Jesus had empowered the apostles, sent them out to preach what they had heard him preach, and to do the ministry that He had modeled for them to see and do. They returned and were excited about how wonderful things went, and I’m sure compared notes with one another about how things went on their first tour of duty, a truly memorable and exciting time. I’m sure Jesus was pleased about the reports, but he also pointed them toward an important issue called rest. Not only had they been busy with work, but now were back and there would be no leisure from work…just too much activity and too much to do.
Jesus recognizes the need for rest. He set an example, confirmed many times in the Gospels, by getting away to deserted places to pray alone, mountain areas, deserts, places to spend time in Sabbath rest. As a true leader, Jesus is committed first and foremost to his apostles. After all, these are the ones along with others that will be commissioned in the future, to preach and bring the “good news” of the Kingdom of God to others. And, in order to do that they must take personal time for rest, relaxation, time for renewal in body, soul and spirit.
This invitation to come away to a deserted place and rest a while is not a message limited to the disciples of the First century, but it is a message to all of us…yes, to each one of us. Many of you have been busy this past year with careers, family and social responsibilities, plus hours of commitment of time and labor to the work of the ministry in your local church. The vestry, choir and several other church teams and committees took some time off in July. Many of you have taken vacations or are in the process of taking some time off to go “somewhere other than your regular routines and work” and to rest awhile, to take a “needed” Sabbath rest.
I think it is important for all of us, and I’m talking to all of you, and especially to those of you involved in church work, to take some time, to take a retreat, a reprieve, even to take a day, a few hours, to get away to pray. As you know when Jesus is saying, “I want you to go off by yourself and rest, what he is really saying, is “You and I need to get away so we get rest together, so you can spend time in my presence and I will give you rest.
We are a busy church. We have a lot of activities that go on here, lots of good things, the Welcome Church, the Church Without Walls, our ministry to the marginalized and homeless, the refugee ministry, our communication team, choir, liturgy altar guilds plus many other committee’s teams and guilds. This is a church of worker bees and I’m proud to be a part of a church that is active in outreach and ministry and that is vital to the community.
You have heard me say and I’m sure you will hear me say it again: “Local churches need to take spiritual inventory. If we were to go away, would it make a difference to our community? I think it would. I believe it would make a big difference to our community. We house one of the largest Head Start schools in San Diego County. It’s a win-win relationship for them and for us. We have a wonderful Hispanic Church that we work with and share space with. They would miss us. Our AA, NA, and various other groups that share our space here, would miss us. The community of El Cajon would miss us. Those that share our Circle Community Garden with would miss us. The relationships we have with our sister churches in this community would be missed. The Episcopal Church Diocese of San Diego would miss us.
As we press on and make plans for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016 it’s going to be a busy year. Our food pantry needs on Tuesdays have gone up. When I started serving as your rector 2 ½ years ago we were providing food and non-perishable items for 40 families. That number has gone up to 80 families now and it’s definitely going to continue to increase as we expect greater numbers of refugee families moving to El Cajon from Iraq and Syria, and we know we will again be facing critical mass for volunteers and resources. That equates into more time and more work and less leisure. We need for people to be rested, to get away and be strengthened.
You need a day off, and if for some reason you can’t grab that day off, find some time, a few hours, some spare time each day to “rest awhile” alone, yet in the company of Jesus. That’s called communing with God, i.e. prayer. I’m guilty of having trouble getting away. But, sometimes when I do get away from the work and enjoy some time with family and friends, and we are doing something relaxing like fishing, swimming, boating, traveling, sight-seeing, laughing over a campfire, sharing good stories over good food and fellowship, it’s just good, invigorating. And, it’s important.
Sometimes we need to get away from each other. You need a vacation from us, and we need a vacation from you. Again, we have a whole church full of worker bees. You know who you are, and I know who you are, and everyone else knows too. But, you need to get away from time to time, by ourselves and rest for a while. Rest! Rest! Rest is undervalued in our economy. It’s impossible to put a price tag on rest.
I’m planning to schedule more times for personal silent retreats, times for meditation, writing, and soul-searching for myself and for this church. I guarantee that you all want your rector to do this. It’s in my contract, but more importantly, it’s in my heart; to be in tune with God for direction, renewed vision, for a healthy soul. It’s good for me and for the church. You need a time away from me and I need time away from you. If you say amen here, I promise not to take it the wrong way.
I’m reminded of that wonderful verse: It goes something like this, “The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest”. (Hebrews 4:9-11a, Message)
Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves and rest awhile”.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B – 8th Sunday after Pentecost
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, California