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Sermon for 7 May 2017

 
 

Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 6:25-34


This is the second of a short series of sermons 

In the first one last week, I talked about the economy of Grace and the economy of anxiety.  Economy being the Greek word for ‘household management’ … and I suggested that while grace is God’s ‘management plan’, so often our culture sucks us into the economy of anxiety. I suggested that the first step in unhooking its hold on us, is simply to notice what’s going on. 

And I know that some of you have been trying to do that this week. And I would love to hear more about how you have got on.

Today I’m going to talk about three practical ways to unhook from anxiety and step into the free gift of grace, which is there, just waiting for us. And next week I’ll look at what grace-filled lives look like. 


And today, I’m going to keep it really simple, because it is really simple. I’m going to talk about Attention, Presence and Habit as three ways of receiving and living in God’s Economy of Grace. 

What I’m about to say is not a way of ‘making grace happen.’ It is the nature of grace that you can’t make it happen. It is a gift; freely given. All we can do is receive it. But the world and the devil work hard to keep us locked up in an economy of anxiety, so it good to have simple things we can do which can help set us free, so we can open our lives to receive the grace that is already given. And that’s what I want to explore.


We start with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which Alexandra just read.

Someone said to me this week that they thought these verses are all you need to live under God’s grace. Live them wholeheartedly, and you’ll be living deeply in the economy of grace, and I’m sure they’re right.


The first thing Paul talks about is our attention. He writes this:

‘Whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, think about these things.’ 

Think about these things; pay attention to these things. Where we put our attention is the first and most simple way to step out of anxiety, and into Grace. Our culture would keep our eyes firmly fixed on the economy of anxiety - of money, and power and success and status and achievement. Have I got enough, am I  cool enough, will we achieve enough? This is the undercurrent, the tow of our days, the song that sings to us. 

24 hour news media keeps us hooked into fear, scarcity and disaster; Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram keep us hooked into the fake news of other people’s lives and our own shiny surfaces, the anxiety of appearance, how our lives look to others and even how we see ourselves, dictated by selfies and the number of likes we get. 

Brian Draper, Kev’s brother, who leads retreats here, writes this: "Jesus said, ‘Seek and you will find.’ The question is, what are we seeking? Because what we seek has a profound effect on how we see the world … and the way we see the world has a profound effect on the way we are.”

Give your attention to the right things, and everything else falls into place.

That’s what Paul is talking about-  "Whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy…. think about these things.”

Where do you put your attention? How could you shift your attention towards things that are true and pure and excellent and praiseworthy? What would you need to stop giving your attention to? What would you focus on instead?


The second thing I want to talk about is presence. 

One of the hardest and worst things about anxiety, is that it can cut us off from experiencing God’s goodness and his presence in our lives. Caught in anxiety, we’re not able to feel His presence or know His peace, deep inside. 

So how do we practice the presence of God, as the simplest way of receiving his grace? 

Prayer is the key.  It’s about placing ourselves, our presence, in the Presence of God.  And that’s what Paul tells us - prayer is about bringing to God what we need. And he highlights two things in particular. Two things that need to be there, for us to truly meet God. 

We need to Rejoice in His presence. That’s important enough for Paul to say it twice. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice. Can you sit with that word, that simple invitation, and let it work in you? Just rejoice in the fact that God is God. That God is. It’s the heart of prayer - simply rejoicing in God.



And then Paul says, whatever we bring to God in prayer, we need to bring it with thankfulness. If our prayer is one of gratitude and rejoicing in God, Paul promises us, the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts.

But what if prayer is tricky for you? Maybe you get caught in worries and find yourself making to do lists, rather than in rejoicing and being thankful?

In our reading from Mathew Jesus tells us ’Consider the lilies of the field’.  At one level he is repeating the point about attention - pay attention to the small and simple things of God’s creation and let God’s grandeur catch your eye and fill your heart. But he’s also saying, ‘be present’ - be present to God’s presence in everything - even the smallest flower in the field.

So notice when God’s presence breaks into your life, and then be present to that moment. 

Where does his presence interrupt you? When did it happen for you last week? 

Was it in a quiet moment, before the kids woke up? Was it a moment of prayer on a crowded train home? Was it waiting for a traffic light to change, when you could suddenly let go? Was it stepping outside on a beautiful bright morning, and sensing His presence in the sunlight and the wind on your cheek?

Notice how grace, the simple presence of God already breaks into your days … and then shape your life around those moments, the moments where God’s grace can catch you, can grab your attention. 


And this is where the third part, habit comes in. Attention, Presence and Habit.

I read this recently. It’s from Richard Rohr, Catholic priest and writer. He said, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives”. 

We can spend our days waiting for our next holiday, or for retirement, or for when the kids are older, thinking that’s when we will lay down anxiety and live in grace - at some point in the future. But how we spend our days is how we spend our life. Every day counts and every day matters, because this is the only life God has given us, and it doesn’t start some time in the future. It’s happening now. 

But anxiety can become a habit that stops us living each day fully. One person was telling me this week that she has been noticing how quickly any negative emotion spirals into anxiety, and so she has been trying to notice that habit. The habitual response of being anxious, and to name it. 

Something makes me feel sad. I’m sad, but I don’t need to be anxious. Something scares me. I can feel the fear, and work out what I want to do about it, but I don’t need to be anxious. Just naming what’s going on, and giving it to God, breaks the anxiety habit. If anxiety has it’s grip on you, that is a very good place to start.

Because when we notice our habits, God can start to develop new ones.

American writer and Pastor, Dallas Willard, advised a friend to ‘arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.’

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear. What is it God is calling you to right here and now; how is He inviting you to refocus your attention, to put yourself in the way of His presence throughout the day, so that living this way becomes a habit? Is there something you need to cut out; screen time, situations or relationships that pull your heart away from God; or are there moments, people or habits that bring you back into His presence and allow His Grace to wash through you? 

What habits do you need to cultivate?


And of course, there’s a paradox at the heart of this - that Grace is ultimately God’s free gift. A totally free gift - and there is nothing we can do to increase it or diminish it. It’s just there and on offer. In the end the most important thing for us isn’t to learn techniques, it is to open up to God’s grace. Simply to open our hands and to receive what is given. 

Grace is the opposite of striving. Refocusing our attention, increasing our awareness of God’s presence and learning new habits will help, but it’s ultimately about accepting the free gift of Amazing Grace that God has already given us, available to each one of us. Right here and now.


Lord, we know the power of anxiety, and the grip it can have on us;

But we trust in the far greater power of grace.

Help us, in the days to come to give our attention to you, 

to practice being in your presence 

and to develop new habits, 

so that we might know your grace, grace upon grace, 

and be free to love and worship you. 

Amen

Posted: 07-05-2017 at 18:24
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