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Sabbath in the Spirit

June 8, 2014

So. This is what Sundays feel like to other people. You know, non-professional Christians.

Of course, this wasn’t the first Sunday during my ministry that I’ve been away from church, or at least from the congregation I serve. But this felt different. Not only did I not have to think about the minutia of worship and congregational life for today, it’s not even on the horizon for next Sunday. Or the Sunday after that. Sabbatical is a wonderful thing, and this break from the self-inflicted need to keep the church going (as if it would fall apart without me, or any of us) is key to rest and renewal.

My morning unfolded in church-civilian fashion. The boys were up and at ‘em at 5:30, which meant that we were, too. But instead of a cursory greeting before heading out the door, I spent the morning with my family. I enjoyed a breakfast of two cups of coffee, an English muffin, and a three-mile run. I helped bathe the kids. I read Anders a book about Brett Favre dating from his time with the Vikings (we try to minimize the exposure, but Boppa’s house is full of dangers). I had time to do all of this and more and still make it to worship on time. A marvel.

And after worship? More of the same. No need to think about Monday in the office. So, we had a leisurely family lunch and, later, some visitors. We went on a bike ride. The kids went fishing. I helped Anders work on his baseball (“batball”) swing in the yard. The whole day I found myself thinking, “This is Sunday for most people, isn’t it?” A marvel, indeed.

As tempting as it is to imagine that my day was defined by time away from church, it is more true to say that this Sabbath day was defined by the church. Last Sunday I spoke of the bigness of God’s church, encompassing both our differences and our distances within the compassionate reign of Jesus. Today I experienced it.

To begin with, I got to worship with my mom. In the pews! How cool is that? We met at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, MN. Neither of us had been there before, but I wanted to go see Chris, my friend and erstwhile-summer-Greek buddy, preach and lead worship. What a joyful experience. Indeed, on this Pentecost, what a Spirit-filled time! Chris preached a sermon I needed to hear, proclaiming that as we breathe in the Spirit (inspire) and breathe out God’s Word of love for the world (expire) we are caught up together in the breath of God (conspire). In her own words, “We are a great, holy conspiracy of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” All of us, together, even if it’s happening in a congregation in Minnesota that I’d never set foot in before this morning.

Pastor Chris and me, post-worship at Valley of Peace.

Pastor Chris and me, post-worship at Valley of Peace.

By the way, I would be way remiss if I failed to mention what an awesome experience we had at Valley of Peace. Not only did Chris bring it, we found ourselves warmly welcomed into a community of faith that clearly valued joy, fellowship, family, children, and the baptismal vocation we share. It felt a little bit like coming home for the first time. Of course, this only underscored the message of the day: In Pentecost the Spirit has blown through what divides us, speaking to the common humanity within us, and calling forth a new community in which differences and distances matter not at all. In Christ there are not longtime members and visitors; there are only brothers and sisters.

This bigness of God’s church was hammered home later in the day when our friends Mary Elizabeth and Clifton dropped by on their way through town. We knew Mary Elizabeth was in the area and not on the East Coast because my mother-in-law had spotted her pulling out of a gas station in Taylors Falls, MN, of all places. So I dropped her a line and invited them to drop by. Mary Elizabeth is the daughter of the lead pastor with whom I worked in Appleton, WI. Her parents, George and Debra, remain good friends and blessings in our lives. And here we were, thanks to a chance sighting at a gas station, sitting, sharing stories, and laughing at the joy of it all. A Spirit-blessed moment, to be sure.

Today was marked in certain ways by my distance from the church, yet none of it would have happened without the church. The church, which is not in Pawleys Island or Golden Valley only, but encompasses the community of faith even as it creates it, moment by moment, to the glory of God. Today I got away from church, and ended up about as close to church as I’ve been in a good, long time. Sometimes you just need to receive God’s goodness and grace. I received it today in abundance. In the same way, I know that our family of faith in South Carolina continues to receive God’s blessings as we are away. This is as it should be; the Spirit wouldn’t have it any other way. All in all, I can’t think of a better Pentecost, or a better Sabbath, than that.

“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Acts 2:4.

From → Sabbatical 2014

One Comment
  1. Lonna Handley permalink

    How wonderful for you. You just described what it (church on Sunday) feels like for me!

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