“The Rhythm of a New Schedule” – August 9, 2015 Sermon

John 6:35-51

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

It is so good to be back with you. As I have returned from sabbatical this week and worked my way through a mountain of mail and more than 3,500 emails, I have been reminded over and over again what a tremendous blessing it is to be called to serve alongside each other through this place we call Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Thank you for the gift of sabbatical that you offer to the pastors who serve this congregation and thank you for being you – children of God who are not afraid to step outside of the box once in a while in order to fulfill our mission together to “share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

IMG_1835Earlier this year, as I was preparing to begin my first sabbatical experience I asked for wisdom from several clergy colleagues, mentors, and former professors who have had sabbatical experiences before I began my own sabbatical journey. Without question their common response to a sabbatical was, “you need to be open to the rhythm of the new schedule.” I didn’t really know that meant initially. After visiting 17 states and logging more than 9,000 miles in my Subaru, I think I’m beginning to understand what my colleagues and mentors meant when they said I needed to be open to the rhythm of a new schedule. And I think that this idea speaks to all aspects of our life together in Christ – not just during the days of sabbatical.

Maybe you’ve noticed this. Maybe you haven’t been to worship enough this summer to notice. Our worship has settled into the rhythm of the schedule that Jesus offers us in the 6th chapter of John over the past several weeks.

Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I will be so bold to say that you and I who are followers of the risen savior Jesus the Christ claim to believe that statement. We believe that God sent Jesus to live among us. Very simply put, God came to us. God with us. The rhythm of the relationship we have with God is God making the move, not us. As stewards of God, disciples of Jesus – we do not go to God. God comes to us – always has and always will. How does the movement of God fit into the rhythm of our schedule? When you and I first wake up to begin a new day, what impact does our belief that God comes down have as we enter each new day?

Before I really thought about or tried to live by being open to the rhythm of the new schedule that God coming to us in Jesus brings, I have to admit it – most of the time I acted and sounded a lot more like the community in our gospel reading today. They complained. Complained. Am I open to the rhythm of Jesus in my life – the new schedule that begins and ends with God coming for me in Jesus. Or – am I just complaining.

So I want to share this with you today. One of the most significant transformations that I experienced during this three month sabbatical as steward of God, a disciple of Jesus, who also happens to be blessed to be one of your pastors is this – complaining has gotten me and will continue to get me nowhere. I don’t know, maybe that speaks to you today too?

You see, the good news of Jesus, the good news of being open to the rhythm of a new schedule, is not about complaining until we get our way or have God contained in the boxes we think God should exist. The good news of Jesus, is that the savior of the world, the living bread that came down from heaven, came for you. And for me.

IMG_2082I was at a worship conference with Bishop Craig Satterlee a few weeks ago in Atlanta. In one workshop, he shared a story about an experience he had during the ELCA’s National Youth Gathering in Detroit this summer. Bishop Satterlee and another ELCA bishop were assigned to stand at a large baptismal font in the Cobo Center and offer a baptismal remembrance ritual to youth that walked by the font.

As I share this story with you, it’s important to paint a little picture of this setting, because Cobo Center was far from intimate and quiet. It  is a huge convention center in downtown Detroit and one of the central locations for more than 30,000 high school students attending the gathering. It’s also important to remind you that these 30,000 young people are Lutheran youth. Doing something like voluntarily coming up to a large baptismal font with a couple odd looking men, we call them bishops, in order to participate in a ritual is not nearly as exciting as riding the zip-line that was nearby.

Needless to say, business was slow for the bishops at the baptismal font. So they decided to take a different strategy. They literally started yelling – “You, come over here!” to people who walked by the font and even grabbing onto the t-shirts of kids and adult leaders and dragging them to the font. At the font they placed a little water on their fore-heads and said something like, “Beloved child of God, remember that in your baptism you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.”

That’s pretty cool, right. And it would be a great story of witnessing the living bread that came down from heaven if we stopped right there. But that’s not the end of the story. While the bishops were calling kids to come to the font and offering them a blessing, others in the Cobo Center were watching – namely several of the Cobo Center employees who were working in security and maintenance. At the end of the day, several of these employees walked up to the bishops, took off their hats, and asked if what they were doing at the font with the youth and adult leaders was only for those who were participating in the youth gathering or if they could be part of it too. Yes, was Bishop Satterlee’s reply – this is for you too. And so, as tears rolled down faces, water was poured, and blessings were shared.

In a commentary on today’s gospel reading, this same bishop offers us these thoughts. Bishop Satterlee wrote, “The risk of setting out on the journey, which is trusting and following Jesus, is that, even when we think we have a map or a plan, we do not really know where we are going or where we will end up.

The good news is that Jesus, rather than our knowledge and understanding, is the source of our calling and the source of our strength. What makes it good news is that, in those moments when we understandably have enough of this life that we cannot trust Jesus, Jesus has not had enough of us. So, rather than turning to our knowledge, perhaps we can turn to Jesus, recognizing that we cannot have enough of him.”IMG_1851

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven for you. For me. Jesus is the life-giving rhythm of each new day.

May you be blessed as you open yourself to the rhythm of the new schedule that is our life together in Christ. And may you be a blessing as you share that good news with everyone God places in your life this week. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Sacred and Holy Journey of Sabbatical

IMG_1923It’s been a while since I’ve lasted posted a blog. I was blessed with a sabbatical during the months of May, June, and July this year. The blog below is a brief reflection that I wrote during the last week of the sabbatical. It is being shared here and in other locations to make it available to the leadership and members of the congregation I serve (Good Shepherd Lutheran Church). And hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the sacred and holy journey that is a sabbatical.

peace,

Pastor Craig

Overview

According to Good Shepherd’s Employee Handbook, a pastoral sabbatical is “to further the pastor’s education, add to the pastor’s ‘life experiences’ in a special way, enhance his or her pastoral skills, and encourage the refreshment of the pastor’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.” (Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Employee Guide, p. 17)

I asked for wisdom from several colleagues who I trust as I prepared for my first sabbatical experience. Overwhelmingly, the most significant insight they shared with me was this – “be open to the ‘rhythm’ of the new schedule during the sabbatical time.” This simple statement guided my experience as I entered, journeyed through, and now return from sabbatical.

There are four major themes that arose from this sabbatical experience – Travel, Continuing Education, Rest and Renewal, and Spiritual Growth. I offer a brief reflection on each one along with a few highlights below.

Travel

At the beginning of sabbatical, I honestly didn’t expect travel to play much of a role during these three months. At the end of sabbatical, I am grateful for the significant role that travel played.

  • Logged more than 9,000 miles in my Subaru Outback.
  • Worship in many languages and locations across the country.
  • Visited 17 states.IMG_1832
  • Time spent with relatives and close friends in North Dakota, Montana, Tennessee, and Minnesota.
  • Spending 2 days with staff and church council members at a Susan Beaumont (author of Inside the Large Congregation) workshop in Jamestown, ND.
  • A few good and bad rounds of golf along the way.
  • Fulfilling a “bucket list” item with a day-long visit to Graceland in Memphis, TN.
  • A week of renewal, continuing education, and networking with other Senior Pastors of Large ELCA Congregations in Fort Meyers, FL.
  • Being introduced to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN by the nephew of Ernest Withers. Mr. Withers was Martin Luther King Jr.’s photographer during the last 12 years of his life.IMG_2042
  • Being able to serve and worship with young people from Good Shepherd for a few days at the ELCA’s National Youth Gathering in Detroit, MI.
  • Visiting the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Park in Atlanta, GA.
  • Singing “We Shall Overcome” at Ebenezer Baptist Church while holding the hand of female African-American ELCA pastor who serves a congregation in Washington, D.C. I believe that Ebenezer Baptist Church is truly holy ground for disciples of Jesus in the United States.IMG_2083

Continuing Education

I left Good Shepherd in May with a box of books on strategic planning and church growth. I had every intent to read all of these books during sabbatical. The Holy Spirit, however, had a different plan. I’ve done some reading and studied a lot during sabbatical, but not in any of the ways that I had expected.

Senior Pastor’s Retreat: This event is always a highlight of my year. It is a week-long gathering of Senior Pastors from the largest ELCA congregations. Each year, it gives us a chance to learn from one another and some of the leading theologians and organizational leaders in the world.

This year, as we met in Ft. Meyers, FL, the Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen from the OMG Center in Sioux Falls, SD, led a week-long conversation about what it may mean to be an apostolic church in a post-Christian world. We also heard from other church leaders like the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Dan Speckhard, the President and CEO of Lutheran World Relief.

Wendy was not able to join me this year, so I drove from Bismarck to Ft. Meyer’s, FL and back.

IMG_2108ELCA Worship Jubilee: The ELCA hosts a national worship conference every few years. It is an opportunity to learn from some of the church’s leading figures in music and worship ministries. This year’s jubilee was an exceptional representation of the variety of worship music and styles that we celebrate in the ELCA. The conference theme was “Called to Be a Living Voice.” This theme challenged all participants to listen deeply for how God is calling our church to be a living voice in the world today – a world that continues to become less and less connected to local Christian congregations in the communities we live.

Peder Gulleson, Good Shepherd’s Director of Music & Worship, was also at the Worship Jubilee. It was good to be with him as we spent time dreaming, praying, and discussing the incredible ways that God is calling Good Shepherd in its worship life together.

Rest & Renewal

Sabbatical gives one a chance to experience rest and renewal in ways that are simply not possible through any other means. It is far from a vacation. And far more renewing than any vacation experience I’ve ever had.

NO Technology: I made a conscious decision to eliminate all social media and email during sabbatical. At times, this proved to be quite challenging. All of the time, however, this proved to be one of the most important accomplishments during sabbatical. Words cannot explain the rest that I’ve experienced for the first time in over a decade after not receiving a telephone call or text message at 2:00 a.m. for 3 complete months. And I didn’t have to respond to 100+ emails or Facebook and Twitter posts on a daily basis. If you’ve never taken a technology Sabbath, I strongly advise it as a transforming spiritual discipline.

Time with Family: It was good to have an extended period of time with my 3 girls. We enjoyed more family meals together than we have since the girls were born. We also enjoyed a few days in Medora and time with grandma and grandpa in Montana.IMG_2037

Work around the house: As many know, we moved into a different home last fall. We love this new home, but have spent a lot of time and money loving it back to life after years of it not receiving much love. I tackled a few projects during sabbatical that I would never have considered in the past. Taping, texturing, and painting the garage and several small construction projects involving tools I had never used before. These might seem like simple things for most handy husbands and fathers, but for this guitar player/book loving husband, father, and pastor, they were incredibly significant!

Spiritual Growth

The most significant aspect of spiritual growth that has occurred during sabbatical is a deeper understanding and belief in God’s presence in every moment of my life – at play, at rest, at work.

IMG_1811Men’s Rite of Passage (M.R.O.P.): The M.R.O.P. event, held every two years at the end of June at the Audubon Center of the Northwoods in Sandstone, MN, is quite possibly the most bizarre, challenging, soul-searching thing I have ever done for my spiritual journey. It is also one of the most grace-filled experiences of my life. M.R.O.P. is grounded in Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr’s teachings on masculine spirituality. It is really impossible to explain fully with words what I experienced during this week of ritual, fasting, prayer, and searching. I will be forever grateful for this amazing experience. I believe it will forever shape my spiritual practice and growth.

IMG_1838Worship: I was able to worship in more than 20 different communities of faith throughout the United States. It was exciting to be with small congregations in Bismarck and celebrate God’s unconditional love in community together. I was also able to worship in congregations that are completely different than worship in small congregations. One such experience was worship in one of the largest Christian congregations in the United States – Cornerstone Church in Nashville, TN. And I was blessed to worship at Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, AL, one Sunday morning in May. Messiah has been a wonderful partner with Good Shepherd in our mission and ministry in El Salvador. Members of Messiah have been part of our Mission Teams to El Salvador on several occasions.

Final Thoughts

First and foremost, a sabbatical every 5 years is a significant and gracious gift for pastors who serve Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. I am thankful for this opportunity. I hope and pray that my service within and through this congregation is strengthened and renewed as a result of God’s work through this sabbatical time. I look forward to all of the ways that we will be called as children of God, disciples of Jesus “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

Second, all of us who call Good Shepherd Lutheran Church our church home are blessed by the amazing staff and Church Council leadership of this place. I give God thanks and praise for these amazing brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to go above and beyond in order to fulfill what God is calling this community of faith to live out in ministry and mission. It is an incredible blessing to be called to serve with each of you. I hope and pray that this sabbatical time has been a blessing for you as well.

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