Tag Archives: still

A perfect Day

Luke 6.1-11

Psalm 23

 

Now I know I have told you this before. But my uncle and aunt in Lairg, Sutherland, were members of the Free Church. And so, Sundays were days when the TV and radio were kept off, books were not read and the minimum of cooking was done.  The Bible and books of sermons were the only source of reading materials. In fact, it was only the going to church twice that broke the day’s silence. The Sabbath then was a day of rest. Indeed, for a small boy like myself it was a day of enforced rest. So much so that my grandfather was once asked by mother what he did on his Sundays during his 2-month summer visit to my aunt’s family in the North. He said that he waited until the family had their afternoon rest and then he unearthed his Sunday Post which he had got in the week and secretly read it.

 

Well, looking back it is easy to take pot shots at such a restricted day. Yet as they were crofters possibly this rest day gave a recharging time from subsistence farming. As committed Christians this rest day definitely restored their souls. Or as the psalmist has it:

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

 

Well, of course, things here in Broughty Ferry today are quite different. For some of us must work on Sundays. But for many others, it more about doing things left undone from the week behind and doing things for the week ahead. It is more about doing things for and with the family. More about doing things for pure enjoyment Now these are very worthy yet they aren’t in the end – a rest. Put more bluntly, we are still obeying the rules of duty, obligation, loyalty and pleasure. We are still being bound by the compulsions of the moment. Or as one member once said to me – she couldn’t possibly come to church on a Sunday as she had to make the lunch for his visiting grown-up family. And the result is we are still enslaved to doing instead of being; being a child of God rather than an employee, father, grand-mother or neighbour. Being a child of God indeed for just a few hours free of the rules.

 

Yet we say, my work is important, my family is paramount or my neighbour needs me. Doubtless all true. Yet..yet we still need that restoration of soul, that moment for quiet water refreshment and a period of green pasture nourishment. We need time for ourselves with God and only God. For without that, life becomes a conveyor belt, a drudge even one that is flatly two dimensional without spiritual heights or depths. Moreover, as the psalm reminds we need time to ourselves to be guided into righteousness and faith to fear no evil. In simple terms, we need this day to heal our souls for the shadows and the valleys ahead.

 

However, the idea of a resting day still seems as unexciting and restraining as it was to me as a child in the highlands. In truth, it seems that it could make our Sundays rather cheerless, dull and even soulless.

 

When I was in university, the divinity faculty had a weekly lunchtime service in the Chapel. Often led by students there was always a mixture of worship styles on offer. Yet only one sticks in my mind. We entered, sat in the pews and nothing was said or done – only restful music was played. At first we were restless – wanting something, anything, to happen. Then we fiddled with the bibles in front of us – looking for some stimulation. Then slowly, we slowed down. We became restful. Indeed, we started quietly to be still with God and God was still with us. At the end of quarter of an hour, our time was up – yet we did not want leave – we didn’t want to stir – we didn’t want to break the bridge between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, we did and returned to the world refreshed, ready to do what was important; ready not to exist but live again.

 

This illustrates that to give this day to God is not to be selfish, slothful or constrained. It is to be still by casting aside our life’s lesser rules and demands. It is to sense that a deep love and goodness is following us through our sometimes-taxing journey. It is to luxuriate in a repast of peace where there is healing to life and life in all its true fullness. It is, indeed, to take time out in the house of the Lord and know it to be our perfect dwelling there forever.

 

So, this Sunday let us turn it into a perfect day.

For as Lou Reed sang in his famous song,

Oh what a perfect day’:

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good

 

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

 

 

 

 

 

Why bother be still?

 

Psalm  1

Mark 1.29-39

 

I well remember on being on watch many years ago at sea during the night. To break the monotony, I burst into a song. For some now forgotten reason – it was ‘rock of ages’. Frank, our Chaplain, happened to be on the Bridge at the time and remarked in jest– Graham – you stick to your songs and I will stick to mine.

 

But the psalms are really everyone’s songs.

 

For it is highly possible they were sung in part song at the temple of Jerusalem long before Christ. They have been sung in worship over these last 2000 years. We even sang a rather difficult setting of one of them just last week at the General Assembly.

 

It seems then that we need to hear the psalms not just as prose but as poetry, as lyrics as indeed music designed to stir the heart and soul as well as the mind.

And what better place to start the music than at the beginning with Psalm 1?

Now it has to be said that we could spend a month of Sundays studying this work alone due its richness of language and imagery. So let’s narrow into what we can valuably explore in this hour. Let us focus in on the wider picture given by the psalmist. Let us grapple will the fruits of the tree planted by the stream.

 

Of course, to us in rainy Scotland, the sight of some scrawny bush surviving on a heather-clad moorland by a brackish burn is very common. But such a phenomenon was very rare in the land of the Psalmist. For the Holy Land has always been challenged for water; in fact much of heart of the problems over that divided region today lies in the access to this scarce resource.

And so we need to ponder what is the cause of another type aridity today’s modern Britain?

In general, it is not material lack albeit there is poverty around. It is usually not a shortage of things to do or watch or read. It is not even paucity of ideas and opportunities of expression.

 

Instead, it is quite the reverse. It is the almost irresistible allurement of the vast riches of attractions. It is the constant movement of interest for one mental bauble to the next. Indeed, it is often our ill-discipline of mind that prevents us staying focussed on one thing for more than a second.

Therefore, the concern provoked by Psalm 1 is how to survive in the most desolate of spiritual places. It is how to our souls can thrive in acres of distraction. How in fact do we live a fulsome and rewarding life in a landscape that seems literally without God.

 

And the answer is to realise that even in this glitteringly unproductive environment that the spirit is close at hand, Christ is indeed just beside us and that God is just below us as the foundation of our being.

Therefore, to be spiritually refreshed, we need to do nothing. We need to be still in our very being. We need to let our roots sink deep into divine sustenance. Since then alone will be sure to drink from living waters that freely flows from the Holy Spirit.  Or as Psalm 46 has is:

God is our refuge and our strength

An ever-present help in trouble

Be still and know that I am God

I will exalt you among the nations

I will exalt you in the earth

 

To illustrate my point,  let’s take that reading from Mark.

 

In it, we heard that Jesus had just started his ministry and was encouraged by the positive response of his first disciples. Yet now he had a daunting responsibility for them. Not least for their safety in an occupied land under a self-serving administration. He had also found the power to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. However that had brought fame and even more demands on his time and talents.

His answer to these competing forces of attraction was to be still – be still in a solitary place of focus and be still and know that God was God.

And as a result, he moved forward to be the universal saviour and not just a small town celebrity. Fruit had indeed flourished in an adverse place.

Few people would call the village of Woodstock near Oxford an arid place. It lies at the gates of that world heritage site which is the huge Blenheim Place. Its streets then are always crowded tourists and its ‘well to do’ bistros never seem to lack customers for their high prices. I know all this because one of our favourite caravan sites lies a mile away.

 

Well one warm day, last summer, I took a walk into Woodstock and meandered through its lanes. As is often the way in my holidays I was restless in my contemplation of what we as a congregation should be doing next. It was then I chanced upon the village church hidden from the madding crowd in a leafy yard up a honey-stoned byway. I entered and in its ancient silence sat and was still. Without a sound I suddenly knew refreshment, I knew again certainty to risk new ways and I knew in my quietness that for me, for you and for St Luke’s – God was God.  I left ready to travel on!

Today more than ever we need to say to ourselves in life’s hurly burly – let me be still. We need consciously to give ourselves over to moments of tranquillity, of open spirituality and infinitely godliness. We need to force ourselves to focus not on the world that is beckoning us but the sustaining divine that we are rooted in.  Because it is he who gifts fruits in this dry season, it is he who awards leaves that do not wither and it is he alone who allows us to prosper along the quiet lane of righteousness.