Come to the River
Sermon 19th July 2015
Mark 6:30-34, 53-end
May the words that I speak and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
When I was first looking for a teaching job I wrote in a lot of application letters about how I believed pastoral care of children to be fundamentally central to the job of a teacher and that I thought of it as one of my strengths. I firmly believed it to be true, I still believe it to be true! But thinking that pastoral care is important and actually caring for the whole child are two very different things. Once I started working I soon found myself embroiled in the day to day running of teaching, being newly qualified, trying to cover everything that needed covering, trying to set meaningful targets and get children to move on in their learning, marking, planning, assessing. I had stepped onto the treadmill and I was frantically ticking all the boxes that needed to be ticked.
Into this madness broke in one of those situations that are practically daily occurrences in a primary school. I don’t remember exactly what it was all about, but a few girls in my class had fallen out and it had festered to the point that the headteacher was needed to sort it out. After she had spoken to the girls involved she called me into her office and told me what she had spoken to the girls about. “I asked them why they didn’t come to you,” she said, “and they replied that you were too busy all the time so they didn’t want to bother you.”
I can tell you now that, with these and a few more stern words from my boss, I was really brought up short. All the time I had thought that caring was the most important thing, but I had become so busy and tired that I had stopped doing what I knew to be the most important part of my job. I had stopped listening to children’s worries or playground disputes, brushing over their tales and moving onto the next lesson with calculated efficiency. I had stopped listening to the point that they no longer bothered to tell me what was on their mind. From that day on I resolved to listen, to really listen, and not to ever be too busy to hear a child’s worries again.
It is so easy in life to get so weighed down with our own activities that we stop seeing the needs of those around us.
Perhaps this is a point where Jesus and his disciples could have done the same. They had worked hard and were tired, exhausted, they needed a rest from all the people. There were so many wanting to hear from Jesus and to be healed by him, and not only from Jesus but from the disciples too, who Jesus had sent out in pairs to put into practise all that they had learned. But when they try to get away for some down time, the people see where they are going and get there first to meet them. I know I would be tempted to tell them to go away. Maybe the disciples think the same thing.
But, unlike me, tired and overworked and forgetting my calling to care, Jesus’ heart is moved to compassion. He doesn’t brush them off. He doesn’t tell them to go away. He doesn’t push past them to get to that quiet place they had been hoping to find. He is moved with compassion and he meets their needs. He recognised that these people were seeking something from him, some guidance, some leading, and so he provides it. You could call it timely intervention! A little later in the story, in the part that was missed out from our reading this morning, Jesus does get his time alone to pray and to regroup. Don’t be tempted to think that ‘oh well this is Jesus, he is God, I couldn’t be like that’, this is Jesus - fully human – eyes wide open to the needs around him. Strive for it!
I read recently that children who have more opportunity to be kind grow up to be more compassionate adults. It stands to reason really, doesn’t it? Practice makes perfect, we know that much. And practising doesn’t stop at reading, or writing, learning an instrument or taking up a new skill. We need practice at compassion. The more we love, the more love we have to give. So never stop practising!!
In the second half of our reading, Jesus continues his healing ministry. No matter where he goes, people keep coming to him for all sorts of ailments, bringing their friends and relatives on mats, hoping just to touch him so that they will be healed. Wherever he goes he is recognised and more people come to him for healing. And heal he does. It says “and all who touched [the hem of his cloak] were healed.”
In their droves they came because they knew that there was something special in Jesus, he could make them well and he could make them whole. So they kept coming.
I have recently derived quite a bit of inspiration from chart songs. One such song is Ella Henderson’s “Ghost”. I am drawn to this song, not just for its catchy melody and bass line, but also for the repetitive refrain, “I keep going to the river to pray, ‘cause I need something that will wash out the pain.”
How true those lyrics are for us, with such beautiful Biblical imagery. Jesus is the river we go to, to ask for help, to seek healing, to listen and to learn. We can keep going and keep going and keep going in the knowledge that God’s compassion never fails; that he will not tire from hearing our worries, that he will always listen.
Are you lost and in need of guidance? Come to Jesus. Are you sick or in pain? Come to Jesus. Don’t ever think ‘oh I’ve messed up again, I can’t keep going back, God’s going to get fed up of me.’ He won’t, he really doesn’t. He delights in you. He longs to see you well. He longs to see you whole.
At Christ Church we are in the process of thinking about what a healing ministry might look like in our context. Developing our prayer life and exploring healing are two things that have come out of our Parish Development process and we continue to pray and listen and to try to discern what will be the best way for us to go forward. We are doing this because we know that God heals and makes us whole and we want to make space for healing and wholeness in our worship. Please join with us in prayer as we seek God’s will in this issue and look out in the notices for when we will be meeting again in the autumn to flesh out our plan.
I once heard Steve Chalke describe our Christian life as being a balance between intimacy and involvement. We must keep going back to Jesus, to spend time with him, to be healed, to be made whole, to be forgiven, to listen and to learn from him. We must develop our intimacy with God. But if our Christian life is only about intimacy then it becomes insipid. We must get involved with the world around us. See the needs in our community, the needs of our neighbours and friends, the needs of strangers, the needs of people of different races and creeds, the needs of people in far-flung places. Be compassionate. Be involved.
Those are the two things we can learn from today’s reading. Be like the people who see where Jesus and his disciples are going and run ahead to meet him. Be like the people who bring their loved ones to be healed and like the sick who keep coming for healing.
And be like Jesus. When you are tired and worn out, don’t stop being compassionate. See the needs of the world around you and be involved.