Season of Sabbath

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scripture:  verses from Mt, Mark, Luke about Jesus withdrawing from the crowds

Christine & Patrick Nafziger

This morning we wanted to start off by telling you that at the majority of churches we attended while on sabbatical, the worship service was typically an hour and a half, and the sermon (or teaching) was at least a half hour, if not 45 minutes long.  This was an important realization for us—that our sermons are definitely not long enough.  So, go ahead and get comfortable!! 🙂

            This is a little bit different morning than usual here at Millersburg Mennonite, but we, along with the Elders thought it was a good idea to set aside a Sunday to share with you all what we did, and some of the lessons we learned while we were on Sabbatical.  With that said, it’s really hard to condense a 12 week experience into a soundbite!  There were a lot of ways that God was at work within us during our sabbatical, but we’re going to zero in on just a couple of the things we think were most valuable, and the ways we’re trying to change as a result of our experience.  

            Some of what we are going to share is fairly personal, giving you a glimpse of some of the difficulties we experience as pastors.  Anytime we open ourselves up to one another, there is the chance for judgment to take place or anxiety.  But there is also the opportunity to listen and seek to further understand one another. 

            When Patrick and I entered our time of sabbatical, we were feeling exhausted and burnt out.  The work of a pastor is hard, and more complex than most people have an awareness of.  We are deeply grateful that this congregation included a sabbatical in our Covenant of Understanding, recognizing the significance of a time of rest from the demands of pastoring, a time to step back and gain perspective and a time to reflect on one’s ministry and seek God’s guidance.  It’s a real sign of health when a congregation is able to say goodbye to their pastors for three months and carry on well without them.  We are grateful that you care enough about our overall health to provide the break from responsibilities that you did.  We are stronger, healthier pastors because of it, and we trust you are also a stronger, healthier congregation.  

What I’m going to share is from my experience of being a pastor.  Though your experience is different, I hope that you will be able to relate some of these things to your own life. 

            We just heard the story of Jesus and Mary and Martha, a story that is familiar to many of us.  “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”  These words of Jesus to Martha cut deep to my core.  There is need of only one thing.  And it is that one thing that I so often neglect.  That one thing that gets crowded out by the hundred and one other things that seem so urgent, so demanding, so needed.  Answer this email.  Call that person.  Read this magazine.  Stay informed.  Visit so and so.  Go to this meeting, and that one, and the other one.  Meet with her about this, talk to him about that.  Prepare for baby dedication.  Baptism classes.  Communion.  Worship leading.  Get my part of this sermon done! 

            And Jesus says, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

But that one thing gets crowded out by the hundred and one questions and doubts.  How can we share the good news of Jesus with our community?  Why don’t more people come to Sunday School?  How do we engage young people in the church?  Is there going to be anyone to fill that role?  Is any of this making any difference?  Are people being transformed by God or is everyone just comfortable where they’re at? 

And Jesus says, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

But there is so much to be done!  And there are deadlines.  If I don’t take care of this, who will?  And it is important work—forming people’s faith and beliefs about God, encouraging and challenging people in their spiritual lives.  It has to do with people’s souls and transformation and wholeness and healing.  These are not insignificant responsibilities to carry.  And I am anxious, and I take on other people’s anxieties. 

And Jesus says, “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”

            It’s not that I didn’t know this.  I knew that the one thing I needed was the one thing I was neglecting to take time for.  I knew that one thing would give my soul the fuel and the strength it needed to minister from a place of energy instead of exhaustion.  But making changes in my life is one of the hardest things.  Bad habits are easy to form.  It’s the life-giving habits that seem next to impossible.

            We once heard someone say about pastoring, that you can work yourself to death within just a few short years, and people will cheer you on as you do it.  I think that’s true about a lot of jobs, as some of you know first-hand.  It’s really easy to get off balance as a pastor, because your work is your faith.  And since faith is an all-consuming way of life…it’s really easy to begin experiencing work as an all-consuming way of life.  

            Sabbatical got me out of the routine I was in.  Our daily schedule was different, more relaxed.  And the whole emphasis was on “sabbath.”  The first week of our sabbatical, we worked hard at letting go of all the demands we carry as pastors, all the stresses we both feel because we’re both pastors.  And there was space to make some changes.  To begin to form new, life-giving habits.  And we began to embrace the one thing that was needed.  To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen.  We used a book to do Morning Prayers and Complines, which are prayers at the end of the day.  We prayed scriptures, read meditations, prayed free prayers for loved ones and the world.  We spent a lot of time reflecting on our ministry and on being pastors. 

            Bruce & Helen read a bunch of scriptures about Jesus withdrawing from the crowds or his disciples and spending time in prayer.  In the midst of his busy ministry, he took time to listen.  Jesus exemplifies in his own life the importance of the one thing that is needed.  So Patrick and I are trying to start our work days with prayer, scripture reading and listening.  To sit at the feet of Jesus and be nourished and encouraged and transformed.  Starting and ending the day this way roots our actions in who we are rather than what we need to do.  

            What is your daily routine?  I’d like you to reflect on this as we take a time of silence (please close your eyes).  Does your routine include embracing the one thing that is needed to sustain you through your week, or are you worried and distracted by many things?  How can you incorporate an attitude of listening to Jesus at the beginning of your day whether you’re at home or work or church, and continue that listening attitude throughout your day?   (SILENCE) 

            And what about us as the body of Christ at Millersburg Mennonite?  What are our routines, our habits in our gatherings, our meetings, our worship, our small groups?  Again, we’ll take a bit of silence to think about this (please close your eyes again).  Do we embrace the one thing that is needed, or are we worried and distracted by many things?  Is sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening central to what we do, or do we relegate it to the margins of our time together?    (SILENCE)

 We’re going to switch gears a little bit here.  The thing that I chose to talk about this morning from our Sabbatical was a race I ran called the Warrior Dash; I alluded to it on our first Sunday back.  

I signed up for this race back in March, just before we left for Sabbatical.  

Christine already shared how we were feeling pretty burnt out and exhausted by that point…so I have to admit that a big reason I found this race attractive was because it was so utterly different than church-work.  

So I signed up for the race, and it turned out to be one of the most important components of my learning.  

I signed up for the race, and something interesting happened…I actually finished it!  

Don’t hear me wrong…I failed in a number of pretty crucial ways…but I did cross the finish line and get a finisher’s medal.  

It’s an achievement I’m very proud of, in spite of my failures.  

And the thing about failures, is that if you’re focusing on who you are as a child of God, then neither your successes nor your failures have quite the same power over you, right?  

In fact, when you are sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see; when you begin to see yourself less in terms of what you do and more in terms of your infinite worth in the eyes of your heavenly father, then success and failure become just less relevant to your sense of self-worth.  

So even though I failed at the race in some key ways, I’m still able to say I ran the race that was before me, I persevered, and I learned some incredible lessons along the way.  

So like I said, The Warrior Dash is pretty much the opposite of a church service.  If you weren’t here for sunday school, I’ll just briefly recap; the Warrior Dash is like a 5K cross country race sprinkled with military-style obstacles composed of any combination of dirt, mud, water, fire, barbed wire and wood.  There were 12 or 13 of these obstacles, and I conquered all but one.  The one I skipped was climbing up a completely vertical wall, maybe 20 feet high with nothing but a rope.  

It psyched me out, so I skipped it.

That’s a big failure on a race made up of obstacles.  In fact, in skipping that obstacle, I was no longer eligible to take first, second, or third place (you can guess I wasn’t really aiming for a top spot).  Placing in the top three wasn’t my race.    

So that was a big failure, but it wasn’t my first.  

Another big failure I had was that  I basically ended up walking the course.  I’m not a fast runner to begin with…but the first mile or so of this race course went straight up the side of an enormously steep hill.  It reminded me of hiking in the mountains when we lived in Virginia.

By the time I was halfway up, any desire to run had leaked out of my legs and was puddling at the starting gate.  

The real athletes…that is, the ones who wanted to win…they weren’t walking the  course.  

They were running the course.  

But Winning wasn’t my race.  

And all that brings me to my third major failure…my preparation.  I really failed to adequately train for the Warrior Dash.  I didn’t really get serious about it until about 6 weeks before race day.

Even then, all I did was nice, easy jogs on the nice, wide, flat stretch of pavement we know as the Holmes County Trail.  It wasn’t exactly a training plan for champions.  🙂 I wasn’t prepared at all for the mountainous terrain.  

But even running the whole course wasn’t my race.  

It’s safe to say that by any normal standard, I failed big-time at running this race.

But it was enormously satisfying, and just being there and going through it gave me a sense of achievement like I haven’t had for a very long time.  And the reason is because I didn’t run anybody’s race but my own.  

I accomplished everything I set out to do by just participating.  

I made the effort, and nothing is going to take that away from me.  

In the same way, faith isn’t about successes or failures.  

It’s all about participation.  

 See, working in a church like we do, we don’t often get to rub muddy shoulders with people dressed up like superheroes and scottish warriors, listening to Irish Rock blasting so loud you can feel it in the ground.  

We’re not often exposed to situations where mud and sweat (and beer) mingle together in almost equal amounts.  As Pastors, we’re not often in situations where we’re offended and amused at the same time.  

So, what’s any of this got to do with pastoring, or faith, or sabbatical, or you all as a congregation?  

Well, I think the Warrior Dash is a good example of the mystery of our faith getting worked out among us.  The same people who both offend and amuse you…those are the very ones you might be depending on while running your race!  When you come up against something that’s too challenging to conquer on your own, when you’re in the middle of the woods and it’s either mentally or physically too much for you to handle, all it takes is an encouraging word or a little bit of help, even a well-timed joke to make you break a smile.  

At that point you don’t care who’s stretching out a hand to help.  All that really matters at that point is the race…things like failure and success disappear.  

…God has created each of us differently.  Each of us has different abilities, different interests, unique talents and personalities that God has given us to use in the blessing of His world.  

The only failure to fear is trying to run somebody else’s race, or mimic somebody else’s actions.  It’s a fundamental denial of who God has created us to be.  

It’s true of us as individuals; and it’s also true of our church.  

Our congregation is one part of the body of Christ.  It’s not about being like another church, mimicking their programs or their style.  Each church has their own strengths and gifts to offer.  Each church has their own race to run…but I really hope it’s not about competition.  

We aren’t a big megachurch like Mars Hill, and it would be silly to try to be like them.    We aren’t Martin’s Creek Mennonite, either.  Or MCA.  Or Grace Mennonite.  Or Berlin, Walnut Creek, Longenecker, Morehead…

We are Millersburg Mennonite, with all our successes, all our failures, our strengths, our weaknesses, and everything in between.   Can we focus in and provoke each other to run this race to the best of our ability?  

Let us be who God has created us to be, running the race God has set before us.  Let us throw off our worries and distractions, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.  



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