Vicar's Sermon - 17th June 2018
The mental health charity Mind recommends Five Ways to Well being:
First: connect – make sure that you have a few good friends or colleague , ensure that you don’t ever feel alone.
Second: Be active: OK, some people find this easier than others but we all know the importance of health and diet…and exercise.
Third: Take notice: spend some time appreciating your world, the place where you live, plant something in your garden…look after it, notice what it’ is doing.
Fourth: Learn: try to say interested, study or read, take up a new hobby…give your mind do something to work on. And ..
Finally: Give: your time, your money, your energy to some cause greater than you: an individual that needs help, an organisation that needs volunteers – live beyond yourself.
These five seem to make perfect sense to me, even if the ‘be active’ one comes across as being something of a challenge but it’s the third of the five that I’d like to focus on today. Take Notice.
So much of our faith involves reframing how we see the world and today’s bible readings both give us examples of just how differently God goes about His work. The OT reading showed us the anointing of David as King by Samuel the old prophet, but the bulk of the story recounts Samuels struggle to see who God’s chosen one actually is. David, the youngest, the smallest, possibly the smelliest (from being out amongst the sheep), was the last of the brothers to be called by his father Jesse to this ‘who wants to be King’ pageant. But God makes it clear: what he sees in David is hidden from view. I have no doubt that it helped that David was good looking, a handsome lad, but God was looking at his heart, not his strength or how wide his smile was. What God saw was there but not in plain view.
And then we were given two parables about seeds being planted. Grain, sown in a field. A mustard seed sown in the ground. We like to think that we have got parables sorted: a few bible verses, nothing as taxing as the Apostle Paul at his most tortuous in the epistles, but the last verses of our reading should give us pause. Jesus frequently spoke in parables in order not so much to teach as to confuse or muddy the waters. His simple words still needed explaining to his disciples. If he spoke too directly then he might be misinterpreted and hauled up before Herod before his ministry had got going: so, we have words that on the surface, seem straightforward but which also leave a veil over their meaning and are open to interpretation.
What does seem clear is that both parables describe things that are hidden from view…at least initially. The seeds in the field, the mustard seed in the back garden. They are present but unseen…possibly not even noticed but slowly, slowly, slowly a stalk appears, then a head, then the full grain in the head. Slowly, slowly, slowly the mustard seed grows up to become a shrub…more than that, to become a tree with branches in which the birds of the air can make their nests.
Jesus could be talking about his own ministry. Maybe he saw himself as the sower of seeds. Perhaps we are meant to imagine him as being the one who plants the mustard seed- small beginnings that will yield to greater fulfilment in time. Did he have any sense whatsoever of the impact of His words…or the result of his ministry on tens of hundreds of thousands of lives - shaping, transforming, renewing, empowering both individuals and nations with the power of God’s presence?
Or maybe He spoke of God as the sower and of how His Kingdom seems to have a dynamic all of its own and a timescale that cannot be rushed. The sower observes the seeds growing in the field but he knows not how they grow: they just do! By planting the seed the sower has started a process that cannot be interrupted – it will work its way to fulfilment until the time that he ‘goes in with his sickle’ and harvests the grain (presumably to be used for the nourishment of others and for planting towards an even greater harvest).
It would appear that in the Kingdom of God ‘Patience is a virtue’: you can’t rush the process, you just have to wait (and get out of the way). Except we don’t like waiting to be served in Morrisons or Costa let alone for something as important as the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t like being patient. Feeling that we are ‘free agents’ and ‘in control’ of our lives and those around us we think we can speed thing up a bit – make ‘stuff happen’. But you can’t hurry God: His work takes time. That can either be a huge frustration for us…or it can offer us some relief from stress. For there are individuals and churches that are ‘all go’, rushing from this to that, (busy busy busy). Yes, we are called to work and sacrifice and struggle in our Christian vocation – BUT too much of modern church life seems almost faithless rather than faithful with its remorseless activity. Stop, pause, breathe, notice, wait – God is working His purpose out…in that family member who seems so far from any meaningful faith, in that project that could help those in need if only they did this…or that…or the other. Take time, notice what God IS doing, don’t try to force His hand.
And eventually the seeds become a Harvest, the smallest mustard seed becomes a tree. That which was hidden is revealed and it is both miraculous and wonderful. We don’t know what is going on in people’s hearts and minds. We don’t know what God’s plans for them are. We do know that he works for all to know His goodness and love. We do know that the Spirit groans within creation for the revealing of the children of God: there is more…and more…and more to come and there will be a lot of surprises in the Kingdom when it is fully revealed. We do know that we will be changed from glory to glory...but this all takes time. And time requires us to Trust, to Trust His goodness and to hope.
And as we wait we look and as we look we notice the signs of the coming of the Kingdom amongst us. Those who know about mental ill health find that people who project their happiness into the future are vulnerable to stress. They work and work in the belief that ‘once this is done, once that task is complete’ THEN they can rest. ‘Just get me though this week, to the end of the month and then my life will change…’. Not so. One of the great secrets of life in the Spirit is to live in the present. The kingdom of heaven will come in all its fulness in the future (yes) but it is present now for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Learning to see it is a primary Christian practice. And how is this done: a previous generation would say ‘count your blessings’….regyularly stopping to give thanks for God’s work in our lives and in the lives of those around us, in the community here in Barnard Castle and in the natural world. Our more catholic brothers and sisters would encourage a regular ‘review of the day’ in the light of the question ‘where have I seen evidence of God at work today?’ Bishop Mark during Lent pointed us to an app that you can put on your phone or tablet called ‘Re-imagining the examen’ as a means of doing this: I’d heartily recommend it to you.
Connect. Be active. Stay interested. Give. A big plus to all these. But an especial plug for ‘Take Notice’: As we will say later: the Lord is here. His Spirit is with us. Amen to that indeed. May He grant us grace to notice His presence here in worship but also in the everyday-ness of our every day.