Hello anyone who might still follow this blog. I am trying out squarespace for awhile and blogging there. Just go to mshedden.com.
“If there is no Sabbath- no regular and commanded not-working, not-talking — we soon become totally absorbed in what we are doing and saying, and God’s work is either forgotten or marginalized. When we work we are most god-like, which means that it is in our work that it is easier to develop god-pretensions. Un-sabbathed, our work becomes the entire context in which we define our lives. We lose God-consciousness, God-awareness, sightings of resurrection. We lose the capacity to sing “this is my Father’s world” and end up chirping little self-centered ditties about what we are doing and feeling.”
“The purpose of Sabbath is not to eliminate the working days or to divest them of their proper tasks, but rather to obtain for them precisely the light from above which they lack.”
— Karl Barth
Confession: I am horrible at keeping a Sabbath. It is probably the most hypocritical area of my life. In fact, I would guess if you asked most pastors on scale from 1-10 how important it is to keep a regular Sabbath they would say 8-10. But if you looked at how good pastors are at actually keeping a Sabbath it would tell a much different story.
Lebanon Mennonite purposely gives me Friday off to rest, reflect, to take time to pray, to engage God’s world and creation, and be reminded that I am not God. But normally I fail to take the day. I take calls, respond to texts, work on finishing the youth study, go visit someone. It is probably less about the expectation that I be working, and more to do with fact that like many of you I have a hard time taking a rest. There is always work to be done! Why would I spend a day avoiding technology, turning off the TV, avoiding commerce, when clearly the world needs me to be working?
When we take a Sabbath we can begin to see that it is God that sustains the world, not our human efforts. But often times when we are given time off we expect other people to be at work so we don’t have to be. But biblically we see the opposite:
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in
them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)
When God commands we take a Sabbath rest it is not just a rest for ourselves but for everybody, even the animals. I don’t know if this means we shouldn’t shop or go out to eat on Sunday, it does mean it is something we should think twice about. Learning about how the Jews approached this helped me appreciate how this balances out. If you look at the week as 6 days with a day of rest you would begin to spend three days preparing for that day of rest. Getting your shopping done, getting your chores and homework done, and then resting. Taking a good rest. After the rest you would have 3 days to reflect on that day of rest. To think about the connections you made, the stories you told, the activities you took part in, and to remember the time you spent connecting with God.
Sabbath keeping holds the possibly of reminding us we are not God, changing how we view time, opening the door for God to come into our lives and week, and allowing us to rest in the knowledge of the one is making mercies new every morning.
Two reflections sum up my Thursday:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
— John 17:20-23
First thing Thursday morning, I wake up and head over to the River Center for prayer and fellowship with about 12 different pastors. During this time we sing, read scripture, pray for one another, and listen. This is a great time of fellowship in my week, but also a chore. Whenever you get three pastors in a room there is bound to be four different interpretations of scripture. However, Jesus calls us as Christians to be one as He and the Father is one. I believe that Jesus cares about Christian unity more than He cares about our disagreements. If we as Christians care about Christian unity we don’t get to choose who we are unified with. To only be unified with those Christians you agree with is no virtue at all because that is not true unity. You have to be willing to go to those you disagree with, to say that you are seeking unity. We as a group of pastors disagree on so much, but through prayer and mission (being sent) we find that we are able to overcome our disagreements and seek to be one.
Remember that exegesis (interpretation) is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use. So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts. Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is. Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people. Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ. Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church. Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly. Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in. He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.
About once a month, I am called to preach. I consider this to be our greatest calling as pastors. To be servants of the word and sacrament is the highest gift we have to give the church. Weeks before I am called to preach I began to let the scriptures ruminate in my head and life. On Thursdays, I will often get away to specifically lay out the words I hope to bring to the church. I wrestle with the texts, ask questions, read the newspaper, and try to tie together the difficult world we live in and the revelation of God in scripture. The sermon is never finished. As Thomas Long states, “Preachers don’t preach because the sermon is finished; they preach because it is Sunday and the time has come.” God is up to something in our midst, Jesus is active in the world and that is the good word of hope! As I prepare the
sermon, I have to remember and think about where does our hope come from? It doesn’t come from politics, sports, human effort, money, or esteem; our hope comes from the Lord and that is often what I attempt to distill on my Thursdays.
Wednesday is perhaps both my busiest day, as well as my favorite. Like most days, it starts with prayer, but on Wednesday I pray with my good friend and Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, Pete. We start each one of our meetings with a devotional that rotates from week to week before discussing and discerning together the nature and shape of pastoral calling. It is often during these times I will begin to think about problems differently, understand a task in a new light, or just feel connected with someone who shares my concerns.
At the office I work on the youth study for Sunday, check-in on my CASA case, and prep for my evening small group before heading off for Laundry Love. This week the youth study is on Luke’s gospel where the 72 come back from being sent out and exclaim “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.” And Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” I know, or often know, that going to Laundry Love is participating in the sent-ness of being a disciple but today I take the time to consider the cosmic dimensions of participating in God’s mission. The demons will submit to Jesus name? The demons of addiction, brokenness, anger, depression, and homelessness, are beginning to be broken in this sending and Satan falls like lightening. As I place the quarters in the washers I try to make each one a prayer, a prayer to drive out the demons in this place, and let each fall into machine as if it is Satan falling like lightening. We spent nearly $80 some days, so by estimation I drove about 320 demons (in quarters).
After Laundry Love I normally return to the office to close up for the day before heading home to get a quick dinner and set-up for small group. One of the greatest things I feel Christians need today is to continually find places where they can reconnect to our worship, our story, and other Christians. It is not easy to be a Christian nowadays, but small group serves as oasis in the desert where I can reconnect to the body of believers and the worship of God.
On Tuesdays I have two meetings in the morning to help me set my agenda for the week. The first meeting is in prayer. After I take Kelli to work I come home and sit down with coffee and open up my prayer book. My prayer book always begins with “O’Lord, Let me soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun.” One of the things I intentionally try and do during this time is to listen for what God might be wakening me up to in the world. God is often up to things and is merely looking for us join rather than invent a whole new thing. I pray for the world, our community, and our church asking God’s reign to set up in the ruins of all that is passing. I read scripture, not because it terribly enlightening or exciting for me but because it tell the story of the shape God’s action takes in the world, most clearly in the person of Christ. To close often I will pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Then I finish my coffee and head to our weekly staff meeting. During this time Brent, Eva, and I update each other on what is going on for us that week, and what we need from each other for the next week. Sometimes each of us is moving on the same page and everything just works. Other times we have to catch up, be clear, and listen.
For many of us it would be easy to play these two meetings off each other. Am I listening to God or am I merely doing what humans want? While I would admit this is an important question I think we have to ask if such a dichotomy exists. What if God’s setting of the agenda is our work with other people? We can pretend like they simply opposites but what if God wants to exist in mission and love with others for the sake of his kingdom in the world? Always ask what God might be asking of you, but always remember that even Jesus sent his disciples out in groups of two.
This is the first in what will hopefully be a 7 part series for the church newsletter on the rhythms of my week. I am not writing about a specific day but how I would sum up my Monday over the course of a month. If I talk about people I will change the names and circumstances. The goal of these reflections is not to put everything I do, or remind you how busy your pastors are, but to call attention to rhythms we all live in and how I see God at work in my world, so that hopefully you can see God at work in yours.
My week begins in stillness. Some Mondays I am the only person in the church building. Other Mondays I see multiple visitors, or hang out with fellowship commission while they cook the birthday dinner. But there is always some stillness when I show up at the church and it is completely empty, everybody gone from Sunday worship living the gospel out in the world.
On Monday I typically try to frame my week. What day I am going to get this done, what meetings do I have, how I am going to be in three places at once? But, the most important part of Monday is the time I spend in prayer, study, and work.
For many people prayer comes naturally, but for me it requires intentional time and words. I would say that during my day I am constantly aware of God, and speaking to God, but the real time I spend in prayer is a time of listening and of opening myself up to what God is saying or doing in my world. Sometimes I come away refreshed, other times with nothing, but through the ritual of opening myself I feel I become more aware of God’s work. This Monday I prayed the Psalms, and go through one of the prayer books in my office. As I pray and reflect I consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:
· Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.
Monday is also the one day I try to set some intentional time aside to study. This first begins with study of the Scriptures. Typically I try and follow some sort of Bible reading plan. Right now the youth and I are reading a chapter a day in the New Testament, 5 days a week (we will finish the whole NT at the end of year). On top of studying the Scriptures I study some theology, biblical studies, or read a commentary. If I am preaching the following Sunday this is the day I begin to add other sources in considering what I will say about a particular text.
Work is the final thing I do Monday. Here work doesn’t mean “work” like yours or my jobs. What it means is intentionally getting into the work God is doing in the world. This means I wrap up my Monday office hours at 4:15 and ride my bike to soup kitchen. Normally I have to talk myself into going and sometimes I don’t want to go, but at the soup kitchen is where I put flesh on my prayers for the world. While serving I recall the words of the Psalmist:
You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming
in order to get food from the ground,
which cheers people’s hearts,
along with oil,
which makes the face shine,
which sustains the human heart.
Eugene Peterson once told some younger clergy to find a theologian or two to keep company with as they pastor. Allegedly, one of his criteria for choosing someone was that they be dead and of course, if you are going to be a pastor a long time you want to pick somebody who has written a lot. When I first heard this I thought it was pretty sound advice and went about buying Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth (somebody who is both dead and has written more than I might be able to handle in my lifetime). Ideally, I think you are supposed to think with this person, be against this person, struggle with them, curse them, love them, and have them lead you. All things Barth has proved more than capable of doing for me.
And while I still love my Barth, I think I have also picked Stanley Hauerwas to walk with me on this journey. The writing of Stanley Hauerwas always manages to keep me engaged and continually pulls on me. Someone who was interviewing author Marilynn Robinson noted that when confronted with question sometimes she would shrug her shoulders and say “Calvin, again” (John Calvin) as if he was standing in the room. I often feel the same way about this combination of Barth and Hauerwas. While Dr. Hauerwas isn’t dead, he has written quite enough to keep someone engaged for a long time.
One of the reasons I am sure I can’t escape his writing is because of paragraphs like the one below. If you have read Hauerwas this line will hardly appear as revolutionary to you, but since reading it Saturday morning I have turned it over and over in my head. It has caused me to consider if I am dependent with a sigh or without regret, that if knowing this has it opened up room for prayer in my life, have I become capable of seeing the beauty of existence, and what would such a thing mean for us?
• Learning to say “God” requires that I learn to acknowledge that I am a “dependent rational animal.” It may be possible to acknowledge that we are rational dependent animals without learning to say “God,” but to learn to say I am dependent without regret at least creates the space the practice of prayer can occupy. To be human is to be an animal that has learned to pray. Prayer often come only when we have no alternatives left, but prayer may also be the joy that comes from the acknowledgement of the sheer beauty, the absolute contingency, of existence.
o Working with Words, Hauerwas, Stanley. xiii. Wipf and Stock.