It’s been a very peculiar week... The run up to last Sunday was busy busy, what with the Bishop’s visit plans for the PCC away day, and the general run up to Lent…I seemed to be constantly rushing into the house, setting the dogs barking, waving to them apologetically and haring off again.
By bedtime last Sunday I was ready to drop…and rather wishing that the retreat I’m planning for early March could happen in early February instead.
Then, of course, came the snow – and I found myself catapulted into a week of enforced idleness, with meetings cancelled, roads too slippery to allow for any but the most essential journeys, and the familiar routes and corners softened and transformed by their glittering blanket.
And I loved it.
Time to be, without any guilt.
Time to reflect on priorities without simply having to get on with the next thing to hand.
Time to wait…to catch up with myself and also, as Isaiah puts it so beautifully, to wait upon the Lord.
I've never seen an eagle in flight, but I'll never forget reading someone else's account of watching one from above, while standing on a high cliff top. The great bird rose effortlessly, not seeming to move its wings at all, riding the thermals, the invisible air currents that bore it aloft. I'm told that without at least some level of wind or air current eagles can barely fly at all – certainly, they are not designed to flap and flutter. Rather they float and they soar…because their power does not come from themselves. What they have to do is open their wings and the air does the rest
Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength
They will mount up with wings like an eagle
So in waiting on the Lord, we are carried ourselves...lifted in a way that our own frantic flapping can never achieve.
Instead of wearying ourselves and those around us, Isaiah's words encourage us to look at the evidence of God's care in creation and know that our own struggles are noted by the one who counts each star and checks that they are all in the proper place.
That's not down to us...
Isn't that wonderful?
Creation can get along without our running ourselves into the ground to take care of it!
Do you know, it’s even possible that the parishes of Cainscross and Selsley might manage to continue along their appointed paths without my restless energy.
Centuries after Isaiah, the German mystic Hildegard of Bingen had a similar insight
"Listen” she told her sisters “ there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."
A feather…moving not of its own volition but because God breathes and that breath carries it…floating on the current of God’s love.
It’s so tempting, when looking at our parish life together, to get things back to front.
I know there are many things we could and should do together.
Things that would build up our sense of community
Things that would help us to reach out to others…
And for some of them, the time may soon be ripe…because a church that does nothing to serve is a church that has lost sight of its calling to be Christ’s body, Christ’s hands and feet, in this place.
But before we leap into action, listen to Archbishop Rowan, speaking this week
He’s very clear that our top priority is not to be simply “busy”.
"Years ago I lived in a town where there was a very active church indeed. Outside this church was an enormous noticeboard.
It must have been about six feet square. It seemed every moment of the week was taken up by activity. But I've no doubt indeed it was a very good church and very careful and loving parish.
"And yet that noticeboard used to worry me and it still does. It seems to me it speaks of an idea of the church which supposes that the church is about human beings doing things. When you looked at that church you would have thought, what a lot of things they do there. But I'm still wondering if anyone ever asked, does God do things here? It seemed to be just a slight risk that there was hardly any room in the week for God to find his way in among all these activities."
So it’s not just about getting things done – even good, life enhancing things that speak of a God who so loves the world.
Consider our Gospel reading.
In it, we meet Jesus engaged in frantic activity...
And the whole city was gathered around the door. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him
Look at all those “ands” and all those verbs....it's like a child coming in from an exciting day out “and then we did this...and then...and then...”
And then it all stops.
Jesus gets up early to pray...
It is HIS turn to wait upon his Father and renew his own strength – and we know that Jesus shows us the way to come into an ever fuller relationship with God.
It’s not about getting things done…
Jesus gets up early to pray.
He might not have felt like it, at least not every day…because he was, after all, fully human – and sometimes for us humans, the comfort of our beds is most attractive.
But, even after a day of heavy demands, a day filled with success stories – the sick healed, demons cast out, crowds gathering to celebrate these healings…Jesus forgoes a lie-in and shows prayer as his priority.
He waits upon the Lord and renews his strength.
Because prayer has to be the foundation of all that we do, as individuals and as a church.
When we try to fly without it, we get weary…we flounder…we may even plummet.
I’m so grateful that ordination lays on me the obligation to begin and end each day with prayer – the Daily Office of the church, a pattern followed by Christians across the world. I’m not always appreciative. I don’t always feel as if I’m communicating with God….but I mostly keep going…knowing that on days when prayer feels like empty words, brothers and sisters I have never met are praying with me…that together we are waiting upon the Lord and our strength will be renewed.
I'm struck by the fact that Peter's mother-in-law actually lives out the Isaiah pattern in reverse.
Healed by Jesus, she regains her strength and rises from her bed to wait upon the Lord...I'm wondering if that's what our healing – as individuals and as a church family should be all about.
As we are healed we are given the strength to serve.
As the hymn puts it
“Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
That holy things have taken”
And what could be more healing for us than an encounter with the Living God in the bread and wine of Eucharist?
We wait upon the Lord as we gather for worship.
Together we focus on God.
We meet God in one another as we gather.
We meet God in Word and in Sacrament,
We meet God and our strength is renewed. Thanks be to God!