Archive for January, 2012

Don’t worry – Be happy

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Text: Matthew 6:25-27, 33-34

“This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t life worth more than food? And isn’t the body worth more than clothes? Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren’t you worth much more than birds? Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it? … Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.”

 

There was a man who was a chronic worrier. He would worry about anything and everything. Then one day his friends saw him whistling.

“Can that be our friend? No it can’t be. Yes it is.”

They asked him, “What’s happened?”

He said, “I’m paying a man to do my worrying for me.”

“You mean you aren’t worrying anymore?”

“No whenever I’m inclined to worry, I just let him do it.”

“How much do you pay him?”

“Two thousand dollars a week.”

“Wow! How can you afford that?”

“I can’t. But that’s his worry.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could pay someone to do all of our worrying for us? Saying that, I presume that you are worriers like me (I’m especially preaching to myself today). It seems to be part of our human nature. As bold and as confident as some people might appear, every person is a victim of worry at some time. Even for the Christian who trusts God worry creeps in and becomes a part of everyday life.

A Mental Health Committee reported a few years ago – half of all the people in our hospital beds are there because of the effects of worry. Mental distress can lead to all kinds of health problems – headaches, arthritis, heart trouble, cystitis, colitis, backaches, ulcers, depression, digestive disorders and yes, even death. When we add to that list the mental fatigue of nights without sleep and days without peace, then we get a glimpse of the havoc worry plays in destroying the quality and quantity of life. Worry is bad for us. Worry has no nutritional value for the body or for the soul.

A little poem –

The worried cow would have lived till now,

If she had saved her breath;

But she feared her hay wouldn’t last all day,

So she mooed herself to death!

The word “worry” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. While we need to be attentive to life’s concerns, worrying about them “chokes” the joy out of life. Worrying is like driving a car with one foot on the accelerator and the other foot on the brake. The wheels are spinning, a lot of rubber is being burnt, but you are going nowhere.

Or as someone has said:

Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere!

God didn’t intend that the people whom he created and saved should hang between certainty and doubt, to be filled with anxiety over so many things. In fact, some people have made worry an art form. We feel uneasy if everything is going too smoothly and we don’t have something to worry about.

In his sermon the mount, Jesus tells us not to worry. He reminds us that animals and flowers get along fine without worrying. They don’t have to worry because God provides for them. Then Jesus goes on to say that since God provides for them, what have we got to worry about? We are worth much more to God than they are, so God will look after us infinitely better. So Jesus concludes: Don’t worry!

As we all know, that’s easier said than done. Someone saying to me on a bus crowded with coughing, sneezing, panting, nose blowing passengers, “Don’t worry. You won’t catch a cold,” does nothing to ease the anxiety I’m feeling. Now that the situation has been pointed out to me, that makes me worry even more.

And isn’t it true that we often worry about things that happened in the past, and we can’t do anything to change that? On the other hand, we worry about things that might happen in the future most of which never become a reality. And when we do achieve that moment when we don’t have anything to worry about, we worry because we aren’t worrying.

We know from what we read in the Bible that God understands our deepest needs. He understands us better than we understand ourselves most of the time. Jesus spoke with understanding to those who were anxious about the ordinary problems of working and living, preoccupied with anxieties about food, clothing and shelter.

Jesus first points out that God has been and will continue to be extremely generous toward us. We acknowledge this today as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Festival. In his typically down to earth way, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. They neither sow nor reap, yet God doesn’t let them starve. If God feeds the most insignificant bird, don’t you think he will provide for us who are his very special dearly loved children?

The flowers don’t fuss and worry over what they will wear. God clothes the wild flowers which are here one day and gone the next with the finest and most beautiful colours. If God does that for something growing in the wild surely he will care for those whom he has created “a little lower than God” and crowned us “with glory and honour” as the psalm says (8:5).

We have come here today with a song of praise on our lips for the graciousness and goodness of our God. We are reminded again that all things come from his loving hand.

Every discovery of humanity in science and technology,

every seed we have sown,

every article that has been manufactured,

every piece of clothing,

every morsel of food we have placed in our mouths

every dollar we have had in our hands,

– all have come to us through the generosity of God. We praise God for seedtime and harvest, for the time and abilities he has given us to carry out our daily tasks.

We have the resources of the God of the universe to take care of every need that we have. With God and all his resources and power caring for our welfare, there is little room for worrying.

Can you see what Jesus is doing here? He is setting up a powerful argument against worrying, getting stressed and uptight. He is reminding us that when we worry and become anxious we become blinded to the God who cares for birds, plants and us. We lose our focus as our worries take control and consume all of our energy.

When we are overcome with anxiety we forget the one who has the greatest concern for you and me, for our families, for our nation. Our heavenly Father. Worry has a distracting effect. It takes our eyes off our heavenly Father, and focuses our attention on ourselves, our problems, and our inability to handle things.

We focus on our problems,

we let our anxiety take control,

we get to the point where we can’t think straight anymore,

we churn things over and over again in our minds,

we get stressed and depressed;

we can’t see any way of getting out from under the weight we are carrying.

It has been said, “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”

Worry blocks out any thoughts of what God is able to do for us. We are worried about how we are going to handle the situation.

So when Jesus talks about worry he just doesn’t say “Don’t worry”, he tells us how to prevent worry from talking control. “Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.”

That’s simply saying: put first things first. What we need to do more than anything else is to realise that God can be trusted, we can depend on him, that he will take care of us, if only we would have faith in him as our loving God. Let God be God, as the saying goes, and let him take charge of your life.

First and foremost,

as a member of God’s Kingdom, realise that you are dearly loved by your heavenly Father who is always watching out for you, as is seen in what he has done for us through his Son Jesus.

Get to know what great things God can and will do for you.

Learn to trust him.

Learn to focus not so much on yourself but on your loving God.

Come to God in prayer and “leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

The question that remains is this:

Can you and I change?

Can we put a stop to our worrying,

the anxious hand-wringing,

the stress and the subsequent depression?

Can we bring about a change in the way we deal with the problems that arise.

Maybe we won’t change over night, but as God feeds the birds which do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and as God beautifies the wild flowers which do not labour or spin, so God can feed and beautify our lives.

Why not try it out? “Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and see what happens. For instance:

Give time to God first.

Find time for prayer and worship and notice how this decreases your hectic anxiety.

When getting into serious worry mode, pull yourself up and let God take control. Hand your worries over to him and take note how fewer catastrophes happen.

Change your attitude to the place that God has in your life.

If our heart is in tune with God, if our heart seeks God and his will, we have nothing to worry about. This doesn’t mean that we will be free of trouble. Rather it means that God will be with us in the middle of our trouble to uphold us and to drive away our fear. For many of us the struggle with worry will be an ongoing battle, but we can be assured that this is not one that we fight alone.

Let me finish with some words from the prophet Isaiah:

You Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm, and put their trust in you.

And a little later he says:

Israel why do complain that the Lord doesn’t know your troubles or care if you suffer injustice? Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God… Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed (Isaiah 26.3; 40.27,28a,31a).

Where is God?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Text: Psalm 40:1,2

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

 

What a week this has been. Last Sunday we were thinking about and praying for the people up north in Rockhampton, Theodore and other places out west as flood waters surged through their communities leaving a trail of mud and debris, flooded houses and ruined businesses and farms. I was worshipping with my parents thousands of kilometres from here and we prayed for those people up north.

Within a few days unexpectedly this whole situation came closer to home than we would have preferred. The day I was due to fly back from Adelaide ferocious storms and subsequent flooding hit our community. Then there was the devastation that hit Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley and the loss of life that accompanied such an “inland tsunami” as it has been called. Then the flooding of the Brisbane River with homes, schools, the central business district of Brisbane shut down, sports facilities inundated with muddy sludge.

We witnessed on our TVs the bravery of those who rescued people being washed away by fast flowing water or from the roofs of their homes. We witnessed the despair of those who tried to save people only to watch helplessly as those in the water were swept away. We saw men and women, some victims of the floods, others rescue workers, others state and community leaders fight back tears as they recalled what had happened and what was still unfolding.

Right now people are going back to their homes and discovering the devastation. Some houses have been completely destroyed, cars wrecked, slimy oozing mud covering everything in their homes and businesses.

People and congregations around the world Canada, USA, Denmark, Japan, – around Australia who have come to know St Paul’s through the internet have emailed that they are praying for those affected by all that has happened. WE are told that this is the largest natural disaster that our nation has ever had.

One man in his email said that he couldn’t help but ask the question, “Where is the hand of God in all of this?” Maybe he is reflecting the same thoughts as the psalmist when he calls on God to help him. He wrote in Psalm 69,

Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck.

Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold to stand on.

I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me.

I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched and dry.

My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.

The writer isn’t talking about floodwaters in a literal sense but using this image to refer to the many things that are threatening to overwhelm him and drown him in grief and pain, and yet in spite of this he calls on God to help him. He is exhausted from praying. He believes that God knows what is happening and wonders why God has let all this happen – he is waiting for God to intervene. The imagery of these verses about floodwater, mud and sludge and being overwhelmed emotionally could well be a description of the experiences of this past week and how people are feeling. We understand and can sympathise with those who join the writer of Psalm 22 and ask, “My God, where are you? Why have you abandoned me just at the time when I need you the most?”

The writer of Psalm 147 says that God sends the snow and frost and hail

God speaks, the ice melts. God breathes, the waters flow.

If we believe that God directs the weather

that God speaks and the earth shudders

that God can calm the waves with a word

it follows then God has power over a flood and a bushfire.

Is it possible to take one more logical step and say that God causes disasters like those we have seen this week or perhaps stands back and lets them happen?

In recent memory we have had bushfires, drought, tsunamis, cyclones, other places have had snowstorms and blizzards and now floods – all involving loss of life. That’s not to mention all the human tragedies like September 11, wars, abortions, suicides, and so on. It only takes a small step to conclude that if God is a loving God as Christians claim then why does he do nothing to prevent floods, tsunamis, and bushfires, brain damaged babies and youth suicide? How can anyone be expected to believe in a God like that?

Sometimes we try to defend God and in the process give pat simplistic answers that really aren’t very helpful when people are struggling to come to terms with personal loss and suffering as experienced by our fellow Australians at the moment. Answers like –

“God has sent this to test (or strengthen) our faith” or

“One day we will be able to look back and see why God has allowed this to happen”.

We might even say that these natural disasters were never intended when God created the world, but to use Paul’s expression “because of death and decay, all creation is groaning” – groaning as a result of the sinfulness of humanity.

Though there is truth in these statements from a head knowelge point of view, they aren’t all that helpful in a situation of overwhelming emotional pain and anguish. They don’t help the suffering person who is trying to make sense of his/her pain. They only add to the conflict in their minds of how God can allow this to happen to the people he claims to love.

There is one thing that is clear. We have more questions than we have answers. There is certain hiddenness about God. There are so many things that we don’t understand about the way God works.

 

As Christians it’s ok to question God and ask him what he thinks he is doing. The writers in the Bible did that when trouble overwhelmed them. Didn’t Jesus call out from the cross quoting Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me”? No doubt there will be times when each of us in the depths of trouble and overwhelming emotion question God and ask where he has been during everything that has been happening.

We are people who like to have answers. We are uncomfortable with the whole notion that something is beyond our grasp. We have an acute sense of what is fair and just and what we have witnessed this week doesn’t match what we would consider to be fair and just. What have people done to deserve this kind of trouble? We have to admit that we don’t have all the answers.

We have to say that the indiscriminate way that natural disasters strike people confuses us, makes us sad and even angry and we wish we had more answers to the questions that fill our minds.

The question that faces us is this: In pain, in suffering, in bewilderment and confusion, in sickness and in disasters, can we still trust God to be our God?

Can we love God in spite of the cards that are dealt out to us in life?

I guess for many of us we can keep on trusting most of the time, but occasionally something hits us and really overwhelms us like a raging torrent. It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is rocked.

Because we have been shaken to our very core, we find it hard to have the faith, the strength and the trust to hang on to God. Our own personal resources to cope are as low as they can get.Thank goodness God is right beside us, holding on to us and keeping us safe. Even when we think God has left us all alone in our personal sadness and grief, God promises that he will keep on loving us and holding on to us and supporting us and helping us whatever may happen. As Christians we know that when we have come through it all we realise that it has been God’s strong hand that has held us up above the thing that wants to drown us.

It just so happens that the psalm set down for today is Psalm 40 and it says it so well, “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along”.

The writer has come to the realisation that even when it seemed that God hadn’t heard his prayer and his pleas for help, he was there all the time. He did hear his cry and he has lifted him up out of the mud and sludge of despair; he has set his feet on solid ground and steadied him when he felt as if would fall again.

As we think back on all that has happened in our lives, the mistakes, the tragedies, the one thing that enables us to keep our senses is knowing that the love of God supports us through every tragedy and difficult time. It is the love of God we see in Jesus that assures us that God does care. Even when we are in the murkiest and muddiest places the psalmist reminds us that the love of God will hold us up and steady us as we move on with our lives and that he will hold on to us even when we are too weak to hold on to him by ourselves. In the arms of Jesus we know what kind of heart God has for us no matter what may happen.

Without a doubt, we struggle to make sense of the disasters that cause so much ruin and pain in our world. There will be times when we will seriously question God’s wisdom.

We will struggle to make sense of the disasters and find ourselves saying again and again, “I don’t understand”.

But one thing we do understand is that God’s goodness and love can be trusted, that gives us a new hope for the future and that’s all that counts.

As the writer of the psalm said,

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

What the world needs now.

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany – The Baptism of our Lord.

Bible readingMark 1:9-11

A few years into the Vietnam War, and two years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, one of the most popular songs of last century hit the charts in 1965:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s too little of,
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.

And if the world needed love then, it needs it more than ever now. From the Middle East, to the average home of Adelaide, there seems to be too little love. But is that true?

If God is love, and God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him should not die but have eternal life, how can we say there’s too little love? There is plenty of love. God has enough love for the whole world. God didn’t just love some, but everyone. Everyone who believes in God should not die, for lack of love,but have eternal life, filled with love for God and for one another.

And that’s how we find our world. Turned away from God’s love. … There’s plenty of love, yet people are starved of love.

From Eden on, people have turned away from the love of God, to find love elsewhere. Always without success. God is love. Love comes from God. (see 1 John 4) To look for love anywhere but in God is to seek in vain, to find nothing more than “clayton’s love”, to be left disappointed and ultimately cynical. Sin is the rejection of divine love, turning away from a relationship of love with God.

And that’s how we find our world. Turned away from God’s love. Not believing there is a God of love. Not loving God. Struggling to love their partners in marriage, their neighbours, their enemies. There’s plenty of love, yet people are starved of love. It’s crazy!

But God is filled with love for the world. He loves the world so much he sends his dearly loved Son into the world, to become one of us. And finally his Son grows up and joins the crowds flocking to the Jordan for Baptism, not because he needed baptism, but because we loved-starved ones do. And God his Father spoke to him at his Baptism.

What did God his Father say to Jesus at his baptism?

You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

What a wonderful way to speak to your Son. These are the first words the Bible records the heavenly Father speaking to Jesus his Son, on earth, and they are words of love and affirmation: You are my Son … I love you … I am very pleased with you. At his Baptism, and launch of his ministry, the Father makes quite clear that Jesus is his Son, that he loves Jesus, that he’s proud as punch of him.

The love the Father has for Jesus, Jesus passes on to us.

Isn’t it good when we hear a Father telling his Son how much he loves him and how proud he is of him? But there’s more. Jesus says: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. The love the Father has for Jesus, Jesus passes on to us. Through Jesus we are drawn into this relationship of love between the Father and the Son. But there’s more:

Jesus goes on to say that: those who love me will be loved by my Father. As the Holy Spirit softens our hearts to love Jesus, the Son, God the Father also loves us.

What a breakthrough! So many people only see God as angry, punishing, judging. They think Jesus seems quite friendly, but not God his Father. They like the God of the New Testament, but not the God of the Old Testament. Yet both are the same. The love of Father & Son is the same.

In some churches this Sunday (the Baptism of our Lord) is Baptism Sunday. Elsie never liked Baptism Sunday, but because she was such a committed Christian she endured it. What made it worse this Sunday was that somebody had taken her seat – probably some of the families of those to be baptized.

Elsie’s church had a custom that after the baptism, the pastor would take the newly baptized infant to a member of the congregation to hold as the pastor prayed for the child.

This day the pastor headed strait to Else and to her dread gave her the infant to hold. That week Elsie visited the pastor to explain why she was so uneasy on Baptism Sunday. She’d fallen pregnant at 16. Her father pulled her out of school on the pretext that she was needed on the farm. When the baby was born it was not well. She did not call the pastor for fear he would condemn her. She did not have the baby baptized. The child died at 14 days. After all these years she still worried about it. Every Baptism Sunday drove her to sorrow and guilt.

The pastor used the Baptism of Jesus to explain how loving God is. As Jesus came out of the water …

he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.

God takes dramatic measures to drive home to us how much he loves us. He tears open the heavens; he tears open the temple curtain.

Only in one other place does Mark tell us anything is torn apart. That is when the curtain of the temple is torn apart at the death of Christ, showing that through Jesus we have access to the love and mercy of God. God takes dramatic measures to drive home to us how much he loves us. He tears open the heavens; he tears open the temple curtain. Through it he shouts: I love you …I love you …I love you.

Is something holding you back from hearing and experiencing God’s love for you? Something you’ve done long ago, or been told long ago by a pastor or parent or teacher?

God tears open the heavens, and the temple curtains, to shout: I love you… I forgive you.

In a world of voices shouting: you’re no good… you’re not worthy… you’re a failure…you’re a sinner… God breaks open the heavens to tell his own Son how loved and precious he is – and his only Son loves you the same way. See the way Jesus treated all the people he met in his ministry; see how Jesus loved even his enemies as he died for all our sins on the cross; see how Jesus came to you in your baptism and welcomed you into his family of love; taste how Jesus still comes giving his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

You can breath in his love, and go out to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Remember how Jesus said: love your neighbour as you love yourself? Because God and His Son Jesus love you so much, and are pleased with you, you can be pleased with yourself, you can accept yourself, you can love yourself. You don’t have to walk around as a miserable sinner, burdened down with guilt, despising yourself. In Christ, God loves you and forgives you and renews the image of God in you. You can breath in his love, and go out to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

All around you sit people who are equally loved by God, and Jesus says about them: love one another as I have loved you. (You might even want to glance at one of them now!) And Jesus said that because God is totally loving and compassionate we can go even further and love our enemies, those who for whatever reason have no time for us. And finally, when God opens our ears to hear his love, and our eyes to see it, and our hearts to receive it, His Spirit will move us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

In God, the world has all the love it needs. Through God’s love breaking into the world in Jesus there is enough love to go around, not just for some, but for everyone. Amen.