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RICK MORANIS, THE CANADIAN COMEDIAN SAID THAT HE TOOK A SABBATICAL FROM ACTING because shooting movies was stealing him away from his young children. “Keeping in touch with them from hotel rooms and airports wasn’t working for me. So I stopped.” Some take sabbaticals because they need to spend more time with their kids. Others, like myself, take sabbaticals because we need to spend more time with ourselves.

Too often pastors are very good at taking care of everyone but themselves. If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that this summer, I’m taking a long-overdue 12-week sabbatical from my ministry in downtown Cleveland – almost 16 weeks when I throw in a few weeks of vacation, to do something wonderfully countercultural: take care of myself. But “Where, O where is my pastor going?” you ask.

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The power of Easter can slip easily from our grasp, if we’re not careful. As far as the big Christian holy days are concerned, Christmas is so much easier to deal with than Easter.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a child. No problem, there! Who can’t get behind a birthday celebration, especially one for a poor kid who grows up to be king? Disney ought to make a movie: Jesus: Prince of Kings.

At Easter, though, we have to accept that almost two thousand years ago a dead man was raised from the dead, got right up, walked around the place for fifty days, dropped in on old friends, and even cooked-up a mess of fish on the beach one morning. The Easter story is a whole lot trickier than Christmas to get our heads around. Christmas is a heart warmer. Easter is a mind bender.
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Taking a sabbatical, in some ways, forces us to overcome the anxious demons of workaholism and admit that there is a God and we’re not it! 

Rest Path

Just the mere idea of taking 12 weeks away from my daily work to renew my body, mind, and spirit seems radical to me. It goes against almost every planted grain shooting-up from the garden of my “work hard and work always” Protestant upbringing. “There is no work, however vile or sordid, that does not glisten before God,” said that miserable old workaholic reformer, John Calvin. The two most recurring imperatives of my youth were, “Get a haircut!” and “Get a job!” – most often spoken in the same breath. Never mind glistening before God, I was taught that “Work makes you a man!”

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Identity

 

PALM SUNDAY ALWAYS SEEMS LIKE A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY TO ME. Jesus isn’t who I think he is. He never is.

On Palm Sunday we wave palms celebrating, by commemoration, Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We sing “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” And, perhaps, like the folks who gathered at the city gates of Jerusalem 2000 years ago to welcome Jesus, we sometimes imagine Jesus will bring us victory of one sort or another. Maybe he’ll fix what ails us, or get us that job we’ve been praying for, or gift us with some other miracle.

But as it turns out, Jesus was not who the crowds imagined him to be that day of palms and parades. He didn’t fix it for them at all. There were miracles, for sure. But this miracle-man also lost his cool and flipped tables around in their beloved temple. He got himself arrested and flogged. Some of the very same people who had waved palms and chanted “Hosanna” at the city gates, less than one short week later, stood in front of Pilate’s praetorium and shouted “Crucify him!” Were they just fickle in their faith? Or was it a case of mistaken identity? Clearly, Jesus had failed to live-up to their misplaced expectations, at least for the moment.

For me, even as I wave my palm, Palm Sunday is a day to remember that I don’t fully understand Jesus. I’ve studied his word for a lifetime, worshipped him, prayed to him (and, I believe, with him), and I still can’t nail him down. But then again, who could?

Maybe Jesus isn’t something to be grasped like some new life plan, or packaged as a self-help strategy. He’s not to be comprehended like a math solution, or a philosophical concept. Rather, Jesus and his die-on-a-cross love for us and the world are mystery to be lived. Jesus and his cross-shaped loved are not a destination at the end of our spiritual journey, but the journey itself. Jesus and his love for us is mystery that can only be understood by walking in his footsteps, and by carrying the cross of love with him for a little while.

In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner says that best mysteries are not to be solved but to be lived. “And you do that not by fully knowing yourself, but by fully being yourself. To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.”

As you journey through these final days of Lent, preparing for Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then on into the glory-filled season of Easter, I invite you to join me in living the mystery, not by trying understand Jesus but simply by being with Jesus. That’s when real miracles start to happen. That’s when the healing truly begins.

Don’t worry about grasping his version of love, just live it. Find your moments to be still with him in prayer and worship, and to look for him right beside you. He’s there. Allow his cross-shaped love to overflow from within your heart. The case of mistaken identity – yours and his, gets resolved as we work less at knowing Jesus fully, and more at fully being with him.

Love,
Mark

white flag

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! To the congregation of the Old Stone Church (First Presbyterian Church of Cleveland), I extend my deepest appreciation! After almost 30 years in the pulpit, I’m eagerly longing for my very first genuine sabbatical.

I’m not ashamed to admit that throughout the last three decades, even though I’ve had countless joys and incredibly rewarding experiences in ministry, I have experienced seasons of frustration, disappointment, and plain old burnout, as well. I should have waved the white flag of surrender and asked for a proper sabbatical years ago.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly says that:

Clergy . . . bear the burdens, the anguish, the pain, and hurt of their parishioners 24-7. That is 24 hours, seven days a week. As a result, many, if not all, experience to one degree or another symptoms of emotional collapse, stress related illnesses, and “burnout” adversely affecting the minister’s personal, family, and parish life, and greatly diminishing his or her effectiveness and well-being. For too long, this situation has been accepted, even tolerated as an inevitable part of the job.[1]

Whew! Don’t I know it. Currently, I am the Senior Pastor of the remarkable urban/metropolitan congregation, the Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland. It is an exceptional experience to pastor such a busy, historic church with a unique and unwavering commitment to the city. The demands, however, of a church such as Old Stone can be oppressively relentless. There are desert times when I can go months without a solid day off, and I find myself trying to rehydrate my body, mind, and most importantly, my spirit with small sips of time in an afternoon here or a morning there.

There’s an old story about a missionary who is driving between two villages in his old jeep. He spots a villager sitting by the road and offers him a ride. The villager graciously declines. When the missionary persists, saying that it would be no trouble to give him a lift to the next town, the villager responds by saying: “My good sir, I’ve traveled a long way today. Now I must rest so that my spirit may catch-up with my body.

After three decades of ministry, it’s time now for my spirit to catch-up to my body. Over the next number of weeks, in preparation for my sabbatical, I’m going to post more about what a sabbatical is, what I’m learning about myself, what I’ll actually be doing (and not doing!) while on sabbatical, and how I’m preparing for my spirit and my body to get reacquainted with one another.

Please feel free to follow along, or offer a kind word or helpful comment along the way. Please do share these sabbatical updates with a friend whose spirit and body may benefit from what you read here – particularly other clergy and/or the congregations they so faithfully serve.

Thanks for reading, and any prayers you wish to lift on my behalf are most dearly appreciated. Thanks!

Love,
Mark

[1] From the Office of the General Assembly, PC(USA). http://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/ministers/rationale-sabbatical-leave/ Accessed 2018 01 10.

LORD, PROTECT ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS! Sometimes we Christians do a good job of giving God a bad name. To be a disciple of Jesus means making a commitment to keeping the good news good.

Check out and share this message based on the “rock star” of Christian scripture, John 3:16, preached at the historic Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland on the Fourth Sunday of Lent: Keeping the Good News Good.

Love,
Mark

 

 

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Posted: February 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

It’s hard to carry a grudge, or anything else that diminishes the good spirit of Jesus Christ within us, when we are busy carrying the cross.

THE THOUGHT OF CARRYING THE CROSS MAY SEEM DAUNTING, but once you pick it up, you’ll find that’s it’s not nearly as heavy as you imagined! “My yoke it is easy, my burden is light,” said Jesus. Maybe carrying the cross is as much about what we learn to set down as it is about what we’re called to pick up.

I preached Between a Rock and a Hard Place yesterday at the Old Stone Church for the second Sunday in Lent. Based on Mark 8:27-38, we wrestle with the dilemma Peter faced after making his confession of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, on the one hand, and his call to deny himself, pick up the cross and follow Jesus, on the other.

As you journey in faith throughout the season of Lent, and beyond, I pray that Between a Rock and a Hard Place, helps you deepen your understanding of both the blessings and the power of carrying the cross of Jesus. God bless you today, and forever.

Love,
Mark