Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sermon for Trinity 6, 19th July 2009 Mark 6:30-34& 53-56

With grateful thanks to Annabel, whose sermon on PRCL gave me both the kick start I needed, and some helpful sentences too.

It has been an anything but quiet week at the vicarage.

On Monday we had the joy of travelling to Cardiff for Lucinda’s graduation. Tuesday saw a service of Holy Communion in one of the sheltered housing complexes in Cashes Green, some pastoral visiting, a clergy consultation group and a training evening designed to help us to think about the welcome we offer in our churches. Wednesday saw a school Assembly, two more services of Holy Communion, a study group, more visiting and a retirement celebration, Thursday yet more Communions, a chapter meeting, another meeting in Cheltenham and a Baptism preparation evening, while Friday featured the Leavers’ service for St Matthew’s school, a spot of essential admin, another Home Communion and the interment of some cremated remains here at All Saints.

I wish I could say that last week’s timetable was atypical, but I’m ashamed to say that I can’t. I did find time for some much needed dog walking, but even with two out of three children home, time for family meals and space to enjoy each other’s company just hasn’t been feasible.

I’m telling you this not in a bid for sympathy, or because I want to win some award for overworking cleric of the year, but simply to illustrate an all too prevalent pattern in contemporary life.
Most of us, whether consciously or not, are spending our days as if we were called to be not so much human beings as human doings.
As you’ll probably know, full time clergy are not paid a salary, a reward for hours worked, but rather a stipend – an allowance that is designed to free us to take time to follow God’s agenda for the communities we serve, without anxiety about where the next meal might be coming from.
But even clergy are leading increasingly driven lives.
Training is often focussed on management issues as priests who were called as pastors find themselves charged with maintaining the church life of growing numbers of communities.
That’s not a bad thing – until it forces us to break the fourth commandment, the one that requires us to keep sabbath.
I’m not about to indulge in a frantic rearguard action to reclaim Sunday as a day of universal rest (and, if I recall correctly, not a little tedium at times) BUT I do think there’s something very wrong when we try to operate at full capacity 24/7, 52 weeks of the year.
We need space.
Space for families
Space for re-creation.
Space for God.

If you’re in any doubt, in our frantic society, that this is the way forward, look again at our gospel reading.
As I began to think about my sermon earlier in the week, I couldn’t help giggling. I’d come home from meetings thinking
“Now some time to breathe” only to encounter a red-hot phone and a whole raft of emails….and I began to understand more and more clearly how it felt for Jesus and the twelve as they sought solitude, only to find the crowds pursuing them relentlessly.
But I don’t want us to focus on the demands that Jesus faced in his own ministry, but rather on the solution
“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves and rest a while”

Jesus himself was in dire need of some time out.
Mark’s favourite word is “immediately” – and his gospel conveys the non stop hustle of those days in Galilee.
Jesus moves from teaching to healing, from miracle to wonder, with barely time to think…
Barely time – but he makes that time a priority.
“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves and rest a while”

And his time out differs in quality from so much of mine, and perhaps of yours too.
It’s not a question of slumping on the sofa, watching mindless television…or of copying those stressed city executives who can only find relaxation with the aid of drink or drugs.
The rest that Jesus invites us to is the same that is recognised by the psalmist as he worships the God who
“leads me beside the still waters and restores my soul”

This is quite a confessional sermon, isn’t it – so let me share one more difficult thing.
When I’m very tired or hard pressed, time with God is one of the first things to get squeezed out.
But Jesus shows us that it is just when we are tired that it’s most important to turn to God to be refreshed and resourced.

It’s interesting how many Christians struggle with this.
Perhaps we were only given one model of prayer as we were growing up – something to do with public worship or with “Saying prayers” at the beginning and end of each day.
Perhaps that has never really worked for you, but you have carried on dutifully, because you know it OUGHT to be helpful.
If that is the case, take heart.
There are as many different ways of spending time with God as there are people to spend them.

In fact, there are whole libraries of books out there explaining
different ways of praying, from the “lectio divina” of the Benedictines, reading and meditating on a Bible passage, allowing God to speak to you through it, via the “sanctified imagination” of the Ignatians, where you imagine yourself into the scene, right up to just sitting and being in God’s presence. Not just letting your mind wander, but staying focussed, being aware of your body and your breathing, and of God’s presence, and using a Christian mantra – perhaps something like “Maranatha – come Lord Jesus” as a focus for prayer.

If you are someone who likes to keep busy, you might find a rosary or Anglican prayer beads a good way to pray, since this approach occupies both hands and mind. You can develop your own way of using these for prayer, perhaps praying a Bible verse on the larger beads, and then something like “Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, Saviour” on the smaller ones. You might like to mark the start of your prayer time by lighting a candle, and focus on its flame…that can be wonderfully calming in a busy day.
And, however predictably, I must remind you of the role of music…everything from hymns, and choral music, to plainsong or Taize chant. It can still your thoughts and refresh your soul

The point is, prayer is a bit like exercise – one size doesn’t fit all.
The practices that inspire me may leave you cold, and vice versa. You know that the best exercise for you is the one you like and will
actually do, and the same applies to spiritual exercises. It’s well
worth spending some time exploring different ways of prayer that different groups of Christians have found helpful, so that you can really be refreshed by your time with God..

It doesn’t actually matter how you pray! Whether you use your own words, or other people’s, or none at all; whether you paint your prayers, or engage with icons, whether you listen to music or sing to yourself; whether you use a rosary or prayer beads or whether those do simply nothing for you. What matters is that each of us spends time with our Lord, that we go by ourselves with him to a quiet place and rest awhile. You don’t have to be an ordained minister, or some sort of super-holy freak to gain huge benefit from time out with God. You may be surprised to learn that, in what is billed as an age of creeping secularism, retreats are a growth industry –perhaps because the busier we are the more we need to rest with God.
As we grow and change –for I hope we’re all growing and changing, and allowing God to mould us into the people He created us to be – a way of prayer that was perfect for us some years ago may no longer suit quite as well, while something that seemed not even to be prayer back then might turn out to be the exact thing your spirit has been craving! So it’s really worth making time to explore new directions, or simply to sit and let God set the agenda.

“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves and rest a while”

If you’re struggling with all this, feeling way out of your depths and wondering if I’m actually speaking English- well, though your clergy might not have the answers, we’re only to happy to spend time with you exploring the questions.

But please remember, there are no experts in prayer...Though our souls need it, in order to breathe and live, there really is no default option that we can all revert to. All that is certain is that each of us needs to make space to allow God to restore our souls.
How that happens will change day by day, and year by year
What matters is that we pray, not how!
And may God the Holy Spirit help us and guide our prayers.


Songbird said...

I love the idea of being re-sourced.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Hope it went down with your lot as well as it did with my few (what with swine flu & the start of the school holidays there were only about 8 people there this morning). But they seemed to appreciate it.