Monthly Archives: February 2016

Lent 2016 Sermon for Lent 2

Earlier this week I was listening to one of my favourite jazz cd’s.
The instruments being played were piano, guitar, double bass and drums.
At the end of the cd was an extra track not on the original recording.
It was the band rehearsing one of the songs but without the bass player,
and what a difference it made, something vital was missing.

Yet if you listen to the song earlier on the cd
you are well aware of the guitar player, the pianist; and the drummer certainly!
But you are hardly aware that double bass is contributing anything.
It is only when you hear the song without the bass
that you realise how essential it is to the whole piece of music.

It is a fact of life that some things are only noticed when they are no longer there.
It is also true that some people who play important roles in our daily lives,
are hardly noticed until they are not around.
It is only then we realise their value and worth.

I remember when I first left home in my little Yorkshire village,
and came to college in London at the age of 19.
After a few weeks I began to wonder why my clothes were beginning to smell,
and how come they were spread around all over the floor.
It took a while before it dawned on me that my mum used to sort all that out.
It is amazing the things that you take for granted until it is no longer there.

When a college cleaner found me staring at the washing machine
with clothes in one hand and soap powder in another
wondering what the eck you did next!

She took pity on me and spent time showing me what to do.
I was very grateful to her, I even bought her some chocolates to say thank you.
It was only then that it occurred to me to say thanks to my mum
who had done the job for me for 19 years while I just took it all for granted.

It is easy to take family, friends, and those closest to us for granted.
It is easy to assume that they know we are grateful for their presence in our lives,
and that it just goes without saying.
But, as we all know, sometimes it is nice to hear it said.
It is nice to surprised by an unexpected gift that says thanks for being you;
that says thanks for all you do.

I often wonder what my mum would have thought to the lavish thanks
I gave to the cleaner who showed me how to use a washing machine;
after she had washed and ironed my clothes for 19 years without a word of thanks!

And it is not just our family we take for granted,
but people who serve us in the community.
Our streets don’t just sweep themselves;
our bins are not emptied by the refuge fairy;
our post does not magic its way onto our doormat;
our buses don’t drive on auto.

I always feel sorry for those who work at supermarket checkouts,
who are often treated like they do not exist.
I was in Tesco’s recently
and someone in front of me took their basket to the checkout,
they were talking on their mobile phone the whole time they were being served,
they never once acknowledged the existence of the person serving them,
and did not even break their conversation to say thank you at the end.

It is easy to criticise others but I wonder how often I also fail to appreciate
the service that I am given by another person?
How often do I take for granted the contribution
that so many people make to my life and to the community I live in?

This week I want to encourage you to take some time to be aware
of the many people who quietly do things that make your life easier and richer.
Maybe take a moment to thank someone for what they do,
not just in our own household or inner circle,
but also to someone who serves us in some way.

I remember once some years ago
writing an article in the magazine about our local road sweepers.
One of our congregation at the time
took it upon herself to give a copy to one of the Grove Park sweepers.
I found out later that the article was pinned up in the sheds where they begin each day.
To know they are valued was important to them.

Maybe we can say or do something
that lets people know their work, their contribution, is noticed and appreciated;
the way Jesus did to the unnoticed people that crossed his path.

If we lived as if it was Jesus who cleaned our streets, emptied our bins,
served us in shops, delivered our mail, or dealt with our enquiries –
I believe the Kingdom of God would seem very close indeed.

 

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Saturday 20th February

Colossians 1:3
We always pray for you and give thanks to God
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

Be grateful you not have all that you desire,
if you did what would there be to look forward to?
– unknown

It is not “having” or “not having” that makes us happy or unhappy,
but our relationship to the things we have and do not have;
it is the way we choose to respond to “having” or “not having”.
If we can respond to each with appreciation and gratitude;
if we can respond to the fortune of others by being pleased for them,
rather than with envy or jealousy – that will bring happiness.
If we can be happy for other people in what they have and enjoy,
we will find a greater appreciation and joy in our own.
So as well as being thankful for what we have,
let us also be thankful for what others have that we do not,
and rejoice in their fortune and our own.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Friday 19th February

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.

Got no cheque book, got no banks, still I’d like to express my thanks
I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
–Irvine Berlin

Cultivating a grateful heart
involves taking time to appreciate everything we have.
I’m with Irvine Berlin, let’s begin with appreciating
the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
And when the sun and the moon are obscured by cloud,
lets express our thanks for them also, and for the rain, the wind,
the cooling breeze, and the snow when it comes.
Every day is a gift no matter what kind of weather it brings.
Let’s appreciate the other gifts we have and easily take for granted:
our clothes, our food, our bed, our chair, the TV we are watching;
the book we are reading, the music we are listening to;
our home, our daily routine, our wife, husband, friend, children, neighbours;
our local shops, and those who serve us there;
those who empty our bins, deliver our post, sweep our streets.
We have so much we need to learn to appreciate more,
and say thank you for and to.
Someone once said that gratitude begins by wanting what we have,
rather than having what we want.
No matter how long our list of wants may be,
the list of what we already have will always be longer.
So let’s appreciate them a little more,
beginning with the sun in the morning and the moon at night.

Lent 2016 Compline Reflection

Reflection at Compline

Life is filled with habits.   Good habits and bad habits.
I have more than my fair share of bad habits,
but hopefully mixed in with them are a few good ones as well.
I have always said that coming to church on a Sunday
is as much a habit as anything else.
Yes, we come because our faith is important to us,
we come because it gives a spiritual foundation to the week;
but, just as importantly, we come because it is a habit we have gotten into.
There are many people whose faith is important to them
who do not come regularly to church
simply because they have gotten out of the habit.

When something is a habit we don’t think about it, we just do it.
There is no decision to make about it, it just happens naturally.
But for something to become a habit, for something to become ingrained in our life,
it has to first to become a discipline, a practise that we are committed to.
It is something we have to consciously work at,
until it eventually becomes a natural part of our life.

Today’s Lenten reflection is all about gratitude becoming a habit in our lives.
A grateful heart is something that needs to be cultivated and developed.
If you think about children,
they have to be taught to respond to gifts with gratitude.
We teach them to say thank you, to write thank you cards, and the like.
It almost becomes a parent’s mantra: “What do you say?”
Eventually, if we are consistent with our teaching and prompting,
the habit is formed and a child will begin to express gratitude without the prompts.

As an adult it is easy to get out of the habit of being grateful for life.
We very easily fall into the habit of seeing life’s difficulties rather than its gifts;
and then we get into the habit of being dragged down by its difficulties,
rather than being lifted by its joys.

So today’s theme is about getting into the habit of taking time
to recognise and appreciate the good and the beautiful in life.
To cultivate an attitude of gratitude that will give us a firm foundation,
from which we can find strength to deal with whatever life brings our way.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Thursday 18th February

Psalm 107:1
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
his steadfast love endures forever.

When life is going well,
gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify goodness.
When life is going badly it provides the perspective
by which we can view life in its entirety,
and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.
– Robert Emmons

Get into the habit of looking for the good and being grateful for it now.
Now is the time to practice.
If we get into the habit of seeing life with thankful eyes
we will find extra strength to deal with pain and sorrow when it comes along.
By developing and cultivating a grateful heart,
a thankful attitude towards life,
we build up resources that come to our aid in difficult times.
We build up what has been called “an attitude of gratitude”,
that gives a firm foundation for daily life.
Gratitude really is that important.
By cultivating a grateful heart on a daily basis,
by making thanksgiving a daily habit and discipline – even when we don’t feel thankful –
our lives will be richer and happier.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Wednesday 17th February

Ephesians 5:20
Always and for everything give thanks to God the Father
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

I can’t see much now and there is not a lot the hospital can do about it.
I felt a bit low when they told me, and prayed that God would heal my eyes.
Then I began to realise just how blessed I have been
in having good sight for so many years, and how easily I took it for granted.
Now I still pray that my sight will improve a little,
but first of all I say thank you that it has been so good for so long.
– Anon

The above was said to me by a lady
a month after a visit to Moorfields eye hospital.
It follows on from yesterday’s theme of finding good in every situation.
The pain and sorrow we often feel is also a reminder of the blessing,
and, in a sense a thank you for the blessing.
The reason that loss of health, loss people, loss of status, etc.
feels so painful is because it has at one stage been a blessing in our lives.
So even as we grieve the loss we are reminded of the good in what we have had.
Isn’t that why we want to celebrate the life of a departed loved one at their funeral?
To remind ourselves that even in the midst of grief,
we have been truly blessed in sharing the life of that person?
It does not mean that we do not feel the pain of their loss,
but we know also that the pain is because of the blessing we have shared.
In giving thanks, in opening ourselves to gratitude,
We find a firm foundation on which to grieve and, ultimately,
on which to heal.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Sermon Lent 1

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent
is traditionally the story of Jesus, after his baptism,
being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and nights, where he is tempted by the devil
to turn stones into bread, to seek glory and fame,
and to use his power to do impressive tricks and stunts.

It was a daunting and soul searching time for Jesus.
Perhaps for the first time he was coming to terms with who he was,
and what he was capable of;
and the temptation to merely use his gifts
to be popular, influential, and powerful must have been strong.

I believe that this was probably the defining moment of Jesus’ life.
He had to make decisions about the path he would take,
and probably had many doubts, fears, irrational thoughts,
dreams and desires to come to terms with.
It was a difficult time for Jesus and I have no doubt
he had the same feelings that we often have at such times
such as: Why can’t life be simple? Why does it have to be like this?

The wilderness is a daunting place to be. We have all been there.
I am not talking about geographical wild places,
but the inner wilderness we often encounter
when we don’t know which way to turn,
when life feels like it is just crowding in on us
and there is no light at the end to the tunnel.
Those periods in life when we wake up in the morning
and wonder what the point is;
when every day feels like one long struggle.

Jesus was not immune to such periods in his life
and todays Gospel was one of them.
Jesus fully shared our humanity,
he knew what it was like to feel out of control,
and all the emotions and feelings that go with that.
That is why I love this story so much, it makes me realise
that there is nothing that I can through that God has not gone through;
that God really does share my every experience of life.

But there is something else in this Gospel story
that is of vital importance.
It is not actually mentioned in Luke’s account
that we heard read this morning,
but it is there in both Mark and Matthews version.
They tell us, that in the midst of all this inner turmoil,
there are ministering angels.
That there are precious, holy, moments that make the rest bearable,
that give us the courage and the strength to go on.

In the midst of all that Jesus was undergoing
during his time in the wilderness,
both Matthew and Mark’s Gospels tell us
that angels came and ministered to him.
Jesus may have felt that he was all alone, but he never was.
Sometimes we might feel that we are all alone, but we never are.
There are always ministering angels when we need them.

The ministering angels come in many forms.
A member of our family, a friend,
or sometimes a total stranger who gently encourage us;
it may be something we read or hear that makes some sense to us;
it may be a small incident that happens within the day
that brings a ray of sunlight into the gloom;
it can be a moments awareness that someone is watching over us.

Whatever life is throwing at us,
whether we are in a good place or in the wilderness;
the ministering angels are there, are part of each day,
part of each experience.
Practicing gratitude is a spiritual tool
that helps us to recognise their presence.
By practicing gratitude we learn to realise that even the darkest moments have numerous rays of light piercing them.

That is why I am encouraging you to keep a gratitude diary during Lent.
When we put some focus on the things that we are grateful for,
we become more acutely aware of the ministering angels in our midst;
and in that awareness, allow that light and love to penetrate us deeper.

We often share with Jesus in his wilderness moments,
but he also shares with us those ministering angels
that give us the strength to rise up, and to carry on.

Monday 15th February

2 Corinthians 9:15
Thanks be to God for his Inexpressible gift.

I want to thank everybody I ever met in my entire Life
– Actress Maureen Stapleton at her award winning speech.

In one sense the above quote just goes down as one of those
strange thank-you speeches that celebrities tend to gush out
when they are feeling pleased with themselves for winning an award.
But in another sense her words have a truth and importance to them.
Everybody we ever met in our entire lives have contributed to this moment.
We are who we are right now not simply by our own making –
we are not self-made people.
People, circumstances, experiences, decisions made on our behalf,
as well as decisions made by ourselves, have all contributed to this moment.
We are part of a very large web.
Even instances that we would rather forget,
or experiences we still smart about have made this moment what it is.
If we are going to say thanks, it should include everybody.
We are part of an intricate, interdependent network,
whether we like it or not.

Tuesday 16th February

1 Chronicles 16:34
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures for ever

If you concentrate on finding the good in every situation
you will discover that your life will be suddenly filled with gratitude,
a feeling that nurtures the soul.
– Rabbi Harold Kushner

Can good be found in every situation?
All I can say is that I have yet to experience anything in life
in which good cannot be found.
Admittedly my life, compared with many,
has not been filled with great difficulty,
which is why I cannot claim anything beyond my own experience.
I have not endured the sufferings that many have,
but I have spoken to those whose suffering has been greater than mine
and I do know that many of them
seem to have focussed on the good in their situations,
and have been successful in finding it there.
When I contemplate the most painful moments in my life
I know that within the pain has been love, care, joy even;
and I know these moments have filled me with gratitude.
But it is something we can only explore and discover for ourselves.
We have to choose to look for the good, the grace, the blessing,
and to focus on these things.
That does not mean that we deny the pain
and pretend all is ok when it clearly is not –
It simply means that in the midst of it we choose to also look for the good.
There is always a shaft of light, a glimpse of hope in the darkness.
There is always something to be grateful for and for which to give thanks.
Look for it.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Saturday 13th February

Philemon 4
I thank God always when I remember you in my prayers.

“Taken for granted” as the saying is,
means quite the opposite from “taken as gifts”.
In such conditions there arises what we might call
a culture of ingratitude.
– Roger Scruton

Taking things for granted is at the heart of sin.
Sin is basically a lack of appreciation
for the gifts and blessings that we are so freely given.
We become so familiar with the blessings and gifts
that we come to see them as a given, as a right.
In doing that they lose their value and worth.
It is scary the things I too often take for granted:
My family, my work, my home, my pets,
the food I consume, the money I spend, the freedoms I enjoy,
the people who serve me, the very air I breathe.
It can all so easily be taken for granted,
and not celebrated as a gift with thanksgiving.
We become obsessed with so many things we call a sin,
but often forget to repent of the one that truly lies at its heart –
a lack of gratitude and appreciation
for the life we so easily take for granted.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Friday 12th February

1 Timothy 1:12
I thank Him who has given me strength for this.

You say Grace before meals,
But also say Grace before the concert and the opera,
and grace before the play and the pantomime,
and grace before reading a book,
and grace before sketching, painting, swimming,
walking, playing, dancing and writing.
– G.K Chesterton

Thanking God for things in advance, in anticipation,
in humble expectation, in every activity, in every experience of life,
is what saying Grace is truly about.
Giving thanks in advance opens our hearts, our eyes, our minds,
to recognise the gifts of life.
Giving thanks in advance is an act of trust,
trust in the providence of God.
It is accepting with trust that whatever God allows is a gift,
a blessing for our benefit in some way.
Saying “Grace”, saying “Thank you” in advance of events,
saying “Thank you” for each moment life will bring,
prepares our life to receive the blessing.

Lent 2016 Living Life with Gratitude

Thursday 11th February

Psalm 30

Let sing praises to the Lord, and give thanks to His Holy name.

Surprise…is the beginning of that fullness we call gratefulness.
The great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us is:
Everything is gratuitous, everything is gift.
The degree to which we are awake to this truth
is the measure of our gratefulness.
And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness.
To live life open to surprise…makes us more alive.
– David Steindl-Rast

“Nothing surprises me anymore”.
A phrase we often hear and probably use.
What a sad phrase it is when you think about it.
To not be surprised by anything anymore implies that
we have exhausted the breadth, length, depth and height of life.
It is a phrase that says we are resigned to life’s predictability,
resigned to life or people, or situations being just as they are.
When we lose that element of surprise in life,
we are closing the door on the possibility of being moved,
disturbed, or enchanted by anything that life brings along.
If we choose to live life open to surprise,
we will stop taking life for granted and find much to be thankful for.