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?

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