James 1:19-25; Luke 10:38-42

2nd before Lent

St Barbara’s 04.02.18

Rev Tulo Raistrick

When did you last have a moment when you thought: “Fantastic. I’ve got the chance to settle down with this book I’ve been longing to read.” or “”I’ve kept this morning aside to master how to fix the lawnmower, or to learn how to make this dessert” or maybe “I’ve got the time to ring my friend and have a proper catch-up without interruptions.”

They may not be essential activities, but they are activities that we know will be good for us, that will bring us some peace and equilibrium, activities that will make us feel more ourselves again.

We live in a world where the opportunities to be distracted are endless. There is always something clamouring for attention – an email, a text message, the lure of the latest news or sports event. It may be people – whether the demands of young children, or work colleagues or relatives we are caring for. It is possible to live constantly distracted lives, never settling down to the less urgent, less demanding-of-attention activities that ultimately we know do us good.

For many of us, that is certainly the challenge when it comes to our spiritual lives. If you are anything like me, we can find it so easy for other things to force out the time we were intending using for prayer; for things to distract us from focusing on what is important.

Look at Mary and Martha. Both of them were close friends of Jesus. Both of them wanted to serve him and follow him. Both of them wanted to express their love and commitment to him.

For Martha that means cooking and cleaning, and making sure that Jesus is treated like a special guest. These are good things, but at this point, they are just distractions from something far more important – spending time talking with and listening to Jesus.

But there is something more going on than meets the eye. For what Mary chooses to do is not just different. It breaks the cultural rules. In first century Palestine, there were clear boundaries in terms of where men and women should sit. Women were restricted to the back of the house, the kitchen and the yard. The men were restricted to the front of the house, the living room where guests were entertained. Mary was violating this rule. Not only that, she was sat at the feet of Jesus. This was the position a student took up who was wanting to learn from a rabbi, and students of rabbis in those days were never, ever women. Martha appeals to Jesus to censure her sister’s appalling behaviour. Instead he commends it!

Growing in faith, spending time in Jesus’ presence, is open to us all. Not just men, as was the norm in Jesus’ day. Not just to holy types, as it may feel like sometimes today. Jesus welcomes all. And if we are to spend time with him, we may well have to break our culture’s rules too, to break free from the norms of our world.

Those norms that say we should answer our emails at any time of day or night; those norms that say we should always answer the phone; those norms that say there is always something we should be doing.

One of the most important of spiritual disciplines is to stop, to breathe and to listen, to listen to God’s quiet voice speaking to us. Just as Mary chose to do.

This time last year we looked at the life of Saint Benedict. The very first word of the rule of Benedict, his guide for living out the Christian life, was “listen”. It set the tone for the rest of his guide.

Stop. Listen. Take time to be with God.

But how do we do that. Here are some practical suggestions, some of which you may have heard before, but may be helpful reminders.

Firstly, carve out a time in your day or your week that you set aside for prayer. It could be early in the morning, or, if you are more of an evening person, last thing at night. It could be in a particular space at home, or on the bus commute or walk to work, or over a mid-morning tea-break. Have a think. When are the times in your day when you could begin to develop a pattern, a habit, of prayer, a time you consistently use. Once we get into the habit of praying at a certain time it becomes so much easier to maintain it. It doesn’t need to be for long – five minutes maybe – and see how you get on.

What to do with that time?

One thing you could do is try these simple three questions:

When during the last few hours have I encountered something of the goodness of God? Maybe it was in the kindness of someone; maybe it was in the beauty of nature; maybe it was in some good news you received. But think back and give thanks.

When in the last few hours have I failed to live as though God were present alongside me? When have I acted as though God were not there? Maybe we’ve said angry words, or had unkind thoughts, or sunk into unnecessary worry. Say sorry to God and receive his forgiveness.

When in the last few hours have I needed God’s help, for me or for others? Offer those situations to God.

Or how about using the Russian Orthodox prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And repeating it in time to your breathing, or to your paces as you walk, so it becomes part of you.

And using Scripture can also be a great aid to prayer and listening to God. Here are two ways that require nothing more than a Bible.

Take a short passage of Scripture – if you are not sure where to start, I think the early chapters of Mark’s gospel is a great place to begin.

Read the passage through slowly several times, paying attention and listening to what God may be saying through it. As you do so, you may find a thought or a word or a particular phrase stands out for you. Take time to mull on this, reflect on this. Then re-read the passage with this thought as the lens through which you read. And ask, “what may God be saying to me through His word?” You may find this leads you into a time of prayer. You may also want to write the thought or word down, and return to it at different points throughout the day.

Or take a passage and use your imagination as you read it. Step into the shoes of one of the disciples, or an onlooker in the crowd, and imagine:

what could they see?

what could they hear?

what were some of the smells?

what did the dusty sand feel like between their toes? or what did it feel like when Jesus touched them?

what were they feeling? happy? sad?

Allow the story to become real for you. If you were in that crowd/ were that person, what might God be saying to you?

Last week, we talked about having resources to guide us.

The Church of England has a simple service of prayer for morning, afternoon and evening prayer every day of the week, that you can buy as a book or access online.

There are Celtic Daily Prayer books which do the same thing.

There are a number of apps that you can get for your phone or tablet. Two highly recommended ones are pray-as-you-go and sacredspace.

If you want help with reading the Bible there are some excellent resources, from those for beginners to those for people who have been studying the Bible for many years. I would be happy to point you in the right direction.

And we talked about encouragement last week too. I think one of the best places to receive this is in one of our home groups. Why not come along and give one a try? The worst that will happen is that you may feel you have wasted an evening. The more likely result is that you will discover a group where people encourage each other as we seek to grow in faith together.

Martha wasn’t entirely wrong. Putting our faith into action is important. Indeed the letter to James we heard earlier makes that exact point. Its no good just hearing the word; we need to act on it. But our starting point needs to be to put ourselves in the place where we can listen, so that we can then act.

May God help each of us to find a discipline, a way of life, of listening to him.