The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
Sometimes life is just too busy to take that moment to think. It can be so difficult to find the time to focus on the long term, to take a step back and look at the big picture. The urgent, the immediate always takes priority. It’s true in work, it’s true in our home lives, it’s true in our relationships with those around us. Sometimes it makes it easier, to always be busy, always be doing, never stopping, never asking why.
There is a management studies course offered for those deemed to be ‘world class leaders’ at my former employers. At the beginning of the course each of the participants is driven up into the hills and they are each given a small shelter and a small patch of ground. They are left there for eight hours in solitude, beyond mobile reception and spread out so they can’t interact with each other. Many find it challenging, to slow down, to have to spend time with themselves, with no distractions, to be and not do.
There was a story about one of them, who, when getting the bus back into civilisation a couple of days later, discovered a sequence of messages on his phone. Something had come up and his team was asking for direction. Over seven messages, left at decreasing intervals, the team were making more and more urgent requests that he call back. Until finally there was an eighth message simply saying, “Don’t worry about it, we decided to go ahead and Tiffany dealt with it - problem solved. See you when you get back.”
The manager in question, as important as he was, as keen to give direction as he was, discovered his team was able to do it without him. He learned he could take the time to step back and think about the big picture while they got on with the job.
Several years ago I had a friend who was deeply depressed, I wanted to be there for him and I knew I needed to be there for him… but what to do, what to say.. what if I made it worse... I was not, I am not an expert on Mental Health. What was I meant to do. Observing that his life seemed miserable would only make it worse still. Finding the silver lining, spotting the nice weather, suggesting we went for a walk, only made him feel more guilty for being depressed.
I spent a lot of time just being. Making cups of tea. Sitting and being. I felt completely inadequate. I wished there was somebody I could call to fix it. Fundamentally, I wished *I* could fix it. Perhaps it’s that Engineer in me just wants to fix the problem, perhaps we all just want to make things right. I found it so difficult being unable to make it go away..
Anything rather than just sitting and being. I spent a fair bit of time saying little prayers. You know the kind - ‘help’ or ‘what do I say now?’ ‘What next?' and then just in case God didn’t hear the first time, ‘help’ again.
Being is obviously not something that comes easy to me.. but on this occasion my being was doing something far more profound than anything I could ‘do’. My friend was reminded that he wasn’t alone, and that somebody cared, enough not to go away whatever he did. In a small way, I was there to give him hope. My being there was a message of ‘Good News’, that there was a future, that he wasn’t alone, that people did care, even, eventually, once he could here it, that he was precious.
Last Thursday was Ascension, when the Church remembers the story of Jesus returning to heaven. In it, Christ having withdrawn, the disciples are gazing up at the sky, as if Christ was about to re-appear, to tell them what to do, or perhaps to be worshipped, as even the disciples seem to have figured out there was something special about Jesus this time. But two men turn up and say ‘why do you stand looking up into heaven.’ Christ is not floating about over them, they are supposed to be looking for God among themselves, in each other, in the world around them.
In today’s Gospel - Jesus prays for his followers, for this time after he has returned to heaven. He prays for their protection and for their mission. Jesus says again that he is sending them out like God sent him. We are reminded that if we know Jesus, we know the God that created, the God that sent himself to live among us. And that if God is known by those he sends out, then God is known by the disciples who are sent out.
The disciples are becoming an envoy of God. And not just the disciples but all who hear God’s word. All of us are included, Not just those who have studied theology, or just those who look the right way or do the right things, not just the ones go around piously praying. All of us are the Good News. We’re not just messengers who deliver the post. We ourselves embody the Good News of great joy, a concrete reminder of the love of God for everybody. We are as God in the world.
Then I take a moment, and realise the enormity of that idea, consider the state of the world and the state of my own conscience, my own abilities or more importantly my failings, the many ways I am clearly not ‘The Good News’.
Of course, we can do the things we know how to do, the things we understand, but how do we respond how do we help in these other situations. How are we supposed to be as God in the world when we don’t know how to fix the problem? How do we respond? How do we respond to the suffering in Nepal after two earthquakes? To the swaths of human life crossing the Mediterranean, desperate to escape their homes in structures loosely described as boats? To the homeless, the beggars and the prostitutes in our streets?
How do we be ‘As God’ when it seems beyond us as individuals to fix the situation?
Is it as simple as just giving money?
Jesus’ response, was to be Jesus and to pray.
What on earth do I mean by being Jesus, well, he was being God on earth, he demonstrated that we are God’s own, that we are loved to the end, and that God cared about each and every person, building relationship with each one he came across. When he prayed for the disciples he recognised he couldn’t do it on his own. He asked for the Holy Spirit to come and he prayed for his followers to go on doing his work, being God on earth, being the Good News.
And so, we are meant to follow the example Jesus sets, to be as God on earth by seeking to become more wholly who we are. To be the Good News by sharing the love God shares with us. And to take those moments to step back, to contemplate, to pray and meditate, and to listen for God. So that when it comes down to it we can be there for those who need Good News.