Sabbath and Service

Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.


As most of you know, I got in last night from a week with our high school Montreat youth. It was a fabulous week, and I hope you ask our kids for some of their stories. We’ll also be sharing with you more formally during worship later in the summer, once our middle schoolers are back from their own Montreat experience. 

Montreat follows a similar structure each year, and usually, day four, Thursday, is set apart as “feelings day.” There are frequently tears on Thursday—the keynoter and preachers get a little more real, a little more raw, and nobody’s had enough sleep and the small groups of strangers have learned to trust each other. So there are usually tears. 

This time the tears in my small group started Monday. And it was because of a single word the keynote speaker used. 

The word? Rest. 

Rest, she said. You have to rest. It is good to rest. It is biblical to rest. You are worthy of rest. 

And after two years of pandemic, of the churn and chaos of a thousand decisions each day, of time in 2020 when we could do nothing but still couldn’t relax, of time in 2021 when all those activities came rushing back with a vengeance and an urgency that said we had to make up for lost time, of a culture that says kids have to be bioenginners and pro athletes and world changers and entrepreneurs all in one—as soon as Gail said it was okay to rest, the tears started flowing.

“Is that really in the Bible?” one of my girls asked me. She plays five sports and is on the AP honor roll, and she says she’s always compared to her older brother, who does more. “Is it really a rule that we can rest?”

My heart broke a bit. We ran through the ten commandments, the law of Sabbath. “I thought that meant you had to volunteer for church stuff,” she countered. 

No, I told her. Church may be on Sabbath, but church isn’t itself Sabbath, not for everyone, not all the time. Sabbath is rest. You have to rest. It is good to rest. It is biblical to rest. You are worthy of rest.

When I was in seminary, I came across a short little article by the Rev. Teri Peterson, solo pastor of a small church out in Illinois. She described something her church was doing called “seasonal teams.” Instead of the standard committees that I have encountered in every church I have attended—committees that meet monthly for all eternity, world without end, amen—Teri’s church was doing something different. She gathered a team for each liturgical season—and a couple during that long season of Ordinary Time—to guide the entire life of the church. These teams went all in for a few months—choosing themes for worship from their study of that season’s scriptures and then building up mission, fellowship, and Christian education opportunities from that theme. And then, when that season was done? They stepped back. They rested. They received the gifts of others. 

Teri said it had revolutionized the faith of her congregation. She wrote, “One of the beauties of communal worship in the Reformed Tradition is its cohesion. We have extended that cohesion to the whole of the church’s activities, insisting that what we study, how we play, and the ways we serve need to be rooted in scripture and worship. We already see this bearing fruit in more people participating in education and fellowship, more creativity coming from within the congregation (everything from visual arts to music to ritual ideas), and more investment in the life of the community. I am seeing people better able to articulate the connections between scripture and mission, where before we did many things but weren’t clear about why.”

I bookmarked that article; I thought it was so cool. And about a year after I arrived at CSPC, I wrote up a proposal to session that we switch to this model, because it was so cool. I attached it to an email to Crystal for the next session meeting and my mouse hovered over the send button—and then I deleted it. 

It wasn’t time yet. Our committees were healthy and thriving and energized. My desire to try this cool new thing wasn’t enough reason to throw a wrench into what was working. So I shelved it all. 

Fast forward to 2021, and the pandemic has thrown about sixty wrenches into our life together. We are exhausted. We are scattered. Globally, we have gone though anxiety and anger and upheaval. And our committees have struggled valiantly through one uphill challenge after the next, only to find another uphill climb ahead of them.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and nowhere have I found saltier, more brilliant people than at CSPC. It is what makes my time with you all a joy. But Jesus also offers us a word of caution—that salt can lose its flavor, its zest, and that light can be blocked out by a bushel. 

And in the last few years, through no fault of our own, I think many of us feel a little duller, a little dimmer. We are just so tired. The world has been so heavy. We are in such need of rest and reset. Even at church. Maybe especially at church—the one place where rest is not a privilege or perk, but a commandment.

We need each other to work to make this church happen. That’s the simple truth of community. But I also don’t want us serving the church out of shame or a stubborn sense of obligation. I want us serving the church out of joy. I want us serving the church because we love to offer our gifts to others. 

And one day, when the list of committee folks who had told me they were thinking about stepping back was long, and my energy to keep plates spinning when they seemed determined to crash was low, the Spirit took me by the shoulders and shook me like a rag doll—which she does whenever I am not listening like I should—and said, now it’s time

There is a a time for holding steady, and a time for change. This is a time for change. 

I am so excited now to be moving to this seasonal team structure. Our first team is already meeting, and even just the few sessions we have had have been filled with deep conversation and invigorating choices. Crystal Harden, Doug Thompson, Betty Cottongim, and Debbie Daly are our first small beta team, and they will be shaping our church’s ministries in July. I can’t wait for you to see what they have come up with. 

My prayer for these seasonal teams is that they allow you to go all in for a time—to do meaningful work, work you are passionate about; to dream up new ideas and try new ministries; to get to know your team members a bit more deeply; to roll around in scripture; to flex muscles in areas of service you may not have gotten to try; to really feel that you have made a difference in this congregation; and then to step away and rest until you feel reenergized for another round. 

Now, as you’ll see on your handout, a few of our ministries need year-round stability and don’t fit into the seasonal model—our children and youth ministries, our mission partnership with river ridge, our pastoral care team. These small teams will continue to function year-round—but it is my hope that their laser focus will allow them to use their energies wisely. 

Jesus asks “How can salt regain its saltiness? How can our light shine more brightly?” In my own life, I know there are two things that give me the most energy—work that matters, and rest. My prayer is that the seasonal teams will provide time for all all to have both.

The Church of the Rockies, one of dozens of churches that have gone to this model in the last few decades, calls their teams SALT teams. Seasonal Action Leadership Teams—SALT. I love that. We are called to be the salt of the world—zesty, elemental, bringing out the best in others. We are called to be the salt of the world, filling this place with the flavors of the gifts God has placed in us. 

As we transition to this new structure, I want to take a few moments to say thank you for the service you all have given to this church in our prior system of committees. Some of you have served tirelessly on these committees for years—perhaps even decades! And your quiet, steady work has shaped and sustained this congregation as an outpost of the kingdom of God. 

So, if in the last five years or so, you have served on the Worship Committee, please stand up. 

Thank you for being salt and light to this church. Thank you for the music and the flowers and the candles, for welcoming pulpit supply, for communion bread, for baptismal gifts, for encouraging many voices to take their place on this chancel. Thank you for the work that you have done so that others could find sanctuary here. We are so, so grateful, and we pray that you will bring these gifts you have honed to the new seasonal teams. 

If in the last five years or so, you have served on the Congregational Care or Fellowship Committee, please stand up.

Thank you for being salt and light to this church. Thank you for the cards and visits and potlucks and scavenger hunts and soccer games and awesome t-shirts. Thank you for the work that you have done so that others could form relationships, find joy, receive comfort, and remember they are never alone. We are so, so grateful, and we pray that you will bring these gifts you have honed to the new seasonal teams. 

If in the last five years or so, you have served on the Mission Committee, please stand up.

Thank you for being salt and light to this church. Thank you for the endless trips to Sams for groceries for Food for Thought and our community dinners, for the arrangement of holiday meals and Christmas gifts, for the steady redirection of our attention to our neighbors outside our doors. Thank you for the work that you have done so that others could have opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ. We are so, so grateful, and we pray that you will bring these gifts you have honed to the new seasonal teams. 

If in the last five years or so, you have served on the Christian Education Committee, please stand up.

Thank you for being salt and light to this church. Thank you for the Sunday School classes and youth group outings and retreats and nursery care. Thank you for the work that you have done so that others could grow and deepen in the faith alongside a community that asks questions and shares wisdom. We are so, so grateful, and we pray that you will bring these gifts you have honed to the new seasonal teams. 

I also want to say a special word to Kim Newton, Becky Burdick, Jim Burdick and Heather Alexander, and Erin Murphy, who have been the chairs of these committees over the last five years, calling meetings, organizing volunteers, prioritizing ministries, managing budgets, and generally being leaders in the church of Christ. Kim, Becky, Jim, Heather, Erin—we are so thankful for you.  

For everything there is a season. Our next season will be a season that for now we’re calling Planting Season—it covers August and September, when we are planting the seeds for our ministry for the year ahead. If you want to be a part of it, we will meet a couple of times in late June and early July to study the Bible, eat snacks, laugh a bit, make some plans, then work on implementing those in August and September. And then you’ll be done, and it will be someone else’s turn. 

Let me know if you want to be part of this next team, and don’t be surprised if I come calling, either. I know new things can be scary, but I already have one team slot filled: the Holy Spirit is on all these teams. She will guide us, inspire us, and invigorate us as we go, until we are salt and light for the world to see. 

Amen.

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