Scripture’s Call to Rest and Renewal

These last two years have left many of us exhausted.  The challenges posed by COVID-19 have been formidable and unrelenting.  We have had to repeatedly adapt to new conditions in schools, workplaces, and community spaces.  And while doing so, we have been operating in a hyper-aroused state, anxious that we or someone we love could become the next victim of the virus.  Such a condition, mental health professionals tell us, is mentally, emotionally, and physically depleting.  We have all known “Zoom fatigue” and the frustration of having to troubleshoot yet one more technological tool.  Pressing social issues have called for our ongoing attention and investigation, yet engagement with them can fast leave us overwhelmed by their size and scope.  We are tired.

Thankfully, there is a biblical prescription for such times.  It can be summed up in a single word: Sabbath.   In the original Hebrew, Sabbath means “to cease” or “to stop.”  In Exodus 20:8-11, the commandment to “keep the Sabbath” meant ceasing from work on the seventh day of each week.  The fourth commandment recalled the story of creation in Genesis 1-2.  God creates the world in six days, we read, and rests on the seventh, exemplifying the Sabbath and weaving it into the fabric of creation.  In Scripture’s expansive vision, Sabbath rest is extended to enslaved persons along with children and foreigners too (Exodus 20:10).  In the book of Leviticus, Sabbath is even proffered to the land, as every seventh year, a field was not to be tilled (Leviticus 25:1-7).  Sabbath is a call to rest and renewal for all creation.

One modern expression of Sabbath, observed in a variety of workplaces, is the sabbatical. Professors will often take one at regular intervals to devote time to reading, writing, and resting.  Pastors have long been encouraged by denominational bodies and ministry consultants to take regular sabbaticals, too – that their ministry and congregations might know the kind of renewal Sabbath imagines.  This summer, after fifteen years of service as your pastor, I want to thank the session and congregation of Knox for granting me a sabbatical.  From June 6th to August 28th,   I will be taking a break from my ministry at Knox for a time that will include travel with my family, time at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in New Mexico (shown above), and an extended stay at our family cottage in northern Michigan.  Back in 2016, I returned from a summer sabbatical with renewed energy, vision, and a deepened sense of God’s call.  I anticipate the same will be the case in 2022.  After the challenges brought on by COVID-19, this summer’s sabbatical is an especially welcome gift.

As I prepare to depart, I am delighted to share with you the news that Rev. Dr. Terry McGonigal will be graciously serving as Knox’s Temporary Supply Pastor while I am away.  Terry has served for twenty years as the Dean of Spiritual Life at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.  He holds a long history in Pasadena, having earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Fuller.  He then worked with the seminary to develop their partnership with Young Life and their M.Div. program in Seattle, Washington.  Terry has written commentaries on the Gospel of John and the book of Judges.  And along with his wife Suzette, he is a new resident of nearby Monte Vista Grove Homes.  I am thrilled Knox can be blessed by his preaching, worship leading, and pastoral care in my absence.

May you all know the invitation of Sabbath each week and each year – especially after the wild ride the last two years have been.  I pray this summer affords you and your family occasions for travel, recreation, and rest.  I hope we can all find ways to enjoy that great rhythm God demonstrated at the start of it all – and wove into the created order: good work followed by good rest.

Pastor Matt