Saturday, October 14, 2023

Be careful for nothing - sermon for St Hugh's, Proper 23, Trinity 19, 15th October 2023


For a long time I had on the pinboard over my desk a cartoon by Simon Drew.    It depicted a small terrier standing on top of an impressive table tomb, with several thinks bubbles emerging from his head

Will I be able to pay off my credit card”

Did I leave the gas on?”

Whatever can I do about climate change…”

Beneath was the caption

The tomb of the unknown worrier”

You see, I'm rather good at that kind of worrying myself – and this past week has given us all ample opportunity not just to worry, but, as we hear more and more about events in the Holy Land, to be fearful, almost to the point of despair

That's rather a shame, really, because Paul says that this should not be an option for me as a Christian.

Do not worry about anything”

ANYTHING? REALLY? When the world seems to be teetering on the edge of war, the climate is well and truly traumatised and the idea of turning on the heating if temperatures drop is giving far too many people sleepless nights as they contemplate the cost of living.

Rejoice? Don’t worry?


To be fair, Paul doesn’t simply forbid us to worry.

He gives us an alternative programme to follow, as he encourages us

rejoice in the Lord always, and by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let your requests be made known to God.”

He's looking for hearts and minds transformed, it seems...and it all begins with joy.

"Rejoice!" Not just once, but again...

look to the things that give you joy – focus on all that is good, and remember that we have the all-time best reason to be cheerful. THE LORD IS AT HAND!

That doesn't mean we all have to turn into Pollyanna's, pretending that everything is just fine when we're surrounded by real and serious problems…Though we might at first read it this way, Paul isn’t acting as a kind of spiritual cheer-leader, insisting on an upbeat response to any and every grief. He is writing to a church filled with doubt and fear, amidst a crooked generation in an aggressively evil environment. Remember the passage began with him telling two good people to fix their relationship...He knows that life in Philippi is a struggle, with in-fighting and persecution. There is no shortage of things to fret about, and yet Paul insists, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”

I don't know how the Philippians took that – I'm often frustrated that we don't get to hear the response to all those New Testament letters – but I suspect they may have snorted in derision at first, that they might not have been much better at living a joy-filled life than I am myself.

You see, the sad truth is, that often Christianity seems to be a religion for kill-joys...People imagine that we spend most of our time focussing on the things we can't do, and disapproving of those who do them anyway – and it's certainly true that opting to follow Jesus isn't a recipe for an easy life. Everything from our relationships to our shopping habits may need to change...It's hard work...and for those who focus on the external sources of happiness, it just doesn't make sense. But the thing is that joy exists independent of the environment and will persist through any and all circumstances – because it doesn't depend on them.

The secret to joy is not to look at the circumstances of your own life. Focus instead on Christ and his work in you. Now it begins to make sense.

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!

Suddenly this seems a slightly better reading in this week of terrible news.

This reading is often used at Rogation services, when communities tradtionally gather to ask God's blessing on the sowing of seeds...and that's the perfect illustration, really, since planting a seed is always and everywhere an act of faith. How can something so small and fragile carry within it all it needs for fruitful life? 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…and it's so as we plant the tiniest seeds of faithful prayer.

Yes, these ARE dark and difficult days. The world is messed up in ways beyond all telling – and worry might seem the most rational response, though we know for ourselves that it achieves very very litt.e

But we have an alternative...

However ridiculous, however inadequate it may seem, we have the choice 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 see prayers answered, if we wait in hope.

And as we wait – there's good news, news of God's peace which "Transcends all understanding"...of a peace beyond human reason or logic,- the peace of knowing God's presence and protection.

So a seed of prayer sown, leads to the miracle of a mind transformed.

As the peace of God comes to occupy the place anxiety once held!

That's what happens when we pray in joyful hope.

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. Instead we can focus on

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...

Doesn't that sound better as a response to the 3 a.m. devils?

So here is Paul’s prescription – his four part antidote to anxiety.

Change your attitude - Rejoice! all shall be well, for God is in charge!

Do things differently - in everything – absolutely everything – give thanks and pray! Ask for what you need, and it will be given to you

Wait for your answer and instead of worry, you will experience the peace of God!

And while you wait, think of all the gifts and blessings that surround you.

Even in the darkest hours, I hope you’ll agree that this is so much better than immuring ourselves in the tomb of the unknown let's pray that through God's transforming power the small nugget of belief, the vestige of faith the size of a mustard seed, that 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, as we live lives grounded in the peace that is beyond our reason, beyond all understanding.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Thought for the day 4th October 2023

Until a few weeks ago, I was part of the clergy team at Coventry Cathedral, where my favourite place to pray was the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane. It is separated from the retro choir by an iron grille shaped as a crown of thorns, and behind the small stone altar glitters a huge mosaic of the angel of the agony. That angel dwarfs even the tallest who stand there and the cup of suffering the angel bears seems big enough to contain all the pain of the world.

To preside there, and to lift the chalice at the point of consecration is to stand very firmly amid the tide of God's loving purposes worked out through history.

But in contrast to the glittering splendour of the angel on the other wall there is a tangled mess of greyness,  another less glamorous mosaic that depicts a heap of sleeping disciples who are so easy to overlook that it's often necessary to take visitors up behind the altar if they are to recognise them at all.

They might as well not be there it seems.

Their presence adds no more to the art work than did the men themselves to the outcome of events on that first Maundy Thursday. Everything that needs to happen is played out as Christ wrestles with just what it means to surrender his own will to the will of his Father. The sleepong disciples are irrelevant

Except, perhaps, for people like us.

You see, that is the Chapel where I have struggled to stay awake as the minutes crawled in towards the midnight of the Maundy Watch. It is the Chapel where Christ, present in the Blessed Sacrament, lovingly leads me to acknowledge the myriad ways in which I have failed him, denied him, promised much yet failed to deliver. Like Peter I'm quick to jump in and declare my love, like Peter my passionate devotion is shortlived. I aspire to spend the night in prayer but find myself distracted by aching knees, or trying desperately to suppress yawns that are at odds with my longing to be holy. But I AM still there

That's when I'm glad of those sleeping disciples. Despite everything they remain part of the story, even as they doze on the edge of the action,.

These are the people who in just a few weeks time, filled with the Spirit, will set out to change the world.

And if God can use them, - well, it seems God can use us too.