A better frame of mind – sermon notes for Proper 10B

Sermon notes for July 12th 2015
St Thomas & All Saints, Ellesmere Port and St Lawrence’s, Stoak
Ordinary 15B, Proper 10B

Ephesians 1:3-14

What is your frame of mind? What frame of mind are you in?

Where are you on a scale of -5 to +5, where -5 is very negative and +5 is very posiitve?

Is it grim? Is it ecstasy?

What frame of mind are your loved ones in?

What frame of mind is your church in?

Where, on the scale -5 to +5?

What frame of mind is our society in? (Thinking of austerity, migrants, refugees, people on welfare)

What creates that frame of mind?

Things that happened to us as children, while we were still in the womb, things that happened to our parents, attitudes to learning, to school, to work, to neighbours, friendships, the opportunities that have been open to us, our health, our wealth

Where we live, whether in Belgravia with life expectancy of 91 or Stockton on Tees with life expectancy of 67,

Whether we are thriving, or just surviving, flourishing or languishing.


Can we change the frame of mind that we are in? Or does the frame of mind box us in, and box us round the ears? Can we be saved from a frame of mind, can we be reframed?

These are questions for the angels (all of whom are positive thinkers).

All those who are positive thinkers think we can change our frame of mind.

All those who are negative thinkers think they can’t – but the positive thinkers know they can change the frame of mind of the most negative, and that is the good news that Paul is talking about in the letter to the churches of Ephesus.

Listen to him again,

“Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ, to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.” That’s how and where he wants to see us – his frame.

But stuff happens to us doesn’t it? And it’s easy to think as the world thinks, or as the world tells us to think – to worry about tomorrow, to fret about what we’ll wear and how we present ourselves to others. We hurt, we suffer, we protect ourselves and our loved ones, we get angry, we get jealous.

Apparently, the more somebody thinks angry thoughts, the angrier they become. Anger narrows our thinking. When angry, people expect life to throw more annoyances at them. Angry people become more judgemental, their threshold for provocation is lowered, and they become negative about people who are not like them etc etc.

The negatives in our lives are so much more powerful than the positives.

Did you know, that to flourish, you have to have a ratio of 5 positives to 1 negative. That’s how strong the power of negative experiences are. Teachers have got it wrong – the guidance for feedback is “3 stars and a wish”. That’s only 3:1. We can get the possible feedback at work, we can be told we are doing a grand job, but the thing we leave with can be one negative comment. “There is one area of weakness that you need to work on”. That will bother us.

The negatives have far more power than the positives, and that is why they need to be so heavily outnumbered. We can live with a ratio of 3:1, but we don’t thrive. Anything less than 3:1 and we are nosediving, we’re languishing, just surviving.

These ratios work on a personal level, but they also work in all organisations – families, work, neighbourhoods, churches.

And that raises the question of how we can help one another, how can we help one another into a better frame of mind? How can we help our loved ones thrive? How can we help ourselves? How can we help our church?

5:1 – Anything from 5:1, but less than 11:1. Anything over 11:1 is going overboard – there needs to be critical awareness. The naysayer is good – we don’t want to be surrounded by yes men and women.

The summary list of positive emotions is: love, joy, gratitude, contentment, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe. They are the Big 10. How can we help others and ourselves to more of these, so that we flourish, so that we bless and know our blessing?

The summary list of negative emotions is: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, shame, jealousy and envy. There only needs to be eight of them because of their power. It sounds like a description of the Daily Mirror doesn’t it? (I pick on the Daily Mirror only because it fits in with what I want to share in a minute). How do we limit their frequency and intensity?

It seems to me that Paul and Jesus were amazing encouragers in their preaching and teaching. It’s as if they want to get into our hearts and minds to turn the tables so that those voices which deal in fear, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, shame, jealousy and envy are driven out.

The power of that encouragement is there in Paul’s letter to the churches of Ephesus. Paul layers it on in spades.

“God is so rich in kindness”, he says.

“He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding”, he says.

He wants us to believe in the one who wants to reframe our lives so that when he looks at us he sees his very image and likeness, to be framed by God’s purpose which is to bring everything together, even everything in heaven and everything on earth.

This is positive thinking, positive preaching – to change our minds.

But he doesn’t just want to change our minds. That isn’t good enough. He doesn’t just want us to believe, because that isn’t good enough.

There’s a connection between the words “believe” and “beloved”. Say them often enough and your hear the likeness. John’s gospel talks about the beloved disciple. Believing can be all in the head – it can be about things that have passed. He wants us to be beloved and be-loving. That’s when we believe from the heart. That’s when we are truly in a new frame of mind.

So we need big words, grand gestures in all the small steps of our lives. God is SO rich in kindness. God SHOWERS his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

What can we do for ourselves? How can we help one another? How can we help one another to flourish? What can we do as believing and beloved?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? What frame of mind are you in?

When you look in the Daily Mirror, what do you see?

The picture is called Tabula Rasa – which means a “clean slate”. It’s by Cecil Collins. We get a glimpse of a woman brushing her hair. Would she win a beauty contest? I don’t think so. Would she be wishing sho could have her roots done? Would she be counting the wrinkles? I don’t think so. She sees in her daily mirror her life transformed. Staring back at her is beauty with all her emotions of love, joy, gratitude, contentment, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and awe – the very image of God – heaven and earth coming together in a frame of mind – a frame of mind to praise God.

Making connections for International Happiness Day

Today is the International Day of Happiness, a day dedicated to happiness by the United Nations. The International Day of Happiness website makes the point that our “happiness is part of something bigger”, wanting me “to create more happiness in the world around me”, “to connect”, “to help make the world a more connected place by sharing something positive with others”. My contribution to that is to share the brilliant TED talk by Martin Seligman on “positive psychology”.

Happiness is something to aim at, but the selfish pursuit of happiness will be self-defeating and will thwart personal happiness. My guess is that the UN intention is that we should be concerned for everyone else’s happiness – and that we should make that our business. The General Assembly passed this resolution on June 28th 2012:

Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, Decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness, Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities

Many people have written about happiness and how we find it. Christopher Jameson, Abbot of Worth Abbey and author of Finding Happiness, finds happiness in the way of life based on the Rule of Benedict. He writes:

All too often, happiness is narrowed down to mean feeling good. There is of course nothing wrong with feeling good but such a narrow definition leaves little room for the delight of virtue and the joy of grace. To find happiness, we need to broaden our definition so that feeling good is put into the wider context of doing good and knowing good.

Where do we find happiness? Viktor Frankl was a leading psychiatrist in Vienna, working at the Rothschild Hospital. There he risked his life and career by falsely diagnosing those who were mentally ill so that they would not be euthanized by the Nazis. He had a visa to move with his new wife to America, but, by then in 1941, the Nazis had already started rounding up the Jews to take them to concentration camps. The focus was on the elderly and Frankl knew that it wouldn’t be long before his parents would be taken away. He had to decide between a new (and “happy”) life in America, or staying to be with his parents so that he could help them adjust to the trauma of camp life. He decided to stay. He survived the camps and found there much that confirmed his theories of meaning in life (logotherapy). He wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. He describes his work in the camps as a continuation of his work in Vienna, working, for example to establish suicide prevention centres for young people. It was all about helping people to find meaning in their lives, helping them to discover what they wanted to live for. For Frankl, happiness ensues – it comes after meaning.

What sets people apart is the pursuit of meaning. Happiness without meaning is shallow, selfish and short-lived because it depends on “happinings” (I just noticed the “pinings” in that word). I think this is what the United Nations intend: that we find happiness through (in the words of Christopher Jameson) “knowing good” and “doing good”. To underline that the UN Foundation and Pharrell Williams are inviting people to sign the Live Earth Petition to persuade world leaders to commit to tackling climate change.

Happiness is blessing. It is the subject of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5. For Jesus there is no happiness without meaning. Happiness is life giving, not life-taking. He begins many phrases with the words “you are blessed when ….. you’re poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you’re meek, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, when you’re merciful, when you’re a peacemaker ….”

PS There is a rare clip from 1972 of Viktor Frankl delivering a powerful message about the the search for meaning.

lashings from the milk demon


The Hideous Milk Demon
The Hideous Milk Demon

What do you do when things go wrong – when you get egg all over your face and mis-manage situations? I know what I do – I blame everyone in the search for a scapegoat – except myself. The Hideous Milk Demon (thank you Joseph O’Hughes for the picture) reminds us of the dangers of upset emotion. It is, after all, no good crying over spilt milk. And it’s no good lashing out at those who left the milk out.

Upsetting emotion can spill all over others and bring unintended ruin as a consequence. It is far better to build a good and safe container that doesn’t spill. That way we can look at ourselves, own up to the mistakes and, as friend Christopher counselled me, “do not be disheartened”.
Friend, Simon Marsh, reminds us of the importance of positive psychology. Positive psychology underlines the importance of positive emotions to help us become more creative and flexible, as well as becoming more optimistic, resilient and “socially connected”.  Positive emotions loosen the hold of negative emotions, and according to research reported by Barbara Fredrickson, help us to live up to ten years longer.
Prayer helps the positive emotions. Like this prayer picked up from this morning’s Daily Prayer:

Faithful God, let your word be the treasure of our hearts, that we may delight in your truth and walk in the glorious liberty of your Son Jesus Christ.

The spilt milk demon. I’ll get over it.