Proper 9A 2017
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away,” says the Beloved, in the Song of Songs..
“Come to me… and you will find rest for your souls,” promises Jesus.
Come away, my love. Rest! What wonderful words of invitation! Perfect words to hear on a hot summer day!
And they fit our theme this year perfectly. This year we have been focusing on Sabbath, on “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.” And in this season we have particularly holding up the idea of Sabbath Keeping as “Finding Recreation – RE Creation, and Replenishment.”
As many of you know, I’ve been away the past three weeks, including the last two Sundays. But I’ve not been on vacation. I’ve been away doing the residential portion of my Doctorate of Ministry program. We had classes 8:00 am to 5:30 almost every day, with reading and homework most nights. So while it was not “restful” it was “rejuvenating” to engage issues of theology and leadership, knowing I had such great support from St. Michael’s.
Two years down. One more year of classes, then my thesis project and thesis writing, and God willing, I’ll walk across the stage at Virginia Theological Seminary in May 2020. And while I may be the one getting the extra letters after my name, the Doctorate of Ministry program is meant to benefit all of us. The Thesis Project – which is still very much in the planning phase – will be something to help St. Michael’s live into our mission now and in the future.
I plan to make my thesis project somehow tie into to what our future mission will look like here in the Bon Air community once St. Michael’s Episcopal School reunites their lower school with the middle school over on the Singleton Campus, 3 miles from here. We will continue to remain deeply connected with the school by sharing board members, sharing our children’s minister, and school chaplain, Christian, and by sharing a deep history that goes back 60 years.
Nevertheless, possibly as early as the fall of 2018, we will have an empty school building, two fields, and a gymnasium on our campus, that can be deployed in new ways.
How we decide to use that space will shape our ministry and mission. Perhaps said the opposite way is even more important… Our ministry and mission will need to shape how we use that space.
That can mean everything from using the space as a base for a new ministry or service to the community, or to find the highest income stream from that space that will enable us to expand our mission and ministry in other areas. Your input will be invited into those discussions.
Through all of those discussions and decisions, from before we figure out our space usage, through the time it is repurposed, and afterwards, it will be important for us to find ways to engage our immediate neighborhood, and to be responsive to the needs of the wider community.
When I ask people I run into in the community what they know about St. Michael’s Church, if they know anything, they usually say, “Oh, you’re the church with the school.”
We can be proud of that legacy.
Thousands of students have graduated St. Michael’s formed by an Episcopal ethos that includes chapel, prayer, ethics and service. Many of those students are strong citizens and faithful leaders in their churches.
But what do we want people to say about St. Michael’s Church when we no longer have the school on our property? Oh, St. Michael’s! You’re the church that <blank>.
How do we want that “blank” to be filled by other people in our community?
How do we want to that “blank” to be filled in by us, when we talk to others about our church and our faith?
So, the task ahead of us is huge! It will be an exciting challenge and opportunity. Knowing that this was coming is one reason that this year, our decided to make our focus on Sabbath, on Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.
We need rest. We need to be renewed and rejuvenated.
We need our souls to be replenished…. And not just so that we have energy for the hard work ahead, but so that all that we do now and in the future stems from the center of our being, informed by the knowledge that we are beloved Children of God, cared for by our creator, redeemed by our Saviour, and guided by the Holy Spirit.
We need Sabbath time each week to remind ourselves that this is God’s work and God’s world. If we don’t stay centered in our identity as followers of Jesus, helping to bring God’s Kingdom of peace and justice and healing into this earthly realm, then all our striving is in vain.
“Come to me… and you will find rest for your souls.”
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away,”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
So, in the few minutes we have left this morning, let’s focus on these words from our scriptures, and how they can help us find deep abiding rest and joy.
[So This will apply to all of us, whether you St. Michael’s member who will be embarking on our future adventure, or whether you here as a guest.]
Our first two readings are about a marriage. We heard of Rebecca’s willingness to leave her father’s household in faith and hope, and go be married to Isaac, a man she had never seen. “Isaac took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. Isaac loved her.” It’s a story of hope, expectation, and faith.
The passage from the Song of Songs, or the Song of Solomon, is a beautiful love poem. In fact, if you and your spouse are looking to spice things up a bit, you might consider reading each other passages from this book. Besides celebrating the joys of human love, this book has often been allegorized to speak of God’s love for God’s people, showing the passion and tenderness that Christ has for his bride, the church.
I think it is important for us to hold onto that. God’s love for us is intimate. God delights in us. Jesus wants to be united with us in such a way that it brings joy and laughter and delight.
“My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;””
Practicing Sabbath is, in some ways, a chance to have a honeymoon with God… to have a “date night” or weekend away with the one who loves us most, delighting in one another. Just spending time together, in worship, in prayer, in song, in contemplation, by relishing the creation, by celebrating with family and friends… these are all ways we can practice Sabbath, and experience time with God, our Lover, who delights in us, the beloved.
But when we aren’t in that “honeymoon” space with God, life is more difficult. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talks about how sin gets in the way. We do not always do what we want. We might delight in God’s ways at some level, but we often do the opposite. We are broken and weak. Such sin burdens us. Thanks be to God that Christ forgives us.
Now, we can come into Jesus’ presence, ready to engage in God’s work in the world. If we were coming simply in our own power, still burdened by all the ways we “Do Not Do What We Want to Do” then, life would be miserable. But Jesus promises to make our burden light.
When we follow Christ, holding onto our identity as God’s beloved, we can rest in the knowledge that don’t have to measure ourselves by the world’s expectations.
The world’s expectations are fickle! Jesus describes them in the Gospel passage we heard.
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; – The wedding music is playing, God’s blessings are flowing, and the world does not celebrate in God’s Goodness. .
“We wailed, and you did not mourn.” There are places of hurt in this world that God wants us to address, yet so often, the world ignores the world’s laments. \
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” So, there is no pleasing the world.
If Jesus and his followers couldn’t gain the world’s approval, we don’t even need to begin that game.
We can feel so burdened, and weighed down by the expectations of others or even our own expectations. We can feel heavy laden because we are dealing with the anxiety of job issues, or health issues, or family issues.
Jesus says, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” We often think of a yoke being a burden, but often times, Jesus is talking about a yoke of training. Often times, a young farm animal is yoked to an older one and just roams the fields for a time, so that the younger can learn how to pace themselves, and how to work efficiently. The yoke keeps the untrained one from getting distracted. It keeps the young one from running off in wild directions or dawdling behind. Eventually, when the plow or load is added, the burden is lightened because both are working together in tandem.
When we yoke ourselves to Christ, and let Christ take the lead in our lives, inspiring our imaginations, and keeping us focused on a greater picture of God’s mission in the world, our burden becomes light as well. Jesus walks beside us, guiding us, and bearing the burdens that weigh us down.
That yoking happens as we spend Sabbath time together. It’s how we unload our own shoulders and let God be God. Then, as we engage in God’s mission in the world, it is not a burden, but a delight. It is like the adventure of being on a honeymoon, where the joy of being the Beloved ones of God makes our activity in the world joyful.
Yes, we have work ahead as a church. Yes, you have the issues of life you must spend your own time and energy on, but as we yoke ourselves to Christ, he lifts the burden from our shoulders alone, and his words of love give us peace.
So, Come away by love, and find rest for your souls. Amen.