A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: Holy Rest

Holy Rest

July 18, 2021


During last Sunday’s Healing Worship service, we were invited to tell the truth about our pain, to tell some of our story to God in prayer; to pray from our sense of brokenness; to pray for ourselves and for others.  We prayed for healing of bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships. We recognized our own need for healing and prayed for loved ones who are struggling. 

If you were present, do you remember what or whom you prayed for? Do you remember hearing what others prayed for? (I imagine you may remember some of the prayers – it was heart-opening and moving.)

After the service someone said to me, “We come week after week and it looks like everyone has it all together. But, to hear those prayers you recognize that everyone struggles; that we all are broken in some way.”

In the reading we heard from the Gospel of Mark, the apostles have just come from ministering to people in the surrounding villages and towns who are feeling broken and desperate.  The apostles find Jesus to tell him ALL they have done and taught. They are so busy that they hardly have time to eat. After listening to their stories, Jesus says, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ Jesus recognizes that the disciples need to stop, pause, and recover; to simply be with him and each other. 

It’s Jesus’ message to us today, too – “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

All that we carry… the stories that we long to share; our hopes and our dreams; our burdens and our struggles; our worries for ourselves and our worries for others… we are invited to bring these to God; to turn them over to God. To trust in God. To rest with God.  We can do this at any time.  It is also one of the purposes of  worship. 

At its deepest, true rest, spiritual rest, is trusting God enough to stop all of our fretting and worrying; our doing and striving…It is about more than seeing what’s on Netflix for the night. Leisure activities are good, but the kind of rest we are being invited to has less to do with swapping one kind of activity for another and more to do with simply allowing ourselves to be in the quiet presence of God; to have a chance to share our stories fully with God and our beloved companions. 

Spiritual rest invites us to remember that what is most important is not what we accomplish, but being in relationship with God who loves us fully and completely. 

Our gospel passage reveals that we have a compassionate Shepherd who teaches us who we are  and who God is in a profound way through rest. There are a myriad of ways that invite us into conscious, spiritual connection with the Holy, including prayer, meditation, journaling, sacred reading and song, time in nature, to name a few. What’s essential is that we intentionally set aside time to be with the Divine. One of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Frank Ostaseski, puts it this way: “But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. It is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction, to this moment, to this activity. This place of rest is always available. We need only turn toward it.”

Like we heard in today’s gospel, sometimes it’s just touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak that can bring healing. But, after 16 months of pandemic, some of us may really need a good, long retreat.

I know that this will not come as a surprise to any of you who have observed me since I began as your pastor almost a year and a half ago.  I am among those who find it difficult to make extended time for deep rest. And I know that I am not the only one here.

We live in a culture that prizes busyness. Sometimes it seems like a badge of honor.  How often do we hear ourselves or someone else say, “I’m just so busy.” It really has become normative for us. During the pandemic, some of us became busier and others less busy.  Either way, if we aren’t busy, many of us even feel guilty about it. 

It wasn’t always this way.  Ever since the advent of artificial light, we humans have stayed up well past the natural cycles of light and dark. Not only that, it’s not that we just stay up for leisurely pursuits.  With our personal computers, laptops, and smartphones, the line between work-life and home-life has all but been extinguished for many of us. Sleep experts tell us that for optimum rest we should be unplugged for an hour before bedtime.  How many of us do that? 

It’s not just that we are tired from the hectic pace of modern life.  Many of us have lost a sense of the natural rhythms of life that we humans, we earth-creatures, need for optimal health. How much of our mental, physical, and spiritual distress has been caused or exacerbated by our disrespect of our physical body’s need to be aligned with nature’s gift of light and dark? Does checking our phones one more time before we go to bed – or God forbid – when we get up overnight to use the bathroom – contribute to our sense of wellness and rest?

A few years ago I was in a class and asked to participate in a demonstration of something called a Quaker Clearness Committee.  This is a process where someone comes forward with an issue and those in attendance ask open-ended questions to help the person discern the core truth about it.  My issue was connected to my need to be excellent at work.  

Can any of you relate? Someone asked me about why this was so important to me.  And I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of wanting to offer my best, it was also a fear of being judged if I was anything other than the best. Can any of you relate to that?

I’d like to propose that for many of us, a fear of judgement often is what drives our reluctance to rest.  We overthink, over-strive, and overdo not because it brings us joy, but because somewhere deep inside of us we are afraid that if we don’t keep doing things really well, it won’t be OK on some level for ourselves or for those we love.  So much of what makes us keep doing, doing, doing isn’t because of our love – though it may seem like it – it is out of our fear. And in this economy, for some people it’s also a matter of necessity.

One of my favorite pastoral theologians, David Lose, suggests that for some of us our attachment to work and busyness is self-constructed and self-imposed; therefore far more difficult to detect or overcome. 

So we might ask ourselves: How conscious are we about why we do all we are doing? How conscious are we about why we may struggle to make time for rest? Or to simply be with God? How conscious are we about why we often create overly busy schedules for our children?  Can we be honest with ourselves and God about why we live and work the way we do and ask for help?

Part of the reason coming out of the pandemic may be such a bumpy ride for some of us is that during it we began to ask some of those questions, but have not necessarily arrived at answers.  In the meanwhile, the temptation to throw ourselves fully back into our hectic schedules presents itself to us and we are just not so sure how to navigate this next chapter of our lives. 

In all likelihood, you have heard about what is being called “The Great Resignation.” In cities across the country between 30-50% of employees are thinking of leaving their positions, often out of a desire to have more of a work/life balance. This phenomenon is just another red, blinking light that is telling us that we long for more balanced lives. 

Jesus’ call for us to rest is at heart a call for us to trust in a God who loves and cares for us and loves and cares for our loved ones. This call is rooted in our most ancient religious understanding.  In the Book of Exodus we hear, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Jesus reminds us to remember and respect our human limits and to remember and respect God’s limitless love.

 It also strikes me – and it’s something I’ve heard from many others – that we have not taken the full measure of the pandemic’s toll on us – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Most of us could use a time out right now for a deep rest. (If it were up to me, I’d give EVERYONE a two week vacation RIGHT NOW.)  We have just gone through 16 months of the most upside down time we have ever experienced collectively. We need to acknowledge and name what has been and is good for us AND difficult for us. And even without a pandemic it’s a process we need to do regularly for our spiritual health.  That’s what Sundays are for. Regular spiritual housecleaning. We can’t just keep going, going, going and think that everything is going to be OK.  It’s not. And Jesus knows this.

That is why today we are called to rest for a while with him, with God. Yes, Jesus and all of the great religious traditions call us to go out in the world to serve.  But, it is equally important that we come back to God and our community with our stories.  It is equally important to stop what we are doing and pause just to be with God and each other. 

What is your greatest concern right now? How might the gift of rest with God help bring healing? Healing to you? Or help give you perspective on what someone else is going through? How might the gift of rest with God help someone you love who is struggling?

So much of our sense of weariness can be connected to not fully trusting that God is active in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Rest is an invitation to trust that ultimately what is most important is not the work that I am doing for myself or for someone else, but the relationships of love that we have with God and each other. Perhaps the need to take rest seriously, to make a commitment to rest, to undertake it as a spiritual discipline, is more needed today than ever before.  Rest is essential for healing – for ourselves and so that we can be a healing presence for others. 

Beyond this time of prayer, when and how will you heed Jesus’ call to rest? Amen.

(Photo courtesy of Cindy Benson)