Sermons from 2023

 
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Embracing the Present    

The theme of last Sunday night’s service was Gratitude, of taking the time after completion of a task to stop and give thanks to God, rather than just race on to the next challenge. Today I want to segway to the idea of being present in the moment, of embracing the present. I start with two of my favourite philosophers: Charles M. Schulz who drew the Peanuts cartoons: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.” And from A.A. Milne: “What day is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favourite day,” said Pooh.”  But moving to a more authoritative source, the Bible tells us that we are not to worry about tomorrow 

Matthew 6:27 (AMP) can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? ... 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. 25 Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing? … 27 And who of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure (cubit) to his stature or to the span of his life? …30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and green and tomorrow is tossed into the furnace, will He not much more surely clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry and be anxious, saying, What are we going to have to eat? or, What are we going to have to drink? or, What are we going to have to wear? 32 For the Gentiles (heathen) wish for and crave and diligently seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows well that you need them all. 33 But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness. His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. 34 So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble. 

Bill Watterson, cartoonist of Calvin and Hobbes puts it in secular speak: “We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”  The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Scripture warns us to not jump ahead with worry about the future, but it also cautions us not to dwell on the past. The Israelites looked back with rose coloured glasses to a past that in hindsight seemed easier that going through the desert. 

Number 11:4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”  

Living in the past is unhelpful. Constantly looking back at what you've lost, emotionally and physically, is futile, because it's gone. It's never coming back. We are told not to dwell on the past or future, but to embrace the present.  We need to look to the God of the moment. Just as Jacob waking after his dream of the ladder to heaven, he exclaimed (Genesis 28:16) “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was unaware of it.” 17And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” , it is about recognising that God is in the present, he is where we are. In the dream, Jacob heard from God who said (Genesis 28:15) “Look, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  However, instead of embracing the present and recognising God in the present, we may be fearful and find ourselves feeling very anxious about what may happen in the next few months and/or years; We may avoid making long-term plans; We may feel frustrated or "stuck" in life and have no plan for how to move ahead; Or we may believe that our best days are behind us.  Instead of embracing the words of God to Jacob: Lo, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, we panic. We often struggle to live in the now.  There is an old adage, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that's why they call it the present!" The American Poet Emily Dickinson reminds us that “Forever is composed of nows.” My late spiritual director Sister Lorraine Challis taught me the spiritual practice called Examen done at the end of each day, where you look over the day just gone and after identifying where God was in the day, conclude with the words "What has been done, has been done. What has not been done, has not been done. We give it to God.”  Which is a way of saying that we cannot affect the past so do not dwell on it. And by giving it to God, it puts a full stop on the past and we are ready to embrace what God gives us now and in the future. It removes the illusion of control from us and puts the control in its rightful place, with God. 

 Psalm 127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.  

We are remembering the past as important and planning for the future is important but the present is our focus. Scripture confirms that there is a dynamic tension between the past present and future. Remember the Israelites put up cairns of rocks in places where they had encountered God, in order to remember the providence of God for future generations. Like when the Israelites crossed the Jordan to the Promised Land, the Lord told Joshua to set up twelve stones from the Jordan representing each tribe.  

Joshua 3:6-7 says, “That this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” 

Remembrance is important.  “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  And Scripture does tell us to plan for the future with one proviso. 

Jesus told a parable in Luke 12:16 “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  

The man was trusting in himself and his plans without focusing on God’s plans.We need to seek the will of God for the future, instead of trusting our judgement. 

Proverbs 16:9      The human mind plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps.  

To balance the past, present and future we need to take stock of what we currently have in our life and all the things we have to be grateful for. We need to acknowledge that there are some things in life that we just can't control. We need to learn to let go of those things and feel some of the weight lift off our shoulders.1  We need to learn to trust God for our present and our future. We are not to stay in the past or stay in the future whatever that may be. What we have is the present. Dwell there. There are health benefits of dwelling in the present.  Abraham Maslow. "The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness." Mental health research shows that people who are more in touch with the present tend to be happier, more excited about life, more secure, and have higher self-esteem. Presence anchors us to the now, which leads to lower rates of depression, binge-eating, and distraction.  Whilst future-thinking may help us manage our current frustrations, presence helps us accept our current frustrations. The problem with acknowledging the need to be in the present is that being present requires us to practice being present, to stop my “done, what’s next” mentality that I spoke of on Sunday night. Embracing the present does not deny the past or future, but it takes us out of living in those time parameters.  We can be present when we consciously reflect on events from the past, as opposed to being caught up, distracted and overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of the past.  The same logic applies to the future. We can consciously plan for the future without living in the hope or fear for the future.2 It sounds difficult but it is about noticing what is around us now, it is about celebrating the small triumphs rather than waiting for the grand triumph at the completion of a task or mission, it is about seeing God in the moment. It’s the looking for God’s fingerprints in the everyday events of the day and identifying the God moments that Jacob identified “Surely God is in this place.” They may not be biggies like a heavenly ladder, but they reminds us that God is with us. Think back to Moses encountering the burning bush in the desert, he took time to walk over to find out what was happening 

Exodus 3:4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 

God when asked his name by Moses at the burning bush, gave his name as I AM.  Not I was, or I will be, but I AM. (Exodus 3:14) God is present here and now, in the here and now of our lives. In the sacredness of the moment. God is with us  It is good to know where we have come from - our past - because it suggests a trajectory forward, but we do not live there. Yes, it is good to know where we are going, but in my experience, God only gives us the next step not the whole plan. God gives us a series of “present” experiences that lead us into the future. Unlike God, we only have the present to live in. Embrace the present.  Leo Tolstoy Christian author from Russia: " there is only one time that is important-- Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power." “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”- Mother Teresa. Look for the moments when God says remove your sandals, you are in a holy place. Look for the moments when we can say “Surely God is in this place.” Life is made up of moments, Moments create days, Days create months, Months create years, Years create life, Lose the moment and you lose life.  

Let me finish with a saying from American poet Maya Angelou “If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present. Gratefully.”  

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