Sermon: Ordinary 16, Year B
Text: Mark 6:30-34
In the name of the +Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It has been said: We can worry or we can worship. Strangely enough, busy people find it a whole lot easier to worry than to worship.
A wise man once said,
“The ability to calm your soul and wait before God is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life. Our old nature is restless…the world around us is frantically in a hurry. But a restless heart usually leads to a reckless life.”
An even wiser man, the Psalmist wrote:
“Be Still, and know that I am God”
Rest. It’s a word we hear often enough, but do we really understand it’s importance in our lives? The last few weeks have been frantic, what with Mother Margaret’s Ordination, the Patronal Festival, the Summer Fayre, the Barbeque; and now, just as the holiday season starts up, I look forward to the frenetic pace of preparing and leading the National Youth Pilgrimage to Walsingham and the Greenbelt festival. I know too, how hard many of you have worked in these recent weeks, and we all know there is still more to do…
Yet, when I read through the Gospels I am struck by the relaxed, calm pace Jesus kept from day to day.
You never see Jesus in a hurry. Even when one of Jesus’ closest friends, Lazarus, was on his deathbed, Jesus took His time getting to Bethany to be with Lazarus.
How is it that Jesus moved through life so slowly and yet accomplished so much? Is there something we contemporary Christians have missed?
There were two woodsmen. One day one woodsman challenged another to an all-day tree felling contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.
“How did that happen,” he said. “Every time I looked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.”” But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my axe when I sat down to rest.”
Mark 6:31: Then Jesus said, “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
Rest is not only vital to our spiritual lives, it is imperative if we are to be effective. Christ understood this principle and made it a point to get away both with His disciples and by Himself from time to time in order to rest and rejuvenate. It was Jesus way of “recharging” His spiritual, physical and emotional batteries. In doing so, He set an example for you and I to follow. We are a people too busy for our own good, too busy to stop and realize that in our frantic business we are actually accomplishing less and aging more.
Yes, there is a time to be active: for sloth and apathy will not build the kingdom of God, but in a paraphrase of the Mars Bar advertisement: you need to work, rest and pray.
Each of us responds differently to God, but each and everyone of us should make relaxed and Christ-centred prayer a part of our day. A couple of moments alone with a lighted candle. With a bible or a prayer book, or one of our leaflets: that is all it needs. Look upon that as sharpening the axe, making ready for the day, making right with God.
Each Lent, rather than giving up something, we take up the late night office of prayer – Compline, and by making that the end of our day, we hand it over to God. My entire day is focussed around offering of prayer here in this Church, Morning and Evening each and every day. For a few moments, we step aside the busyness of our lives and focus on He who makes all things new. More and more people are re-discovering the beauty of holiness and the inner calm that some time spent in prayer may afford them.
We try and make the most of those opportunities. A few but not many come to Evening Prayer on a Sunday. Even fewer join me for the daily offices, and you are most welcome. There is our prayer group, there is Benediction – beautiful, contemplative prayer in the presence of the blessed sacrament.
For centuries, holy men and women have contemplated on Christ. Take the opportunity to delve into their beautiful and comforting words: it’s a far better read this summer than the latest bonk-buster, Jilly Cooper travesty or Dan Brown confection. Mother Julian of Norwich, Thomas a Kempis, Theresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, all writers who will enable you to drink deep from the waters of Christian Spirituality.
Do you remember a few weeks ago when I shared what I had learnt from a local farmer: Our gradual today was Psalm 23, the Psalm appointed for today, and it speaks of the Lord, our Shepherd leading us to still waters. Sheep cannot drink from a flowing stream, a moving current – they need still water to be watered. Christ the Good Shepherd leads us to drink deeply: of his Scripture, of his Sacraments, of Himself.
If you only read one book this Summer, then that’s just really sad – drink deeply from the waters of our library at the back, read of Christ and relax in it.
We need rest just as we need air, water and food to survive. The fact is, when we fail to rest fully and deeply, we not only hurt ourselves, we run the risk of hurting others. Physical rest is every bit as important as emotional and spiritual and let us not underplay this reality.
In The Twenty Four Hour Society, Martin Moore-Ede says:
Our most notorious industrial accidents in recent years—Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the fatal navigational error of Korean Air Lines 007—all occurred in the middle of the night. When the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian A300 airbus killing all 290 people aboard, fatigue-stressed operators in the high-tech Combat Information Center on the carrier misinterpreted radar data and repeatedly told their captain the jet was descending as if to attack when in fact the airliner remained on a normal flight path.
In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two to three hours of sleep the night before. Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program.
We ignore our need for rest and renewal at the peril of others and ourselves.
As we close this morning I want to encourage each individual here to learn the disicpline of rest. God designed us to need rest at every level of life, from physical to emotinal to spiritual. We all need to seek solitude and peace on a regular basis. And may we, in our times of rest and solitude, open our hearts to the ministry of the Holy Spirit as God tills the soil of our souls in order to make us better able to produce the fruit of the Spirit.
Learn to slow down. Learn to “smell the roses” as it were. Life goes by too fast and none of us knows when our life will end. I was encouraged by a article I recently read. It’s the story of a basset hound… Terri, please go easy on me after I share this okay?
Some time ago, a newspaper ran the story of Tattoo, the basset hound. I am not sure that Tattoo didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his lead in the car door and took off with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice.
A police officer noticed a passing vehicle with something that appeared to be dragging behind it. As he passed the vehicle, he saw the object was a basset hound on a lead.
“He was picking up his little feet and putting them down as fast as he could,” said Filbert. He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued, but not before the dog reached a speed of twenty-five miles per hour, and rolled over several times.
(The dog was fine but asked not to go out for an evening walk for a long time.)
There are too many of us whose days are marked by “picking up our little feet and putting them down as fast as we can.” We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.
Poor Tattoo. I can just see those little legs going as fast as they can.
My dear friends in Christ: feed on the Christ that gives true inner peace in his holy sacraments, and then go home, have lunch, sit back in a comfortable chair or sofa and just relax. Those of us coming to Salisbury – let us have a calm and relaxed journey to a wonderfully spiritual place, where we may in an unhurried way enjoy peace, calm and the beauties of Cathedral Evensong.
Go outside and enjoy this beautiful Summer weather that the Lord blesses us with. Rest and let your soul be rejuvenated!
May your spirit echo the words of King David when he declared:
Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.