Monday, 20 July 2015

The R and R of the Gospel

A new report revealed how embedded working long hours is in British culture. More people than ever here are working over 48 hours a week and apparently one in 25 men are working over 60 hours a week. This doesn’t fare well when comparing with our nearest neighbour - France - where workers work on average only 35 hours a week without significantly affecting productivity.

Working out what your usual working week’s total hours looks like is something worth doing. I was shocked to discover that on average I’m notching up at least 60 hours each week. It’s no wonder that so many of us a tired

In this culture of overwork is it any wonder that so many of us treasure our leisure? Leisure as an industry is a relatively new thing. Whilst I love my holidays as much as the next person I often wonder at what point we became the L’Orel generation, where we deserve our times of re-creation which have to be bigger and glitzier than the last one, rather than simply acknowledging that we all need rest.

Scripture says nothing about our modern day understanding of leisure as an industry, but has much to say about rest and recreation and the need for it to ensure human flourishing. Here meet Mark’s Jesus who is immediately moving from ministering in one place with one set of people to galavanting to another encounter. Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel is exhausting! Here Jesus acknowledges that and calls his disciples to take some time out, to rest and be renewed. 

‘… Jesus said, come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while…’ Mark draws a really interesting parallel between Jesus’ call to rest and the frenetic activity of the crowds. Stopping and changing our routines can have a profound affect on us and our lifestyles.

In 2005, a TV series set at Worth Abbey was broadcast. ‘The Monestary’ followed the journey of 5 lay people entering monastic life for a period and tv cameras would follow the impact it would make. The 5 had to participate in monastic life to the full and the pattern of prayer, work and rest which was profoundly transforming - many of them discovering faith, spirituality and vocation. At the start, the new arrivals were sceptical and discipline did not come easily - two of them were reprimanded for leaving the monastery "looking for virgins and cigarettes”.  By the end, they all conceded that the experience had made a profound impression on them.

We may not all feel called to a monastic vocation, but the rest that lies at the heart of monastic life can be transformative physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Jesus recognised the need to get away from it all - because only by being away can we truly attentive to the voice and presence of God; to physically be made new, because we can only give to others out of the resources we have. Rest is a spiritual as well as a physical and emotional requirement - as essential to our wellbeing as eating and drinking.

‘… and He had compassion for them... And wherever he went … they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed…’

Gerrard Machin was knocked down on his was to get his paper and spent nine weeks in hospital. He eventually died as a result of his injuries. Brian Williamson knew that he had done a terrible thing having knocked Gerrard down. But as he stood beside the side of the road, Gerrard’s wife put her arm round Brian and sought to reassure him.  When she learned that the CPS sought to charge Brian with death by dangerous driving, she wrote to them: you think "that I may be disappointed with your decision regarding the charge against Brian Williamson. I assume this to mean that you expect me to have wished for a harsher charge to have been brought against him… nothing could be further from the truth. I have never for a single second had any sort of angry or vengeful thoughts against this young man." She went on to describe her husband as "the most compassionate human being I have ever known" and to say, "with complete confidence", that he would have felt the same.

Our natural response to the person who had inadvertently killed our spouse may not naturally be compassion, but Jesus saw the need of people and reached out to them in just the same way.  Despite His own need for time away, He offered them that for which they really longed - not just the chance for them to listen to him and receive in their heads as it were - but to offer them their hearts desire, what they really needed - healing and hope.

What is Jesus asking us? We can fill our lives with work and with leisure time but what is it that we really need to feel happy, fulfilled and to lead lives that make a difference in the world?

So how do we respond to this Jesus? We should come to church, and encourage others too also because this Jesus still meets our needs: people who are sick still want to be healed. People who are hungry still want to be fed. And those needs are still very prevalent in our communities. One of the ways we can respond to Jesus is with our time - helping those needs to be met - to ensure that our churches our open every day (and to ensure that people know that) to offer stillness and sanctuary to people in our communities who lead frenetic lives; but we can also as I’ve said before give our time to our serve at our food banks, to help at Play and Praise, to drive people to and from our worship in our cars, letter writing project or just a listening ear...

But in addition there are some less tangible needs in evidence as well. There is a clear difference between what people want and what we actually need. Jesus reaches out to us still in compassion - us as people who Mark describes as lost and listless like sheep without a shepherd.  How do we work out that into our own lives? How do we make space to be guided and led by Jesus still? How do we make time to listen for His voice? Do we make space in our schedules to call out to Him? Are we open to Him leading us? 

But also how do we also make what we do as church communities places where we allow this Jesus to change our lives and lifestyles to live abundantly and to allow ourselves and others to strive for lives where that ‘something more’ what we all want in life, that we fill with other stuff?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Sent Out For Service

And so a new chapter opens up amongst us today. And what an exciting day - a day in which we begin to see the fulfilment of a vocational journey that began in another place at another time amongst different people.

I know Jairo you have found being here amongst us, serving and helping us serve the four communities of West Hyde, Maple Cross, Mill End and Heronsgate challenging at times - not least of all in that you have been thrown rather in at the deep end in terms of our worshipping style and the number of services - but as you now have the authority from Christ through His church to bless in His name, I want to tell you how much we have been blessed by you already in your developing gifts and skills in ministry.

I know also that as wear your stole in the priestly position now, you have already in these last weeks been aware of the burden of priestly responsibility that you now carry - but remember this ministry is Jesus’ which with us you are called to share, and as He said in Matthew 11 - ‘His yoke is easy and His burden is light’ because we bear it together.  All us know what learning a new skill is like whether that’s riding a bike, solving algebra, driving a car, or some new skill to enable us to carry out a task at work.  We are aware of the new skills that you are exercising for the first time today - and we are seeking to support you in encouraging you and continuing to pray for you.

Jesus has just made two trips across Lake Galilee to the eastern shore, to a strongly Gentile area, to what today is the city of Jerash, north of the Jordan. These territories would be places of suspicion for faithful Jews as they were regions of multiple languages, cultures and religions. Whilst there he heals a man posessed by demons who he into a large heard of swine who then kill themselves and someone’s life and livelihood. Then on a second trip Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter and the woman suffering from continuous haemorrhages. He then returns home.

‘…He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority…’ Jesus sends out the disciples to experience and exercise everything he has taught them.

I heard recently that in Japan, many schools don’t employ cleaners in the same way that our schools do. In many places the children are given the responsibility to clean their classroom and one other place in school. At the end of term there is a bigger spring clean for which students have responsibility. In some cases, once a year, a school will also have a ‘community clean’ which takes the same ideas out into the local neighbourhood. The thinking is that it helps teach a sense of corporate responsibility and teamwork.

Jesus wanted to teach his disciples that their ministry is an extension of His. To enable that He gave them corporate responsibility for it. The priestly ministry which you begin to exercise today Jairo is only worth anything if you begin to exercise it. But take heart because your ministry is not yours or even mine or the Bishop’s but one that Christ extends to you and us - and he sends us out into our communities to exercise it together to His praise and glory.

‘…He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics…’ Take few things with you to clutter your life and to have your hands and your heart free to serve God and others says Jesus.

Fr Phil Sumner who is a parish priest in Oldham has taken up fasting during the Muslim festival of Ramadan for the 10th year. It might seem odd for a Roman Catholic to observe a Muslim fast but as he said recently - fasting for him highlights our culture's obsession with consumption and struggles with obesity, it offers and identification and understanding of other faith traditions, but it also points to a long tradition of fasting within Christianity which reminds us of our ultimate reliance on God.

Jesus sends His disciples out with very little.  The resources for ministry for them are meagre but they are more than enough.  I know Jairo in many ways you feel underprepared for the task that Christ calls us to - but Christ sends us because we have all that we need. As we travel light together we, like those first disciples, are called to rely on each other and God for the task He calls us together to.

’… As you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them…’  The offer of the ministry of blessing that Jairo begins exercising today can be accepted but it can also be rejected.

Rob recently gave in to his children’s pleading and bought them a kitten. They were delighted with Theodore as you can imagine. But the family have now acquired another pet as Theodore brought in a tiny bedraggled baby House Martin one day, so the family have decided to hand rear that too. Advice that the family received was they should have left the bird outside again because often adult birds are not far away - but they didn't want to leave it on the ground in case Theodore finished the job next time!

The disciples are sent out to a ministry of teaching and healing by Jesus, as together with Jairo we are still - but it’s a message and ministry that people are free to accept or reject.  It’s easy to get discouraged when people chose not to listen to the good things of Jesus, they did it to Him and His disciples, they will do it to us. Jesus encourages us still to just keep going, to persevere, keep loving, encouraging, and praying for the people we live and work and learn amongst because people do ultimately want to be fed by what God offers us all still.

What is Jesus saying to us this morning? Whilst Jairo’s ministry changes today - the priestly ministry of the whole church remains the same - we are called to work and worship together, to make known the kindgom’s nearness together. We might feel underprepared, under equipped, unworthy, but Christ sends us anyway, as we are called to rely on each other and on God for the resources we need. When the disciples did that, scripture tell us elsewhere, they returned rejoicing seeing God at work in people’s lives - we should expect to see the same thing.

How do we respond? Do we heave a sigh of relief - we have two priests now, the church no longer needs me - or do we heed the call of Christ to be sent with Jairo, our Readers, indeed the whole church back into our communities to make know together the love of God in Christ? Do we rely on the theologically articulate to tell others of the works of God - or do we trust that the knowledge and experience we each have of what God is doing in our lives will be enough? Will we sit back and leave all of this 'church stuff' to the professionals - priests and readers - or will we allow God to use even us to persevere in sharing His love with those whom we encounter?