Sermon by the Canon Treasurer The Revd Dame Sarah Mullally
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Over the last three years I suspect that most people have come to realise that I am more of a Martha than a Mary. Whether it is from the sound of my feet down Rosemary Lane, my silhouette as I disappear across the Close or from the time that email was sent, I more naturally seek to do than to be. But even I have come to realise across the years that life has to be about balance. As a lecturer on my ordination programme said ‘we called not to be either Martha or Mary but both’ and the challenge we face is to learn how.
The author of Mark tells us in our Gospel reading this morning that people were coming and going all around them and they were coming and going too, so much coming and going that Jesus and his disciples had no time even to eat. That’s life today - so much running around and so many demands on us and our time we have no time to eat, unless its fast food or microwavable and no time to eat with our own families. I suspect that inherent in our culture, is a mistrust of rest or doing nothing.
Josef Piper in his book “Leisure” talks about how we mistrust everything which is effortless; we can only enjoy with good consciousness, what we have acquired with toil.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to slow things down occasionally. When he was ministering to people day and night, sick people, needy people he recognised he could not keep that up forever or it would overwhelm him. We are told on a number of occasions Jesus went away alone, to a quiet place or to pray, often up a mountain or across the other side of the lake.
Here the disciples, having just been sent out, had returned having preached, driven out demons, anointed and healed the sick. And Jesus says "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31). Rest is important.
God we are told in the first chapter of Genesis ‘ended his work which he had made’ and rested and ‘behold it was very good.’ Rest or leisure as mentioned in our passage is fundamental to mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Time to leave the mobile at home, stop working and all our running around, stop our wandering restless minds for a while and gather around Jesus in a quiet place. It is a time for us to find the heart of God, to find our affirmation that we are loved by God – to know that we are no longer strangers and to become that dwelling place for God.
And if we are going to be people who demonstrate God’s love to others, if we are going to grow together in peace we need to be people who know and experience God’s love and peace.
I feel very privileged that over the last 3 years at Salisbury Cathedral I have found a pattern to my life which has better enabled a balance, and I would ask you pray for me that good patterns stay in my future ministry as the Bishop of Crediton.
I am also conscious that the Cathedral Community over the last year has been very busy – Magna Carta, Southern Cathedral’s Festival then the Flower festival – there is the need in your business to find rest and time to dwell with God as a Cathedral community, so that you may continue to be built into a dwelling place for God.
However, when Jesus went away to a lonely palace or up a mountain he always returned. The purpose of our rest is to build the kingdom not so that we can hide in a conformable place with God.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in the forward to a book by Ian Cowley ‘The contemplative minster’ writes:’ If our churches are comfortable we must worry. We are called to identification with those who are suffering: with the poor, weak, the broken hearted. The church has spoken too long from the perspective of the rich.’ (Page 8).
Our passage this morning talks of the need to be alert, even in our leisure to those around us. Mark tells us that as they moved to a deserted place many recognised him and that “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34)
I talk a lot about compassion, not least because the health service at times needs to find it, but compassion is a mark of Christ and of us as Christians. Compassion is more than pity. It is more than feeling sorry for people. Compassion moves you – deep down, in fact the original Greek word suggests that to be moved with compassion is to be moved in your bowels! The Latin word means to “suffer with someone, to feel what they feel”. Compassion is more than a passing feeling of pity- it can be gut wrenching. It is about seeing the need, it is about being moved and it is about action. Compassion lies at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
One of my favourite cartoons is the Peanuts comic strip. In this particular one, Snoopy is sitting in the doorway of his dog house shivering violently during a winter storm. You can see that it is near Christmas time by the decorations on the dog house. Charlie Brown and Lucy are walking by – all bundled up and warm as toast. They offer a greeting, "Be of good cheer Snoopy," Charlie Brown says. "Yes, be of good cheer," Lucy replies. And they keep on walking as Snoopy sits there with chattering teeth.
To show compassion is to not just see peoples’ need, it is about being moved and acting.
Last night some of us had the privilege of listening to Michael Tippett’ A child of our time’. Wonderfully performed, it is a piece which is a considered meditation on darkness, rejection, deprivation and in particular on the idea of scapegoat – it is a piece which is deeply moving and it reminds us that being moved is not always comfortable, and it reminded me that being moved demands of us as Christians to act – even if the action leaves loose ends and tensions, as did Tippett's music.
What moved Jesus that day was more than the sight of hundreds of sick and hungry people. Jesus had time to see beyond their surface needs – he saw that they looked so lost - “They were like sheep without a shepherd”.
And compassion for Jesus went beyond a feeling of sympathy or pity and then moving on, rather it moved him towards people, it moved him to action.
We are called to look at and listen to the crowd with him, to be moved with him to respond in loving compassion, sometimes to teach, sometimes to feed and heal, to bring peace or sometimes just to hang in there and bear a cross with someone. Sometimes you will give generously with money, sometimes physical help, sometimes a listening ear, sometimes you will write to the government in protest or on behalf of others, sometimes you’ll send a card to someone you don’t even know or sometimes it will be to pray.
Two years ago the Cathedral Chapter spent time asking various Cathedral’s constituents what values we should strive for – generosity, integrity and compassion. This year we have celebrated 800 years of the Magna Carta, looking at the power of words and the spirit of justice – and as I leave, I leave the Cathedral Community a challenge for the coming year: Not just to speak of justice and compassion, but to be moved to action.
If the Cathedral community is going to live out its values of generosity, integrity and compassion, it needs to be made up of people who have a rhythm of life which spends time in those quiet places deepening its relationship with God, but it must develop that alertness to the crowds to see the needs, to be moved and to act.
May we on our future journeys, find a rhythm of life in which we spend time with God and have time to see the needs of others, responding in love and with compassion.
Let us act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.