Live simply, that others may simply live – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Amos 8: 4-7
Luke 16: 13

Today is the third week in this Season of Creation. During this week two pieces of Scripture have ‘grabbed’ me. They are by two very different prophets, and I’ve been praying with both passages. The first is our reading today from the prophet Amos. It’s harsh and fiery. He pronounces God’s judgment on the wealthy who, full of greed, oppress the poor, and who see the fruits of the earth simply as sources of illegal profit. “We will offer wheat for sale and practice deceit, with false balances.” As I prayed with it I had in my mind those terrible images of the violent rape of the Amazon rain forest, the wholesale destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’, for profit.

But the other passage I have been praying with could not be more different. They are words from Amos’s fellow 8th century prophet, Micah. It is one of the most beautiful words of prophecy in all scripture. It is a vision of hope and healing. “In days to come, nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall all sit under their own vines, and under their own fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” I love that image of complete contentment. As I prayed with these words I remembered that unforgettable day during the Fall, some five years ago when I was on retreat at Emery House. I was sitting in a simple wooden chair on the deck of the Zen hut, watching with utter joy and wonder, as the leaves of the trees gently fell, hour after hour. I knew something of Micah’s vision of peace and contentment.

Amos describes a society dominated by rapacious greed, and an insatiable lust for more. But Micah looks to a day when everyone will have just enough, and no more; enough to simply sit under a single vine and one fig tree, and to live in peace and harmony with the land, and with their neighbor.

Throughout the Old Testament these two streams flow together; first God’s words of anger, sorrow and judgment, when in our greed and lust for more, we ravage and destroy each other and God’s beautiful creation. But also, God’s vision of hope and healing, for a world where everyone has enough; where every person is content to ‘live simply, so that others may simply live.’

We are in the midst of a climate emergency. Both Amos and Micah make it absolutely clear that the root causes of this destruction of our planet, as well as the hopes for healing are both to be found in the human heart. As Solzhenitsyn memorably said  in the speech which he gave when he received the Nobel prize; “The line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart.” I certainly know that to be true in my own heart. My own disordered attachments, desire to buy things, to hoard things. But at the same time my heart yearns for greater simplicity. I love to walk at Walden Pond and imagine Thoreau living in his cabin.  When I left my parish in England to come to the monastery, I had to give away all my possessions – and I had a large rectory full of stuff! At first it was incredibly hard, but eventually I started to feel an exhilarating sense of freedom and lightness. The lawn was strewn with chairs and rugs and as friends took them away I got quite excited. But, all these years later, you’d be surprised to know how easy it is to accumulate things again inside a monastery!  The heart remains divided.

But we as a community do try to live simply. We write in our Rule: “The simplicity of life finds expression in the way we enjoy and value the goodness of ordinary things and the beauty of creation. As we cherish the essential gifts of life, we grow in freedom from the compulsion to accumulate things, and cease to long for wealth.” It is that longing for more that is the problem; that disordered longing for more, that greedy, unbridled passion to consume ever more, that can mess up our lives, and mess up our planet. Jesus puts it bluntly and uncompromisingly in today’s Gospel: “You cannot serve God and wealth.” The divided heart.

I have a friend who lives in Manhattan and tries to live a simple life. I asked him, “How do you not get sucked into wanting more when you walk every day past the dazzling shop windows on Fifth Avenue? He pointed up to a large manuscript above the fireplace in his sitting room. “I look at that.” On the manuscript were three words by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh; YOU HAVE ENOUGH. ‘I look at it every day and it centers me’, he said.

I am sure that as Christians, we are as susceptible as anyone else to extreme consumerism: each of us can all too easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. I am also sure that the most important way that we can begin to heal our planet is to allow God, daily, to heal our hearts; to mend our divided hearts.  Pope Francis, in his beautiful encyclical, Laudato Si’ writes, “The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs to buy, own and consume.” So, fill your heart every morning with God!

I find that certain contemplative practices in the morning help me to experience contentment, free me from the desire for more, and help me love and appreciate what I already have. I will mention three. First, I always marvel at how inwardly free Jesus was: the model of an undivided heart. He was completely present to everyone and everything, and as Pope Francis writes, “he approached life with serene attentiveness”. A great spiritual practice then, is to spend some time simply gazing at part of God’s creation; a tree, a bird, a plant. Jesus said, “Consider, or contemplate the lilies of the field, the birds of the air.” Try to experience that serene attentiveness which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.

A second prayerful practice to help heal the divided heart and heal the planet, is to come each morning to God in penitence. The Book of Common Prayer in the section for Ash Wednesday, encourages us to acknowledge before God our self-indulgent appetites and ways, our waste and pollution of God’s creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us. Perhaps name three ways in which you have hurt the planet, and then three ways in which you want to help to heal the planet. They can be very simple and practical. Pope Francis suggests: “Avoid the use of plastic and paper, reduce water consumption, separate refuse, cook only what you need, plant trees, turn off lights.  “Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, can be an act of love that expresses our own dignity.”

Approach life with serene attentiveness. Acknowledge where you have hurt God’s creation and how you pledge to help to bring healing. Then thirdly, start every morning with thanksgiving. Cherish the gift of life. Give thanks for the sheer abundance of God’s gifts to you. The more we give thanks, the more we grow in freedom from the compulsive desire for more.  “You have enough”. Name three things for which you are grateful as soon as you wake up! Grow your capacity to be happy with little.

Amos and Micah share two visions with us; one of a broken world filled with violence and greed; the other of a mended world, where all live simply, in peace and harmony with the land and with their neighbor. Each of us is who follow Jesus can help make Micah’s vision come true. It’s not really an option; it’s a matter of life or death.  Pray that God will mend your divided heart and mine, that we may walk lightly on God’s sacred land, that we may, “live simply, that others may simply live.”

Pentecost 15: Third Sunday Season of Creation

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  1. Savannah on September 25, 2023 at 09:56

    Thank you, Brother Geoffrey. I so appreciate the call to simplicity. And… I have been wondering lately, does Jesus have words for those of us who aren’t experiencing “enough” right now? Is there good news when we are financially struggling? I know that’s not the theme of the scriptures for this day and not the intent of this particular sermon, but I just wanted to ask if you might recommend other sermons or scriptures from the archive that address the opposite problem?
    Thank you!

  2. Barbara Bertrand on September 24, 2023 at 10:39

    Dear br. Tristram this is very insightful tx
    I made a plaque in 3langues, but often don’t look.itcould be me but often I don’t hold much hope for the world to improve

  3. Lynda Creed on September 23, 2023 at 23:06

    Love that word “mended” and it’s what we need to do

  4. Rick Trites on September 23, 2023 at 07:16

    Almen, thank you Br. Geoffrey

  5. Deb Foss Talley on September 23, 2023 at 06:16

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Br. Tristram.

  6. Margo on September 23, 2023 at 06:03

    Thank you for this reminder. I have had a plaque with “Live more simply that others may simply live” on my wall since 1975, I often overlook it.
    I am always tempted by paper plates. I have a vast rational about heating water! Culpe mea!
    There is unurgency for corporate change which somehow we are missing or reluctant to embrace.,
    Perhaps billboards with “we have more than enough’ in Manhattan, in city centers.

  7. Debby Plummer on September 23, 2023 at 01:05

    Super sermon, timely and helpful. Micah is such a voice for our time. Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Live simply. We are not consumers, we need reshaped economics which reuse waste. You have enough. We are little brothers and sisters of Jesus and of all that God has created. Laudato Si.

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