Theme: Do not worry - have faith in God
I wonder whether you, like me have been avidly following the Winter Olympics from Nagano over the past week. I have to say that I am something of a sports fan and would happily sit in front of a television for hours watching some form of sport but I have taken a keener than usual interest in the Winter Olympics this year as I am planning to make a triumphant return to the ski slopes in a few weeks time after many years of absence. I am not sure what has possessed Elaine and I to take this brave step since we have, neither of us, skied since having the children but we are trusting to the fact that it will be, as they say, like riding a bike, once learned, never forgotten.
The only niggle in the back of my mind is that when we last used to ski regularly, I was a dashing and energetic 20 something and I am now the wrong side of forty with similar maths applying to my waistline. Whilst, therefore, I feel sure that the spirit will be willing, the flesh may be weak - and flabby.
It is, therefore, with enormous admiration that I have viewed the skiers in Nagano this week as they hurl themselves at 90mph down almost vertical mountains and still seem to remain upright and it made me think how I would feel were I to be standing at that start gate with my head in the clouds about to plunge earthwards at breakneck speed. The closest I have come to this experience was many years ago at the Austrian resort of Kitzbuhel, home of a very famous mountain, the Hannenkam.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with skiing, the Hannenkam is one of the most legendary world cup downhill ski runs as it tends to be extremely steep, extremely icy and, in places, extremely narrow. Having spent a few days in Kitzbuhel, we could not resist the temptation to try the famous run and we did. Now this was no Eddie the Eagle, gung ho attempt. We were not taking the mountain at 90mph like the heroes of that time but traversing the slope in a very gingerly fashion, stopping at regular intervals and progressing at a speed not much above walking pace.
Even at this pace, it was a pretty terrifying experience and we finally came to a point on the run where the piste opened out into a wide flattish area which looked very inviting until we realised that it then disappeared into thin air. We skied up to the point at which the piste left our view to find that it was still there but a long way below us with a seemingly vertical drop between us and it. For the world cup skiers, of course, this was one of those impressive jumps where they would fly off into space t make contact with the ground again several hundred yards further on and several hundred yards lower down. For us, it marked the end of our attempt on the Hannenkam and we gingerly traversed across to find a much longer and more innocent way to ground floor.
I had no doubts that the way I had skied down that mountain was probably the worst that I had ever skied as my legs were in direct contact with the panic centre in my brain and refused to do anything other than lock rigidly into rigor at every turn. I was permanently conscious of the dangers on that mountain and worry overrode all logical thought. The professionals are also permanently conscious of the dangers of that mountain and have thought through every turn and bump in their minds before setting off from the start gate. For them, worry has been transformed into a constructive and valuable concern.
Their thoughts on approaching a bend are not, "This bend is too sharp and it is so icy I can't get a grip and so I will fall", rather they think "If I am to keep up my speed on this bend, then I need to come in at a certain speed, at a certain angle and be prepared to transfer my weight at such and such a time etc." The difference between worry and concern.
In our gospel reading from Matthew today, Jesus teaches us about worry in very plain and simple terms and advises us strongly against it. Who, he asks, by worrying will add a single hour to his life. Don't worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own. This all seems like great good sense but I question how well we heed the message.
We all know that worry does us no good. It can damage our health. It can cause the object of our worry to consume our thoughts, to the exclusion of all else. It, undoubtedly, reduces our productivity and can negatively affect the way we treat others. Most significantly, it is also a sure sign of a reduction in our ability to trust God because the other side of the message of Jesus in today's reading is that we should not worry but trust in God to provide the solution.
We should not, of course take this message to imply that we should go through life regarding life's problems in an immune and uncaring way. This comes back to the difference between worry and concern. Where worry is futile and often negative, concern can be a true and honest Christian response to the situations that we find. Worry immobilises but concern moves us to action. Planning for tomorrow is time well spent but worrying about tomorrow is time wasted.
I want, in the word's of Max Bygraves, to tell you a story. Not a fictional one but a real one about a little thing that happened to me a couple of years ago that brought this message home to me in a novel way. A little testimony, if you like which I have told at a 9.30 service some time ago, so apologies of you have already heard it.
I was in America, in Pennsylvania to be precise having a series of business meetings. I was staying in a small country hotel, way off the beaten track which I particularly like. I like it, because unlike most of the modern impersonal hotels I get shoved into, this one was very small with only eight rooms and was really a good restaurant which happened to have a bit if accommodation tacked onto the back. It was situated in a tiny hamlet in the Pennsylvania countryside, perhaps another 6 or 7 houses and a classic white weatherboarded New England church.
Early on the first evening that I was there, I had had a stroll around the village and wandered up to the church. It really was picture postcard stuff, set in rolling green fields and the only thing that let it down was a classic piece of American kitsch which was not something you could see but rather hear. When the church clock reached the hour, instead of ringing out a standard chime, it played popular hymn tunes (on the bells) presumably through some sort of electronic mechanism. This amused me greatly when I heard it and then I thought no more about it.
The next day, while I was in the office, I got a piece of very bad news regarding the business. One of our major customers had run into a serious development problem with one of their new products and was going to have to postpone their order for material from us until this problem could be resolved. This was likely to take 12 to 18 months and this particular order was to have been our biggest and most profitable and it's removal knocked a massive hole in the financial performance of my business for the year. My heart literally sank when I got this news and I spent the rest of the day thinking of nothing else and with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
That evening, one of my colleagues was due to pick me up from my small hotel to take me to dinner and as I waited for him, leaning on a fence beside the hotel, my mind was still occupied by this problem which was weighing me down considerably. I knew this made no sense and that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it but it still consumed my thoughts. I no longer saw the beauty of my surroundings and was shaping up to be one of the world's worst dinner guests for the evening.
Then, through this mire of muddled thought, I realised the church bells were playing a tune and slowly, the tune penetrated my mind.
I gradually and subconsciously put words to the tune and the words then registered with me. Trust and Obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.
I then, of course realised how futile my worrying was and felt a great sense of relief in offering my problem to God. I hope that next time, I won't need a cute electronic church bell to remind me of what I should already have known.