Second Sunday before Lent

Semron preached by Rev’d Karen Charman on the Second Sunday before Lent, 16th February 2020.

“Do not worry about your life …”

On Friday lunchtime, I was sat in the Bat & Ball at Cuddesdon, with the Area Dean.  He asked how things were going.  I replied along the lines that it was great, I love being here … but it had been a rather hectic week and I was worried that I hadn’t yet written my wedding sermon for Saturday, or even looked at the readings for today’s services, let alone written a sermon.  And Simon – the Area Dean – told me that the Gospel reading set for today was “Do not worry about your life …”

Last Sunday, in my sermon at Cuddesdon and Hospath, I said that – for Lent – I’m going to give up busyness.

I think God has a sense of humour!  Or maybe he thinks, “Well, it’s not Lent yet.  Let’s throw all sorts of things Karen’s way before Lent.”

Though perhaps I’m doing God a mis-service here.  I don’t think God is to blame when we’re busy. I think busyness is something we have to take responsibility for ourselves … we have to learn to say no, to manage people’s expectations… to manage our own expectations… to acknowledge that sometimes we’ll upset people, because we’re not superhumans, and because Oxford Diocese has made it quite clear that our clergy should work a maximum of 48, or perhaps, 50 hours per week.

And that requires us to stop worrying about the things we can’t do in a day, or a week … it requires us to stop worrying about what we haven’t done … and to celebrate, instead, what we have done.

We do worry though, don’t we?  I think human beings are hard-wired to worry … unless worry and anxiety is, perhaps, a result of the fall.  God didn’t intend for us to worry or be anxious.  It’s not his will for humankind.  He wants us to experience his peace, which passes all understanding.  He wants us to enjoy the goodness of creation and to live in the moment, one day at a time, rather than worry about yesterday or tomorrow.

But we do worry, don’t we?

Some people are worried about the corona-virus … and whether that little sniffle or sneeze could be the beginning of the virus.

Perhaps you’re worried about storm Dennis.  Or about your Sunday roast – is this service going to finish in time for you to get the roast in or out the oven?  Is the sermon going to be short … or another long one?  Are your clothes smart enough for church?  Are your socks matching … or your shoes … hands up if you looked down to check?

I think most of us worry.  A report quoted by the Mental Health Foundation stated that, in 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK.[1]  Another report says that, in England, women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety.  But worry and anxiety can affect all of us.  You know what, I think even Mark Chapman – who always appears very laid back and unworried – I think even Mark worries sometimes!

I think he worries about his new colleague, anyway!

He’d invited me to preside at a college Eucharist at 7:30 on Friday morning and, at 7:25, he popped his head around the vestry door, and I’m sure he was checking I was there!  Though perhaps he had every right to be worried.  Perhaps he remembered that – as an ordinand at the college – I occasionally fell asleep in his lectures!  Perhaps he realised I’m not a morning person, and was worried I might have gone back to sleep and not turned up!

Joking aside though, worry and anxiety can affect any of us – and what’s really upsetting is the number of children and young people who are affected by worry and anxiety today.  Childhood used to be thought of as a time of innocence – a golden age for play, fun and laughter, before the onset of adulthood and the need to go out to work and earn a living.  According to The Children’s Society, 10% of young people aged 6 to 16 have a diagnosable mental health problem.[2]  Older people, too, are vulnerable to mental health problems including worry and anxiety.[3]

But Jesus tells us not to worry.  God knows all our needs, he says, and will provide for us.

Sometimes, though, it’s not easy to stop worrying.

Some people don’t understand worry, anxiety and mental ill-health or illness.  They think that people who are worried or anxious have too much time on their hands.  “If they’d only get a job, or do more work,” they say, “they wouldn’t have time to be anxious.”

But they’re wrong.  I think busyness and worry, or anxiety, go hand in hand.  They’re two sides of the same coin – in some cases at least.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the increase in mental health problems and anxiety has coincided with an increase in technology – in emails, mobile phones, social media, Whatsapp, etc, which mean that we’re contactable 24/7.

Technology was supposed to make life easier – you might remember promises of 3 or 4 day weeks?  We were told we wouldn’t have to work 5 or 6 day weeks any more, because computers and technology would make life easier, and we’d have more leisure time.

Instead, technology seems to have made us busier than ever!

Life was very different, two thousand years ago, when Jesus told the crowds, who came to hear him teach, not to worry about their life.  There were no emails, no mobile phones, no telephones.  People could easily go up into the mountains and spend time on their own, or with God … Even Jesus managed to get away from the crowds sometimes, to spend time alone or with his disciples … his friends.

But people still worried, even then.  Living in a time and place where wealth was scarce … where oppression was rife … where crop failure, hunger and thirst were common; and where illness frequently led to death – their worries were perhaps different to the worries we might face today.

Jesus advised the crowds not to worry about tomorrow.  He acknowledged that – in a subsistence society – tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.  Advice we can heed, today, perhaps.  We should take things one day at a time, and live in the present moment, rather than worry about tomorrow.

The practice of mindfulness – “paying attention to the present moment, without wishing it were otherwise,”[4] – has been found to reduce anxiety levels considerably in many people.[5]

When Jesus tells the crowds, “Do not worry about tomorrow … Today’s trouble is enough for today,” -and when he invites them to look at the birds, and to consider the lilies of the fields – he is – perhaps – encouraging us to practice mindfulness, to “pay attention to the present moment, without wishing it were otherwise.”

As Christians, we can practice mindfulness in many ways – through dwelling in the Scriptures … reading Scriptures slowly and ‘chewing’ on each word or verse; through Christian contemplation or meditation; watching a candle flame; walking a labyrinth; praying with icons, or a rosary; practising silence; using our senses to appreciate and be grateful for the goodness of God’s creation.

Mindfulness is about slowing down … about being less busy.

It’s about taking time to look at the birds … to consider the lilies … to appreciate the beauty of God’s good creation.

I expect most of you have heard of Stephen Cottrell, former Bishop of Reading, then Bishop of Chelmsford, and soon to be the next Archbishop of York.  Perhaps you’ve already read his 2009 best seller, Do nothing to Change your Life: Discovering what happens when you stop.  Perhaps you could join me in reading, or re-reading it, this Lent?

In Lent, I’m also hoping to lead a weekly period of contemplation and prayer, where we can listen to music, scripture and perhaps a poem or too, spend a short time in silence, and some time in prayer.

I invite you to join me – for half an hour or so, on Wednesday evenings in Lent – with a couple of sessions in each of our Benefice churches – and let’s see if, by being more contemplative and prayerful – we can improve our mental health, and stop worrying about tomorrow.

I also encourage you, if you can – some time this week – perhaps tomorrow, when the weather forecast looks rather better – to spend some time in your garden, or to go for a walk, and to look at the birds … to watch the birds in your garden, or the red kites soaring overhead … and to consider the snowdrops … the crocuses … the daffodils that are beginning to emerge.

Let’s see if, as we prayed in our Collect, we can “discern God’s hand in all his works.”

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer.





[4] Being Mindful, Being Christian by Bretherton, Collicutt and Brickman 9Monarch Books Oxford 2016), page 18