Sermon Sunday Oct 9th, 2011, St Thomas’ Heamoor. Text Philippians 4 1-9.
Imagine an estate agent giving the following description: This is a charming historical property, with a delightful view of the river. It has been well maintained, and now presents an excellent opportunity for a new occupier to customise it. The lounge is cosy and has an olde-world open hearth. The kitchen is compact and easy to keep clean. The master bedroom is at the front of the property, with two other good-sized rooms, and a bathroom at the rear. The garden is laid to lawn and has three well-established apple trees.
Or how about this for an alternative description: This is an old house, built in a flood plain. Past owners have inflicted their own D-I-Y, and it now needs complete refurbishment by some-one who knows what they are doing. The lounge is dark and smoky. There isn’t room to swing a cat in the kitchen. Upstairs the main bedroom has the problem of traffic noise all through the night, and the only room with a view is the bathroom, which has frosted glass. The garden has no flowerbeds, and the final remnants of an old orchard.
If you were parting with a huge amount of money then it might be unwise to take notice of only the first description. However, in life we need to avoid the cynicism of the second view. This is not just wishful thinking and shutting our eyes to potential problems; it is facing the current reality in the light of God’s love. We are all far from perfect, and are “work in progress”, but God has great plans for us. While there is nothing we can do to make God love us more than he already does, and nothing we can do to make him love us less, we are responsible for making an effort to become more like God, not just for ourselves, but especially for the benefit of others.
We need to make an effort with other people. In the passage there are two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who have worked hard for the church, but have begun to criticise each other. They probably feel unappreciated (“You know how I don’t like to make any fuss, but I just want everyone to know how hard I work…, and she ……”) and they have ended up drawing other people into their quarrel. It’s a classic human failing, and desperately destructive of church life. What a difference if we all followed the advice of v.5 “show a gentle attitude to all”; we need to look for the potential good in others just as we hope they will see the potential good in us.
We need to make an effort to be joyful. It’s not a question of going round with a goofy grin, but as Christians we have so much to be thankful for. God loves us and has rescued us, so that’s every reason to be joyful. It also makes life a lot more bearable for other people – we’d all rather be in the company of those who make us laugh or encourage us.
We need to make an effort in prayer. Prayer is difficult. I find it hard enough to keep focused in a direct conversation, let alone when trying to pray, and I’m horrified where my mind sometimes ends up. If you find it hard to pray on your own, then try praying with one or two others. Again the focus is asking God “with a thankful heart”: we are promised not a blanket “yes” to our requests, but peace of mind.
We need to make an effort of will. The passage tells us to concentrate on things that are “true, noble, pure” etc. Shouldn’t this be natural? Take the example of a climbing rose: it is naturally beautiful, but it’s beauty will be much more evident if it is trained on a trellis. In the same way we need to give scaffolding to our thoughts. A colleague recently said he had trouble sleeping one night, and then said, as though it had no connection, that he’d been watching a horror film. If I watch something like that it takes me ages to get rid of the image, so I don’t. We have to train ourselves to look for the positive in life, as we will become the sum of our thoughts. Harping on about grievances leaves us bitter; dwelling on the good brings us closer to God.
To conclude: we are saved by God’s grace, and only his grace, but we need to make an effort to see life from his perspective. Looking for the positive isn’t always easy, but it transforms the world for us and those who have the misfortune to spend their lives alongside us!