Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sabbatical Homily

Leviticus 25:1-7
25 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you;7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

One of the important laws that God established for the Israelites at the outset of their lives as a people of God is that every seven years they would let their fields lie fallow for the year; this means that they would not plough the ground, sow seeds, prune the branches, or mass harvest the crop, although they were allowed to eat of its fruit.

Leaving a field fallow serves several purposes in farming; first, by placing a cover crop over the field and then plowing it under for the next year, the farmer can help return important nutrients to the soil which will produce more abundant harvests in the future.

Secondly, leaving a field fallow can help starve out pests in the field whose lives determine on the crop that would normally be grown.  One of the pests that the Israelites would have dealt with was locusts; because locusts appear every seven years, if the fields were left fallow at that time, then the locusts would be unable to produce, grow and destroy the fields.

Not only was this a practical command for the agricultural of Israel, but it was also meant as a spiritual command.  Sabbath has been an important practice for believers since the beginning.  The creation account in Genesis 1 tells us that God spent six days making the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested.  His example shows us that even though there is value in productivity, there is also immense value in rest, and as his followers we are to imitate his example.

The reality, though, is that we live in an overly busy culture and oftentimes, to continue with the analogy, we continue to plant in the fields rather than allow them to rest, so that although there may be a harvest, the yield is not nearly as great.

In that same way, according to the guidelines of the Mennonite Church, I have come to an opportunity for a 3 month sabbatical.  Its purpose, then, is to rest, so that my own spiritual, physical, mental, relational, and emotional nutrients can be replenished so that God’s harvest can yield greater results.

Additionally, being about the work of the church and the work of God, while riddled with blessings, can also introduce certain pests into the field of the minister, pests such as exhaustion, and doubt and disconnect; so having the opportunity for rest and renewal can also help to starve out those pests which are introduced by the evil one so that the work of the kingdom of God can continue unharmed.

I have been so blessed and am so grateful for having the opportunity to live and work in this congregation and community.  Over the last four years, I believe that we have grown together towards the Lord, with each of us teaching the other what it means to be a faithful disciple.

I am also grateful for this sabbatical opportunity.  I am looking forward to rest, retreat and study, and reconnection with my wife and family.  During this time, it is my prayer that God can help to clarify my calling, re-energize my spirit, and strengthen my resolve as a minister here at Oak Grove.  Additionally, I will be praying for you all during this time that you may continue to experience the love and peace of God and that through you, our community might know the saving grace of Jesus.

Practically speaking, I will be taking this time to disconnect from the intricacies of church life in order to connect with God.  What does this mean, then, if we run into each other at a store or on the street?  It means we can still say hello, still talk, still catch up.  Sabbatical doesn’t mean that I am going to ignore you or that you need to ignore me; you are all still very dear to me.  It just means that I can take a mental break from my involvement with the life of the church.

Know that I will be praying for you and that I covet your prayers during this time.
I want to leave you with one verse that will help to guide my time away.

Psalm 46:10
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”

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