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'To Toil and Seek for Rest...'
Revd Denise McDougall, July 22nd, 20122 

Whilst I was undergoing my ministry training I spent many happy times at Loyola Hall, a retreat house run by the Jesuits in Rainhill. It is a house of prayer, peace, and quiet and it has beautiful, extensive private grounds. I always looked forward to going and I became very attached to the peace  in the grounds, the chapel and often even silence in the dining room. Weekend training sessions or retreats were an oasis of calm after a busy week in the special school and then later at the inner city Academy where I worked. I needed space from the constant demands and challenges of 100’s of children as well as the staff and that time away from them enabled me to recharge the batteries and reflect on what had been going on in my life and the lives of others.

I think most of us are familiar with some of Ignatius Loyola’s words, ‘Teach us good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest. To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and ask for no reward.’  I was lucky to be able to make the most of that valuable time, space and prayer, which I imagine was just what the disciples were craving for in today’s Gospel reading.

However despite being renowned as a master of prayer in action and prayer in daily life I think that part of Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer to toil and not to seek for rest is both psychologically damaging and if we have taken on board the message in today’s reading then also scripturally unsound.
We heard that the disciples had just returned from their first missionary outing, they had been so busy teaching and healing that they hadn’t even managed to eat and Jesus just as any loving parent would do, invited them to go to a deserted place for a well deserved rest. R & R I think is today’s terminology. A retreat in the wilderness where they could share experiences and catch their breath... but this wasn’t to be and the disciples were deprived of their own time out; time a luxury which we all owe ourselves ..... actually it isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity because without it we can’t function properly or be the best person that God intended. So just as Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to be alone to focus on God we need to do the same. Not that God is ever removed from our lives but sometimes pressures can build up in such a way that they obscure His presence.

Many of us are juggling the physical and emotional demands of a busy work and family life along with numerous other challenges set before us and consequently we end up running the risk of feeling exhausted, anxious or stressed. Perhaps, like the disciples we have gone without sleep or food in order to get jobs done or meet deadlines and then all we want to do is sink into the comfiest chair, soak in a hot bath or perhaps pour a lar4ge Gin and Tonic! However what generally happens next is that the telephone or door bell rings and that anticipated moment slips away.
That precious moment of quiet gets interrupted, and I don’t expect any of us are capable of reacting with the grace and compassion of Jesus; I know I’m certainly not. If the lectionary had taken us on to verse 36 even the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds to farms and nearby villages for food. However Jesus far from being irritated or annoyed ‘had the compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.’

That image of shepherdless sheep reverberates throughout the O.T. and the description of Jesus as a shepherd stems from the early church’s conviction that He was the son of David.

Real shepherding needs total commitment and devotion and Jesus along with those he commissioned to continue his work, looked after their flock as true shepherds and put the needs of others way ahead of their own desperate need to rest.

So although we hear that Jesus wanted quiet time with his disciples for renewal of body and spirit he was sensitive and passionate about the needs of the crowds. They were a leaderless crowd, sheep without a shepherd and sheep without a shepherd starve and get lost. Of course there are times when we all get lost, confused or have our doubts, we may say in confession that we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.

 God calls us all to be shepherds and as we begin to settle into the interregnum we need to protect each other and we don’t want anyone falling by the way side or getting lost. So we do all need to turn to God in earnest. That does not mean to turn away from our neighbours but means we need to prepare ourselves for caring and sharing with them in a better way.

Take a look at the people sitting around you? Be honest with yourselves, are they sometimes an annoyance or intrusion or do you see them as hungry and hurting and in need of compassion and healing? 

Remember each of us is called to be a shepherd and what a difference it would make if we constantly checked our Christian witness against Jesus’ example of shepherding his flock and making them whole. 

As shepherds can we bring those people to faith by showing compassion, forgiveness and teaching?

We can’t be true Christians in isolation but for faith to be effective we do need to take rest; God is unable to be our strength unless we are still enough in his presence to hear his voice and then our devotion can lead to action both on an individual and corporate level.

God calls us as his flock to be still and know, he calls us to turn our attention away from our anxieties and busyness, feel his presence and recognise all that he is already doing in our lives. As the psalmist of psalm 127 tells us, ‘It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep.’ 

So as the interregnum gets under way and the pace of life constantly increases we need more than ever to remember that we need rest time. Let’s remind ourselves that nonstop action and lack of devotion makes for a dull, frustrated, weary and in all likelihood a godless community and that is certainly not how we would want to portray ourselves to any prospective new incumbents.

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