Sunday, July 4, 2010

Restoring the sacred centre ... peace! be still!

As you walk down the steps from the ruined abbey on the cliff top above Whitby, you come to the parish church. It is unique. Built by shipbuilders from the port at the foot of the cliffs, as you look up at the ceiling you are looking at the underside of the deck of a boat from one of the boatyards.

Felicity introduced me to a link to a cycle of prayer for the countries of the world that over the years I have found helpful. It bears the logo of the World Council of Churches, a boat on the sea.. It is an image taken up by churches together in this country too.

I like that image.

It works in all sorts of ways.

But today I want to explore one particular way.

And it starts with that wonderful account of Jesus asleep in a boat as he crosses the Sea of Galilee.

Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

Leaving the crowd behind.

Jesus came to make a difference to the world. His mission was to reach out wherever there was need. IT was something he could not and did not want to do on his own. He had called the twelve to follow him, to be his disciples. He had just shared lots of stories with a massive crowd of people all of whom were anxious to learn more, to receive his healing ministry, and to discover the wonders of the kingdom of God.

There was a buzz of excitement as Jesus, with the the twelve shared with the massive crowd so much.

But there came a moment when it was necessary to leave the crowd behind.

And leaving the crowd behind they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.

I wonder whether there is an image there of something of what church is about. As followers of Christ our task is to be involved in the world, in the neighbourhood, be it with friends, neighbours, in work. In whatever setting we are in part of our commitment as Christians is to live out our faith, to embody this wonderful love of God. We are involved as it were with the crowd – with all those needs. Think of needs, people you are concerned for, issues that challenge you, the issue we have had shared with us today from the Knole and Langley House trust. It is a mass of needs – a crowd that sometimes feels as if it crowds in on us.

There comes a moment when we need to leave the crowd behind and gather together with those who share our Christian commitment. We need to get into the boat.

Let’s see church, this place, as that boat. And the key thing is that we have Jesus with us. His presence is with us.

But as we gather in here we are not unaware of the troubles around us in our world. Sometimes we can be even more intensely aware of those troubles. If we had not come this morning, we wouldn’t have learned about the Knole, we wouldn’t have been thinking about those in prison and their needs. We are conscious of a world around us in turmoil.

A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

It seems like that. And when we are aware of the troubles in the world we sometimes wonder, where is Jesus?

It is telling in this story - he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.

The reaction of those disciples is the reaction we can sometimes have.

They woke him up and said to him, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.

Where is Jesus? We want to wake him up. Shake him vigorously.

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Peace Be still.

Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.

But the real world is not like that.

Or is it?

I believe that there is something that can happen here in this place as we ‘leave the world behind’ are aware of the storms, and summon Jesus to be with us.

That voice of calm can speak into the world we find ourselves in.

Peace! Be still! can be so real.

Drive down the motorway and around the services what you don’t realise is that you drive between two major prisons. To the left is Leyhill, an open prison. John Hunter, now turned 80 and still in ministry at our church in Frampton is part of the chaplaincy team at Leyhill. He started there more than 20 years ago when he had to do a placement on our training course for ministry and he chose to do it at Leyhill. It was moving to see the chapel and the role it plays.

On the opposite side of the motorway is Eastwood Park a major women’s prison. It has a noisiness, a troubled feel to it – a large proportion of those in prison there have mental health issues. But it too has a chapel.

As in Leyhill, though in a different way. It is a haven. A space where people can come. Find a listening ear. A space for thinking, for quiet and prayer. Moving to see the space that is created. In each of our prisons – seeking to give a space. The value of the chapel – in restoring the sacred centre. On both sides of the motorway, that chapel is a place of calm, where those words Peace be still are precious.

This too is such a space. In all sorts of ways. One of the things we do is to host a couple of ‘anonymous groups’ Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous. Playing a key part in helping people cope with their addictions, the people who find those groups such a help are appreciative of somewhere to meet. One of the groups invited me to join them for their time together.

They clearly valued the space they had. For them it was a haven. And the meeting had a deep spirituality to it, as they shared, listened and reflected. Each group follows that twelve step pattern pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous with its emphasis on seeking a power and a strength from beyond ourselves.

They touch something more that we are about.

Those in prison. Those imprisoned to an addiction. The value of a place of peace in the middle of a stormy life.

But not just them. Not just those over there. This is something to make a difference to each of us.

We each need a place where we can leave the crowd behind. Be in the presence of Christ. And hear him say, Peace be still.

The Brewing of Soma is a strangely timely nineteenth century poem about those who seek religious experience through various drugs, not least hashish or cannabis. Into a world that sometimes seeks religious experience in ways that can be harmful … maybe we need to hear again that still small voice of calm.

The fagots blazed, the caldron's smoke
Up through the green wood curled;
"Bring honey from the hollow oak,
Bring milky sap," the brewers spoke,
In the childhood of the world.

And brewed they well or brewed they ill,
The priests thrust in their rods,
First tasted, and then drank their fill,
And shouted, with one voice and will,
"Behold, the drink of gods!"

They drank, and lo! in heart and brain
A new, glad life began; . . .
The naked Santon, haschish-drunk,
The cloister madness of the monk,
The fakir's torture show

It is easy to fall into the trap in church of seeking to replicate the feelings, the sensuousness, that longing for experiences in what we do

And yet the past comes round again,
And new doth old fulfill;
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

But actually we have something quite different to receive and to offer.

Let’s join in singing the last part of that poem …

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
Thy beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
-Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

John Greenleaf Whittier

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