Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture
May 15, 2022

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

John 13:31-35

It was our first winter in Minnesota.  It was January, Martin Luther King Day to be exact, and the HIGH temperature was minus six.  Darin saw that a real estate office in Chanhassen was giving away its furniture, and we needed a desk.  “Let’s go and see,” he said.  We drove to Chanhassen. As it turned out, the desk was great but was about six inches too big to fit in the back of my Honda CRV.  So, we found a truck to rent, drove to pick it up, drove back to the office, and with the help of two strong men, loaded it into the truck, along with two credenzas because now we had space, and we drove home in a U-Haul.  We propped open the front doors of the house, let every morsal of heat escape our house, managed to get the desk off the truck without those two strong men, and carried it up our front steps and into the house, only to discover that it was too big to go through the office door.  We removed the door frame and got the desk into the office, where it will now stay even after we sell the house.

At some point, we should have said, “This is just too much for today.”  I should have said on multiple occasions, “I have to put this down.  Something is hurting.”  Two weeks later, I had hernia surgery.  Something was hurting.  We also received a rather large heating bill for all those hours with doors standing wide open.  Did I mention it was minus six degrees?

Sometimes you have to say, “I have to put this down.”

It’s not the least bit ironic that on the Sunday when I leave for sabbatical, Jesus says, “Children, I am only with you a little longer…Where I am going, you cannot come.”

It’s the night before his crucifixion, which in the Gospel of John will be his time of glory. On this night, he begins to give the work of daily ministry to his friends. I’m struck by his confidence and clarity. To let go of all the work he had been doing–healing, feeding, including, celebrating, forgiving, protesting, speaking—requires a trust that God will see to it that the work of love continues.  For Jesus, embodying love, being an incarnation, was never meant to be his alone but to give away to others.  Jesus never had a messiah complex.

I’ve discovered that maybe I do. What will happen if I stop?  My ego-driven mind thinks that I can’t stop because it’s not responsible, or worse, things depend on me.  Or the control part of my heart begins to imagine that new directions will emerge, different decisions will be made, new goals established—and I won’t have a chance to weigh in.

I say this, not as a personal therapy session, but because I suspect I might not be alone.  We hold life so tightly, often because we’re afraid of what will happen if we let go.

Of course, that’s what Gloria Dei’s sabbatical policy is about, not a perk offered to special people who prove themselves to be overachievers, but a way to recognize that being human, being alive, being baptized, also means setting it down.

I noticed this week that popular writer and speaker Brene’ Brown’s whole organization is taking a sabbatical this summer.  In her last email she quotes actress, screenwriter, director, and producer Michaela Coel, “Do not be afraid to disappear, from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.”

So many of us have been carrying heavy weights, seemly up the stairs, working so hard to keep life going, heads above water, families nurtured and cared for, our own spirits buttressed by sheer determination and maybe some really helpful medication, each day taking the next step to live the life we’ve been given. Oh, if every institution in the world said, “Your rest is as important as your work.”  It shouldn’t be an “extra” but a requirement.  Maybe we should just start by demanding the same vacation offered in many other wiser countries, or shorten the work week, or even creating intentional times for ourselves when we just put it down.  Or maybe it starts by actually putting work down when we go away, not secretly checking in while the kids stand in the ice cream line at the beach.  Maybe it starts by just putting our phones down.

It goes against the ego and it goes against the culture.  Rest is the modern day witness that our economic system—our emperor has no clothes.

We were made to work for sure, but we were equally made to rest.  Maybe some of you are tired of resting after two years of cancelled life; maybe you need to the nudge to get going, get back, get out and connected again.  But I suspect there may be more of us who need to ask, “Can I put it down for a spell, go away to a quiet place, a beautiful place, a healing place, a place without so many distractions so that we can hear these words of love spoken to us by Jesus?”  To risk life falling apart or changing or breaking, because we really believe in the mystery of dying and rising.

Jesus puts down the work of ministry and turns toward the cross, which is certainly not sabbatical, but it his choice, made because he put other things down. He steps into a new space that will eventually move the whole creation in a new way.  He tells the disciples that they can join him in that space by loving one another.  We don’t all need to get crucified to join the life of Jesus.  We just need to live out of love. Jesus trusts that love will fill the space–the space between the end and the beginning; the space between clocking out and clocking back in, the space between you and me, the space between us and God.  The space between whatever is killing you and whatever will bring you life.

As children we sang, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  Can we dare to trust that they really do have the whole world in their hands?  It turns out that we can go exactly where Jesus goes—into love, into life, into resurrection, even when we have to put it something down.