“Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” These words from Jesus are words I often use when celebrating those who have gone from this life to life eternal. In death we find new life in Christ Jesus in that ultimate of ways, and these words emphasize such.
But these words are not only about death and rebirth. They are also about rest and renewal—physically I suppose, but there is a deeper rest and renewal Jesus is inviting us to.
Without rest our bodies can’t function properly—our hearts weaken, our brains slow down and we forget things, we put ourselves at risk of illness and disease—on and on.
So what do we do? Well, first off, we go to bed. And we sleep. We rest. Probably not as much as we want or need, but we do it because we know it is needed and we know the consequences if we don’t.
These same reasons apply when we take time off of work and get away. We spend time with our family. We decompress and rest and renew ourselves—it makes us better at our work.
But we know that Jesus, in this text, is not encouraging us to simply go to bed or take a vacation. And truth be told, he is not only talking about the rest and ease of eternal life.
Jesus is extending an invitation to come to him and find a way of life that will give us rest and ease to be fully present in this world in such a way that we discover a renewed yoke that makes us better at our God given calling of being obedient followers of God through Christ Jesus who shows us the way.
In our text for today, Jesus is calling people to come to him. This calling to come to him is as an invitation to salvation—a rest from our sins found in God’s grace and forgiveness.
But Jesus expands this invitation with the intentional language of taking on his yoke—intentional because in Jewish tradition “yoke” was a common metaphor for servitude. Jesus speaks of “my yoke” thereby claiming to be the expression of God’s will—take this yoke, and do God’s will, follow God’s call, fulfill your ministry.
But this becomes muddled when we then read how Jesus invites us in with words like “rest” and “easy.” They are muddled because typically we contextualize them with our understanding of these words today. Rest—go to bed. Take it easy—take a vacation.
The “easy” yoke of Jesus is not an invitation to a life of ease, but rather it is of deliverance from the artificial burdens of the world—burdens that rob us of life and hinder us from doing God’s will, following God’s call, and fulfilling our ministry.
Jesus is inviting us to lay down the yoke this world puts upon us, a yoke that is heavy and burdensome because it does not lead to renewed life. Instead take my yoke upon yourself, Jesus says, a yoke that is of God, by God, and for God—and in doing so you will find a renewal of your soul.
These words of Jesus are a special invitation and a special opportunity for renewal and rest that goes far beyond the scope of going to bed or taking a vacation. And when such an invitation and opportunity presents itself to us, we would be wise and faithful to take it, and to make the most of the renewal God can make possible.
Our church has recently been extended such a special invitation and special opportunity. And to tell us more about it I want to invite forward one of our Elders, and chair of the Pastoral Relations Committee, Tom Safford.
Clergy Renewal Announcement
Tom Safford, Elder and Chair of the Pastoral Relations Committee
During our most recent Search and Call process, which resulted in Rev. Rumburg coming to serve as our Senior Pastor, the Pastoral Search Team surveyed our congregation to identify what qualities our members believe is important in a Senior Pastor. One of the top “wants” was to break the cycle of having a new Senior Pastor every 7 or 8 years. Our subsequent research on this topic revealed that a periodic, formal, Clergy Renewal Program is the key to having a long serving Pastor.
With the unanimous support of the Board of Elders and the full backing of the Governing Board, this past spring Jonathan created a Clergy Renewal Proposal and submitted it to the Eli Lilly Clergy Renewal Fund of the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for consideration. We recently received their response.
I am pleased to announce that Christian Theological Seminary and the Lily Endowment Foundation have awarded FCC Stow full funding for a Clergy Renewal Program to take place in the summer of 2020.
So, you ask, what does this mean for Rev. Rumburg, and, more importantly, what does it mean for our church?
First there will be an extended period next summer when Rev. Rumburg and his family will be away from the Church. This time away will feature several components including a special and unique trip for Jonathan and his family. Also Jonathan will enroll in a seminary class that will focus on a study of the church and the urban poor. This renewal time also will have the opportunity for spiritual direction and counsel; time to step back and read, explore, wonder and create; the chance to attend various seminars and retreats; and the opportunity to engage in physical renewal that will involve participation in 5k and triathlon races. All of these activities and opportunities were fully outlined and explained in Jonathan’s grant proposal; all were accepted and are fully funded by this grant.
Second, part of the grant money is earmarked for full funding of an interim Minister to serve in our pulpit while Jonathan is away. We will hire an interim pastor who will insure all pastoral duties and needs are covered and fulfilled during this time of renewal. We’re still working on the exact timing of the renewal but it will be for most of our summer worship time.
Third, we in here in the church will spend our time on some renewal activities of our own, which will complement Rev. Rumburg’s renewal. Then when he returns we’ll have a big party! Well, at least a welcome home dinner, also fully funded.
Jonathan will spend this renewal time in a mix of dedicated family time and time ministering to his own spiritual needs. He spends so much time on our spiritual needs that his own needs often fall by the wayside. This time away will help right that balance. For guidance on this we can look to the example set by our savior, Jesus Christ. On several occasions during His ministry, Jesus withdrew from the crowds and His disciples to spend renewal time in prayer and reflection. For example, in Mark 6:45&46, immediately after feeding the five thousand, Jesus sends the disciples ahead to Bethsaida in a boat while He goes up the mountain to pray.
If you look around today and remember where we were before Rev. Rumburg came I think that you’ll agree that together we have accomplished quite a bit. It is imperative that we keep moving forward, but not just willy-nilly for the sake of doing something. Following this time of church and pastoral renewal, together we’ll be able find our way to effectively perform the Lord’s work here in Stow.
We know that Pastors serve a variety of roles in their privileged position at the center of congregational life: preacher, teacher, spiritual guide, pastoral visitor, friend, confidant. Their responsibilities are continual, and the pace and demands of church life can be relentless, often leaving even the most dedicated pastors recognizing the need to replenish their own spiritual reservoirs to regain energy and strength for their ministry.
The Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program at Christian Theological Seminary seeks to strengthen Christian congregations by providing opportunities for pastors to step away briefly from the persistent obligations of daily church life and to engage in a period of renewal and reflection. Renewal periods are not vacations, but times for intentional exploration and reflection, for regaining the enthusiasm and creativity for ministry, for discovering what will make the pastor’s heart sing. And that is what we want for our pastor. This is an incredible and blessed opportunity for Jonathan, his family, and for First Christian Church of Stow.
As Jonathan and the Elders work on the details and mechanics of this renewal time, we will keep you in the loop. If, in the meantime, you have any questions feel free to contact myself or any one of the Elders.
In September of 2000 I began seminary. I graduated in an accelerated three years that required me to take classes eleven months out of the year, and I was still able to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education which is a semester long internship, all while serving as the Associate Pastor at Cynthiana Christian Church in Cynthiana Kentucky. After graduation and ordination I spent six and a half years at First Christian of Wadsworth before coming here to Stow in November of 2009. For the last nineteen years I have been fully and deeply immersed in the work of ministry.
I don’t so much tell you all that rationale, as I tell it to myself. Because truth be told, I struggle with this idea of taking a sabbatical.
Yet I have been reminded by many—clergy colleagues and friends, the Elders, my Pastoral Relations Committee—that sabbaticals are not just for me, but they are for my family and they are for all of you.
In order to be the husband, father, and pastor I am to be, time for renewal is an imperative.
But in order for the church to be what it is called to be, time for renewal is an imperative as well. And that is a critical piece in this as well. It’s not just for me and my family. It’s for all of us.
Renewal grants like the one our church is receiving leads to life-giving experiences—strengthening relationships; renewing a sense of call; meeting and serving our neighbor in a new way; finding joy and purpose in a simplified life; creating opportunities where members of the congregation can exercise their gifts for ministry—are all common themes of these renewal times, and all lead to profound discoveries that pastors and congregations describe as “life-changing events” occur as churches participate in this national clergy renewal program.
Ministry is profoundly important, not only to the people directly served, but also to the larger community and society.
This clergy renewal program honors pastors and congregations and the yoke they are called to take upon themselves.
In the coming months we will prepare for this time of mutual renewal together. And in doing so I am confident that all of us will discover a renewed yoke that Jesus is inviting, and calling, us to take up. Amen.