Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Let us pray: Open our hearts, our minds, our very souls to your word for us O God, that we may be both challenged and affirmed in Jesus name. Amen.
Rachel Remen, in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom tells the story of how, when she was just 3 or 4, her father began a family tradition of putting out a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle on a table and then hiding the box lid with the picture on it so that no-one knew what picture would eventually emerge. The child Rachel wanted to participate but wasn’t sure how – when she climbed up to look she noticed that some pieces were dark and shadowy and others brightly coloured and decided that the dark ones were like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening. So she gathered them up and hid them under a cushion – a few at a time until there were around a hundred pieces missing. She eventually owned up to doing this and watched as her mother added them to the picture – and said that she was astounded as this amazing picture emerged of a peaceful beautiful deserted beach. Without the bits she had taken, the dark pieces, the picture made no sense.
And the question has to be asked – what are the bits of our lives that we might be hiding under our particular cushions because we think they are of no value or perhaps, as the young Rachel did, think that they are dark or scary. Now there are many conversations that could come out of that analogy for each of us and I encourage you to think and pray about how that picture might speak to you. But today, I want to pursue one particular aspect that we as a society have tended to devalue and what that might have on our impact as church as we look to make Jesus Christ known.
And that is the concept of rest, of taking time to be quiet and of listening to God. And why we might want to value this more than perhaps we do and how it might empower our ministries.
One part of the training that interns receive from Knox Centre is about recovering the concept of the Sabbath – finding within your ministry time a space for reflection- for deliberate, personal, quality God time – and we are not talking daily devotions here or Sunday worship really but intentional listening and resting in the presences of God. And it was the hardest teaching for almost everyone to grasp – or at least to translate into actual Parish life. We all knew it would be the first thing to go in the busyness and commitment of being a Parish Minister – and so it was kind of ‘this would be lovely...’ rather than ‘this must be...’ It wasn’t that we thought it scary – rather that it was of lesser need than the obvious ‘doing’ roles ahead of us.
How many times do we read of Jesus trying to get away to a place where he, or he and the apostles, can rest for a while, spend time with God, recharge batteries. In today’s reading he is trying to do just that, for the twelve have returned from successful ministries and are tired and played out – but Jesus is overwhelmed by the needs of the people and his compassion for them means he can’t turn them away. Now you might think – Well wouldn’t that be all our dreams come true – people banging on the door for our help and us rushed off our feet in ministry, unable to keep up with demand. Well actually – that is the way it is out there. So many people, so much need, so much to do, that it is actually overwhelming.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself. How might a time of reflection, of rest help equip us for ministry? And how do we hold that against the pressing needs around us? Two big questions. And in some way you can see the beginnings of a way forward in David’s story –where he at last seems to feel able to rest for a while, when the urgency of conflict and the web of political intrigue seem to have faded somewhat and he can settle in one place, take some time for reflection after constant action. And into that time of rest comes an incredibly important moment for David – where God through the prophet Nathan speaks of unequivocal hope in the future, of promise and faithfulness and steadfast love, of the building of a house, a family that will never fail or cease. David in his time of ‘rest’ was open to new visions and the strengthening of his relationship with God in a way he could never be when constantly on the go.
Do we have such a busy life, however that might show itself, that we find it difficult to stop and listen, pause and reflect with God? And busyness can be defined many ways, including only holding a one-way conversation all the time! You know I can clearly remember the time I realised that my prayers were a monologue – all me! No place of listening for response or just even sitting quiet. I told God what I wanted and then hung up. How rude! And how blind!
For when we stop and listen, we can only grow in our understandings and our faith, be encouraged in our mission and ministry and be open to new visions of what it is we are called as a church to be and do.
How might that sit alongside what I talked of earlier – of being surrounded by the needy, the vulnerable, the seekers after truth and justice who are literally banging on our door asking for help?
First I believe that in this time of rest, be it in worship, in Sabbath taking, in listening to what it is that God is saying to us, that we are strengthened and empowered to go out into difficult, awkward, challenging places of ministry. We do not feed our souls just for our own satisfaction but so that we can then go out and feed the souls of others – what we receive we are also to give. And receiving the blessings of rest with God enables us to be more courageous, more open and unashamedly vulnerable in our relationships with others, knowing that Christ is present in the tricky places we might find ourselves. Trust and growing faith comes from relationships that take time to listen with each other.
Secondly I believe that out of the quality of time spent in the presence of God we are more able to give of our whole selves not just our surplus. It’s been a common understanding in certainly my experience of church that we can somehow compartmentalise our church lives and responsibilities into a separate box that gets our leftovers, generous leftovers often but still surplus to our needs. Now before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me I do not mean that we should give all our assets and money and time and energy to Bishop Margaret up here, but I do want to try and say that there are probably places in our lives where we are give only what we will not miss and maybe its timely to examine those places. Quiet time encourages us to remembers God’s generosity and thus re-examine ours.
Thirdly the compassion and care that we offer in our lives and our ministry requires our strength and our best and we cannot do that if we are empty – I use the image of a dry well to describe when I am feeling played out or just plain tired. As we are called to be givers we also need to give time to care for ourselves – and we are often the last priority on our life agenda. We cannot fix the world in one hit, we are not called to exhaust ourselves, to be superhuman in our endeavours, but to love and care for ourselves when we need to because we and our health are important too. Take a break when you can so that you can be the best you can in the service of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the whole picture of what a reconciled and just world might look like will only emerge when we take time to place all the pieces on the table – when alongside mission and ministry, worship and governance, compassion and love and hospitality, we add in those pieces which are our continuing reflection, rest, our renewal in the presence of God that we may together create a picture of hope and service in the name of the risen Christ. Amen