For most of 2019, Jerry and I worked to plan to our six-month sabbatical from our pastoral duties at the Warrensburg Church of the Brethren.
We began as bi-vocational ministers on the Pastoral Team in August 2004 with Pastors Jim Tomlonson, Ethmer Erisman and John Thomas.
The idea of Sabbath rest is not only for ministers.
In the creation story, God worked six days and on the seventh day, God rested.
The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew word for “rest” — Shabbat.
When we think of God resting, we may think of plopping down on the couch with the remote and channel surfing.
Commentator Eugene Roop suggests to us that the rest from creation is not the rest of one who is exhausted.
Rather, this creation rest describes the rest of one who is satisfied.
Remember that God said, “It is very good.”
God took the seventh day to cease from working and to enjoy the creation.
During our six months of sabbatical, I intentionally focused on enjoying creation.
I have marveled at baby bluebirds and wrens in our bird houses.
I have relished finding the elusive morel mushroom.
And I have enjoyed the wildflowers in the woods and prairie.
As each of you thinks of taking sabbath time, what is it that you can delight in?
What joy and blessing are you grateful for today?
I invite you to write down your list of joys and blessings and keep them in a prominent place.
Since the beginning of creation, God has set forth a rhythm of life that calls a halt to our feverish activity.
This is hard for many of us raised with a Protestant work ethic living in an agricultural community amidst our success-driven, achievement-oriented society.
Jesus also talked about the importance of the sabbath.
In Matthew 11, verse 28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus offers us an invitation to discover the will of God that transforms our lives.
When we find rest in Jesus, we find our anger is transformed into advocacy, our hate is transformed into love, our greed is transformed into sharing; and our fear is transformed into trust.
A lot of the great events of Jesus’ life took place on the sabbath: preaching forgiveness and fulfillment of the scripture, healing and other miracles, and shared meals.
Jesus began and closed his ministry on the sabbath.
Early Christians used three guidelines concerning how the sabbath day should be spent: 1) evening and/or morning public and private worship; 2) acts of mercy, like inviting widows and poor to Sunday meals, taking communion to the sick and imprisoned and collecting money for the poor and 3) rest.
The Sabbatical afforded me time for reconnection with God and with old seminary and pastor friends at the denominational women’s retreat.
Pastor Pearl Miller from our Warrensburg congregation, Missouri-Arkansas Church of the Brethren District Minister Cindy Sanders and I enjoyed gatherings with 60 clergy women from across the denomination.
We renewed old friendships.
Pastors Gail Erisman Valeta and Ann Mason Bach are both life-long friends from our church and district who attended the retreat.
Together we decided it would be great to organize a church camp reunion for many of us who used to attend church camp so both of them plan to come next summer and we hope to get the word out to many former campers to come and renew the bonds of Christian love.
Another way I reconnected during the COVID-19 pandemic has been intentionally calling someone each day to see how they’re doing.
I hope each of you has this as a way of being in ministry.
Many people are feeling alone and fearful right now.
A phone call helps remind them they are not alone.
One of the great mental health challenges of the pandemic is despair and loneliness.
Go down your phone list and reconnect with old friends and church members who may not be able to join us regularly. Check on your neighbors.
Since the death of George Floyd, I have intentionally met a number of my black colleagues for coffee and just asked “How are you doing?”
They have shared how their souls have been broken at the horrifying video of another black man’s life ended in death.
If I could start my career over, I would be a history teacher because what we choose to read about history informs how we view other people.
The 400 years of rape, lynching, slavery, mass incarceration and injustice to the Native Americans and African Americans has to end.
There is a wave of racial justice rising that we must ride to bring about systemic change to all our institutions which were built on the backs of the poor.
When you look around the board room, the committee table or your club meeting and see no person from another race or ethnicity, that should signal to you there is a problem.
Unless we listen to the voice of our black brothers and sisters, we cannot empathize with their situation.
Ta’Neshi Coates, author of the book “Between the World and Me” expressed it this way: “It struck me that perhaps the defining feature of being drafted into the black race was the inescapable robbery of time, because the moments we spent readying the mask, or readying ourselves to accept half as much, could not be recovered.”
Having courageous conversations about race is exhausting and providing sabbath rest and renewal for those engaged in the cause of social justice is another avenue of support we can offer.
A number of our friends have called and just wanted to come out fishing to escape the pressures of the pandemic.
Besides the importance of sabbath time to reconnect and rest, the other important thing I learned on my sabbatical time was reframing.
I had planned to take a three-week trip to Spain with my cousin Lisa Irle to walk on the Camino, a spiritual pilgrimage, from Porto Portugal to Santiago Spain, the place James the apostle is buried.
I had guidebooks, special socks and boots, and borrowed a backpack.
I had been walking the four-mile square with 20 pounds to begin training.
And then March 14, 2020, everything changed.
It quickly became clear we would not be going to Spain.
What changes have you made to “reframe” life during the pandemic?
Working from home?
Studying remotely instead of being at college?
Staying home instead of going out to eat or to a concert?
Reading the worship meditation instead of attending church in person?
Staying away from family and friends who are in the vulnerable population to keep them healthy?
I grieved not being able to take this long break from my work as a chaplain at Children’s Mercy.
But I have to say, the sabbatical enabled me to survive the daily challenges at the hospital and with my own family needs as we all have readjusted.
I am deeply grateful for the other pastors and lay speakers who covered all the Sundays and the deacons who have faithfully checked on our flock.
Some of us spend most of our day on computers in meetings looking at these little squares on Zoom or Teams.
But, even as a church, we are staying connected to God and one another in a safe and new way.
Maybe the pandemic is teaching us how to have sabbath rest and truly find peace for our souls.
A little four-year-old girl was overheard whispering to her newborn baby brother, “Baby, tell me what God sounds like. I’m starting to forget?”
Sabbath time helps us reconnect with God and one another.
It also enables us time to reflect and reframe as we ponder the mysteries of life.
May you each be blessed with gratitude and grace as you find sabbath rest for your souls.