I Have Returned – End of Sabbatical Sermon

July 5th, 2016 · No Comments

I have returned

Pentecost 7C? 7/3/16

Luke 10:


Cat story.  Husband doesn’t like the stray cat that just moved in and made himself to home. Decides to move the cat to a different neighborhood. 20 miles away. Cat beats him home.  40 miles. Beats him again. So he went all out – 10 miles then left at the piggly wiggly, over the bridge, got on tpke, exit 123 formally 124, right at the big rock that looks like a bear, turn left at the bear that looks like a big rock. All in all about 50 mi away.  Gets on interstate booking it towards home…would the cat return before him again? Finally he can’t take the suspense. Calls wife on cell—is cat there? Yes. Well put him on the phone—I’m lost!

The seventy , hand-picked by Jesus, were probably overjoyed by being picked to go out in his name and heal and exorcise and proclaim the good news that God was very near to all of us—right now. They were most likely giddy! What an honor! What a promotion! What power they would have. And what fame would be theirs if the crowds figured out who they were “opening for.” Jesus—the miracle worker—acclaimed all throughout the region. What a great gig this was!


Already they had fantasies about the trip. Thousands of people filling the valley, listening to their message which of course was their master’s message. But in their fantasy, it was they who preached to the multitude.  And then, forming lines, some of those gathered came forward for healing—and the 70 would heal them right and left. The people would also bring forth the demon-possessed—and they would kick those demons…right out of the poor afflicted ones. In their wildest dreams they could not have anticipated this. They could hardly wait to get going.


First,though, Jesus had some – not advice – call it the facts and the conditions. The 70 would go out there without google calendars, without smart phones, without even a can of Pringles to nosh on along the way. Don’t bother packing your suitcases because what you have on right now is what you’re going in.  Including the shoes–just the ones on your feet. And you with the laptop—you’re not going there in a rent-a-car, and you’re not staying at the Radisson – I don’t care if they have free continental breakfast. So keep it off Expedia. None of that mess.


Watch out as you are traveling. Fools will take up your time if you stop for them. There’s not many of you so watch out for the wolves in sheep’s clothing. They want you to fail, and they will do all that is within their power to make sure you don’t. When you enter a town, pick a house and ask for some hospitality. The homeowners might be eager to provide. The again they may not be. If it’s yes, go then and be a good guest. Eat all your vegetables and don’t worry about the portion sizes, or the cost of the lamb you polished off—you’re gonna earn it. Give your peace to all who live there.


BUT. There’s always a but, isn’t there?


Just as easily, says Jesus, just as easily you’ll run up against some residents who would rather have the town drunk stay with them over you crossing their threshold even once. . Some folks won’t hear any of the good news—they will just see you as solicitors hanging around the town. Trying to sell what they have no inclination to buy. Others will react negatively to the healing and exorcisms. Not in my backyard are you gonna treat the mentally ill—they are surely rapists, murderers, thieves, and Hello! they’re scary. And these ones are going to disrupt your meetings and try to harm you.


Well, you were told don’t waste time jawing with people on the road, and likewise you don’t waste the precious gospel and the time to declare it by trying to talk sense into them, or by calling in air support like the sons of thunder wanted to do the other day. Just walk away. Just walk away. Shake the sand off your feet—it was rude of them to not provide a footwash. And like I said to that young man the other day—let the dead bury the dead. It’s life we’re talking here. Life abundant. Life meaningful. Life eternal. Life. That’s what Jesus told them.


Wow. Buzz-kill. Never-the-less, the 70 go off two by two to save the world. With glorious, romantic notions about what that meant for them, and for the people who believed in Jesus. They went because Jesus asked them to. For the good of his mission.


I have been out on a journey these past four weeks, sorta like a journey anyway. I traveled literally to MA, Maine, to Rhode Island, to CT, through New York and New Jersey (as fast as we could), and to PA and back. I traveled on Sundays to visit with churches and to see how they welcomed the stranger. I traveled to the ocean and the big lake to renew my spirit. I went to a place that made guitars! And to a seaside museum that displayed the tall ship that Lisa’s father served on in the Danish Merchant Marines when he found that the ship was smuggling goods into the country, and consequently was captured on the ship by the Nazis and detained briefly.


Back on the sabbatical—I did a lot of reading, talked a lot about the future of Messiah and my shepherding of it, composed and recorded another liturgical piece of the Uke-arist setting for Holy Communion.  I even tried some spiritual practices—prayer walking, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, hospitality, and hugging (which is not a spiritual practice per se, but for me it works on my sociability). After the church visits, Lisa and I had some good conversations about what makes worship worship. The stay-at-home times were short and few, but they enabled me to get some deep rest once in awhile. But for the most part it was an ambitious plan.


Partly because I always overplan—it’s a function of my fear of extemporaneous public speaking. If I plan enough the hour will go by and I won’t have to say anything unscripted. So my itinerary was packed with visits and interviews and tours and worship services. And if I ran out—I had enough books to keep me busy for the full period.


The other part, and this is true confession time—I romanticized the whole Sabbatical package. For me it would be like following one of the ancient church hermits, who lived in caves and did the hours each day and constantly studied the scriptures. And once in awhile returned to civilization to condemn its apostasy. I fell in love with the concept of sabbatical. The rituals and the chanting, the time alone thinking about time and its implications, the fasting and the lure of physical education at the gym, learning to drop weight and build lost muscle. My fantasy was one of me in a tailored running suit reading a book, listening to an ancient version of the 23rd psalm, while eating healthy grapes and later strolling around the green, waving to my admirers and leading a rousing “huzzah!” for all those Amherstians gathered round.


The shiny bright image I got from all the stories I have heard about sabbatical leaves made me desirous of  one. And before I go on  let me say that this was an experience that has strengthened me, gave me rest, and opened my heart to God. Listening for, and hearing, God’s intentions concerning Messiah and its mission. I expected a lot from a sabbatical, and I dove head-first into it, preparing for it and working through the various steps to get it funded and approved. Along the way, I developed a personal vision of what it would be. In my mind everything went together perfectly, there were no problems, and my old self would be shed and a new and improved me would return–ready to revitalize Messiah. It was a grand and glorious vision and I couldn’t wait.


I didn’t listen to Jesus any more than did the 70. Jesus warned us that this was no bed of roses we were entering. It was the world. And the world could be a tough place. But we all were jazzed about the near future. And so they went, and I went.


And the lesson from Luke tells us that the 70 returned, joyfully proclaiming that in the name of Jesus, demons submitted to them. Jesus answering that he imagined Satan being tossed out of heaven with a thunder bolt. In other words “good work.”


I returned, not joyfully, but pensively at first. It was definitely not what I had expected.  There had been no recognizable change in me–least not the me I could see. And I felt like a failure. Like I was incapable of completing the task I designed. I had trouble focusing on the readings. I missed several days of blogging. The lawnmower quit on us. I could not get  a rhythm going with the gym. The spiritual practices did not satisfy my yearning soul. Ants invaded the kitchen. And the  grandbaby was too cute to ignore. My back went out (right on cue.). I certainly messed this one up big time.


It just didn’t look like how I had pictured it. And so I was ready to chuck the whole thing. Oh, I would fulfill all righteousness and do what I set out to do. But my heart was no longer in it. So I returned mournfully. And I moped around the house, half-heartedly finishing up the  reports and this sermon. And funny thing, as I read about the 70 again, and what Jesus tells them–and me–and you (because you’re on a journey too). When I read Jesus’ words of warning again–the part about taking nothing with you, watching out for the world’s wolves, and where to stay and what to say, and I think what those words might mean to me–a man of God looking at his own life and mortality from the  other side of 55–I suddenly realized that I wasn’t supposed to leave my suitcases in the closet, or ignore Marge and RIchard if we happened to run into them at the Market Basket.


Jesus’ warning is for me and you too. The sentiment is the same, but the wolves and stuff to carry and the inhospitable house-holders are simply different nowadays. My dreaming of the perfect sabbatical was really just me trying to run the show–when I should have let God be God. The purse–ahh money always gets in the way. Again a control issue. Not stopping to talk with fellow journeyers underlines the urgency of this message we all carry. That God is coming very near. Indeed so very near that we can touch God. And eat and drink God. And life is renewed.


Jesus is not saying everything will be fine. Lots can happen along the way. For the 70 and for us. Doing a sabbatical is hard and risky. So is being Jesus’ follower, and going out into the world to spread the gospel is too. Potentially.  The mission of Messiah is hard work and potentially dangerous too. The danger is that hearing that good news will usurp your control and the love of God in Jesus Christ will just melt right into you and then even the demons will submit to you. That’s the danger.


So, do I still feel like my sabbatical was a failure? No, not from the my new found viewpoint of grace. One of the things I want to tell our people in light of the visits I made is this “Be who you are.” I learned that too this past month. And even though I felt no different after the experience, I’ll take Nelson Mandela’s words to heart. He said, “ There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Closely seen, there is some newness to me. New haircut, new understanding that contemplative, quiet, and touchy feely stuff is still not me. And that’s okay. And my sabbatical was okay too. It won’t go down in the annals of sabbatical history. But as a time away to reflect on my ministry here, and how it’s going and whether ten years here is too much, or too little, or just right– it provided the space I needed at this point to think objectively about what’s next for me and for us. After much thought, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance it is clear to me that God is sending us out together. To heal what is ailing in our community,  to drive out the demons of misused power in our world, to proclaim Christ and him crucified, to bring God’s forgiveness to those who sit in the darkness of their sin, and to tame the wolves who would see us fail. It is a path that, I admit freely, will require sacrifice, hard work, and commitment. But when we’re done with work out there, we can return here–joyfully. And if we’re really blessed…that cat won’t get there before us!


Let us pray… AMEN

Tags: Past Sermons · What's Happening

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