere, seeming to not be related in any way to what has preceded it. There ain’t no more distinctions with us Christians. No Greek and Jew, no slave and free, no gay and straight, just a bunch of people trying to follow Christ. (Maybe I’ll keep reading Paul after all.)
But our focus today is really on the gospel story. There are very few stories of Jesus that shock us as we listen to them unfold. For all the world he seems to be describing a good and blessed farmer. He has a bumper crop. Again, he must be good, because he’s really been blessed. He does what any self respecting farmer would do. He puts up some of that crop for a rainy day. He’s an industrious, self motivated, family man. Yet, at the end of the story, where you expect to hear him praised he is held up to scorn. Come again? What did he do wrong? It’s a matter of focus.
This farmer is only focused on himself. He talks to himself, he consults with himself, he directs himself, he congratulates himself. Guess what? It’s not all about him. It’s not even all about me! Simplicity requires first of all that we find a different center. If we are centered on ourselves and our own needs and desires we are not living as God would have us live. But if we can change that focus, concentrate on God and on Christ, then we can live truly blessed lives. There is no point in trying to change our lives until we can find a new focus. It just won’t happen. And, changing the focus of our lives away from our own little self is no easy task. It is hard, complex, and it takes a long, long time.
This is a lesson God is teaching me right now, I think. I have endeavored to fulfill just about every desire that’s jumped into my head. I use to consider myself an expert in how to gather youth together and do programming. At one point I imagined I could write (the editing process of The Theology of Wine has humbled me on that one big time). We can look at such events as tragedies. They feel as though they are. Pieces of our ego get chipped away and we watch them fall to the ground. Yet at the end, there is a new reality. Once the false, imagined hero of our selves is, well, “crucified with Christ” the real self, the Christ self has a chance to immerge and see the light of day. Paul instructs us to put this new self on as though it were a garment. That is baptismal language. Martin Luther said we are to daily die to ourselves and be born again by remembering our baptisms. That can sound almost punitive, but I think it is life giving. It just may not feel like it at the time.
Quotes for the Week
“I never knew anybody . . . who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.” Ursula Le Guin
“In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East — especially in India — I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving — it is not in the result of loving. ” Mother Theresa
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau
“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.” Groucho Marx
“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already.” –Dave Barry
1st Lesson Colossians 3:1-11 (NRSV)
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Gospel Lesson Luke 12:13-21 (The Message)
13 Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
14 He replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?”
15 Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
Questions for the Week
Where is your primary focus in life? Are you able to change that?
Where is your life too complicated? How might you simplify it?