Rest and Grace (sermon – July 9, 2017)

Last Tuesday, the Fourth of July, was a blissfully inactive day at our house. It was one of those rare, precious days when we were all at home the whole day. We made no plans for any of it and just did what we wanted – which, for me, included about three movies, a walk, eating, and a nap. I tried to read part of a book but the nap quickly overtook the reading. For a little while the boys and I sat out on the deck just talking about nothing. For a moment, I was transported to summer days when I was a kid – most of which seemed to be filled with nothing and a lot of sitting outside with my parents and brother to try to catch a cool breeze when the house was hot and stuffy. Sometimes I remember getting very bored, aching for something to do, but my parents believed too many extracurricular activities were unnecessary and learning to enjoy quieter pursuits like reading and going for walks in the woods built character. Looking back now from the vantage point of my often overscheduled days, I know I was lucky to have those long, quiet days, plenty of time to think, to create, or just to sit and talk about nothing with my parents.

It seems like usually at least once every summer there is a text that comes up in our Sunday morning readings that includes something about the importance of rest. It often seems to come at just the right time, too – about this time of the summer when all I hear people saying is that summer is going too fast and they just want it to slow down!  But there is so much fun stuff to do and only so many gorgeous days to be outside! We schedule ourselves from dawn to dusk – mostly loving every bit of it – but with hardly any time to breathe, to be, to rest.

Sometimes we need a reminder like the one Jesus gives us. I’ll read a couple verses of our gospel for today from Matthew – but this time from another version of scripture, The Message – as I love this paraphrase…  Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Are you tired? The National Center for Sleep Disorders estimates that 30 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation. Often, our sleep deficit is related to too much caffeine, nicotine, alcohol. Many times it’s related to work – stress from work, putting in long hours at work, working night shifts, working on the home computer until the second we go to sleep.

Sleep deficits have been linked with poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, and mood problems like anger and depression. The growing list of health risks has been documented in recent studies, too. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked with chronic sleep loss.

But we know that we can be and feel tired more than physically – we can grow tired emotionally and spiritually, too. No matter how we are attacked by weariness, each of us have experienced it in our own ways – whether it is the exhaustion that parents of a newborn can feel; or the bone-tired hours, days, weeks spent at the bedside of a loved one who is sick or dying; it could be the flagging energy and depression that comes from being overworked or just doing work that doesn’t suit you, or the draining, heart-rending work of trying to save a dying relationship – every person has faced days and nights when we understand to our very core what it means to be weary and heavy-laden.

To us, to all, Jesus says, “I’m here.”  “You don’t have to struggle so hard to carry it all by yourself because I am already here – let me help you carry those things weighing you down.” “Rest.”

David Whyte writes, “To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right.”

Are you guilty of thinking that everything rests on your shoulders? Do you ever fall into the trap of self-important thinking where you can’t stop racing around and fixing things, because if you stop, everything will surely fall apart?

And In the church we are so good at talking about all the things we need to do – to pray, to serve, to study scripture, to meet for worship, to live out our discipleship – but our gospel for today blows in like a cool summer breeze and reminds us that resting is holy and necessary, too. When we do not rest, we suffer – not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally.  To rest is not self indulgent.  Rather, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, to pause to appreciate everything we have already been given.

What is something you could do this week to slow down and rest? Could you find a way to leave some open spaces in your schedule for blissful nothingness, some open spaces to be surprised by the beauty of a sunset, a conversation about nothing with a friend or a stranger?

Or if you are at a stage in life where rest isn’t as hard to come by, is there some gift of your time or energy you can offer to someone who is stressed out, overworked, bone-tired? When my friends Terry and Amy had their first born child nearly twenty years ago, one of our mutual friends, Cathy, offered as a gift to them to babysit once a month so that Terry and Amy could have a date night. And while of course that gift of time alone together was a gift to Terry and Amy, Cathy talks about how offering to do that blessed her so much as well with a decades-long relationship with this baby girl and eventually that baby’s siblings as they grew up. An older couple in Colorado Springs offered to do something similar for Chad and I when we had a toddler and a newborn. The words had barely come out of her mouth, “We’d love to watch your children sometime if you and Chad would like a date night,” when I practically shouted “yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!” and I was digging out my planner to figure out a time that worked.

Sometimes we are able to give each other the gift of rest or help each other carry a burden. Sometimes we are the ones needing a break.

But truthfully, resting in Jesus is more than taking a nap – it is leaning into Jesus’ love. Ultimately, this scripture is about much more than just self-care. It’s about discipleship, really. It’s about grace. Jesus tells us, “I am with you as you live as my disciples.” Self-care matters, of course, but we have to be careful not to confuse the good news with good advice.  Good advice is nice, but it doesn’t save. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once put it this way to his students: “God’s intention is to bear or sustain us, not to teach or improve us.”

So hear this, church: Jesus is beside you, loving you and forgiving you – helping you weather it all – the good days, the awful days – the sunny and rainy days and every other day. And we as a church community are here to support one another as well…to do our best at loving each other and the world as Jesus taught us.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love that picture from 1946 we have hanging in our hallway out there – the picture of the whole congregation then. The picture we are going to try to recreate after worship today. They are sitting and standing side by side – the people of Saint Peters in that time. So many different people. So many different gifts. Perfectly flawed and perfectly beautiful. God brought them together – to love and serve God as best they could.  God called them. And today God calls us.

In Jesus’ name we work and rest – today and every day. Amen.

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The congregation of Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church – 1946
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The congregation of Saint Peters Lutheran Church (with a few missing…) – July, 2017

I am a Mother

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I haven’t been writing much at all – life is so full all the time. Mostly mothering – mothering my children, mothering my congregation. I am a mother. I am tending to things all the time – tending, nurturing, teaching, caring, loving. I am a mother.

Funny, I never thought I was mom material – maybe because I saw how fully that identity enveloped my own mother. I felt bad for her – all that she gave up for us. I saw my dad take time for himself to write – knowing he deserved to put himself apart and create. He took naps. He lounged like a king on the living room chair telling mom and us kids to bring him this and that. He always chose what was on the television. Mom never did that. She only gave.

I looked at her life and I didn’t want any of it for myself. The monotony, the endless caring for others, the constant pouring out of herself. I interpreted it as that she felt she had to do that to fulfill some societal role: the good wife, the good mother, the nurturer.

I would be different. I would be the scholar, the traveler, the writer, the tattooed, smoking, tequila-drinking pastor who cussed a little. I reveled in being Different! Wild! Free! Driving around in my black GMC Jimmy that reeked of Marlboro smoke, listening to Hole turned up loud. I wore my flannel and my angst so well.

I wonder how many times mom smiled to herself at my angst. Did she knowingly look at me and think to herself, “love your wildness, girl – live it fully – because for everything there is a season.” Did she know that one day I would be her – and I would be glad about that. By the time my mothering years came, I welcomed them. I’ve put away my cigarettes, the tequila is a rarity because it only makes me slow and sad now, and I’m much more interested in a good rest than staying up late.  I only miss the traveling – I was good at living out of a backpack and being in constant motion. However, at the same time, I love our home and that my children have a place to feel their feet firmly set on the ground. I’m thankful that the relentless buzzing in my head has ceased and I’m more interested in being good at loving my kids and my congregation than I am in my attempts at rebellion.

To me, it seemed Mom was born mild-mannered, so impossibly gentle, so perfectly mom-ish with her gray hair, her wrinkles by her eyes, her big, soft hands. However, as the years go by and my reflection becomes more gray, wrinkly, and soft, I’m living into the age-old truth that every older person was once a younger person. I sit at the table having coffee with the church ladies and think about how the differences between me and them lessen each day. There was once a time when if you came upon us sitting there, it would be obvious that I was different, younger, free-er, wilder…not anymore. The strands of silver in my hair betray me – but it is more than that. Everything in me has changed – my depth of understanding, my ideas of what is important in big and small ways: for example, for the last thirty years I have worn eyeliner most every day but a few months ago I just stopped. I never wear it now. It seems entirely unnecessary, whereas before, eyeliner was a complete necessity – like breathing and hairspray. (but the can of hairspray lasts a lot longer now, too…)

It is liberating. And it is truthfully, a bit melancholic. It is fully both – because I care less about what other people think, and that is good – but it is a bit slightly sad because I realize how little anyone thinks about me at all. I am a middle-aged woman. I am a mother. These are my roles now. They are good roles, I live a happy life, and of course there is always room for surprise – but it is still a tremendous change. Before, in my angsty 20’s, I felt a certain sense of power in my appearance, my youth, my possibility, my constant motion. Now, I’ve worn a hole in the rug of my roles as a mom and a wife and a pastor. I’m fully established in most of what I planned to do. It feels like I was once an exciting, innovative, new top-40 hit…whereas now I am the predictable, established greatest hits album…it’s all been heard before.

I imagine this is the challenge of the late-forties of life if one is lucky enough to get here. To live it and breathe it – to enjoy all that has been established but to also keep my eyes open for all that is beckoning and yet possible.

“Ambition left to itself, always becomes tedious, its only object the creation of larger and larger empires of control; but a true vocation calls us out beyond ourselves; breaks our heart in the process and then humbles, simplifies, and enlightens us about the hidden, core nature of the work that enticed us in the first place. We find that all along, we had what we needed from the beginning and that in the end we have returned to its essence, an essence we could not understand until we had undertaken the journey.” – David Whyte

“No matter the self-conceited importance of our labors we are all compost for worlds we cannot yet imagine.” – David Whyte

“Perhaps the greatest legacy we can leave from our work is not to instill ambition in others, but the passing on of a sense of sheer privilege, of having found a road, a way to follow, and then having been allowed to walk it, often with others, with all its difficulties and minor triumphs; the underlying primary gift, of having been a full participant in the conversation.” – David Whyte