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Sunday 18th July – Trinity 7

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Mark 6 v 30-34 and 53 to the end.

Meeting God when we are busy

We meet up with friends maybe after a service on a Sunday morning and we ask the time-honoured conversation starter “how have you been?” and after a pause for thought one of the stock answers that we give is “Busy”. This is usually true – no matter where we are, whether working or retired, with a young family or with children grown up, whether in a family or living alone – we are almost always busy. So, there is a truth in our reply, is it just observational, is our reply something of a complaint or is a subtle attempt at bragging? It can be both.

We probably have this love-hate relationship with being busy. On the one hand we are stressed and strained by being busy but on the other hand, we probably quite like it because it gives us a sense of value and importance, we are helping making a difference.

So, in our conversations we may complain about it to the people we are talking and perhaps even to God but at the same time we are probably reluctant to give it up.

This may well present us with a dilemma because as spiritual people we become aware that our being busy often robs us of an awareness of God’s presence. We get so focussed on those outward demands and the pressures of the day; the here and now crowds in; leaving little time or space to focus either inward or upward. Yet at the same time much of our being busy may be necessary and good. Our lives may be filled with doing things to please God or serve him. To be good providers and taking care of others.

We find ourselves strained by this.

In the gospel reading today the text provides a remarkable description of the demands made on the time and energy of Jesus and the disciples. They are trying to fill Jesus in on all that they have done but they can’t manage it because of all the people coming and going. So, Jesus suggests they go away for some time together. But this just lands them in the middle of another large crowd.

How do you think this made the disciples feel? Earlier in the chapter Jesus had sent them out two by two taking nothing for the journey, no bread, no bag or money. They had preached, driven out demons and anointed sick people who had been healed. I have to say, to me, that feels pretty intense and making a lot of demands on them. I expect they were exhilarated, exhausted, hungry, bewildered, not fully understanding what was happening, having loads of questions, needing to refocus. And many more feelings besides.

There will be periods in our own lives where there will be high demands and maybe for you that is the default setting. In those times you may be looking to get away from it. How would you feel if that got interrupted?

Jesus is caring for his disciples, wanting to give them his undivided attention and to help them get some rest. This is interrupted but his response to the interruption is not frustration or resentment but compassion.

So, if we are feeling the strained by being busy how do we keep ourselves connected to God aware of his presence? If we are to live spiritual lives, does it mean giving up, at least some of, the activities we are engaged in? or does it mean adding something else, some spiritual disciplines to the already demanding day? Is this something we might ask ourselves?

Is this the right question though. Perhaps what we need to wrestle with goes deeper and may bring clarity if we are confused, feeling guilty or anxious about this.

Perhaps the question we might need to ask is “what is life about: what truly matters? When we have lived out our lives what was it about that will offer us the deepest sense of satisfaction and joy?

I think spiritual disciplines are a good thing and were/are never intended to be a chore, a task or just one more demand on over-burdened schedules.

Spiritual disciplines are simply doorways to our hearts, to intimacy with God. They are opportunities to open ourselves in heart and mind to his love, his wisdom and direction, to his blessing, his healing and help, to his presence.

Our relationship with God is not about one more thing to do. It is not another demand. Our relationship with God is meant to be the centre from which our life’s activities flow.

In his book Making All Things New Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Jesus does not respond to our worry filled way of living by saying we should not be so busy with worldly affairs…. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless or useless…. Jesus’ response to our worry filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the centre of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the “many things” to the “one necessary thing” …. Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change of contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. This change of heart makes everything different, even while everything appears to remain the same. This is the meaning of “Set your hearts on his kingdom first… and all these other things will be given you as well.”

I thought it might be helpful to briefly explore some spiritual disciplines to see if there is the possibility of finding God when we are busy.  Perhaps to reorder to place God in the centre and see what we discover by doing that.

There are six I would like to touch on.

  1. Scripture study
  2. Confession
  3. Community
  4. Silence
  5. Obedience

So, Scripture study – God’s word is one of our greatest resources for knowing him. Jesus endorsed scripture. He knew it; taught and lived by it; fulfilled it! God does not use his word to primarily impart information but to guide our feet, shape our lives. If we are to avoid our being busy becoming empty and just activity for the sake of it and to withstand the pressures we are under and have God’s values then we need to absorb his word.

There is one scripture I remember above all others from my teenage years with the youth group at this church; Romans 12 v2 (J B Phillips version) “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mould” which is the first half of the verse. The second half (which I don’t always remember) is be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Confession – the temptations we face in our busy lives are many. Temptations to pride. Temptations to neglect the people in our lives. Temptations to step on others in order to “get ahead”. Temptations to take short cuts which are less than honest. Temptations to be self-focused.

The discipline of confession offers us an opportunity to invite God’s Spirit to correct us where we need correcting and to call us to repentance when we need to turn. Confession opens the door to forgiveness and to positive, life giving change. It is a discipline which builds us into people of integrity – honest, fair and loving in all that we do and say.

God calls us to be honest – honest with ourselves, with him and with each other. He does not want us to be defensive (it has taken me a long time to work on this) or blind, but to be open to him so that he can teach us to love as he loves. Confession is an opportunity to tell the truth about the ways we have hurt ourselves and others by turning from God’s way of love.

Community – being busy can isolate us. We may do a lot of activity and keep us in contact with others, but it may prevent us from developing the deep relationships we need. We were created for relationship with God and with each other. Being an introvert, this is something I find difficult and have to work at and sometimes feel on the edge of this fellowship despite worshipping here for more than 40 years. In 1 Peter 1 v 15-16 it calls us to “Be holy because I am holy”. Apparently, the word in Greek is in the plural. The call to holiness is primarily a communal one. We are called to be holy together, in the way we relate, in the way we communicate, in the way we respect, defend, pray for, worship with, and challenge each other. We are called to be in community and it is in such community that is where the life of the people of God is.

Silence – For many of us the disciplines of silence and meditation are the most difficult to pursue. We want to do something. Sometimes, however, God wants us simply to come before him and wait.

Again, as an introvert, a person who recharges their batteries by spending time alone, whose first response is to go to the inner world of thoughts and feelings rather than the outer world of action and interaction. You would think that I would find this easy. However, while I went on silent retreats and looked forward to them immensely; every time I went, and without fail it would take me up to a day to achieve a level of inner silence to match the outer silence of the setting and there was a direct corelation with the amount of activity and stress that had occurred before I got there.

But the struggle was worthwhile as God would meet me there and by the end my perspective would invariably be very different. At times I was able to look back and realise that God had been present without me being aware.

We see silence and solitude throughout the Old Testament, think of Elijah and his journey into the wilderness, Abraham’s journey to sacrifice Isacc and Jesus would withdraw to pray. But even right at the beginning of the scripture we read of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Why would you walk in a garden – to find space?

Henri Nouwen again – “Although the discipline of solitude asks us to set aside time and space, what finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do”.

Obedience – either side of the verses for our gospel reading today were instances of Jesus giving instructions to the disciples, first sending them out two by two and then in the feeding of the 5000 using their five loaves and two fish, part of this intense and demanding time they are having with Jesus.

They listened and followed. Their efforts were multiplied and blessed many. God wants us to stay close by his side so he can guide and teach and care for us. He wants us to walk with him, loving and caring. This is the call to obedience. As we practice the discipline of obedience and watch God’s will unfold in our lives, we will grow in our trust of God’s tremendous love for us and our desire to continue this discipline will grow even stronger.

Prayer – it can happen to any of us that we can find ourselves too busy to pray, so caught up in all that we have to do that we lose our awareness of God’s presence and of our constant need for him. But it does not have to be like this. Even in the midst of life’s demands we can stay connected to God asking for help and direction for an ongoing awareness of his presence.

Especially, when we are busy, we need prayer more than ever as we strive to cope with the demands placed on us. Jesus would feel sapped of his strength at times and would need renewing and without this would have nothing to give. So, it has to be true for us.

Life may be busy but we can find God in the midst of it. I hope by reflecting on these spiritual disciplines we can, with God’s help, reorder our world placing our true heart’s desire at the centre of all things. I pray that we will discover peace and joy which come when we practice the presence of God in all that we do and in every place that we go.

Amen.