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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was painful to hear our friend tell of his visit to a St. Paul restaurant. The waiter in the restaurant kept staring at him. He had once been a distinguished state senator. He later served as an interim university president, and as commissioner in the government. But each time the waiter passed the table, he stared inquisitively, “Who is he?” There was obvious reason to be curious. His picture had been printed many times in the local newspapers, but now he was a private citizen again. At the end of the meal, the waiter bravely came to the former senator’s table and said, “Excuse me, but didn’t you use to be somebody?”
The embarrassment of “once being somebody,” however, is not simply the struggle of retired politicians. Athletes, students, former executives, and devoted parents. In almost every community and in ever setting, each one of us is trying to maintain our sense of being “somebody.” Pastors too struggle to remain vital and significant. In my worst dreams, I fear that one day, I’ll be standing out in front of The Kenwood with a metal cup in my hand, wearing a freshly painted signboard, “Will Preach for Food.”
Of course, you and I are not alone. Nearly 80 years ago, in the midst of the great depression, Dale Carnegie cornered the market on the fear and anxiety of “being somebody” when he wrote his classic self-help guide, “How to Win Friends, and Influence People.” Since then, aspiring men and women have read and reread such classic chapters as -The twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking- The nine ways to change people without arousing resentment- The six ways to make people like you. Every year, new self-help books are published as well, such as, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or “Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Everyday Life.” These books are all written for anxious men and women, like you and me, aspiring to be somebody, or to at least trying to hold onto our own. But my friends, these may not be the ways and habits that will ultimately sustain you.
Today, I would like to share with you, my own pastoral advice for a successful and faithful life. It’s what I call the Spiritual Time-Out Habit. I must confess that it is not original. Rather, it is inspired by this morning’s gospel. I have, however, outlined three major sections. The Glories of Importance. The Deadly Temptations, and finally, A Time-Out and it Benefits.
Let us begin with: Section 1, The Glories of Importance, or the Joy of Being Somebody. In the eyes of the world, Jesus was a man who was becoming somebody. He was the celebrated VIP who had been chased across the stage along the Sea of Galilee. Wherever he appeared, great things happened. Wherever he spoke, great crowds listened. Wherever he walked, the masses followed. No hour was too late, or hamlet too small to draw a crowd. He was becoming a Very Important Person, and his chosen twelve disciples were growing in importance as well. As the disciple Simon Peter witnessed. “Everyone is searching for you.”
For the VIPs among us, and those aspiring to be somebody, there is perhaps no more complimentary or flattering statement spoken than this, “Everyone is searching for you?” It is the rite of passage and the ritual of acceptance. Why is this so crucial? First of all, it says that who you are is important. What a treasured gift to be important! You are no longer simply the low man on the totem pole who does all the grunt work, and never makes decisions, but rather you are someone who is important and you live with integrity. Second, it says, that what you have to say that is important. What an amazing relationship! People are willing to listen and accept your beliefs and perspective without questions. Real trust has been established. Third, it says who and what you represent is important. This is of course, what your company, your department head, and law office is hoping for. They too want to know, that, “You are somebody, and that everyone is searching for you.” It’s good publicity, and it’s good for business. But beware, my friends, there is perhaps no more complimentary word than this, nor more seductive.
This in turn leads to Section 2, The Deadly Temptations. All is fine while you are on top. But what happens when you’re no longer the center of attention? What does it mean when you are no longer invited? You know it’s a bad omen at work when your reserved parking sign has been changed to read “Guest parking.” Or for the minister, when the Church Council issues a new visitation card where you can pencil in the name of the pastor. What does it mean when the crowds are no longer searching for you? When you feel like “you used to be somebody?”
Of course, you may start searching for the crowds. You may spend more and more of your time away from family and friends trying, “for professional reasons,” to regain your former status. You’re no longer treasured for who you are, so you may turn to the negative patterns of wealth, power and pettiness which at least give you a sense of importance. You may exhibit habits and behaviors that lack integrity, “your actions may speak louder than your words.” Or you may do things which are an embarrassment. Back in the company headquarters the great sorcerer of assignments may be standing over his globe, waving his magic wand, and saying even now, “Drissel, drassel, drussel drome, time for this one to come home.” The word for you may be hard, but it may true. In these moments, you may need to come home or back to starting point.
And so we turn to the central core of this self-help guide for spiritual health, Section 3 A Spiritual Time-Out and its Benefits. Jesus himself practiced this habit whenever he was tempted or overwhelmed by the joys and burdens of the world. We read at the beginning of this morning’s gospel that as the apostles gathered again around Jesus, they told him all that they had done and taught. During their time all along the Sea of Galilee they had witnessed great marvels. They had healed the sick and needy and those possessed by demons. The whole region was now pursuing them. They were excited at finally being somebody. So, it may seem counter –productive for anyone who is longing to win friends and influence people, that their mentor and guide would suddenly lead them away from the crowds. After all, the iron was hot. The momentum was building. Yes, everyone was searching for them. So many were coming and going that the disciples had no leisure even to eat. Jesus, however, knew what they truly needed. It was a time out, and so he said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
The physical steps to the Time-out are simple. “And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.” A time-out, you see, is for you, and not for anyone else. It is not for strategic planning, or brainstorming. It is a time for you to be grounded and centered in your thoughts where there would be no distractions, a place without mobile phones, pagers, e-mail connections or web-sites, where can “rest for a while.” This, you see, is the characteristic that distinguishes the Time-Out for VIP’s from the disciplinary time-out for children. The spiritual time-out is not simply another diversion in another place, or a good hour of worship on a Sunday morning. It is a time of intentional rest. Often in scripture, we read that, Jesus went away to a deserted place, while it was still very dark. A time-out, you see, is an intentional, intrusion into your daily routine- sometimes, even before it has begun. For if you don’t intentionally allow the time-out to become a habit or a part of the day, or even before the day begins, the time-out will never happen. And if you wait till the end of the day, as you’re preparing to sleep, you will discover that you have been overcome by the burdens of the day- or simply too fatigued by them.
So what happens next? In scripture we read, “And there Jesus prayed.” The purpose of the time-out is specific. Jesus wasn’t simply leading the disciples away to a deserted place for the sake of a religious experience, or communion with nature. Jesus led them away by themselves to speak and to listen to the voice of God. Granted, prayer may not always be helpful for you. You have discovered that do all the talking, and you don’t allow God to speak to you. That is what I believe occurs when you and I allow ourselves to be drawn into such a pattern of listening and prayer.
The benefits of renewal from such a time-out are quite profound. I believe that in times that life is fluid and ever-changing, a time-out will provide you with a renewed sense of vision and mission. When Simon and his companions returned with their stories of ministry and the news that, “Everyone is searching for you,” they were prepared to stay there and be molded by the masses. It is easy to accept and embrace the excitement of the crowd. It is easy for us to be distracted by the pleasures and honors of this world. We are hardly aware that we are being torn away from that which is essential and have been called to do. But Jesus was not tempted to change his course. Many times you and I are called into fairly pedestrian tasks. You may get so bogged down in the frustrations of your work that you lose sight of our purpose. In such moments, you may be lured into the more glamorous aspects of life. One church in Canada wrote into its mission statement. “Keeping the main thing, the main thing.” I rather suspect that they had lost sight of their mission. That is why the time –out is so important. The time-out renews us encourages us to embrace our sense of mission and vision that God has given us.
The time-out all also offers a wonderful benefit when you are disappointed, worn, and frustrated, when life just doesn’t seem to be offering the solution and possibilities you had been hoping for. When you feel like a sheep without a shepherd. Yes, even pastors can feel life’s disappointment. I am reminded of the woman who when leaving the worship service, said to the minister, “I enjoyed the sermon.” The pastor smiled, “O, don’t thank me. Thank the Lord.” The woman shook her head, “Well, it wasn’t that good.” Yes, life is filled with back-handed compliments and criticisms that hurt rather than heal. Life’s disappointments can seem very personal, and you can feel like nobody. It is in these moments, that a time-out allows God the occasion to comfort and inspire you, to fill and renew you. It is in this holy communion that he invites you trust him as your good shepherd, and that he will lead you to green pastures and still waters, and to guide you on paths of righteousness.
My friends, what has God called you to be? He has indeed called you to be somebody. What is your vision, your mission, your purpose for your life here in this place? Are you still reading the latest self help-guide? Perhaps, a time-out is what you really need. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.