Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video.
This is going to be the last video until September. I think Sabbath rest is important and I thought it would be good to model it.
A few years ago, I facilitated a vision day for a parish in Sussex. With the obligatory flip chart, I asked them to tell me everything they were doing in the church. It was a congregation of about 100, so pretty large by Hereford standards. We fairly quickly got through three pages. As we entered onto page four with no discernible slowing of pace, I said to them, “can we stop for a moment.” “Think about what this is saying. You are serving a wealthy community of busy people. It sounds like, “come and join us in the church, and get even more busy, and add to it some religious guilt.” “I don’t plan to leave until we can cross something off this list.”
In Mark, Chapter 6, Jesus’ disciples had just completed a busy time of ministry. So many people were coming and going, they couldn’t think straight. Jesus didn’t suggest they do a time management seminar, in order to squeeze more efficiency out of the day. He simply said, “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
The idea of rhythm and rest is built into creation itself. The foundational story of humanity in Genesis 1 talks about creation in six days and a day of rest. Its metaphorical of course, but an imbalanced life is a very unhealthy one. The idea of rest that Jesus introduces here is very different from slumping exhausted in front of Netflix. It starts with the idea of being with Jesus. The great spiritual writer Thomas A Kempis, in his magisterial work, The Imitation of Christ, said, “Above all things and in all things, O my soul, rest always in God, for He is the everlasting rest of the saints. Grant, most sweet and loving Jesus, that I may seek my repose in You above every creature; above all health and beauty; above every honour and glory... Whatever You give me besides Yourself, whatever You reveal to me concerning Yourself, and whatever You promise, is too small and insufficient when I do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For my heart cannot rest or be fully content until rising above all gifts & every created thing it rests in you." The biblical idea of the sabbath is not simply about leisure and relaxation, it's about a re-connecting with God.
Jesus also talks about a quiet place. It's easy to find such places in this diocese. We are extraordinarily privileged to live in a landscape stretching from the lea of the Black Mountains and Wye Valley to the beauty of Clun Forest and the Shropshire hills. But quiet is not just an absence of external noise. It’s a stilling of the internal voices as well. How much of our activity is driven by those internal voices, perhaps from people long dead, who continue to whisper that our worth is related to our activity? How many adults’ ‘drivenness can be traced back to a voice from childhood saying you won’t amount to much; a voice you’ve spent a lifetime trying to prove wrong. The words that were spoken over Jesus at his baptism are words God speaks over us as well. “You are my child, the beloved, in you, I am well pleased.” These were words spoken before Jesus had really done anything of significance. They are a simple statement of God’s heart to his children. Our worthiness is not dependent on our activity. We discover it is more than we could have imagined when we rest in the gracious arms of Christ.
I’ve been wondering what I would like to encourage we do in the time over the autumn as we think together about our common life as we emerge from COVID. I have three simple words: rest, reflect and re-connect. Rest from these busy months under lockdown. I’ve written to all the clergy encouraging them to take 2 days a week off over the summer. They deserve it. I know how tired many of them are. As we go forward, we need to reflect together on where we are, what have we learned in the last 18 months and what our church should look like post-COVID. Most importantly, what God is calling us to be and to do. There is an opportunity for you to feed into that process on the diocesan website. The link can be found here. We want to reflect together on what sort of Church God is calling us to be.
And finally, to re-connect. The last 18 months have seen a crisis of loneliness. Many of us have rejoiced in returning to Church and more normal activities. Many remain frightened and locked in. There will be people who were part of our congregational life who for all sorts of reasons have dropped out and we need to re-connect with them. It's only the local church that can re-establish those connections, and that means all of us -not just the vicar and churchwardens. Building and sustaining community is all of our responsibility.
So, I hope you have a restful summer in the true Jesus Christ centred sense of the word, and that as we come back together we’ll reflect and re-connect as we discern what our next steps should be.