Sermon preached by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington at All Saints’, Cuddesdon and St Giles’ Horspath on Sunday 8th July 2018.
Reading: Mark 6: 1-13
We are coming into that great time of the year, the holiday season and everyone is beginning to talk about and make plans for where they are going. I have found that we are all entirely unique and different in the way we prepare for our holidays. Yet in my extensive research into the subject I have found that there are two general trends to this preparation.
On the one hand there are those folk who are terribly organised, have decided exactly what they are going to wear each day of the break, have it all washed and ironed weeks in advance, drawn up an itinerary for each day, make packing look like an art form and have all eventualities covered.
Then there are those who leave it all to the last minute. Open a suitcase the night before and simply throw anything and everything into it, pack every nook and cranny of the car just in case and leave with the hope that anything forgotten can be bought along the way.
I have to confess that I grew up with the former but have degenerated into the latter. The night before we go away is usually spent trying to find enough clean clothes to take, I gave up on ironing years ago, checking Thomas isn’t bringing 20 reading books with him, stumbling over the piles of discarded clothes on Katie’s floor and sitting bemused on the bed just not able to decide between this skirt or that shirt and just bunging both in anyway. If there is an art-form to packing the car, then we just haven’t quite discovered it yet. Usually we stuff the boot with all manner of things, seat the children and the dog then gradually stack things around them and on top of them until they can’t move. And so we depart for our cottage for two weeks.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, we all have one thing in common. Our preparations be they rigorous or random are to ensure that our holidays are as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. The scouting motto ‘Be prepared’ is a good one for all of us, as there’s nothing more annoying than arriving in the Lake District on a cold and wet April evening to realise you forgot to pack the children’s coats as we have done.
It was with some shock therefore that I read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in our gospel reading this morning on how they should prepare for their journey far and wide to spread the good news of the kingdom. Instead of giving them a clear itinerary of places to visit, a list of things that they will need or a nice new suitcase to carry them in, he orders them to take nothing for their journey, not even the bare necessities like bread or a bag or money. They are not to book somewhere in advance but simply turn up in a place and stay in the first home they come to. The only items they are allowed to have are a staff and some sandals presumably for protection from wild beasts and robbers and to support them on their hard road. It made me wonder what would my time away be like, if I too, left all the luggage behind and opened myself up to the people and places I was visiting. Would I see them differently, would it be more an encounter rather than a cosy excursion. Stripped of all my physical comforts and made vulnerable to another’s generosity, would I discover something I did not know I was missing. Redirected from my own pursuit of pleasure would I notice the other’s needs and suffering and be willing to be an ambassador for the kingdom of God.
For most of us a holiday is synonymous with a time of refreshment, relaxation and enjoyment. In Genesis, the seventh day is blessed, not because it’s the day you are supposed to go to church, but because it was the day on which God rested from his work, when he stopped and enjoyed all that he had done. It was the day on which he no longer did things but purely delighted in them. Our traditional rest day has altered over the last few years. No longer is Sunday the day to relax and just enjoy being alive, it has become another doing day. Instead it is the holiday that has become holy, whether it be to explore the world, laze round a pool or just have fun with the children. It needs to be kept special and apart, given the status of holy in order for us to take it seriously for it is all too easy in the midst of life to forget to live. Jesus said “I came to bring life in all its fullness”. This does not necessarily mean a cruise down the Nile or a trip to Disneyland but it does mean cherishing life and enjoying what we have been given, however small or large that may seem.
As well as being a time of refreshment and thankfulness it can also be a sacred time when we have some space to reflect and de-clutter our lives, step back from the routines that numb the soul and rediscover ourselves again, strip away some of the baggage that weighs us down, become vulnerable to encounter with others and have courage to trust wholly in our Lord who never asks more of us than we can bear.
So during this season of holiday let’s not be too worried about whether we are prepared or not, whether we have covered every eventuality but seek to enter this holy time with just ourselves in our own poverty and thereby lay ourselves open to truly encountering the places and people we meet, be surprised by the moments of joy and generosity and delight in life in all its fullness so that we, as God’s beloved disciples, may find the blessing and fulfilment of God’s presence wherever we find ourselves this summertime, at home or abroad. Amen