Time to be Still

by Elaine Hackney

In the 19th Century, ministers might have used an hour glass such as this to time their sermons, particularily in the “Wee Free Kirks. Don’t worry. I certainly won’t be speaking for an hour! Nor will I be following a friends tongue in cheek advice——-Face the congregation and say the words of the last hymn ‘BE STILL’ Pause and then say ‘That is the end of the sermon. Now go outside and enjoy God’s wonderful word!’ You will certainly be remembered  for years to come“ he said! That would indeed be the shortest sermon on record!

9 year old Robbie, a young friend of mine, and his father have been tending their vegetable patches for some time now ready to harvest a bumper crop of potatoes, beans, leeks carrots, courgettes and tomatoes and sell for Church funds. His Dad came home recently after a long and arduous day at the office and asked Robbie if he had done his watering duties. ‘Daddy,’ I simply haven’t had the time’ said young Robbie . His parents were  amused at this response but rather perplexed. Where was this coming from? After all he WAS on holiday for 8 weeks! Then they realised that he was simply using an expression that he was hearing frequently at home and in our society today.

Our world is speeding up and we all live at a much faster pace than our parents and grandparents. We keep trying to do more and more and this is taking its toll, creating stress in our lives. Being SO  busy all the time depletes  our reserves and we need to find time to recharge the batteries and restore balance to our lives.

My Dear, wise friend Eric Milton, here today with Sheila his lovely wife (Welcome to you both) referred me recently to Psalm 46 verse 10 having listened to my account of the day I had just spent.  There in black and white were the words ‘Be still and know that I am God’ How well Eric knows me!

But it helped to channel my thoughts towards today’s sermon.

I am an ‘early bird’ and love to rise about 6 30 to walk round the 2 ponds at Monikie. At that time in the morning there is complete peace and I can enjoy the beautiful scenery looking right over to the rolling hills of Fife. 2 families of swans and their cygnets glide gracefully by through the water which can be like a millpond. Rabbits scurry by and occasionally I have come across a startled deer which pauses momentarily gazing at me with its limpid brown eyes before bounding away into the woods. This precious time in the morning has no demands and gives me time to be still and communicate with God asking his help for the rest of the day ahead. Now I understand why my own mother used to rise at least an hour before the rest of the family!

A young American college student was on a retreat one beautiful weekend in October. Her tutor announced that the students should go off outside and spend 45 minutes alone with God. The day before she had spotted 2 swings overlooking a lake with mountains in full Autumn colours behind—–the perfect place to spend time with God. As the group set off she overheard some others say ’Let’s go to the lake where the swings are. Immediately she was on ’Red Alert’! She simply had to get there first so off she raced dashing round the other way from the rest of the group in order to get there first. She rushed past a small white chapel, flew past a wooden cross and finally leaped on to the swing feeling good about her victory but too charged up to be still and know God. Then it hit her! She was too wrapped up in achieving an insignificant victory, therefore missing what was really important. In trying to be in control she had completely missed the things God wanted her to see on the way—-the small white chapel displaying Faith, the wooden cross for Hope and the gift of still time with God while sitting on the swing.

In Marks Gospel we read this morning of the busyness of Jesus’ life. When he returned with Simon Peter and Andrew to their house they found Simon’s mother in law very ill with a high fever. Despite the fact that Jesus must have been extremely tired and longing to rest with his friends and enjoy a meal with them, he went forward and took her hand. His personal touch and compassion healed her. Later that evening the whole village gathered outside and once again Jesus healed many, depleting his energies even further.

But Jesus knew his spiritual and physical energies were drained and he needed the time to recharge. So the next morning he rose very early when still dark and went off to a solitary place to pray to God. Then restored again he continued with his healing and ministry to those in need. You see, Jesus knew he had to prioritise and take time to pray and be with God.

Finding time to be still and pray is sometimes difficult  when there are so many other demands on our time, but when we are doing so much, going too fast, we can’t hear God. We can only hear Him when we create stillness.

We need to listen more. Have you noticed that we are actually becoming a nation of interruptors! You have only to turn on the television to observe this in the many interviews that take place. People don’t let others complete their sentences. They talk over each other, interrupting all the time. Everybody is talking and it seems nobody is listening.People have become impatient and can’t even let others complete a thought before they jump in with what they want to say oblivious to the other’s point of view! How rude!

In Ecclesiastes we heard the words ‘A time to be  silent and a time to speak. We should be quick to listen and slow to speak. A good counsellor, after all has to be a good listener. My poor husband often complains that he can’t get a word in edgeways  if we are out dining with friends because it seems no one wants to hear what he has to say!

Yes our lives have become too frantic. What happened to God’s Commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. 6 days we are told to labour and do all our work but the Sabbath should be a day of rest. How I long sometimes for the days when I was a child at my Grandparents’ home in Stonehaven. Sunday was indeed a day of rest– a day to recharge, be with the family-a day where we had time for each other and kept God’s Commandment. In those days no shops were open. People attended Church often for a morning and an evening service. Families walked together, talked together sang hymns round the piano. Yes I’m sure you can remember these days too.

Recently we took our Grandson Rhys and his friend to the Iron Age Crannog at Loch Tay. There we took a step back in time to the days where families made everything from first principles. The wheat was planted then harvested then ground between 2 stones to make the flour for the bread. The people spun the wool and wove the cloth for their clothes , they carved their bows and arrows, bowls from which to eat, dug out canoes to travel the loch in search of food. They cut down trees to make their dwellings. And all these activities were done as a family together giving the children good learning experiences at first hand. Stories would be told round the fire bringing the family together at the end of the evening. It was a hard life but a simple one with NO rush!

If you drew a pie chart and divided it up in to how you spend your day, how would it look and just how much time would be put in for yourself? I guarantee a very small proportion! Our lives are out of balance and we need to re balance, be still and find time.

In one of Helen Steiner Rice’s books I found this poem

Were you too busy this morning to quietly stop and pray

Did you hurry and drink your coffee then frantically rush away

Consoling yourself by saying God will always be there

Waiting to hear my petitions and answer each prayer

It’s true the great generous Saviour forgives our Transgressions each day

And patiently waits for lost sheep who constantly seem to stray

But moments of prayer once omitted in the busy rush of day

Can never be recaptured for they silently slip away.

So seek the Lord in the morning and never forget Him at night

For prayer is an unfailing blessing that makes every burden seem light.

Most of you know of my involvement with the Mary Slessor Foundation. I have in the past given talks about Mary’s life and the work of the Foundation.

In conclusion I would like to quote the words inscribed on Mary’s tombstone out in Calabar.

Mary was a whirlwind and an earthquake and a fire and a still small voice all in one. Maybe we should all have a still small voice.

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Called to be a wind of change

Matthew 4.1-4

Most of our ideas of what the desert looks like come from Laurence of Arabia. And that means we think of smooth sand dunes rolling across the landscape like the waves of the sea. However, a TV programme this week disabused me of that image. For in it the desert was stone strewn and mountainous and ravine torn. A desert then is not defined by what it looks like but by something else. And that is, of course, a lack of water. Needless to say that fatal shortage, in turn, gives two other characteristics of deserts – a lack of food and a lack of living things. A desert therefore is a place where there is no generous provision.

Now it was each of these scarcities that Christ had to contend with in his tempting stay in the desert. For who can doubt that hunger, thirst and loneliness were the key components in his temptation. But, in overcoming the enticement to feed himself at the expense of God’s will, he insured the return of generous giving. Since, it was his subsequent teaching of God’s word that inspires and motivates self-centred hearts. It was his living the word of God that challenges self-seeking minds. And it was his generous dying for the word of God that became a powerful wind of change in all human barrenness.

Well, this Sunday we celebrate not a dearth of provision but an excess of generosity. For in our harvest festival we show gratitude to God for his bounteous gifts to us. And also at the end of our stewardship campaign we celebrate the generosity we have found in ourselves and in others. Put directly, we give thanks by answering the same call as Christ did and that is to put aside self and to be part of his wind of change.

For just as in the time when Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Spirit, so to there is an overriding need for the winds of change in our today. The wind of change in a physically starving world that hungers for our Christian giving – a wind of change in a spiritually thirsting community that could flower with our Christian witness and a wind of change in a multitude of individual solitary deserts that would celebrate after even a few moments of our Christian time.

Indeed, there can be few countries in greater need of that wind of change than Afghanistan. Now sadly that benighted nation is daily on our news for all the wrong reasons. And so I thought today we could celebrate with one of its good news stories. Since, it was from western Afghanistan that Mari Mishmast tells of when her husband died she had to sell 5 of their 22 goats to feed her 7 children. Then drought came and the remaining animals died. She says she wouldn’t have known what to do if Christian charity had not gifted her six new goats.  Now she and her family had enough to live at least. But that is not the end of her story. Because her village is located in an arid region which has practically nothing of value except – you’ve guessed it – wind. Indeed that part of the world experiences 120 very windy days a year. It is so strong that you have to wrap a scarf around your face to prevent you breathing in the airborne sand; so strong in fact that often you have to brace yourself to prevent yourself being blown over. Yet that is why Christian Aid then chose to dig a water well deep down and set up a wind powered pump. The outcome is that the local inhabitants now not only feed themselves but gain some wealth from the 2000 animals that they breed.

Moreover, dare I suggest that such a generous wind of change is also likely to change hearts and minds as much as any political initiative to prevent the hatred that evil seeks to fester in that country.

Mari goes on to say – I am very happy and I want to say thank you directly from me to you. So at this harvest and stewardship celebration, let us also say thank you – me to you. Thank you to God for his generous providing. Thank you also to each other for resisting the temptation to keep and for freely giving. Above all, thank you to ourselves for being part of Christ’s wind of change. Because, it is that self-giving wind of change alone that provides the very water of life.  It is that God-serving wind of change alone that can make arid deserts bloom. In truth, it is only that grateful wind of change which fulfils the words of Isaiah: waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground – springs of living water.

Amen

Called to Believe

Called to believe

Texts

John 20.24-29

2 Corinthians 4.16-5.10

In a vain attempt to come across some modern unbelievable things, I rather stupidly pumped the words – unbelievable things – into the internet. And so I encountered the cat with four ears, the fact that earth worms taste like fried bacon and art made in latte coffee. I also learned that the average pencil can draw a line of 35 miles or write 55,000 words, that a hedgehog’s heart beats 300 to the minute, and that coca-cola would be green if no colouring was added. All these then are unbelievable but apparently true.

So what about a man who was killed by asphyxiation after being skewered through his wrists and hung up before being stabbed in his stomach to make sure he was dead. Finally, he was buried for nearly 48 hours before he appeared alive. Now, is that believable or unbelievable?

Well what we do not need to believe because is it certain is that this single unbelievable event caused a tiny band of frightened people to found a world religion that has shaped world history for nearly 2000 years and has 2 billion followers today. A number of believers which, I hop,e we count ourselves amongst here and now.

Nevertheless, we are still left wondering – How do we believe something that seems essentially unbelievable?

Well, the answer is to ask a different question and that is – why is it we find this event- unbelievable?

And the answer is, of course, because we do not hear of such a happening in our everyday. We ourselves have never seen such an event. Moreover, we are all sceptical of any claim made in the name of religion today. For, we do live in an age that does not really have faith in that which it cannot touch or see or maybe even buy. As a result, most people will say, when it comes what is their spiritually certainities – I only believe in my own senses.

Yet on the other hand in every other walk of life we must take much on trust. If it were not so, we would not be able to use paper money. We would doubt that men had landed on the moon. We would be left asking – did the First World War actually happen? In fact, can we really be certain that wee Johnny went to school last week just because he told us so. In other words, society cannot function for a second without a degree of trust. You cannot even stand up in your pew without a significant amount of trust in many things and people.

In essence then – believing in the resurrection event comes down to who or what we trust. Thomas, for example, was a very modern man. He did not trust the testimony of his fellow apostles. As he said – he would only trust his senses of touch and sight. And as a result, Christ met that need and Thomas believed – Thomas was blessed – Thomas became a believer.

Paul was different. Paul needed less his physical senses satisfied than for his searching soul to find union with the spirit of Christ. That requirement too was satisfied by the encounter on the road to Damascus. Thus Paul believed – Paul was blessed – Paul became a believer.

The risen lord therefore knew on both occasions what was needed to engender trust even certainty and he provided it. He provided it not through compulsion or to a set of evidential rules or a human agenda. He simply provided because it was asked for – it was in his gift – it was within his loving grace.

Therefore, I ask now – what do you require to believe – what is the barrier to your faith – what is stopping you fully meeting your call to be believers? For, if you confess your requirement in your heart – Christ will bless and gift and grace. He will provide the trust necessary. Is it a bible passage? Is it a happening in your life? It is a sense of love or peace or guarantee that has eluded you for years? Whatever it is then just ask and God will provide. For, trust me, he wants you amongst his followers – he wants you now as an apostle. He wants you to be a blessed foundation of the future church.

Yet the secular world out there is asking why is it so important that you believe that a 34 year old man was murdered, buried and was resurrected? Miraculous it may be – they might claim – but on its own, it is miraculous only for him yet irrelevant to us.

And that just isn’t true. For within that miracle is the grace to trust something else. Indeed within the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means to meet our overwhelming requirement. And that is to be certain that our lives not just have meaning but that we will have continuation.

Indeed, it is very belief that Paul writes of in his letter to the Corinthians. Since, maybe as a result of the thorn in his own flesh which he makes reference to elsewhere, he feels his frailty, he creaks in his bones and he fears his mortality. And so rather in a reversal of Thomas, he says I will only believe my immortality when I can put my finger on it. And Christ then answers him and says look and see and know and believe. For, just as you trust that I am alive, so will you live.

During our first session of the Emmaus course, I think we came to a startling conclusion. And it was this – belief is better than certainty. For certainty comes from touch and sight, but leaves no room for the greater things beyond our puny faculties. Certainty also leaves no room for opportunity and wonder and discovery. But above all, certainty leaves no room for grace. For it was pure generosity that Christ came to earth, died and rose again. It was pure generosity he met the needs for Thomas and Paul to believe and so founded the Church in which we can trust. And it is pure unadulterated generosity that he provides us the knowledge, faith and hope of eternal life that our senses can never give. Since, unbelievable as it may seem, that trust alone is ever the believable blessing of God. And for that,we ever give him thanks.

Amen