An Introduction to our new Sermon Series
Psalm 138 is song of thanksgiving and praise, a testimony by David to God’s goodness towards him. Near the beginning of the psalm, we find this inspiring and encouraging statement:
On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. Psalm 138:3, New Revised Standard Version
Commentators on this passage note how its original Hebrew is even more evocative, carrying a sense of one’s soul being enlarged. This is reflected in Eugene Peterson’s memorable translation in The Message: ‘The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength.’
Such strength is essential for us, living as we do in a world where there are so many pressures and distractions that could take us off course. The intense busyness and pressure of our modern lives can be stifling and leave little time for reflection, especially so in a city like London. The toxic nature of the online world where we spend much of our time can eat away at us, robbing us of joy and causing us to forget the things that matter most – love, patience and grace. The allure of wealth and material gain can limit our vision, distracting us from the longer perspective of eternity. It is little wonder that Jesus warned us to take care because of such dangers, that we could end up gaining the whole world but forfeiting our souls in the process (Matthew 16:26).
It’s because our souls matter so much, that we’ll be focussing the next few months in SBC on how we might take better care of them. One line in our new vision statement affirms our desire to be ‘a contemplative church: prioritising prayer over programmes and where rest and reflection are valued as much as busyness and activism’. From May to August we’ll take time to consider some essential principles for caring for our souls, and how we might apply them personally and to the life of our church.
Firstly, we’ll spend a few weeks considering what it means to be attentive, to be people who not only listen carefully to God but who can also listen to our own hearts, people who understand what is going on within themselves and why they react in the way they do to those around them. We’ll also think about the importance of listening to other people and developing genuine empathy for them. Finally, we’ll explore what it means to be people who can listen to our neighbourhood. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. Psalm 138:3, NRSV
After that, we’ll spend some Sundays focusing on the importance of being prayerful. With the help of four psalms we’ll think about what it means to draw closer to God, to be strengthened by him, to say sorry to him and to be truly honest with him.
Thirdly, we’ll think together about living within our limits. The American pastor Peter Scazzero has observed that: ‘One of the indicators we are on the road to spiritual maturity is when we live joyfully within our God-given limits. The problem is that most of us resent limits – in ourselves and in others. We expect far too much from ourselves and often live frustrated, disappointed or even angry lives as a result. In fact, much of burnout is a result of giving what we do not possess.’ 1 We’ll take time to consider the importance of rest and a healthy rhythm of life and also how we can free ourselves from the need of the approval of others.
Finally, during August, we’ll focus on the need to slow down, on why it’s important to speak less and listen more, to maker fewer snap judgements and to listen more, and ultimately, to cultivate a patience like God’s, one which is rooted in love.
Some of us might wonder why we’re devoting so much time to dwell on such topics, when we could be thinking instead about mission and new projects. But my prayer is that in pausing our activism and focusing instead on a more contemplative life we will find ourselves in a position not dissimilar to Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha busied herself in the kitchen. Jesus said that, ‘Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’ (Luke 10:42). May we find that to be the better choice for us as well. After Easter, we’ll be considering the line in our vision that expresses our desire to be ‘a contemplative church,’ in a series of reflections entitled ‘Strengthening our Souls.’ In the course of this series, we’ll take four Sundays each to reflect on the themes of ‘Being Attentive,’ ‘Being Prayerful,’ ‘Living within our limits’ and ‘Slowing down.’