Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Psalm 146: 1-10)
Today’s sermon will be a different sort of sermon in at least two ways. For one, two other people, members of our church, will be part of it. But also, this joint sermon will be a reflection on more than the scripture Rebecca just read. It will be a reflection on the season of sabbatical that you and I have recently come out of. A reflection on what we encountered in it and what we learned from it and where we go from here. Because of that it will be an inherently personal sermon. You will likely hear the words “I” and “we” more than usual – much like the Psalm, actually. And that’s okay since it is in the body of Christ – all of us – where God’s word is ultimately brought to life. So let us hear the word of God, and then let us hear the words from some of us.
When Rebecca asked me to participate in today’s sermon a few weeks ago, my initial response was “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not quite sure that I really have anything to contribute.” This was a fairly rare feeling for me because, well, I’m a pretty verbose person. I know this about myself; I talk a lot and I usually always have something to say. This loss for words actually reminded me of the last time I was involved in the sermon at Trinity – the spring of 1996 for my senior homily. That time, I had procrastinated until the day before to prepare anything. After lamenting the fact that I had nothing to say enough times, my mom did the natural thing for any Trinity parent of that generation. She handed me a quotation by Frederick Buechner. Our family had been through a tough year to that point. Mom and I will forever be bonded from our shared experiences that year, and this quotation jump-started my thoughts enough to pull something together for my homily. I only tell you this in the event that you do not enjoy my part of the sermon today so you can let Candy Hambacher know after the service. She gave me all of my ideas again just yesterday. Just kidding.
This sabbatical summer was all about rest for me. As an educator, I was absolutely gassed at the end of the last school year. All of the challenges in finishing the 2020 school year virtually to figuring out how to safely reopen Gaston Day in August and then executing those procedures on a daily basis was absolutely exhausting. Last September, I saw a tweet by a revered education consultant that read “Why are educators running on fumes? Because they have packed a decade of innovation into six months.” He was so right, and I’m sure this reflected the same sentiments in a variety of other professions. Don’t get me wrong, that work we did is some of the most invigorating and exciting that I have ever done in my life. I was fortunate to be on a fantastic admin team, and collaborating with them will always be a highlight of my career. I would add that we absolutely crushed it, and our students had a full year on our campus with just a few blips. But man, by last May, I was exhausted without anything left in my reserve tank and I needed a break.
Along with the obvious laying around and vegging out, I actually rested by getting back to some familiar routines this summer, and these activities restored my soul. I remember leaving our first concert in over 16 months back in July and telling Lindsey, “I’m not sure I can really express how much fun I just had.” Two familiar Trinity routines that helped me rest over the summer were attending worship services and Friday morning Bible study. I really enjoy worship as a corporate and shared experience, and while we can do this virtually, I much prefer to be in person. Just listening to Chris play “Great is Thy Faithfulness” on the piano a couple weeks ago was absolutely incredible. There is just something about hearing it in this space that was so powerful and moving. I could almost see the notes making their way from the piano and through the columns and eventually making their way into my mind and my heart. And I could see others having this same holy experience too. All in attendance shared that as one collective body, and that is part of the beauty of worshiping here together. For years, my favorite hour of the week has been from 7:00-8:00 on Friday mornings as the Sons of Timeaus gather to read scripture, drink coffee, and laugh our rear ends off (mainly in that order, I promise). We had Zoomed our way through the year, and once we got the green light to return to the Trinity library, we were all in. I hope Matt, Josh, Jeff, Eric, Walt, Phil, and the two Dougs know how much they mean to me and the impact they’ve had on my faith journey as an adult. These Friday morning gatherings provided restoration for me this summer.
Given the fact that a simple invitation from Matt Smith to give Bible study a try had such a profound impact on my life, I figured that I’d extend an invitation of my own. Trinity, I invite you to start making your way back to our church campus for worship and Sunday School. If you have any hesitancy about safety, I have found my experiences to be extremely safe as everyone is masked and we have plenty of space to spread out. I also think our congregation is highly vaccinated so we have that working for us too. If you have just fallen out of the habit of attending, I invite you to start making your way back. Let’s return to the pre-pandemic habit of attending church. Your Trinity family wants to see you here, and you are needed here as we grow together, welcome all, and do God’s work by serving our community. I look forward to seeing you again.
And in closing, it only seems fitting to share that Frederick Buechner line that mom gave me when I was a senior in high school. I’m sure many of you have been wondering what it was. Plus, including it is my best chance to have actually said something profound this morning. He wrote, “It matters not if the things that happen are God’s things or chance things for they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot work.” This rang true in 1996. It still rings true today, and thanks be to God for that!
HAPPY RALLY DAY TO EACH OF YOU AS WE BEGIN ANOTHER CHURCH YEAR AFTER A SHORT SUMMER BREAK INCLUDING A SABBATICAL FOR STEVE AND ALSO FOR US.
WHEN STEVE FIRST ADDRESSED OUR CONGREGATION ABOUT OUR INTENDED SABBATICAL, HE ASKED US TO USE THIS TIME TO FOCUS ON THREE THINGS THAT ARE AT THE HEART OF OUR SABBATICAL……..
EXPLORING SPIRITUAL GIFTS WHICH I WILL TALK ABOUT THIS MORNING.
MINDFULNESS AND BEING PRESENT IN THE MOMENT
MINDFULNESS AND REJUVENATION
WHEN I THINK BACK OVER THIS SABBATICAL SUMMER, I THINK ABOUT HOW UNSURE AND EXHAUSTING OUR LIVES HAVE BEEN THIS LAST YEAR AND A HALF AND MORE SO JUST IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, YET, I HAVE WITNESSED THE
SPIRITUAL GIFTS OF SO MANY IN THIS CHURCH DURING THIS TIME. THIS CHURCH HAS CONTINUED ON COURSE WITH THE BUSINESS OF THE CHURCH AMID ALL OF THE UNREST AND ANXIETY AROUND US.
THE MINISTRY TEAMS HAVE CARRIED OUT THEIR DUTIES MEETING BY ZOOM, THE STAFF ALWAYS PRESENT TO KEEP THE CHURCH OPEN AND WELCOMING, CHRIS, MICHAEL AND THE CHOIR FILLING US WITH BEAUTIFUL MUSIC EACH WEEK NO MATTER HOW CHALLENGING, THE COVID TASK FORCE GUIDING US IN ALL OF OUR SAFETY DECISIONS, OUR PASTORS, TEACHERS AND YOUTH ADVISORS STAYING IN TOUCH WITH OUR CHILDREN, THE SESSION EVER PRESENT IN
LEADING OUR CHURCH, THE TECHNOLOGY TEAM THAT PUT IN EXTRAORDINARY HOURS TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR WORSHIP SERVICE COULD BE BROADCAST AND THE THREE REMARKABLE PASTORS WHO BROUGHT THEIR SPIRITUAL GIFTS TO US EACH WEEK THROUGH WORSHIP AND SACRAMENTS, AND THEN OUR
CHURCH FAMILY WHO HAS CONTINUED TO BE PRESENT DURING THIS TIME.
THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS OF EACH OF THESE PEOPLE HAS KEPT ME MINDFUL EACH WEEK OF WHO WE ARE AND THAT WE ARE TO CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH AND TO BE THE HANDS AND FEET OF CHRIST EVEN IN A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY.
IF NOT FOR OUR WORLD BEING TURNED UPSIDE DOWN AND THE STILLNESS THAT SUMMER AND A SABBATICAL AFFORDED US, THESE BEAUTIFUL SPIRITUAL GIFTS OF ALL, MIGHT HAVE JUST SLIPPED BY ME AS ROUTINE AND ORDINARY BUT
NOW SHINE AS THEY SHOULD, REFLECTING A CHURCH COMBINING ALL OF THEIR INDIVIDUAL SPIRITUAL GIFTS TOGETHER TO BE CHURCH.
AS WE MOVE OUT OF THIS SABBATICAL TIME AND INTO OUR FUTURE, WE NEED TO REMEMBER TO BE MINDFUL OF ALL CIRCLING AROUND US BUT NOT LET IT EXHAUST AND WORRY US AND REMEMBER MOST OF ALL, THAT GOD IS IN THIS
I, PERSONALLY, COME AWAY FROM OUR SABBATICAL WITH A VERY SPECIAL SPIRITUAL GIFT AND THAT IS THE GIFT OF PRAYER. I HAVE ALWAYS PRAYED BUT IN THIS TIME I HAVE LEARNED TO PRAY MORE FOR OTHERS, BUT ALSO IMPORTANT….TO PRAY FOR MYSELF.
SO, MY HOPE ON THIS RALLY DAY IS THAT OUR CHURCH FAMILY WILL COME BACK TOGETHER, IN THIS HOLY SPACE, IN PERSON AND CONTINUE TO BE THE HANDS AND FEET OF CHRIST WITH YOUR AMAZING INDIVIDUAL GIFTS.
I HAVE MISSED WORSHIPPING IN PERSON IN THE SANCTUARY AND SEEING EVERYONE TOGETHER. IT IS THE ONE PLACE THAT I AM CERTAIN THAT I
CAN GO AND LOOK OUT AT ALL THE PEOPLE THAT I LOVE AND KNOW THEY LOVE ME. YOU ARE MY FRIENDS, MY FAMILY BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU ALL ARE VERY SPECIAL GIFTS TO ME AND NOTHING HAS MADE THIS MORE EVIDENT THEN
THIS LAST YEAR. I AM EVER HOPEFUL FOR THE COMING YEAR AND WELCOME STEVE BACK WITH OPEN ARMS.
Back when Personnel and I first started talking about this sabbatical, we wanted to make it clear that it would be a joint venture between pastor and congregation. Even though I was the one leaving, it was all of us who were being asked to pause, reflect, and be renewed in mind, body, and spirit. I’m grateful to Casey and Debbie for their willingness to live into this a little bit and share with us what this sabbatical experience was like for them – thank you both.
The Psalm that Rebecca read earlier – Psalm 146 – is a psalm of someone who comes to the realization that it is God who lies at the center of everything. And not simply in an academic, head-knowledge kind of way, but in a way that cuts to the heart of things and elicits the single word that serves as both the psalm’s beginning and end – Hallelujah! That word literally means, “God be praised.”
When people have asked me to describe what sabbatical was like for me, the word that continues coming to mind is “gift.” And while it is true that our presbytery requires congregations to provide full-time called and installed pastors a three-month sabbatical after seven years of service, it is not lost on me that this is nevertheless a gift we have given ourselves. You and I live in a culture that does not place much value on slowing down, on deep reflection, on stepping back. In fact, we tend to frown on those things, or view them with suspicion. But I can’t imagine the psalmist coming to their “hallelujah” without some kind of pause, do you? It had to come from deep intention, from being present in the moment, from laser-focusing on the goodness of God in the world.
And so in that same spirit I want to share with you some of the things that were part of my sabbatical; some of the ways I experienced that “hallelujah.”
I began our sabbatical watching my son graduate from high school; I ended it by dropping him off at college.
I spent a few days in the mountains with two pastor friends who were also on sabbatical.
I made family a priority. We took our annual weeklong beach trip. And in July we went out west for two weeks, hiking the Grand Canyon and white water rafting in Glacier National Park, among many other things. We made memories that will last us our lifetimes.
I took cello lessons. I would not say I learned how to play cello, however. More on that later.
I checked in with old friends whose relationships I’d neglected in the busyness of life.
I tended to a raised garden I built in our backyard, and I’m proud to say that we are still enjoying the bounty of tomatoes and peppers.
I toured a college with Hunter, the first of many to come.
I worked with a mindfulness coach, learning better how to breathe and be still.
I read some books; I listened to music. I got hooked on the TV series Ted Lasso.
I swam laps and tried to start each day with a long walk.
I caught my breath and I cut myself some slack.
I thought about you – not all of the time, but some of the time. How you were doing, what you were up to, and how good it would be to be back with you again when it was time.
And through all these sabbatical experiences, I encountered what I would call gifts of this season, three of which stood out most for me.
The first gift is the gift of being in the moment. Which I’ve never been terribly good at, if I’m honest. I tend to spend more time in the past and future than the present – stewing over something that happened the day before or over-focusing on something that is to come. And while it’s fine to reflect on the past and plan for the future, it’s rarely a good thing when those happen at the expense of the here and now.
Case in point: it was Day three of our trip out west and our last in San Diego. The family had timed our afternoon and evening so we could be at Sunset Cliffs at dusk, this rugged outjut of earth and sand right over the water. These cliffs get their names from the incredible views as the last light dips below the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. If there is any place to be in the moment, it is there.
But I wasn’t at first. My mind was elsewhere, as it is prone to do. Tomorrow would to be a long day of driving; eight hours to Flagstaff. We’d have to pack that evening and leave early in the morning. We’d need to find a place to eat lunch. The weather was looking okay but there was a possibility of some storms in the afternoon…..
…. STOP. I caught myself. I heard echoing in my mind the southern drawl of Ted Lasso Season 2 Episode 7: “Living in the moment, it’s a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” It’s corny, yes, but it’s true. There was this magnificent sunset right in front of me. My wife and sons were right there with me. This moment was the only moment that mattered. I took in a deep breath, I let it out, and I returned to the moment. And I’m glad I did. I almost missed the gift that sunset was.
The second gift of sabbatical was the gift of cello – or should I say, the gift of struggling with cello. I’ve had more than a few of you ask when the cello concert will take place. And I can’t tell if you’re joking or not. Either way, I want you to know I am speaking truth when I say there will be no cello concert because I love you all too much to subject you to that. And I’m not being self-effacing here – I’m being honest. I struggled with cello – coordinating this hand and that hand and the bow, omigosh the bow!
I realized early on that my cello playing was going to have a hard ceiling to it, and at one point I even thought about giving it up. But I stuck with it, partly because I liked my cello instructor, even if she held my feet to the fire (maybe that’s why I liked her). But also because I made a conscious choice to be okay with doing something I was not very good at, and doing it just because I enjoyed it. To let go of the notion that the only purpose in doing something is to excel. That thinking is not the way we’re wired in this world. Maybe it’s because of our aversion to what might be perceived as failure. Maybe it’s because we tend to view obstacles as something to avoid.
I learned to lean into the guidance of my mindfulness coach, who in one of our sessions dropped this bit of wisdom in my lap: what’s in the way is the way. What’s in the way is the way.
Next time you encounter an obstacle, next time you hit a snag, perhaps resist the urge to recoil or think you’ve failed. Try leaning into what you find in the moment and the gift that moment is.
The third gift of sabbatical was a gift I already knew I had but was able to appreciate even more. The gift of family and connecting with family in ways that go beyond simply occupying the same space or living under the same roof. Intentional connection, I guess I would call it. Sacred ground for certain. Walking the dogs with Lorie, talking sports with Hunter and letting him beat me in pick-up basketball games (haha). And the glorious roller coaster that was watching Connor graduate high school and then, mere weeks later, dropping him off at college. And extended family too: my mom and Dad, my in-laws, my brother and sister-in-law and darling niece. What a blessing to be reminded of the ties that bind and that family, in all its many manifestations and complications, is a gift that keeps on giving.
So now, here we are. This sabbatical season of ours has come to an end. It marks the completion of seven years of ministry together. Seven years. I remain ever-grateful that at a congregational meeting on September 29, 2013, you called me to be part of this partnership in ministry with you. I love being your pastor.
And so now that our sabbatical is in the rearview mirror, what I want us to do next is to think and ponder and dream and pray about what the next seven years will look like. The next seven years. And that may be somewhat challenging given all that’s up in the air right now, with Covid running rampant, when we’re still trying to faithfully discern our way through it.
And we’re not talking about a strategic plan or a mission study or anything like that. No, we’re talking about deep listening to each other and to the spirit of God among us. We’re talking about being curious about what we notice and experience – not jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst, but looking for ways that God might be at work. We’re talking about recognizing the opportunities that are always found in the challenges. We’re talking about being in relationship with each other – not simply knowing each other but getting to know each other (there’s a difference) and trusting each other, leaning on each other, learning and growing from and with each other. We’re talking about loving each other and loving Jesus as the body of Christ that is the church.
That is what I hope our next seven years will look like. Because while I am grateful for the gift that was this sabbatical, I am even more grateful for the gift of what is to come, what awaits us as pastor and congregation, and the journey that will take us there together. And to that, my friends, I say: Hallelujah! God be praised!
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.