Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies
Sunday 5th October
Harvest - 2014
Perhaps you’ve seen the little flyer that says, "So far today, God, I’ve done alright. I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been grumpy or nasty or selfish. I’m really glad of that. But in a few minutes, I’m going to have to get out of bed, and from then on, Lord, I’m probably going to need a lot of help."
Well we all need help to live out the Christian beliefs we profess to hold – in fact without the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence we’re on a loser however hard we try (which is the subject of the quiet day we’re sharing with Gowerton this coming Friday). So on this Harvest Festival what do we make of Jesus’ teaching – and indeed Paul’s?
And what would please God today. Jesus seems to be suggesting we should live worry-free lives. “But come on Jesus – what about all the things that cause me sleepless nights and knots in my stomach – you can’t be serious?” (or is it just me who finds this difficult?).
But I’m not convinced it’s supposed to be unrealistic – are you? Surely the kingdom life Jesus talked about and lived is also meant to be lived out by the citizens of the kingdom – but then if that is the case, how on earth can this happen? We’re all human. We all worry – & we all complain - let’s get that fact out there right away.
And quite honestly, it’s not easy to preach a sermon on this stuff - not just because we’re all guilty of it, but because when I look out here this morning and see some of you who’ve gone through some awful things (and still are) it seems facile to say ‘don’t worry’. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus says! So since we’re here to give thanks for all his goodness towards us, how do we begin to take this seriously?
But before we think any more about that, I’m going to try something. (Introduce the beginning of the Venite)
O COME, let us sing unto the LORD; * let us heartily rejoice to the God of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; * and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God; * and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are all the corners of the earth; * and the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it; * and his hands prepared the dry land.
O come, let us worship and fall down, * and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
I guess one thing that’s a complete non-starter is to think that the kinds of standards of behaviour Jesus is expecting of a disciple are impossible outside of a strong relationship with God through Jesus Christ by his Spirit. We need the fullness of the life of the Trinity. Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is firmly rooted in a living relationship with God; and this is the indispensable condition for understanding and entering into a life that’s lived under God’s reign and rule – not ours – nor that of the world around us.
I love Eugene Peterson’s version of a verse from Psalm 100 which says: Enter with the password – “Thank you!”
As we’ve been discovering, the righteousness Jesus talks about is something he places inside us: it’s absolutely nothing to do with hierarchies, or religious showmanship or keeping the rules and traditions – and the very opposite of the insistence on our own rights and ways and habits and customs that keep his life quenched and tied down.
Sometimes we can be like the patient in the psychiatric hospital, holding his ear close to the wall, listening intently. The nurse finally approaches him and says “What are you doing.” “Shhh!" he says. And he keeps listening. And finally the patient beckons the nurse over and says, “Listen.” The nurse dutifully presses her ear to the wall for a long time. And she finally says, "I can’t hear a thing," And the patient says, "Yes, and it’s been like that all day!"
So why is Jesus – and in fact the whole canon of biblical teaching - so strong in its warnings against self-preoccupation. There are several reasons.
For a start there’s no support for the idea that worrying about ourselves and what we like is a virtuous thing to do. One commentator Robert Mounce goes as far as to say that “worry is practical atheism and an affront to God” – essentially a failure to trust him – and for us to be of little faith hurts God greatly. It means we don’t trust him; it means we’re not putting him first, but rather all those other things – mentioned in Matthew 6 verse 33. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
But apart from worry being wrong – as activities go it’s also pretty unproductive. Anxious care cannot add a single hour to life – or, as the word used ‘helikia’ can be translated, ‘a few centimetres to our height’ The past can’t be changed; the future can’t be charted – so worrying about them, or getting cross that things are changing is both useless and debilitating – it’s energy-sapping
And then worrying doesn’t allow us to learn the lessons of God’s providence which the natural world teaches us. I get so worked up about the Diocesan things I have to do - whether everything will work out okay – and it normally does – and it’s not the end of the world if I get it wrong – which I do (as you all know!). I was up in Brecon leading worship at the Families’ Fun Day yesterday – way outside my comfort zone – but I survived!
I’ve noticed in my life that when I have a event to prepare for I’m not the most pleasant person to be around. But after it’s gone (honest) I’m okay & can be much more fun. But when we’re stressed, when we’re feeling the pressure, it affects our relationships with each other – just ask Sue or Joel – or my mother what a pain I can be sometimes
Let’s look around at these beautiful windows to remind ourselves that God’s provision is GOOD! And pray the short prayers that Mary got from Julie’s notice sheet – which I was doing when I popped up with some stuff yesterday evening). Jesus loves it when people exercise their trust – their faith in him. “Go – your faith has made you whole...”(So “Lord use these gifts to further your kingdom and conform me to your image”)
And of course worrying and complaining doesn’t half affect our relationship with each other. It seems a great percentage of our illnesses is in some way related to anxiety and stress. Apparently the number one killer in America is heart disease (and it’s not brilliant in Wales). Something like 38% of all deaths are heart-related and many of those are to do with things like hypertension, high blood pressure and anxiety.
I love the practicality of Jesus teaching don’t you? –Michael Green says “Our ambition as disciples must be to put God and his kingly rule at the top of our list of priorities, and we shall find that God takes care of the necessities of life”
Okay – so let’s take stock - so how are you feeling? Guilty? Challenged? I certainly am – this recent teaching about the kingdom is getting to me – my lack of trust, my crazed anxiety states, the way I take my own insecurities out on those I love, the way I like things on my own terms. But if I left it there – I’m not sure how helpful the sermon would be ….because it leaves a lot of unanswered questions (like) So what if Jesus doesn’t seem tobe taking care of necessities? What of the hardships and sufferings of believers? We pray for good things to happen – we prayed for the safety of Alan Henning to be released, for children to be found safe, people to get well – and then it doesn’t happen. So is Jesus being unfeeling and unrealistic here? There’s no easy answer…but let’s remember as we approach the Communion table together that we are remembering someone who himself knew the near-pinch of starvation - and was to taste in his physical body the pain of the cruel nails. But these awful things didn’t rob him of his loving trust in his heavenly father, whose overarching providence wouldn’t allow anything to befall him which wasn’t, in the final analysis (‘at the end of the day’, as they say) – for good. (So – another prayer..Heavenly Father help me to find you in the sufferings of life). And as we come to Communion let’s be thinking about our brothers and sisters & their children who are suffering the most awful atrocities in the name of Jesus.
Christians, like their Master, can be totally secure in their relationship with the Father – even if everything else is going horribly pear-shaped. After all, we follow a crucified Messiah and cannot expect any bed of roses – and we were never promised one. (So...Heavenly Father help me not to be surprised when I experience trouble in this messed up world) Discipleship has a cost to it. But ….(and here’s the good news) what we are promised is the endless, unremitting, detailed, loving care of the Father over every aspect of our lives – even when we’re in the deepest, darkest need – even in death and loss. Now that’s cause for Harvest celebration – and the encouragement for us to open up to new ideas and new ways of doing things so that others get to hear the good news. So finally Heavenly Father give us your joy and peace...Amen