Archives July 2006

Sermon: Ordinary 16, Year B

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.”

Warren Wiersbe
An even wiser man, the Psalmist wrote:

“Be Still, and know that I am God”

Psalm 46:10

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.

Psalm 116:7

Amen.


Sermon: Ordinary 15, Year B

Sermon: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Text: Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

There’s only so much you can learn sitting in a classroom. At some point, you’re going to have to get some real life experience! If you want to be a teacher, you need to practice working with real children! If you want to be a plumber, you need to work on real pipes. If you want to be a priest, Rev Mother you need (as you know) to say to Mass. Your education is not complete until you get out there and use what you’ve learned!

The same thing is true with the Christian life. In Mark chapter 6, Our Lord teaches his disciples how to do the work of the ministry. And now, he’s taking them to the next level. He’s saying, “You’ve heard me preach. You’ve seen me do the healings. You’ve observed me driving out demons. You’ve watched me love people that have never been loved before, and now it is the time for YOU to do it! I didn’t pick 12 apostles so that you could stand around and watch me do all the work! It’s time for YOU to get some experience!”

And so our Lord sends out the twelve to do the work of God. Notice that Christ doesn’t wait around for the faithful to come to Him. He goes out to them!

We talk a lot about getting people to come to our church. But we don’t talk enough about getting Church to go to the people. Christ does not say, “Pray for people to come in and fill the pews (or chairs, or benches or whatever we end up with).” He’s saying, “I want the people in the pews to go to them!”

The Church is not this building. It is not its furnishings: fine and beautiful or knocked and worn by time and decades, centuries even of prayer. The building is not the Church, it is a tool of the Church, a vehicle for us to reach out to the people of Elson, Hardway and Priddy’s Hard who sense they need something, but havn’t quite understood the transformation that faith can have in their lives. That is done on the street corners, in the youth club, in the pub and in people’s individual homes. The Church is its people – the Ekklesia (from which we get the word ecclesiastical) – the community of God: You.

Christ gives us ministry in community. Scripture says “he sent them out two by two.” It was customary in both Jewish and Greek culture to send messengers in groups of two. That way, if something were to go wrong, there would be two witnesses to testify on behalf of the sender. But the bottom line is that God never intended you and I to do the work of the ministry by ourselves. We need help! We need encouragement!

Look at the apostle Paul. As great as he was, when the church sent him out on his first missionary journey in Acts 13, they didn’t send him out there all alone. Does anyone remember the name of the saint that went him? Barnabas! ’Barnabas’ means Son of Encouragement! We all need sons of encouragement in our lives. We all need people who will love us: people who will build us up when the Christian life gets tough.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 says

“Two are better than one, because they have a better return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

I pity the person who thinks they can do God’s work all by themselves. Because when they fail miserably, usually because they are seeking not God’s glory but their own, there will be no one there to console them. No one to help them up.

Before you try anything new for the Lord, I want you to pray to God that he will send you a Barnabas. A son of encouragement. Someone who will pray for you and work with you and love you. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Get some help.

Christ sent out his disciples, in addition to his own work. We are all disciples of Christ, we are all missionaries.

The old way of doing it, with the Priest running around lugging stuff and doing all the work will simply not stand the test of scripture. As we saw with the summer fayre, when the people of God work together, then they are hugely powerful, and you are all engaged in the mission of this church.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:11) saying,

“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare god’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up!”

So in other words, the work of Mother Margaret and I is to prepare you to do YOUR job! We are called to serve God through the grace of our holy orders, through the administration of his holy sacraments, but YOU – you are the people of God, you are called also.

The Summer Fayre, and many other examples of our new life in Christ: advent and lent courses, our BBQ this afternoon, the Strawberry Tea and many more showed that God never intended for us to be spectator Christians. We all need to be involved in some kind of ministry.

How on earth am I going to do that, you may ask? Worry not – Christ equips his saints in their work: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.”.

One of the principles of Kairos was that we should ‘Travel light!’. Burdened down with baggage, we start to rely on what we carry with us, rather than rely on God. If we seek our own help first, and seek God’s help only when all other options fail us, then it will be too late.

Galilee was a very hilly and rocky place. So no traveller would be without his staff. The staff was a very useful stick. It helped you to steady yourself when you climbed up a rocky hill. And if a wild animal or a thief attacked you, you could use it as a club and beat them over the head. So for a traveller, the staff was an indispensable item. And so Jesus very graciously allowed the disciples to take one along. But that was about it: they could take the clothes on their back and a pair of sandals.

‘Travel light’, Christ says, so that we can be flexible to meet changing need.

One of our principles should be to focus down on what matters: not hassocks and hymnbooks or woodwork, but our relationship with God. Strip away what is extra and focus on prayer, on God’s holy word, on his blessed sacraments; use tools which bring us into God’s holy presence but which might not be so fancy, or so old, or so layered with the Church/State establishment.

If we were to focus on our relationship with Christ, then all our anxieties about funding, about quotas, about re-ordering would be nothing.

In Luke 22:35: Our Lord, asking the twelve to reflect on their mission, asked, “When I sent you without purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” And the disciples said, “Nothing.”

Our giving is a key element of our mission, but it is not a tax. Paying the bills of this fine church, is not taxation, but is the natural extension of our love for God. Underwriting youth ministry in both this parish and in Romania is not a levy, but an outpouring of our love. God gives everything to us, and asks only a little of it in return.

I have heard some people this week speak about why we should pay our quota. Quota is not a necessary evil, it is an essential statement of our life in Christ. Christ and the twelve did not keep their own money, they had a common purse. They shared. The early Church described in the book of Acts pooled their resources. We pay an amount, and we get much more in return: believe me, a single Priest with national insurance, pension as well as a stipend, costs significantly more that the £20,000 we pay. Some parishes can afford to pay more; some cannot afford that. It is our duty to pay into the common purse, to support parishes that I know (and I can think of one very close to us across the harbour) which is desperately poor, in a poverty-striken area and which so much good, front-line work and mission.

The issue is not so much therefore, whether we can get a reduction, or keep some money back, as if withholding from the common purse was something the disciples were able or willing to do, but how much our relationship with God means to us.

I did not intend this to be a homily on stewardship, but I might as well say it now: how much is our relationship with God, who gives us everything, is worth? How can I efficiently make my contribution to the disciples common purse?

Can I make it regular? If you have always just “put something on the plate”, then consider how the common purse suffers when you go away for two weeks to the Costa del Sol, or when you are ill. Would it help our perilous cashflow if you paid by a regular standing order. I don’t care if this means that you put an empty envelope on the plate if you want to make a show of making a donation (but remember the story of the widow’s mite, please – God doesn’t want the show, he wants the heart), but making a contribution consistently each week will make such a difference.

We all have direct debits and standing orders coming from our banks, it’s not rocket science, and Julia has the forms. If a substantial number of us changed to making a contribution by standing order, then we might we able to pay our bills on time.

I’m not even going to go on and mention how much you give, because that is a matter between you and God and is something which frankly, I have no knowledge of – it is a purely financial and private matter and nothing to do with the clergy. Our giving is an outpouring, an expression of our love for God, a return for his love for us.

We are all called. Whether it’s Bible study, or evangelism, or visiting the elderly, or encouraging other believers. Whether it is examining our giving, Gift Aiding, planning a legacy or simply making out a standing order, each one of us needs to transform our experience with hands on Christianity. Without that, your Christian education isn’t complete. If you’re not using what God gave you, then you’re not really learning anything. Just hearing the word of God and receiving the foretaste of heaven in the sacraments each Sunday simply isn’t enough.

Pray on that, please, my dear brothers and sisters.

Amen