Eighth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—July 22, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A little over a month ago, I was in Northern Illinois (about 2 hours west of Chicago) on my family’s farm, visiting my mom and stepdad. This farm has been in my family for many generations, but my mom moved only to the farm 4 years ago, back when I started seminary. They rent out the fields to the same family that my grandfather rented to for years, but my parents did take on some amount of “real” farm life when they decided to raise Icelandic sheep, which are not the white fluffy sheep, but are usually black, brown, or grey and have longer wool.
This is why I love when sheep and shepherd readings come up in the lectionary cycle for Sundays, I am full of sheep stories to incorporate into sermons. So prepare yourselves, here comes your first Hedgegrove Farm sheep story sermon, and to be honest, it probably will not be your last.
This visit was not your typical visit, because it was the middle of June, but there was still one ewe that my parents were pretty sure was pregnant, but still had not yet given birth. Normally lambing season falls around Easter, and for obvious reasons, this is not a good time of year for me to take a vacation, so I had yet to see a newborn lamb. My parents know how much I have been wanting to be present for a lamb’s birth, so they were eager to tell me that it was possible that Ivy would give birth while I was there. They even went as far as to joke that she had been waiting just for me.
Not five hours after my arrival, as my mom and I were cleaning up from our lamb chop dinner, my stepdad came bursting into the kitchen and proclaimed “God is good! Ivy finally gave birth.” Needless to say, my mom and I dropped everything and ran to the barn. I must have sat there for at least two hours just watching mommy and baby interact. Ivy licked her new lamb clean and then started nudging the lamb, these actions increase blood circulation but also serve to encourage the baby to stand up. Eventually the lamb, soon to be named Jamaica, stood up and began exploring her new home.
At this point, it was starting to get dark, which meant that it was time to bring the rest of the flock in from the fields. First though, we had to move new mom and baby into a private pen so that they could continue to bond without the rest of the flock bothering them or stepping on Jamaica. To do so, I got to carry the warm, still a little slimy, incredibly cute newborn lamb slowly in the direction of the pen using her as bait to get Ivy to follow. It was an amazing experience, but that is totally beside the point of this sermon. After that task was complete and Ivy and Jamaica were safely secluded with food, water, and a heat lamp, the three of us shepherds (fine two shepherds and one wanna-be) walked out to the pastures to call the flock in for the night.
We called them in to rest for the night, just like Jesus encouraged the disciples into today’s Gospel reading to go off to a deserted place to rest. It is true, Jesus was the one that sent them out in pairs to preach and teach and heal not a chapter before. But now, Jesus leads them through the rest of the cycle of discipleship. They gather back together, they tell stories and reflect on what ministry they had done, and then they rest.
It is true that God metaphorically nudges us to get our blood moving encouraging us to stand up, go out, and serve, to do God’s work with our hands, but God also calls to reflect and rest from the work sometimes too. We would not be nearly as effective at serving God’s kingdom if all we ever did was work. When we just work work work, we neglect God’s call to Sabbath rest, the encouragement to simply lie in green pastures, beside still waters for a moment. We get burnt out, and then we are of little use to anyone, especially God.
We, the church, cannot function successful as one whole unless we take the time to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate so that we are individually whole. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I know that when I am overwhelmed, tired, and stressed, I tend to have less patience and a shorter temper. I put up dividing walls between me others more readily. When I neglect my own self-care, I do damage to the body as whole; I impede its effectiveness. When I do not take Jesus’ advice to reflect and rest, I am a less cooperative sheep and definitely a less effective shepherd.
This congregation, I am told, is known as the “little church that could” and the last year and half or so have really proved that. This congregation has continued to stay open, function, worship weekly, and serve in the world all without the shepherding of a full-time pastor.
Are you tired?
I know many of you have taken on many extra tasks in order to get everything done that needs to happen in order to move forward and continue to be church.
Have you taken a moment to eat, to reflect on the work that has been done, have you let Jesus lead you to a safe quiet place to rest?
Just like people have different primary ways of working, they also have different ideal ways to rest.
– For some people, Sunday worship might be all the Sabbath they need. It is a time set aside from the rest of the week when they stand in the presence of God and God’s people to sing, praise, pray, and be fed literally with bread and wine, and figuratively by the Word.
– For others though, worship might only be part of their Sabbath rest, but they also need to take time in nature, sitting quietly and reflectively in God’s creation, in green pastures, beside still waters.
– While for others still, they do most of their reflection and rest in the midst of using their God given gifts. Interacting with and serving God’s people and whole creation energize them.
How do you best reflect, rest, recharge, and get reenergized to go out and serve God and creation?
Like Ivy nudged Jamacia to stand up, God nudges us to participate in God’s kingdom in-breaking here on earth. However, there are also times that God, as our ever-attentive shepherd calls us in from the field to rest for a while. Or even provides us with a private pen, so that we can eat and sleep in peace for a short time before we are sent back out. When we are sick and suffering, burnt out and tired, Jesus has compassion for us.
We are God’s hands and feet in the world, but God still shepherds us. God watches over us, encourages us to rest, in addition to our serving, and provides for us in our every need. Amen.