Tag Archives: Romans

Don’t Worry… Be Happy?

Sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34 and Romans 8:18-25

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

I was listening to a radio interview the other day in which it was mentioned that one of the most played songs recorded as background music in shops and pubs and shopping centres was a certain record by Bobby McFerrin. It becomes a kind of earworm and I’m sure you know it, and as we’ve warmed ourselves up with a couple of hymns, so I’ll sing the first couple of lines and you see if you can sing the two lines that come next…. okay, don’t leave me hanging! Also you need to imagine me singing with a slight Jamaican accent!

Here’s a little song I wrote…. you might want to sing it note for note… don’t worry…. be happy! [If you wouldn’t have known the song then here is a version of it on YouTube]

Well done, and that’s one less thing for me to worry about, as to whether any actual notes would come out of my mouth or whether you’d even recognise the song. Because it’s a fact that we worry constantly about so many things.

As children we worry about friendships in the playground and at birthday parties whether there will be enough chocolate fingers to go round. As teenagers our worries increase about how our bodies are changing and the likelihood of passing our exams. Onto young adulthood as to whether we will ever be attractive enough to attract a partner or attract society’s criticism if we choose to stay single.

And the worries don’t stop there, add in mortgages, career advancement, starting a family, financial insecurities and it’s a wonder that any of us make it to our advanced years, when the worries return about our health, bereavement and loneliness.

This morning’s gospel passage is upfront with a command from Jesus to not worry about our lives, our physical and outward appearances and our reliance on ourselves. It comes towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and is part of a series of four passages that are all to do with earthly treasure, about not storing it up, about the need for generosity, looking to serve God instead of mammon and with not being anxious about material needs’

Matthew is talking about the focus of the heart, especially around service – but in doing so this naturally brings a sense of human insecurity; lots of buts and what ifs. We may have to work to earn money, but we don’t have to worry. How many of us today had to worry whether there was food in the cupboard for breakfast or didn’t have a choice of what they were going to wear. The frantic pursuit of food and drink and clothes is a sign of insecurity. It’s a lifestyle chosen by people who don’t really know God or who even want to.

For those who do want to know him better, Jesus says that we must learn to trust God and we are reminded that those who undertake the hard demands of the gospel have a Father in heaven who gives good gifts to his children. What really counts is God’s kingdom – if we put God and the kingdom first then everything will follow – and find its proper priority and place

As Paul recognises in his letter to the Romans, ‘that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay’, read self-destruction, ‘and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ concluding with ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’ – patience bringing contentment – contentment bringing happiness.

So, the answers simple, right… stop worrying and we’ll all be happy; but as my mother would often remind me, that’s easier said than done. Perhaps then, its more about changing our attitude to worrying that will bring about a change in our state of mind, in which we are more able to understand better how to deal with those worries. Or perhaps true happiness lies in seeing those worries for what they are.

The primary cause of worry or anxiety is fear, whether it is real or perceived. Apparently, Winston Churchill once said, ‘I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he’d had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.’ Therefore, we should be asking ourselves, are they worries or are they concerns? Because it’s okay to be concerned about your work, to buy insurance or to save for a rainy day, as long as you make time to enjoy simply being alive. It’s okay to be concerned about your cholesterol or blood pressure because you can do something about it such as watching your diet and exercising. It’s okay to be concerned about your child who is misbehaving because you can then take prudent action and administer discipline as necessary. There is a big difference between concern and worry… Concern focuses on probable events and takes action, whereas worry focuses on improbable events and doesn’t do anything productive.

In fact, it can be quite destructive.

Firstly, because worry cancels out faith and the message of the gospel. When we are obsessed with our worries, we are telling God that we don’t trust him. Instead, when we only trust ourselves, our hearts will turn away from God and we won’t see the good when it happens. Our choices will cause our hope to dry up; nothing will grow in our lives. The word worry itself comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word that means to choke or strangle, we only have to think about the parable of the sower when Jesus tells us about the seed that fell among the thorns which choked the plants to death. Having faith and trusting in God inevitably produces a positive attitude, when we have confidence in God we become firmly planted, thriving in life.

Secondly, worry itself causes health problems. It’s the kind of worry that makes you ill – physically and emotionally. It can paralyze us. It can cause an intense amount of fear and anxiety. It causes us to be less effective – more hesitant. It can be described as worrying about things we cannot change, about things we are not responsible for, things we are unable to control, things that frighten and torment us and keep us awake when we should be asleep, things that drain the joy out of our lives.

So often, we anticipate the negative so much that it destroys our peace and minimizes our effectiveness in the present. As someone once said, ‘If you’re tempted to worry, remember that a raisin was once a happy grape’… in the same way worry tends to shrivel us up and make us ineffective. Having faith instead gives us a positive outlook, a positive attitude that fills us with hope and allays our fears because it asks how are we to be defeated if we have God in our lives?

The final reason as to why we shouldn’t worry is because it accomplishes nothing. We can’t change a thing by worrying. In fact, Jesus says that it is a waste of our time, ‘Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?‘ He says that worry is futile; it’s pointless, it’s fruitless.

Accordingly, it’s all down to changing our attitude and outlook. Jesus tells us that the reason that we obsessively worry is because we are worldly-minded. We’re more concerned about the things of this world than we are with the things of God. When we change our perspective, the things of this world don’t seem so overwhelming. Why get so entangled and worked up with the things of this earth when they’re not going to last?

He also says that instead of struggling with obsessive worry we are to live one day at a time, ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, ‘When you follow me, everything will suddenly be wonderful’. It’s a fact that we live in a fallen world. Our actions as humans effect the environment around us. There will still be natural disasters, there will still be diseases like cancer. We may still face financial hardships and people will disappoint you and even be disrespectful to you – even your children. But worrying about tomorrow only takes away from the energy that you need to live today.

We serve a God who spoke the universe into existence, who showed his love for us on the cross at Calvary, who proved his power over sin and death when he rose from the grave. So, I’m pretty certain that he can handle our worries and in doing so help us find the ultimate state of happiness.

Amen

Sermon on the Mount by Jorge Cocco Santangelo

Ambitious for God

Big Ambitions

When your ambition is big then your efforts should be even bigger – Anon

Evening reflection based on Romans 15:14-29

When you were younger, what were your ambitions, your hopes and dreams? I know I spent hours riding my imaginary horse around our garden, over gymkhana fences of upturned buckets and bamboo canes, dreaming that I was appearing on the Horse of the Year show (the one programme in the year I was allowed to stay up late for) as a famous show jumper.

We recently ran a series of School Prayer Spaces at St James’ school and one of the spaces, Tardis Prayers, was a chance to wonder what we might be doing in 10, 20 or even 40 years’ time. The concept of such a huge time scale was daunting for some, but all of the children gave a bit of thought to what they hoped for.

I was expecting a lot of desires for becoming famous celebrities, and we did get our share of that – the famous footballers, dancers, singers, rappers and You Tubers (you’ll have to look that up if you’re not sure what it involves) and of course there were plenty of the more traditional careers of becoming a teacher, policeman, lawyers, engineers or vets. Then there were the more unusual and unlikely roles – to be the President of America or the Queen, and my particular favourite, to be a parrot trainer and to own a parrot.

However, there were others that thought more about the type of people they wanted to be – a person who helps homeless people, to help end world hunger and all wars, to be caring and loving – summed up in one request, ‘To God. I love the world. Please help us to be kind and in peace and together.’ We even had one potential Missionary named Chloe. She said, ‘When I am older I would like to travel around the world to poor countries like Haiti. I would like to go and help them and do church sessions. I would really like to see Daphne, my sponsored child’.

What all of this did show was that even our youngest members of society have ambitions and I think it’s true that most people regardless of their age, want to know what their purpose is in life and how they are going to achieve it. In his letter to the people of Rome, Paul is explaining that he has found just that and he lays out a path for others to discover theirs.

Paul had huge ambitions for mission. He knew very clearly that his mission was to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish sections of society, and the wider groups of people out of that small area in the Middle East. A mission that stretched across the Mediterranean region as far as we know to Spain. The edges of the known world to some extent

To personally take the gospel where people had never heard it, where Christ had never been named and it was not the same one given to everyone. Paul was called to stay in Jerusalem, Apollos was a build on other’s foundations kind of disciple, a bit like one of our Tardis prayers which was to take Bill Gates place to own Microsoft. In addition this was a new development for Paul, to go to these new uninformed people and places because at the beginning he had spent a lot of time in Jewish synagogues, teaching church leader, but now, at this point in his life he had narrowed his ambition down to a specific ministry focus, like a funnel that had started broad.

How though, do you know specifically what God’s purpose is for us? Well we should notice that Paul grounds his purpose in what God has declared as his own purpose through the Scriptures,

Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, but as it is written,

‘Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.

Many people though whilst trying to figure out the will of God for their own lives, haven’t stopped to ask what God’s purpose is in the world. We could be the best teacher, the best lawyer, the best volunteer in the world, all great ambitions, but are their agendas the same as God’s agenda? We can be very sensitive to the needs of the world, wanting to make a difference, to relieve suffering, and that is a good ambition, but the greatest need in the world is for people to hear about Jesus, because eternal suffering would be an even greater form of suffering.

What Paul was being called to do may not be what we are called to do, but we can try to identify what it is by sensing the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us, and whatever the gifts are that we have to interpret them in the light of the bigger picture of God’s purposes stated in his word – to get the gospel to the ends of the earth!

So let’s do all we can to be ready to say, ‘Yes, Here I am Lord, let my ambitions be your ambitions, your purpose be my purpose. Reveal to me the specific calling you have for me to further your kingdom and whatever I’m good at, whatever gifts I’ve been given, and help me to use them well for your glory’.

Amen

God’s Attitude Should Be Ours

 

Rainbow Through the Trees

Our attitudes to God and each other should be the same as his attitude to us. A sermon for Evensong based on Jeremiah 7:1-16 and Romans 9:14-26

May I speak and may you hear though the grace of our Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want us to reflect this evening on our attitude to God and our attitude to each other as Christians. How our differences can be a stumbling block not only to our relationship with God but also to those who see us a stumbling block to any sort of belief in God or the Christian Faith. By ‘us’ I am not necessarily referring to individual Christians here at St James’ church, but a more general broader identity, but it does us no harm to consider what our own attitudes might be in some of these situations.

First though, we have to go back to the pre-Christian ‘church’ where Jeremiah’s radical and hard hitting words proclaim God’s judgement on a nation that believed they were unassailable in their right to God’s protection and salvation. Their interpretation of the scriptures, the laws that protected their faith and their judgement of others was predestined and incontestable. However, they were in for a shock – there was no way that God was going to let them treat the temple in a mindless, shallow way by assuming that forgiveness was automatic simply by walking through the doors.

As Jeremiah stresses quite forcibly – ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’ – a triple, Trinitarian reminder, that even though Christ was yet to live on earth, that here was Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Here was the simple statement that if you want to be true believers then you have to stop abusing foreigners and the weakest members of society, the easy targets. Neither could you disregard the most basic of commandments nor cherry pick those that have more in common with your way of thinking or lifestyle. If you mistreat your holy places, turning them in to a ‘den of robbers’ – a sentiment echoed by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel – then you should know that God will not protect them, they will be abandoned and eventually destroyed – there was and is no automatic security of God being with you… A self-righteous attitude will not save you.

The people’s disobedience of God’s commandments, brings what would appear be a harsh response and directive to Jeremiah, ‘do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.’

For the people in Rome, whom Paul was addressing, they were struggling with their identity, attempting to understand what the term ‘Israel’ meant in regard to being chosen people. Paul explains that God hasn’t broken his covenant to original people of Israel, as this was never intended to just apply to the race who shared Abraham’s blood group, but, as he states earlier in his letter as well, those who shared in his faith. Moreover, here was a God who would not be contained by people’s views and attitudes, here was a God who sprung surprises even on the most faithful, choosing Jacob over Esau, demonstrating his sovereign right to do so. Hardening Pharaoh’s heart to highlight his greater power

God does what he wants, as evidenced in the metaphor of the potter’s right to create from the same lump of clay whatever objects he chooses. He has a purpose for of his creations, and the fact that some are chosen and some are not is not the same as pre-destination, this is amazing grace.

God's Amazing Grace

The belief in the omnipotence of the one true God may lead to the conviction that God exerts control over every human action, but God is not only powerful but just.  It is not an injustice to be merciful, to apparently treat some people better than they deserve. To be chosen by God is a gracious gift, not an achievable reward. He can be trusted because he had done what he promised, calling people regardless of their faith; their gender, their sexuality.

We may question why, as Paul says, ‘Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’’. That conversation though is between God and us as individuals, others have no right to ask the same of a person.

There is an arrogant complacency within the Church of England that breaks my heart for it as an institution. An arrogance among Christians today who feed their own theologies into the media, which then labels divisive and exclusive views as representative of all Christians. It is not our job to decide who is unworthy and it certainly isn’t for us to link unworthiness to those who disagree with our theology based on limited fragments of scripture.

John Barton in his commentary, describes God as ‘an untamed deity, a wild thing not reducible to theological formulae.’

As Paul quotes from the prophet Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.’

As Christians, representative of the one, true God we do well to make this our own attitude. Amen