My sabbatical has ended, and today I returned to worship with my community.
When we arrived at the church building, the first thing we noticed was a brand new bike rack and trash can on a new mini patio, paid for by a grant and installed with the ingenuity and sweat equity of congregants.
The second thing we noticed was our littlest friends - babies who had been "in arms" when we left for sabbatical at the end of July were walking - all over the place. Their gleeful faces and lurching Frankenstein jogging about filled the halls and sanctuary with life. It was a real marking of time passed - three months is long when it's a quarter of your life!
Worship was a lovely easing in - I began the service simply receiving and participating, sitting in the congregation with my family while others led. I then came forward to lead prayers and communion, and ended with the benediction. It felt so good to bless my people again!
The sermon time was a reflection on sabbatical, by two members of our Sabbatical Task Force, Lisa Larges and Ben Masters. The congregation has been intentionally in this sabbatical as well, living in questions together around the themes of sabbath, renewal and rest. Their journey is manifested in an ongoing art installation on the wall.
What a gift it was to hear some of the thoughtful and honest reflections people have shared with each other over the past three months.
Here is what they shared:
Dear Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church and Pastor Kara,
We have noticed that Paul wrote letters to churches.
People don’t do this anymore.
So we thought we’d bring back the trend.
For the past 3 months and a little more, we have been a part of the Sabbatical Task Force.
Three months prior to our Sabbatical adventure in August we planned and plotted for our pastor to take a break and for our church to go on its own form of Sabbatical.
Maybe you remember from back then that some ways of thinking about Sabbatical were: as a time to pause, a time to listen, a time to renew. Like a long Sabbath Sunday, stretched over thirteen weeks.
In his letters to churches, Paul showed the church to itself.
He held up a mirror and said what he loved about them and what about them drove him crazy. In his own way he tried to do what God asked of the prophet Habakkuk: to write down the vision of what God has done and will yet do, and to write in letters large enough so that even the person going to and fro delivering messages can read it while running.
On this Sunday, at the hinge of Sabbatical and what comes after sabbatical, we wanted to write you this letter and hold up a mirror to reflect the beauty of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church and the traces of God’s presence among us.
This is a letter about our journey through Sabbatical.
We hope you hear in it both the echoes of where we have been together, but also hints of where we might be going and growing together.
This is a letter full of your words as much as ours, garnered from the emerging art exhibit of responses to Sabbatical questions each week. If you haven’t already, go read them after the service.
To save us the trouble of coming up with a totally original piece, we also borrowed from Paul a bit.
So, dearest folks,
From the time we first heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, Lake Nokomis, and your love for all the saints, we have never stopped thanking God for you and remembering you in our prayers.
We pray that the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the God of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation, to bring you to a rich knowledge of the Creator.
In your Sabbatical answers we traced the lines of thanksgiving:
- What was the best rest you got this week? Watching my wife spend quality time with her aunts and uncles last weekend. This was obviously special to her, and precious to me.
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? My granddaughters have been visiting; I see and feel god’s blessing through their love.
- What was the best rest you got this week? Sitting on an open porch watching a humming bird a foot away, going from flower to flower in a window box until all are drained.
- When have you felt held in God’s abundance? Today, my Grandson Nick was with us. The day began early with the chance to make and share breakfast; time in the garden, harvesting and getting ready for winter; time to preserve and make and enjoy.
- What was the best rest you got this week? Lying on the grass taking 10 minutes to rest before going to the next thing.
- Where have you felt God’s grace? God’s embrace was embodied in three generation hug. Contemplating family.
Before the world began, God chose you in Christ to be holy and blameless and to be full of love. Chosen in love, love was everywhere in the responses you gave:
- When have you been held in God’s abundance? Through the birth of our children and the continued celebration of all they do and all they are.
- What distracts you from God? Being tired, getting frustrated with kids.
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? A nice long visit with Lee before he leaves.
- What was the best rest you got this week? Right now in silence with people I love having done good physical work.
- Where in your life do you need renewal? In my children, to receive the gift of human fullness they offer me daily.
You, we, the church—we are Christ’s body: we are "the fullness of the One who fills all creation." In your words we were reminded again and again of the fullness of life in community:
- When have you felt God’s healing peace? In good friends holding me accountable to self care.
- What does being humble mean to you? I’m not the best at my job; in fact, no one is. There is no one right way.
- When have you felt God’s healing peace? When Ani came to pick me up in the rain, and brought me in to a warm house with laughter around the table.
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? Reading the daily casualty report from Afghanistan.
- When has someone lightened your burden? By bringing me out of myself. Those who encounter me in random walks around town: The musician, the greeter, the complimenter, the smiler, the playing child, or laughing parent.
Lake Nokomis, "We pray that God will enlighten your hearts to recognize the hope this call holds for you."
For we found hope bursting forth in the words you wrote:
- Where have you felt God’s grace? Hearing my daughter’s voice, free of stress and anxiety, and full of joy!
- Where in your life do you need renewal? I want my eyes to be opened to the gift of my children, to my marriage as a gift
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? Watching and caring for grandchildren
- Where have you felt God’s grace? Worshipping with Familia de Fe, despite not understanding Spanish, God’s presence was through rhythms of worship and God’s people.
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? Shopping I encountered a woman whose daughter was entering cancer treatment; pray for Karen
These are some of the ways you named and noted God’s power alive and at work:
- Where do you go to spend time with God? I close my eyes, I read the gospels. I picture Jesus smiling at me.
- What ordinary act became sacred for you this week? Saying goodbye and godspeed to people we love.
- Where do you go to spend time with God? Silent space
- Where have you felt God’s grace? On Saturday, feeling very lonely, a friend called, and we talked for an hour, and I was good the rest of the day.
- Where in your life have you experienced God’s healing peace? In the death of my only biological sibling.
- Where do you go to spend time with God? Within, although, it’s more a making space and being open to the presence of God.
- What is something you’d like to let go of? Anxiety—the need for information and control.
- Where did God surprise you this week? I learned that I often let my own agendas get between me and connection with other people.
- What distracts you from God? People I am unhappy with, work, petty differences, fatigue
- When have you felt held in God’s abundance? Today, my own plans to be active were superseded by God’s plans that I nurse and tend a hurting child.
- When has someone lightened your burden? So simple, so random, so nice, walking the dog, two people stopped to adore the dog, and one complimented my clothes. The burden lifted? Aloneness.
- Where did God surprise you this week? A coworker who trusted me in an unexpected way.
- When did God surprise you? During the hail storm, right after I prayed the sun came out. I was surprised. I also felt I was in a bunch of comfort.
- When has someone lightened your burden? I remember being picked up in the wilderness at negative 40 degrees by a very poor family
- Where do you go to spend time with God? In nature, but I more often find God when I am in transit, or in transition.
- When has someone lightened your burden? When I was sitting in my car out of gas on 35W and a man gave me a ride for gas, and insisted on bringing my dog too, so she would not be alone.
- What ordinary act became sacred? When I got my haircut this week, my hairdresser talked about her home in Syria. And she called me the next day to tell me how much she loves me and would miss me
- When has someone lightened your burden? Outside South High School a 72 year old woman struck up a conversation with me as she waited for the bus. She told me about raising her kids and working fulltime and how she had always played the flute in community band. “Always keep something for yourself,” she said, as she got on the bus.
When we hold up a mirror, you see yourself.
But you are more than just yourself: Christ fills you, is working through you.
And what’s more, Christ is filling you and the person sitting next to you—Christ is joining all of us together.
So too in our Sabbatical tapestry of questions and answers, what is revealed is a community striving to love and to serve, remembering whose we are in order to learn how to live.
Today there will be one more question.
What have you learned from Sabbatical?
Take a moment to think about that, and then when the time comes we hope you respond.
The mystery of God’s plan is unfolding among us, and there still visions that have yet be written.
May God so enlighten our hearts.