‘Don’t worry, be happy’ – 15th October, 18th Sunday after Trinity

Based around Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14.

Note this sermon was preached at both the 10:30am and 6:30pm, but was written originally for the evening service where Isaiah 25:1-9 was one of the set readings.

When I’m asked to preach, I take a look at the readings that will be used, read them, pray around them and then put them on one side for a while to allow them to simmer.  Sometimes one will immediately leap out at me as being the one I feel moved to preach on; other times, it takes longer.

Until about 10 days ago, I was planning on preaching on Isaiah.

However, the Holy Spirit often has different plans for us.  I belong to a Facebook group for the US Episcopalian Church – our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ in the US – and one morning I saw a post that suggested that worry was a sin.  My compassion was outraged; the exact words I posted were :

‘I’m sorry but ” please be aware that such emotions are considered a sin in the Lord’s eyes:” is, to me, spiritual abuse and may well deflect people away from a relationship with Jesus at the very time that they need it.’

And almost immediately after posting this I thought…hang on a minute…and returned to the readings for tonight.

And there, in Philippians, was Paul’s instruction to us:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Not quite explicitly labelling worry a sin, but enough to make me think that maybe I needed to think about Paul’s letter to the Philippians rather than Isaiah.

And to finally dive the point home, another article was bought to my attention from an email list I subscribe to that looked at Peter and worry.

I can take a hint, Lord.

And so, here we are.

The reading from Paul is part of one of his pastoral letters. Verses 2 and 3 refer to Euodia and Synteche – two prominent women leaders of the Church – who were having something of a disagreement that was causing problems.  Quite what the disagreement was about, we’re not told; but it was enough for Paul to exhort everyone involved – including the person he gave the letter to (the ‘loyal companion’) to try and resolve it.

We can look at the rest of the reading tonight almost as series of bullet-points that Paul provides to help with the dispute – whatever may have caused it.  And I think we can also apply these suggestions to quite a lot that happens in our daily lives.

We are told to:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord, and be known for your kindness and gentleness.
  2. Don’t worry; pray and allow the peace of the Lord to fill your hearts and minds.
  3. Think about the good things that you’re doing, that you’re experiencing, and focus and build on them.

Paul reminds us in Verse 4 to always rejoice in the Lord; I guess that if people ARE rejoicing in the Lord, it’s probably harder for them to have a good row!  And, thinking about it, why shouldn’t we all rejoice in the Lord; there is God the Father – the creator God….there is Jesus, who loves us despite ourselves….there is the Holy Spirit, that brings the Grace of God to us, that opens our minds and hearts to the works of the Father and the Son.  Why shouldn’t we rejoice in the Lord?

And then we come to the verse that I was reminded of on Facebook. Just to remind us:

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

And it’s NOT just Paul – after all, we know that Paul can get a bit grumpy.  In the first letter of Peter, Chapter 5,, we read:

“ Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I get concerned and anxious about stuff. More than I should. Always have done; I started young, and even now I guess I’m something of a worry-wart, so you can see why I encountered this verse with some trepidation. Many people come to faith in the depths of worry; a good number even stay with Jesus when times get better! But to be told not to worry, but to pray instead? To cast our anxieties on God? Where does this leave us?

There is a famous quotation, attributed to Oliver Cromwell:

“Put your trust in God, but keep your powder dry.” Wet gunpowder in a musket or cannon wouldn’t burn – the message here is that Cromwell trusted in God to deliver the day, but accepted that he had to play his part.  Think of Gideon, dealing with the Midianites. God basically prunes his army down to a few hundred men – God effectively telling Gideon that ‘I’m with you on this, you can do it!’ but Gideon still whittles AND God still expects him to do something towards winning the battle – to go and listen in the camp of the Midianites and to take to the field.

Now, back to me and my anxieties. I look at what I’m anxious or concerned about and ask myself the simple question: “At this moment in time, have I done everything that is within my power to deal with the situation I’m anxious about?”  If I answer Yes – so be it, that’s all I can do, I thank God and pray for his continued strength, guidance and grace.  If I answer “No” to myself – then rather than worrying, I look to identifying what I still need to do, then pray for God’s help in getting me through the task.

I think Paul is highlighting the difference between valid concern that can be acted upon, and that all-encompassing, paralysing, deep-seated worry that for so many of us stops us in our tracks and can, for a while, become something so big that it’s almost an idol – a negative, fearful, idol that deflects us away from God.

I’ve had moments in my life when worry has paralysed me; it becomes the most important thing in my life; it feels like it will never go away. I think that this is what Paul is actually warning about; when we feel that the worry itself becomes bigger than God’s grace in our lives.  Paul reminds us here of two things for dealing with worry:

  • That by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving we should put our requests and in God’s hands.
  • And that by doing so, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This can sound a bit platitudinous, but when we are truly in that place with worry, where we have done all that we can possibly do, worry does nothing but get between us, our friends and family, and God.  When is there a better time to fall back on God’s grace to help us?

I can imagine that this sort of idolatrous worry wouldn’t have helped matters between Euodia and Synteche and the rest of the Philippi Church elders.

And it doesn’t help us.

And Paul’s final thoughts tonight? Keep doing the good stuff. Keep catching each other out in being good. Focus on excellence – now that sounds like a modern day management theory, doesn’t it? Give praise when praise is due.

It’s hard to imagine that those problems in the Philippi Church would survive such a strategy; Rejoice in the Lord, be nice to each other, don’t be paralysed and side-tracked  by worry and despair, focus on excellence and give praise where praise is due.

Perhaps our day to day problems and concerns might benefit from some Pauline management skills, summed up in the lyrics of the song by Bobby Ferrin:

“Don’t worry, be happy”


Reader Joe Pritchard

‘Jesus is our example’ – 1st October, 16th Sunday after Trinity

Based around Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32.

I’m sure that most if not all of you have at some time heard the phrase, “Is the Pope Catholic?” As far as I’m aware it is in no way intended to be disrespectful to the Pope or to Catholicism & Catholics, it’s usually used to imply that someone has asked a daft question or one to which the answer is so obvious that it needn’t have been asked. For example on a Friday evening my dear husband might say to me “Dearest, would you like to go to the pub?” to which the answer is usually “of course, are you kidding, why do you need to ask???” This may similarly be applied to offers of chips or cake, but enough of my vices. The reason I wanted to mention this phrase, “Is the Pope Catholic?” is because of a little anecdote my sister shared with me a couple of weeks ago which at first made me laugh and then it made me think.

A friend of hers was at work among a group of women and someone asked a question, I can’t remember what it was, but the reply was “is the Pope Catholic?” A few seconds later a younger member of the team piped up “I’ve Googled him and yes he is. Why did you want to know? This made everyone laugh including me when my sister told me about it. Then I thought “Oh dear, religion really is in rather more trouble than we thought”. This young woman genuinely had no idea who the Pope is and I rather suspect that she is not on her own and that ignorance about religion and religious culture, customs and practices is getting more common, at least in this part of the world.

Now some might say “So what? Who cares? Why should it matter when so many people no longer regard themselves as religious in any way and many of those who do have some degree of belief don’t necessarily know much about religion and don’t think it’s important enough to pay any attention to? It’s a fair question. In my opinion it needs a meaningful and thought provoking answer because it does matter to all of us, the religious and non-religious alike.

It can be tempting to some to regard religion as out-dated and irrelevant because so often it seems to be about church that is constantly fighting with itself, a God they don’t believe in, reading bibles that they don’t understand, following rules that are inconvenient and putting up with rituals that often seem meaningless. What they fail to appreciate is that religion, or should I say religions, have been a very important part of our cultures for centuries and have been very instrumental in shaping the peoples we became and the ways and values we have lived by. While these have often been far from perfect they have to a large extent provided a framework that has enabled us to live and work together as societies far better than if everyone had been left to fend for themselves.

If we are getting it even vaguely right, faith in God forces us to look at ourselves critically and ask whether we are putting into practice in our daily lives the values we say we believe in and hopefully this makes us better people and collectively a better society. That’s what has been going on for hundreds of years and in so many ways most of us have largely benefitted from that culture.

However, for the past century, probably since the end of the First World War and largely because of it, increasing numbers of people have struggled with religious faith and left the church. They found it hard to reconcile the existence of a loving & all powerful God with the slaughter and cruelty of that war. I think it was from the 1950’s onward that this disconnect from church-going accelerated and in the last few decades, in this part of the world it has become very marked and worrying, for those of us who care.

Again it’s reasonable to ask why this matters because to a large extent the same standards that we value have been maintained. But again those who ask “Why does it matter?” fail to recognise that the generations from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, whether religiously observant or not, grew up in a society that was still strongly influenced by the values of the faith based culture that still existed. However, this can no longer be relied on. If you have not read Alan Billings excellent book “Lost Church” I would thoroughly recommend that you do so because he explains this process far more eloquently than I ever could.

I would never for one moment suggest that religions have a monopoly on good morals and values because they don’t but at their best, and I would stress at their best, they have played a big part in instilling and nurturing these. This brings me back to our young lady who didn’t know who the Pope is. As more people grow up without any exposure to or appreciation of religious faith I wonder where that leaves them when science and reason and hard evidence don’t provide all the answers. In a world where we seem to be being pushed to be more self-centred, self-absorbed, self-indulgent and self-important, without a strong moral compass what is there to encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our own wants and needs and to make us question what we think or believe? Why should we not be selfish when that’s how the world around us seems to be and the rewards for selfishness so plentiful? As I said, religions don’t have a monopoly on goodness but it’s a tall order for any parent to instil good values like humility, unselfishness & compassion when they are not a strong or valued part of the prevailing culture. Yes we need to be aware and savvy and streetwise in order to survive and get on in today’s busy world. We have to know how to develop and promote ourselves in our careers or in our day to day dealings with the many people and institutions we encounter or we will just get left behind or over-looked or worse still not even noticed and it isn’t good to be naïve about this but being all about the self isn’t enough.

Contrary to what some people think, being a person of faith doesn’t mean you have to be bland or a door mat. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy degree of self-worth, especially if you believe that God made you and values you. But hopefully our faith also encourages us to value others and their needs too including those we will never meet, never know and some we might not particularly like or agree with. I find it truly frightening how increasing numbers of people think it’s OK to attack and vilify and bully and intimidate those who don’t share their views and beliefs. Sadly we are all too familiar with this from extremists and fundamentalists of all shades but now it seems to be becoming more common in everyday matters such as gender, sport or politics and for some it’s become an acceptable form of behaviour. Well it isn’t acceptable, it never has been and we need to make sure we don’t get sucked into it or just as importantly, silenced by it. We need to hold onto our values and to valuing each other.

In our Gospel reading from St Matthew we hear how once again the chief priests and the elders try to trap Jesus and prevent him from teaching. They want to tie him and everyone else up with rules and laws of which they are the judges in order to keep them in line. They won’t tolerate anyone doing anything without their approval and they can’t bear it when Jesus ties them in knots with their own rules and won’t be cowed into silence. Humility, even after being proved wrong doesn’t seem to be on their radar. We can all make mistakes or misunderstand and get things wrong but lacking the humility to admit it and make amends is not good. How much trouble and grief is caused because people can’t say “I was wrong”. Why do we seem so incapable or unwilling to learn from the mistakes of the past but just go on repeating them because we can’t be seen to lose face? The chief priests and elders had evolved a very precisely prescribed regime which they used to retain a tight control of the people they tended to regard as lesser than themselves. They did this in the name of religion but somewhere along the line, because they lacked humility they ended up effectively cutting God out of the process and making themselves important. I fear that in our modern world the same sort of thing is happening but the ones doing the silencing and trying to enforce their own ideas of conformity are many and varied from the individuals who troll on the internet to the biggest organisations who sometimes abuse their power.

What does religious faith have to offer in the face of all this you may wonder? As ever, Jesus is our example. He had both strength and humility and used them to good effect. He stood against the prevailing culture and challenged what was wrong. St Paul encourages us to do likewise and I think it’s worth repeating what he says,

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus.”

Let us pray that God will give us the humility, strength and courage to do this in our lives. Amen.

Reader Kath Boyd

‘How will we respond?’ – 9th April, Palm Sunday

Palm LeavesMany centuries ago the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  God heard their cries of anguish and called Moses to lead them out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan.  Pharaoh would not let them go.  But then Egypt was struck by plagues, one after another.  The tenth was the most terrible of all; in one night all the firstborn children died.  The Israelites were protected, smearing the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts so that God’s angel would pass over them.  When Pharaoh ordered them to leave, they had to go quickly.  There was no time for their bread to rise.  They left in haste.  They were chased.  But they made it safely into the wilderness.

God commanded Israel never to forget.  The people were to tell the story of how they were slaves in Egypt and God led them to freedom.  And they were to re-enact the story together by worshipping in the temple, and eating the Passover meal.


Scene 1

Passover is almost here!  Crowds are heading towards Jerusalem.

A band of pilgrims is coming from Galilee.  In their group is a prophet.  A prophet who has performed miracles, told stories, befriended the poor.  A prophet who has made God real and close for them.  Times are tough.  Like the Israelites of old, the people long to be free again.  Free of Roman rule.  Free of the many religious rules imposed on them by those in authority.  Could this prophet be the Messiah – the one the prophets told of, who would rescue Israel and her people?

It’s been a long, hot and tiring journey.  Feet are aching.  Stomachs are rumbling.  There’s a steep climb ahead, but they’re nearly there.  They reach Bethphage.  Jesus stops.  Says something to a couple of his disciples.  How will they respond?


Scene 2

In the next village a man waits.  Outside his house are tied his donkey and her colt.  The man is puzzling over a strange request – At Passover, please be willing to lend the teacher your donkey and colt.  He has no idea what for.  Will they be looked after?  Will he get them back again?  He needs them too, to carry his goods to and from the market.  But the teacher is a good man, a prophet.

In the distance he sees two men running towards the village.  Silly men, running uphill in this heat.  They look around for a moment, make a beeline for his house and untie his animals.

“Hey you guys!” the man shouts, running out  “what are you doing with my animals?”

“The Lord needs them”  they reply.

How will this man respond?


Scene 3

The pilgrims continue on up the hill towards Jerusalem.  Heading towards them are the two men who Jesus sent off on an errand.  Look!  They’ve got a donkey and foal!  Jesus smiles.  His friends place their cloaks on the back of the donkey and Jesus gets on.  The crowds are getting excited now.  Jesus is heading up the procession, but the people sense something great is about to happen.  This could be the time we were waiting for.  Some of them remove their cloaks and spread them on thre road in front of him.  Others run on ahead, cutting branches from the trees.  As he approaches, they line the road with the branches.  All are shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

A disciple watches.  This isn’t what he was expecting.  Why is Jesus making a laughing stock of himself by riding into Jerusalem on a baby donkey?  Isn’t he supposed to be the Messiah, the one who will save Israel from the Roman oppression?  Why on earth isn’t he riding on a horse like a proper warrior?  It’s bad enough that he’s entering Jerusalem with a rag-taggle bunch of Galileans.  Now this! Who will take him seriously now?

The disciple watches in disbelief.  How will he respond?


Scene 4

The people in Jerusalem are preparing for the festival’s influx of visitors.  Guest houses are being cleaned, food cooked, seasonal workers hired.  Market traders are setting up their stalls.  The air is full of the smells of spices, food, animals being slaughtered, sweat.  It’s always chaotic at this time of year.  But the pilgrims will spend well and the city folk need their money.

The crowds are beginning to arrive.  But it seems noisier than usual, particularly from the direction of Bethany.  What is going on?

As the crowds get nearer, those in Jerusalem can hear them shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”.  Some of the authorities climb up on to the rooftops to get a better view.  Look!  It’s that guy Jesus.  The one who they say has been healing people and driving out demons.  And breaking the Sabbath Laws.  He’s a troublemaker.  People are saying he’s the Messiah.  What shall we do?

Some of them see him on the donkey and laugh!  Well it doesn’t look like he’s going to cause an insurrection here – what’s a mighty warrior doing on a donkey?

Others think back to the story of Solomon.  When king David was on his deathbed, it wasn’t clear who he wanted to succeed him.  So his son Adonijah attempted to take over the crown.  Then David ordered that Solomon be placed on his mule and process to Gihon, where he was to be anointed king.  This duly happened.  Adonijah’s court were alarmed by the noisy celebrations.  Solomon took over the throne and Adonijah came to a sticky end.

They also remember the words of the prophet Zechariah (Zech 9:9, NRSV)

Rejoice Greatly, O daughter Zion!

Should aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The religious authorities remember, and are rattled.  This guy Jesus could be serious trouble.  How will they respond?


Scene 5

The man who would be king and saviour entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  He didn’t raise up an army to overthrow the Romans.  Instead, he went to the temple.  He turned out the money changers and traders, complaining that they had desecrated the house of prayer.  He healed the sick, he answered questions and told stories about the Kingdom of God.  He allowed a woman of ill-repute to anoint him.  And he performed the most menial of duties for his friends, by washing their feet.

He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking on the form of a slave

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.  (Phil. 2:6b-8, NRSV)


This is the man who would be king and saviour

How will we respond?


Reader Catherine Burchell


Readings for the sermon and links:

Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 21:1-11