Sermon for Mothering Sunday
While he was President, Barack Obama famously only ever wore suits that were grey or blue, so he didn’t have to make unnecessary choices at the start of a day that was going to be full of impossible decisions.
Steve Jobs, who founded Apple, used to start the day by looking in the mirror and asking himself - ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’
CS Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books, went for a 2 hour walk every day after lunch.
Pope Francis wakes at 4:30 and spends 2 hours in prayer and bible study before giving a morning sermon at 7:00 before he has his breakfast.
These people, all of them with demanding lives that are full of challenges, have daily habits that help them to live and work well in the midst of all the pressures.
Now being a Mum isn’t easy either. Nor’s being a Dad, for that matter.
And I want to pick out one thing from the reading we’ve just heard, which, if we let it, can become a life changing habit. A simple daily habit that the bible points us towards, which can change everything - whatever the difficulties we’re facing now or are going to face in the future.
St Paul said this:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. There, in the middle of that passage are two revolutionary words. Giving thanks. Thank you
It is one of the deepest insights of Christianity that everything we have and everything we are is a gift. You didn’t choose this life; you didn’t choose your parents or your children. You didn’t decide where you were born - it is all given to you. The things you’re good at - all gift. The beauty of the world around you - all gift. The warm sun outside - it’s a gift. The signs of spring emerging everywhere - gift. That breath you’ve just taken, the blood moving round your body right now, your heart beating, your emotions, the people you love. All of it is gift. It is all given to you for free
And so we say thank you.
And saying thank you is a radical act - a challenge to the ways of the world. After all the world around us tells us that the source of joy isn’t in seeing that everything is gift, but getting our hands on that next thing - the new shoes, the next holiday, the car, the new job - whatever it might be.
To stop and make sure we are saying ‘thank you’ every day is a way of acknowledging that all the stuff in the world won’t bring us joy. What brings joy is the knowledge that everything we need is given already, it’s all gift. Thank you Lord. Thank you.
The trouble is, we find it much easier to think about the negative things than the positive things. You know what it’s like - you do a piece of work, or you cook a meal, or you do your homework. Everyone says how good it is; your boss is pleased, your guests comment on how good the meal tastes and your homework gets lots of ticks. But there’s one bit of negative feedback - just one thing that is less good than the rest. What do you remember? All those great, positive, grateful comments - or the one critical one?
Our brains latch onto the negative, and find it harder to take the positive on board. Being grateful helps us focus on all the good things - and there is always more to be grateful for than we initially see.
And St Paul reminds us of that - Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Whatever you do. Give thanks
And we know that if we do the same thing deliberately and regularly, then we change. Neurology is discovering more and more about how plastic our brains are - how much they can change if we repeat the same, disciplined habits on a regular basis. And long before neuroscience was a thing, St Paul wrote this - Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Do something often enough, and your brain will change, and if your brain changes, then you change.
And the art of becoming really grateful is to do it regularly, deliberately and deeply. It needs to become a habit, rather than something that we do every now and then - because otherwise our brains continue to latch on to the negative stuff.
You can choose a different path in our graceless, commercialised, stressed out world simply by practicing gratitude.
And here’s a very practical way to do that.
Stop once a day, and think back over everything that has happened. You need to do it whatever kind of day you’ve had.
Think back over the day, in detail, and as you do, notice the things that you are grateful for and write down three of them. ‘Dear Lord, thank you for ……’.
Keep it to three things that you are really grateful for. And as you write them down, pick one of them; one thing that you are deeply grateful for, and write a detailed paragraph about why you are grateful. So not just, "thank you Lord for the kids’ or ‘Thank you Lord for that lovely walk I went on’, but real detail. Drill down into what it meant for you, and what is that you want to thank God for. The specific things. The detail. Name the impact of this one thing that happened, and thank God for it.
Sometimes that will be really easy - because life is great and the ‘thank-you’s’ just tumble out of you - and then your problem will be choosing which ‘thank you’ to pick.
But there will be other times when the opposite is true, and life is really difficult, and you can’t see the positives, and honestly don’t know what to be grateful for.
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful in the middle of painful situation, relationship or conflict. I spoke to someone this week, who told me she really struggles to forgive her Mum for all sorts of difficulties in the past. Now though, instead of focussing on all the hurt, she has chosen, every time she thinks of her Mum, to focus on one thing she’s grateful for. It’s hard work, but gratitude can be a discipline, and little by little, by choosing gratitude, God can transform even our most painful feelings and relationships.
And this week we’ve had another very concrete example. The attacks in London were shocking - what could we possibly be grateful for in amidst the horror and evil of a day like that.
But you may have seen the internet meme that has been around this week
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
And that’s right. St Paul got that as well - he wrote this Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Think about these things - the good things, the wonderful things. The things we are grateful for.
So after Wednesday, we can choose to look at the horrible stuff, or we can be grateful for the police who ran towards danger, for Tobias Ellwood, the MP who knelt beside the dying officer and tried to save his life, for the members of the public who cradled strangers in their arms before the paramedics could get there.
Even in the midst of pain and horror, we can choose to be grateful. We can get sucked into fear and anger, or we can choose to focus our minds and our prayers on being grateful for those who serve and care and do good every day. Not to deny the pain, but because we’re choosing to live grateful lives.
There’s a book some of you will have read. It’s by a guy called Steve Covey. He looked at lots and lots of successful people - people who were the top of their business, or their sport or their area of expertise - and he asked what habits they had in common.
It’s called The 7 habits of highly effective people.
The bible isn’t much interested in us becoming highly effective. But it is deeply interested in us becoming highly joyful. Highly kind. Highly loving.
How? Be grateful. Be grateful everyday. Be grateful for everything. Whatever you do in thought or deed, give thanks. Be grateful.
Posted: 26-03-2017 at 16:54