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What is your attitude? – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: What is your attitude?

Date/time/service: Sunday 3rd January 2021 Christmas 2

Passage of scripture: Isaiah 46.3-end & Romans 12.1-8

A man walked in to a pub with a little dog. He bought a drink and sat down. Soon another man entered, bought a drink, took off his hat also sat down and began to drink his beer. Soon he noticed that the first man’s little dog had moved to sit next to his hat and had begun to chew it. He said the first man, ‘Excuse me but your dog is eating my hat.’ ‘So!’ exclaimed the first man aggressively, ‘do you want to make something of it?’ ‘Oh’ said the first man, a little surprised, ‘so that is your attitude?’ ‘No’ said the first man ‘that is you hat he chewed!’

A terrible old joke. I can remember my dad telling it to me many, many years ago, so let’s blame him. Anyway, I thought about it again this week because of a line in our second reading this evening,

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Romans 12.2

It is remarkable how words written by St Paul to the Christian community in Rome in the middle of the first century continue to resonate with us, a Christian community in York at the beginning of 2021. How are we to approach this New Year? What is our attitude going to be to the challenges we face after such a grim 2020? For example, are we going to be conformed to the rest of the world and simply continue criticising the government, and others in authority, for virtually everything they do? For fear of being accused of racism, sexism, homophobia or transphoboia, are we simply not going to talk about these important subjects at all and just jump on any passing ‘bandwagon’ which purports to defend members of BAME communities or any minority group?

With the words of St Paul in mind my hope for 2021 is that we are not conformed to this world, but that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we learn to discern what is good acceptable and perfect. In other words, my hope is that we change our attitude.

In order for this to happen I think we need to start being much less lazy and we need to start doing much more praying.

While there is much to be thankful for with the digital revolution we are experiencing, maybe one of the down-sides of it is that, if we are not careful, it makes us all lazy. There is such a plethora of news and information available to us today we tend to filter out what we do not want to hear. This means that it is very easy for us to create a little echo chamber where we hear only what we want to hear. We form our opinions and then just have those opinions reinforced by the news and information we have chosen to receive. There is a danger that our lives become regulated by everything to which we give a ‘tick’ or register a ‘like’. This is all very comfortable, easy and lazy ……! We need to make the effort to ensure our lives are not regulated by everything we choose to ‘tick’ or ‘like’ – we need to go out of our way to be confronted by news and information we don’t like, news and information which does not support our ready-made opinions.

Once we have put in the hard, and sometimes uncomfortable, work of gathering a broad spectrum of news, information and opinions about the latest government guidelines or race, gender, sexual orientation or the latest political issue, then we need to spend time in prayer, holding these important, complex issues before God. The God who created the world and saw that it is very good, the God who is love. One way of talking about prayer is that it is the ‘renewing or our minds’ in the light of God who created us and loves us. This is where our opinions, our priorities and our goals in life should be formed. It is only when we have done all this that we should ever form an opinion (based on what we discern to be good, acceptable and perfect) and only then maybe send a tweet or write a letter to the papers or enter a heated discussion in the pub.

After Paul talks about the renewal of minds he goes on to warn against ‘thinking too highly of ourselves’. Another word for thinking too highly of ourselves is ‘arrogance’ and it seems to me that in addition to the pandemic of Covid 19 there is also a pandemic of arrogance in our world. We all seem to think that we know best, that we have the insights and wisdom to understand what is happening and to make the right decisions and that anyone who does not see things our way, or do what we would do, is an idiot and not to be trusted.

To act in this way is to be conformed to this world. This is what needs to be transformed so that we become more Christian, more Christ-like. As St Paul reminds us in the second part of the passage we heard today – we all need each other, we are ‘one body in Christ’, we are members ‘one of another’.

As we begin 2021 let us pray that our attitude will not be conformed to this world but will be transformed by God’s grace, our hard work and lots of prayer, so that in all things we may begin to discern God’s will and discover what is good, acceptable and perfect.


A prayer that the Spirit of God will fill us and transform us

Spirit of God, breathe into our hearts peace that is content in your love. Spirit of God, unite us in honouring the gift we are to each other. Spirit of God, give nations common cause to strive for justice and the welfare of all people. Spirit of God, fill us with your grace to trust in your promises and accept your forgiveness for ourselves and others. Spirit of God, breathe into the whole of your creation the peace that comes from you alone through Jesus Christ. Amen

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