Holiday plans – some sermon notes for St Nicholas, Burton – Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Trinity 7

July 19th 2015  – some notes for sermon for St Nicholas, Burton

Proper 11B/Ordinary 16B/Trinity 7.

There is only one reading: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (In my mind is the verse from Psalm 127, Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.) The other readings which could have been used are about God’s building (he doesn’t want David to build him a house, he wants to do the building for David – and all his house)

I thought we would plan some holiday this morning.

The run for the sun has begun – I think most schools finished on Friday. I distracted a boy when I was walking our dog the other morning. The boy was riding his bike to school. His trousers caught in the chain. I noticed he’d ripped them and asked if he would be in trouble. He said “no, it’s only another 3 days”.

Muslims have been holidaying this weekend. The sighting of the new moon heralded EID, marking the end of Ramadan.

It is time to be thinking of holidays.

First Choice and Thomas Cook could have lifted a verse from today’s gospel to sell us their holidays. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.

Do you ever catch yourself saying “I haven’t got time for this that or the other”? I suspect that as long as we are saying that we need to be hearing those words that Jesus spoke to his disciples – and what a week they’d had! EXPLAIN

We talk about “time poverty”, where we struggle to fit in all that we are committed to – work, family, interests – and with holidays we find time.

For the disciples, the rest time they are given is a gift of Jesus – it’s how God cares for his people, then (after all they had been doing) and now (with all our business).

“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Sabbath

For one rabbi (Heschel), the Bible is more concerned with time than with space (history more than geography. It’s the time of rest that is more important than the place of rest.

For this rabbi, the Sabbath is a spirit that is lonely and that comes looking for us.

Let it come, I say. It’s not so much that we long for rest, as rest longs for us.

Heschel writes

  • that unless we learn how to relish the taste of rest we will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come.
  • that the world’s survival depends on the holiness of the 7th day. The task is how to convert time into eternity, how to fill our time with spirit.
  • “Six days we wrestle with the world. ringing profit from the earth: on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”
  • that the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals – time that is our own, for us to walk around in

….. days of rest that are holidays that can make holy days ….

Letting Go and Letting Come

I don’t know about you, but my best ideas happen when I’m not working. It’s when I’m in the shower, or out walking, or just waking, or suddenly hearing or seeing. It’s when I’m not trying – it’s when I’ve let all that busyness go. And isn’t that ironic? It’s when we let go of our work, when we put down our clever, when we are off guard – that suddenly we realise – and we use words like “the idea came to me” – we aren’t doing anything, and the idea just came to me. This is what I have to do. This is how I have to be. This is what life is all about – it’s just come to me.

We need to sleep on things.

We have to let go …… to let come

It’s at holiday that we let go, and that we let come those things which transform the way we look at life and the way we live our life.

And so we should pray for those on holiday, for those planning a holiday, that those things which come to them do transform their lives, and that when the holiday ends it’s not a case of busyness as usual.

And we should pray for those who aren’t able to holiday, who can’t see their way to having a holiday – because they don’t think they can afford one, either because they haven’t got the time, or because they haven’t got the money. What should we pray for them? That they do find rest, that they do know that God wants them to rest, that he wants them to have holy days to sanctify their other days.

There is a quote that I love to repeat:

The world longs for the generosity of a well rested people (Wayne Muller)

Things come to well rested people. If rest is the ministry of God to us, it is not much of a stretch to think that those things that come to well rested people are what Paul describes as the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Gal 5:22f)

I dare say that they don’t come to those who don’t rest – because they haven’t let go to let come those gifts that so transform ourselves, relationships and society.

I also dare say that the contrasting works of the flesh (as listed by Paul – Gal 5) are seen as a result of an absence of rest. Check that out from your own experience and behaviour as I read through some from the list:  impurity, envy, drunkenness, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, factions.

I mentioned Ramadan earlier – I think it is worth us understanding more about Ramadan. Ramadan is a rest that Muslims plan for and look forward to – in spite of the rigorous disciplines that last for a month. Ramadan is a gift from God, a time of prayer, fasting and learning scripture. The intention is that they accept God’s gift, and that they learn and change as a result.

Our own gospel reading, inadvertently I think, gives us a clue about what rest does. It had been busy, and it goes on to be busy doesn’t it? They thought they’d escaped the crowds, but the crowds catch them up. But there is no compassion fatigue in Jesus. He doesn’t wince of flinch when he sees the great crowd. He has the generosity of a well rested man – who draws breath, who lets himself be wrapped in God’s sending love – of whom the evangelist is able to say “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”

The world longs for the generosity of a well rested people.

How can we help ourselves to rest? How can we encourage each other to find the rest that we need, and that those around us need us to have? This is holiday planning.

In rest, we discover what God is building. It’s a rather different market place than the ones that have been constructed by ourselves – that are for those with money (look at London). In the gospel, the tables are turned – the sick are laid in the market place – the poor, the needy ……..

Blessing of Rest (this is how God cares for his people – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Curl this blessing
beneath your head
for a pillow.
Wrap it about yourself
for a blanket.
Lay it across your eyes
and for this moment
cease thinking about
what comes next,
what you will do
when you rise.

Let this blessing
gather itself to you
like the stillness
that descends
between your heartbeats,
the silence that comes
so briefly
but with a constancy
on which
your life depends.

Settle yourself
into the quiet
this blessing brings,
the hand it lays
upon your brow
the whispered word
it breathes into
your ear
telling you
all shall be well
all shall be well
and you can rest
now.

Jan Richardson: The Painted Prayerbook

The Bishop of Digne: dropping keys for prisoners

The Bishop of Digne

The Bishop of Digne is a key character of Les MiserablesHe is the one who offers Jean Valjean refuge, who treats him as an “honoured guest” and a shelter from the rules which allows Valjean to change his mind to the question which echoes through the story: the question of “who am I?” Valjean, or, rather, Prisoner 24601 conforms to type when he abuses the hospitality. He runs off with the silver and is captured by the law enforcers. They deliver Prisoner 24601 to the Bishop. The Bishop seizes the moment (what had he done to be prepared to react with such imaginative compassion?) and lyingly claims he had given the silver to Valjean, dismisses the police, commending them for their duty, and gives Valjean his chance.

Digne is in south-eastern France. I don’t know whether the name Digne had significance for Victor Hugo, but surely some association with dignity was intended. The Bishop of Digne was a steward (another word for “bishop”) of dignity. The Bishop is only a marginal character but according to Theresa Malcolm “he is the soul of the novel, he who sowed love where there was hatred, light where there was darkness”. Bishop Myriel (as was the name of the then Bishop of Digne) was also known as “Monseigneur Bienvenu” for his spirit of generosity and welcome.

Victor Hugo dwells on the character of the Bishop of Digne at great length. He describes how he moved out of his episcopal palace so that it could be used as a hospital. He describes how he gave 90% of his stipend to charity, and how he simply lived for the poor. He spent his life for them matching deed to word. He spent time with prisoners. Hugo described how Myriel went with one prisoner, standing side by side with him on the scaffold, having spent the previous day with him, sharing with him “the best truths, which are also the most simple. He was father, brother, friend; he was bishop only to bless.” It was through such a lifestyle that people came to refer to the Bishop as “Monseigneur Bienvenu” – a bishop most welcome and welcoming.

This key character brings freedom. He unlocks Valjean’s soul and “gives him back his life”. Fourteenth century poet Hafiz comments on such great people who “drop keys all night long”:

The small person
builds cages for everyone
he
sees.

Instead, the sage,
who needs to duck his head,
when the moon is low
can be found dropping keys, all night long
for the beautiful
rowdy,
prisoners.

Valjean sums his situation up with these words:

For I had come to hate this world
This world which had always hated me
Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom,
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit came to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The engraving by Gustave Brion shows the Bishop of Digne prepared for the first edition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in 1886.

Ringing true

20120725 Olympic opening ceremony rehearsal DSC_3479.jpg

Marcus Brigstocke couldn’t quite understand why there are so many countries represented in the Olympics. He assumes that some of the countries are made up. I too kept saying “where’s that?” as the athletes paraded. My favourite was Micronesia, which, if I remember correctly, is next to Amnesia, and next to its far larger neighbour Magnesia (famed for its milk and antacid industry). @marcusbrig has suggested other countries that could have been taking part, including Neverland, Narnia and the Land of Nod. Personally I don’t ever see Legoland being able to put together an opening ceremony like the one we saw on Friday, but I do look forward to the opening ceremony in Oz.

Ai Weiwei’s contrast in the Guardian between the Beijing and London Olympic ceremonies is telling. For me, the Opening Ceremony rang true. Aidan Burley MP’s tweet apart (he wrote: “Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!”)  the Opening Ceremony has been praised from all quarters. Danny Boyle held up a mirror to the world representing his reading of this “green and pleasant (ironic) land”. People liked what they saw in the mirror, and us Brits said “yes, this is us”. We recognise how the industrial revolution ripped our landscape and communities apart, and we recognised the values which have made for modern Britain. These values of care, generosity and hospitality are not exclusively British, and they are contested values in Britain, but care, generosity and hospitality were celebrated as the building blocks of community. It was good to see the parade of achievements (music, film, comedy) alongside the parade of sporting talent, and to see the national treasure of the NHS polished to the wonderful accompaniment of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and In Dulce Jubilo.

So many highlights rang my bells. Besides the NHS scenes there was the ringing of the bell, the music, Rowan Atkinson, the drumming (particularly Evelyn Glennie), the Industrial Revolution, the silence, Abide with me, the cast of volunteers and ordinary people, the inclusion of the construction workers and the marvellous lighting of the cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick.

Michael Sadgrove has posted his reflections on the Opening Ceremony. He highlights the spirituality of the Opening Ceremony. For Edward Green the Opening ceremony is a sign of the shape of the church to come.

The photo is from powderphotography