And on and on…my sabbatical rolls on!
In case you are wondering, I return to the office for half days on Monday, August 19, and I’ll be preaching the following weekend, August 24-25. Yes, I’ve got the dates down pat – in fact, I’m already pondering that sermon. More on that in a moment.
For now, the sabbatical rhythm is pretty set. I’ve continued to read (more on that too in a moment), and I’ve worked on pictures from our Germany trip. I’ve never worked with “RAW” format photos, so it’s been slow, learning a new program that is really slow on my 5 year old desktop (Pastor Jean insists I get a new one, but I’m holding out – new processor chips from AMD have just been released – I’ll wait until they are available) She also says that several have asked if we will do a “Germany trip show” – I’ve got a couple of ideas, so I’m editing photos with that in the back of my mind. Oh, and I’ve had some conversations with Tim Bowman, our former interim youth director, who will be ordained (yeah!) in Minnesota on August 24. Tim has asked me to preach at his ordination (I’m pondering that sermon too).
And in the midst of all that, I’ve done a few things around the house, and Rebecca and I have done some (not enough) bike riding and some (not enough) fishing. Bored, I am not!
This past week did have one unusual thing…Pastor Jean and the Congregation Council met…and I stayed home. That was interesting – fascinating – a bit weird – refreshing – all for reasons that I think I’m going to save for my sermon the first week back. But I promise – I won’t give you a summer’s worth of stuff in one very long winded sermon!
Back to this week…one of the rhythms that I have really appreciated is the reading I’ve done. This week…Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin, by Catherine Merridale. The book fascinated me because of Rebecca’s Russian background. Moreover, we toured the Kremlin 17 years ago when we traveled to Russia. It’s not what I thought it would be! I always imagined a building. Actually, it’s a compound, a fortress with several cathedrals, office buildings, and museums. And it really is a fascinating place!
Merridale explores the history of the Kremlin and how it was interpreted and then re-interpreted, first by the Tsars, and then by the Soviet leadership. She notes that the Kremlin became of symbol of both the Russian nation and its soul, and as such its importance far exceeded its value as a building or even a series of buildings. That power of symbol lead to great destruction of artifacts as subsequent generations kept of the old what fit their narrative and the illusion they wanted to present to the nation. Yet, at the same time that deep tie kept the Kremlin relevant even in times in Russian history when it wasn’t at the center of national life. In the end, Merridale’s work is a reminder of how all cultures and societies see their history through their own priorities, keeping and treasuring that which speaks to them, and discarding that which doesn’t fit their view of the world. Some (like the Tsars and the Soviets) work extra hard to create an illusion, seeking to rewrite history. But all societies see their history through a lens of some sort.
But again this week it’s not the book I read that really piqued my interest and got me thinking – this time it was an article in the Tribune. The article reported on a study that showed that fewer and fewer Americans turn to the church and clergy for advice. In some respects that is disappointing. Another example how the church and religious leaders are more and more on the fringe of our culture. Where once the church (and the pastor) was at the center of the community, today, well, just ain’t so!
But on the other hand…really, do you think I have a lot to offer when you are trying to decide between a Ford and Chevy pickup?
Seriously, that study does reflect some of what Merridale discussed in Red Fortress. She noted how with the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917 and the coming into power of the Communists, the church and the priests weren’t just bypassed, they were decimated – thousands of priests were executed and the churches were destroyed. No asking them for advice on pickups!
Yet, the church in Russia survived. When we traveled there, Natasha, our hostess, took us to see her church, made of wood (including the onion dome), and nestled in the birch forest. We asked how the faith stayed alive during the communist years. “We met in my grandmother’s living room,” she said. And no one wanted advice on pickups.
So maybe it’s not all that bad that people don’t come to me for advice. Maybe I’m not here to give advice. I’m here to proclaim good news, and not just any good news – the good news of Jesus Christ! The good news that even in the darkest of times (like the communist years in Russia, or just those moments when we feel our own little corner of the world spinning out of our control) that God is still at work in our lives, that God is still holding us close, and that God is still sending us out do “God’s work with our hands.” Which (spoiler alert) is where I think my sermon on August 24-25 will be going.
On the 25th anniversary of my ordination, back in 2011, Pastor Jean surprised me, showing up at my church instead of hers, with lots invited guests (that I knew nothing about), including the Bishop, folk from my previous congregations, and my senior pastor in my first call. Rudy preached, and reminded us that the pastor’s first and foremost duty is to preach the word and administer the sacraments. Or, to put it another way, to use both spoken and visible words to proclaim the life changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
That is my job, my calling, and my passion (I hope!) That doesn’t mean I’m not here to help you sort through life’s challenges. I’m probably not the best at figuring out which pickup to buy, but if that’s what is really troubling you, I’ll chat with you. Or if it’s some other conundrum that keeps you awake at night – we’re here.
Just know that we (I and Pastor Jean) are really here to help you see where God is at work in your life, and where you and your gifts fit in God’s mission. Not with THE answer, but with time together, conversation, reflection, and prayer.
So, whenever you need to chat, really, call me. But not yet – I’m still on sabbatical. Call Pastor Jean.
But after August 19, I’m all ears, with maybe a few words, and even a prayer or two!