HE DOES NOT KNOW HOW
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A few weeks ago we were in the middle of a lot of activity at church. Our two weeks of summer camp. If the action was not frenzied it was certainly frenetic. On the evening of the first day of camp, I was over at Horizons For Youth. They were having a volunteer appreciation night and they were giving out certificates to those they wished to thank, our church being among them. I sat down beside someone who turned out to be the local MP who is a big supporter of Horizons. She told me that she was on a month-long break from Parliament and the importance of being able to take a break and focus on one specific task and how much she just wanted to read. I agreed that all of these were good things and told her that I had been thinking a lot about just the same sort of things. The importance of unitasking. The importance of rest. The importance of balance in our lives. I admitted that I was not exactly practicing what I was preaching as I was technically working on my day off. Monday is my official day off and I try to be protective of it as do all of you!
You know that any conversation you have me with might end up in a sermon (with all due circumspection and checking with you and so on). The same kind of thing happened to me that night as our conversation turned into a talking point in the MP’s speech. She got up to speak, said that she had met the nights’ “resident pastor” who had spoken to her about the importance of balance in our lives, and had then “admitted that he had none in his.” Not what I said at all! However, the point was well made.
I often say that one of the biggest pastoral concerns of our day and place is pace of life. By pastoral care concerns, I simply mean problems or issues of our lives. Everyone is going 100mph all the time, is how I like to put it. We are all rushing from one thing to the next. We will talk to many people at the end of the summer who will say that it felt too short, or that they need a vacation from their vacation. We fill up almost every moment of our day with input. It used to be something as innocuous as Muzak. It then became tv’s everywhere (and I must ask the question why do we need a tv to look at when we’re standing in line waiting for our pizza slice and you know everyone is looking at it because that’s what we do when there’s a screen in front of us – we’re taught from a very young age as those who were around our camp can attest when it came time for movie time). Of course, now we don’t even need the establishment to provide a screen because we’re most of us carrying around our own screens and we need to fill up every moment of idleness by doing something.
Now we don’t have time to discuss the reasons for all this busyness, but it could give us something to talk about. Our need to control things. Our belief that work is a virtue, the whole Protestant work ethic thing. The disinclination or fear even to spend time alone with our thoughts. I realize this intro is quite long and I’m not meaning to simply sound like a crank or offer a critique of society. Perhaps it’s the way that we judge ourselves and ourselves by what we do or what we are doing rather than on who we are or who we are becoming.
Speaking of becoming, we have Jesus here this morning, offering a word. A few words actually. A voice that cuts through all the noise. What is going on here this morning at church? We’re being invited to heed this invitation.
Here it is. Listen! (Mark 4:3) “Listen.” Here it is again. “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” (Mark 4:9)
Here it is one more time. “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:23) And then this – “Pay attention to what you hear.” (Mark 4:24) Let’s pray to God to help us listen.
This is straight up good news this morning. I’ve already gone over the bad news. Those of us who are feeling tired this morning now what I’m talking about. We need to slow down. We need to stop, don’t we? Wouldn’t that be welcome news for you this morning? So let us stop.
And listen to the man who’s just spent some time talking about seeds and how they fall on different soil. He talked about understanding what the Kingdom of God is about. He talked about lamps not being meant to be hidden under baskets or under beds. He talked about the purpose of a lamp being to shed light. To shed light upon the situation.
Which is what we’re looking at all summer really. Dreaming of what might be. Dreaming of what Jesus said that life in the Kingdom of God is like. Dreaming of what the world might look like in the light of the Kingdom of God. Dreaming of what that might mean for us here at Blythwood in this small corner of the Kingdom for us as daughters and sons of the King, for that is what we are.
And so we’re invited to listen. An encouraging sort of “listen.” “Listen” can precede bad news, I know. This is a strictly good-news “Listen.” Jesus is talking about good news and he’s using things from everyday life. Seeds. One might think city people don’t know from seeds, but we get it. We have our backyard gardens. We have our balcony plants. We have our planter on our front porches. I would chart the progress of flowers in our planter this year every day, making sure I was keeping it watered when it wasn’t raining very much. We know from seeds and plants and the way things grow.
So here’s the good news. We can stop. We can rest. We can cease from doing all the time. Trying to make every moment productive or fill it with input. Because “The kingdom of God is as is someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
He does not know how. He knows it’s not up to him though. He’s done his part. He can sleep. He rises too mind you. But he can sleep. If you feel you need to sleep right now I won’t mind!
I want us to take this in. We cannot miss this in a world that tells us that we must be striving all the time and where “Busy” has become the new “Fine” in response to how are you and the phrase “Crazy busy” is a thing. These words of Jesus are telling us that that is just crazy. They’re a reminder that work is not a virtue but actually a description of how humanity would live post-Fall. We’re to work purposefully of course, but we’re not to make work our purpose.
Not even Kingdom work. It’s not about what we do but who we are. Of course, we’re called to do things. God puts things in front of us to do. In Mark 2 Jesus had a lot of healing to do at Simon’s house. The whole city was gathered around the door. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Jesus remembered who he was. The beloved son. If there was anyone ever in the history of the world who might have had an excuse for “doing” all the time, it was surely Jesus of Nazareth. So many people to heal. So many people to whom to announce the Good News. To preach in the streets of the great cities of the empire like Ephesus, Corinth, Rome itself. To make friends with rulers. Influence the influencers. I saw a news report about a National Prayer Breakfast in the US whose goal is exactly that. Get in touch with people of power and influence. Instead, Jesus’ motto seemed to be more “I’ve got friends in low places”. Things are turned upside down in the Kingdom. Jesus had things to do with the people who were in front of him – lepers, tax collectors, the poor, the labourer, the outcast. God has things for us to do for sure. Someone has said, “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.” I would add to this “Rest as if the Kingdom of God were as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” Seeds can take a while to grow. The growth might be so slow it’s imperceptible. I’ve talked before about going to Horizons For Youth to help with brunch on a Saturday for a few years, sometimes wondering what the use was. Until one Saturday morning, I had a 45-minute conversation with a young man there about faith and God and what it all meant to us. The Holy Spirit was doing something there. I don’t know how. It might look like running a children’s camp for 7 years and one after all those years having a conversation with a young mother who wants to know what it means to follow Christ and how one can go about doing that.
We always need to remember who’s telling the parable. The one who communed with his Father. The one who told his followers “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Isn’t this a welcome invitation to you this morning? Wouldn’t this be a welcome invitation every day? So that we’re not merely parcelling out vacation time to come away and rest awhile (if we’re even doing that – and not that there’s anything wrong with that!) but that we make it part of our daily routine?
In order to do this, we must practice of course. Like anything we want to learn, practice is key. The next time we have a moment of idleness, a moment of waiting, a moment of being in-between things, before we reach for our phone, we could try something like this. This comes from Helmut Thielecke’s sermon on this parable and I think it’s good. We’ve printed out cards with this on it which you can use until you have it memorized. If you’re from a non-Baptist faith tradition you may already know it. Use it to come before God in praise. Use it to commune with our King as a child of the Kingdom.
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen”
Think about these things as we do this. “Glory be to him who has brought me to this moment in my day…The Son is none other than Jesus Christ, who died for me. Must not the one thing needful be constantly present in my mind, and must it not show up the merely relative importance of the many things which I do? Glory be to the Holy Spirit…(may I) ever hold still in order that the wholly Other may fill me with his Spirit and give me a sense of the true priorities in my life. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Here we are encompassed by the everlasting arms, overarched by the rainbow of a faithfulness we can trust, founded upon a foundation which the shifting sands of daily routine can never provide.”
We can rest. Martin Luther famously said, “While I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer the gospel runs its course.” Someone said that this is the finest and most comforting thing he’d heard said about beer! Luther didn’t think he needed to be constantly striving. The Psalmist put it like this – “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
Listen. Let those who have ears to hear, hear. May God grant us all daily the rest that He wants for us. May this be true for us all.