Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deeply indebted to

a handy site entitled "Sermon helps", which does just exactly what it says on the tin, here is my contribution to Rogation Sunday at Church on the Hill. The Longsuffering Clockmaker says I ought to get on with living this way. I say I'm a human becoming, not yet a human being, and the inconsistencies are part of the journey. Anyway, here's what I did with Phillippians 4...

Until we moved last month I had a Simon Drew cartoon blutack’d over my desk. It showed large and impressive monument, and beside it a terrier with a huge variety of “thinks bubbles” emanating from its head, saying things like
“Now where did I put the car keys”
“Will I be able to pay off my credit card”
“Did I leave the gas on?”
“Whatever can I do about global warming…”
Beneath was the caption
“The tomb of the unknown worrier”
I loved it because I’m one who too easily spends valuable time and energy fretting over that sort of thing (car keys, church keys….they all go missing far more regularly than I like)
I think, though, that I’ve got quite a long way to go before I join the ranks of those who, in a recent survey, lost on average 21 working days each year because of that contemporary ill, stress. Stress seems to be the endemic disease of our society…From captains of industry to beleagured teachers and their charges, almost everyone will admit to feeling stressed from time to time. It has almost become a badge of honour, a sign that you are taking your work as seriously as it deserves… Or at least that might be the case in most secular jobs – but clearly it shouldn’t be part of the picture for us as practising Christians. Actually, of course, anxiety is rarely helpful, since it is usually a vague but persuasive sense of generalised tension and distress
“the sky is falling, I must go and tell the King."
It’s worth distinguishing anxiety from legitimate fear that has a clearly defined cause…and probably also a clear and specific remedy. Anxiety is rather different, but certainly pretty prevalent...and it’s placed firmly beyond the pale for anyone serious about living their faith.
“Be careful for nothing” says Paul to the church in Phillippi…or, if you prefer it
“Don’t stress”
Such sensible advice, but so hard to follow…though to be fair, Paul doesn’t just forbid us to worry. Instead he presents us with a pretty comprehensive antidote to anxiety with his cry to rejoice in the Lord always, and by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let your requests be made known to God.
Here’s his prescription founded on an attitude that can overcome the anxious heart.
"Rejoice!" He says it twice…look to the things that give you joy – focus on things that are good, and remember that we have the all time best reason to be cheerful.
This isn’t the approach of a Pollyanna, denying legitimate grief or anxiety…Paul isn’t acting as a kind of spiritual cheer-leader, insisting on an upbeat response to any and every grief…
His hearers are a part of a church filled with doubt and fear in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation and an aggressively evil environment. Every day, they face dissension within and opposition without.
And yet Paul forcefully exclaims, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”
Joyful Christians? Is this an oxymoron?
So many people out there would say that Christianity provides a crutch for the needy, but brings with it the sort of demands that tend to rob life of its pleasures.
Maybe, - but then, pleasures are not the same as joys.
While joy is the Christian virtue, happiness is the virtue of the world. Where happiness is external, circumstantial depending on the things we have or can acquire, - power, fame, a cosmetic make over, or maybe even a beautiful church - joy exists independent of the environment and will persist through any and all circumstances
To coin a phrase “Joy has a much longer shelf life than happiness.” The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Rather, look to Christ , what he has done for you and in you and to you.
Don’t worry…Be careful for nothing.
This does not mean “Be careLESS of everything” but rather do not be worn down by anxiety…
"Present your requests to God" Let God know specifically what troubles you – what your needs are –No matter what is going on, in all things PRAY!
That, of course, is why this reading is appointed for Rogation Days…those days
when we ask God’s blessing on the crops we have sown, and on the growing season and the harvest that still lies far ahead. We ask, confident that we will see results.
Planting a seed is always and everywhere an act of faith.
How could something so small and fragile carry within it all that is needful to make any particular plant flourish and grow?
How can burying that tiny fragment in the ground lead to the growth of a whole new plant, just like its parent?
Clearly with the planting of each and every seed, we find ourselves in the realm of miracle…We trust that once again the processes that I for one barely understand will come into play so that from that tiny dried up kernel new life will emerge.
Sadly, the faith that inspires us to plant seeds, and to believe that we will be alive and well to see it when they reach fruition seems to be missing too often from our daily route though life.
We look at the situations around us and resort once again to worry…Truly it seems the only rational response.
But there is another way, of course…
We need to maintain our communication channels with God…to carry on praying even when it seems to be a completely fruitless activity.
Just as planting a seed involves us in a process of patient waiting, while nothing much happens, we have to believe that a similar process will bring about the answer to our prayer if we keep on talking
And the peace of God which "Transcends all understanding" something NOT BASED on human reason or logic,- the divine peace which is based on God's presence and protection not on shallow, unpredictable human promises, will fill your heart and mind!
A seed of prayer sown, leads to the miracle of a mind transformed.
Actually, Paul says it will “keep”, or "will stand watch over your heart and mind" In other words, the peace of God will come and occupy the place anxiety once held!
It may be a small seed in itself, but like those in the soil, it will come to a transformative fruition if we leave it to germinate, to flourish and to grow
We pray and God plants a seed within us, diverting our attention from those things which cause us pointless anxiety, which drain our energies and rob us of our sleep.
In their place we are invited to focus on
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…
--think-about such things!
So here is Paul’s prescription – his four part antidote to anxiety:
Attitude: Rejoice! all shall be well, for God is in charge!
Action: In everything – absolutely everything – give thanks and pray! Ask for what you need, and it will be given to you
Answer: Instead of anxiety, you will experience the peace of God!
Affirmation: Think about some new things!
So today, as we ask God’s blessing on farmers and their crops, seeds in the soil and plans for the future, we ask too that he will bless in us the seeds of faith…We pray that through his transforming power the small nugget of belief we bring to the table may flourish and grow, so that as the body of Christ in this place we may be full of that irrepressible joy of which Paul writes and may live lives grounded in the peace that is beyond our reason, beyond all understanding.


Disillusioned said...

I'm sure you are right...
just wonder....
how does Paul make it sound so easy when really it is so fiendishly difficult?

Kathryn said...

Good question, disillusioned. I wonder if he was being entirely honest...or whether, like the rest of us, he was caught in the gap between aspiration and reality. If that were so, I might suddenly become substantially more fond of the guy...

marcella said...

WILL read it, but MUST finish essay first. Busy referencing everyone from Florence Nightingale to the Roma Council here. Please keep blogging and I'll come back soon even if it is St Paul.

Songbird said...

Isn't it the same thing we do, striving to collect our thoughts into a helpful and guiding package, when we struggle with the very same things ourselves? I think that's okay. At least I hope so.

Michelle said...

I wonder about Paul sometimes...

the comment about reaching for joy when we are anxious caught my eye. Tomorrow morning I MUST buckle down and finish my Carthusian "sermon" -- or rather my next column for the archdiocesan newspaper, and grade my exams and... And this helped me remember to try to root it all in the joys!

And it was delightful to know that you were sitting where I then sat in New Orleans!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I like your phrase "Joy has a much longer shelf life than happiness."

I am dealing with much financial anxiety now, but I have many things to give thanks for. Thank YOU for the reminder.

mid-life rookie said...

Love the way you link the passage with rogation day and faith. "Planting a seed is always and everywhere an act of faith." I didn't miss the Chicken Little reference either. Thanks.

sally said...

For someone who doesn't pray much, read her Bible or go to church..your sermon really spoke to me this morning, thank you for sharing it....I have lsot my way with God, but know that trusting in (some) people has led to hurt and that it is only in God can there be peace that passes understanding..peace in spite of everyhting the world throws at us..I am working on finding that again.. Thank you. ((hug))

God_Guurrlll said...

awesome sermon. I've been thinking a lot about the difference between joy and happiness, you've articulated it beautifully in your sermon.

Peace and love,