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Spiritual Connections – July 2021

Aug 3, 2021

This month’s Spiritual Connections is from our General Presbyter, the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo:
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. -Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is about rest and the relentless pace of ministry.
 
I always go back to Walter Brueggemann’s work on Sabbath as resistance when I encounter passages such as this one on rest and how to figure out how to deal with the idea of rest when Mark’s Gospel is all about immediacy.
 
The immediacy of problems, the immediacy of ministry, the immediacy of evil.
The immediacy of exhaustion.
 
Mark’s is the Gospel of “on the move.” Mark notes a few times that Jesus and the disciples are exhausted, there are times when they really need rest and renewal (such as last week’s lectionary passage on the beheading of John the Baptist, they got no time to process such horror), and there are times such as the passage for this coming Sunday when they at least get the recognition that they need some time – but the needs of the many are still pressing and urgent. And so no real rest is had.
 
What’s the balance? How do we find time for rest and renewal, when the world we live in is just as lopsided and off-kilter as the one Jesus and his disciples engaged? Where we literally have a slave-like economy in Amazon while others, like you and me, “rest and renew” reading the books and other things seamlessly delivered to our doorstep. How do we balance the need for confession and repentance and the very real issue that so many of us are tired, exhausted and want to just quit, even if we are not working in an Amazon warehouse and feel like we shouldn’t even be tired at all, given our enormous privilege?
 
In every sector of the US economy right now, we are undergoing what is called the Great Resignation. This is also happening in the Church. Clergy are retiring early, some are just walking away mid-career because they are finding, as Jan Edmiston writes, “Some…pastors – nowhere near retirement age – are choosing to leave professional ministry because it’s too discouraging. They set out to seminary with deep faith and great hope, and yet they’ve found that Church – for too many – is not about Jesus.” We have these trends in our Presbytery – every clergyperson I have spoken to in the last year is exhausted, beyond the breaking point and some are finding that even a few weeks of vacation isn’t “fixing it” or bringing relief or even renewal. And it’s not just our clergy, folks in the pews are tired too. Things are broken when in the Church we have come to resemble marketplace economics which do nothing but degrade and destroy humanity and deprioritize what Sabbath is really meant to be, a break from the ways of Pharaoh.
 
We are in a crisis of the need for real Sabbath rest, while at the same time, the needs are getting bigger and bigger and more and more urgent around us. Where is the balance?
 
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, of which our denomination is a partner, writes and speaks about the apostasy of “slaveholder Christianity” and that this is our legacy in the United States. We worship a perversion of the Gospel, which goes right back to the ways of Pharoah in the Hebrew Scriptures, to the ways of Herod, and to the twistedness of white supremacy that has woven itself so deeply into who we are in the “American Church.” This isn’t a North/South thing or a Mainline/Evangelical thing, it’s a white church thing. And that means you and me. It is hurting, harming, exhausting all of us because what we are worshipping so often isn’t bringing out the love of God or the joy of community, we are still stuck in the degradations of the marketplace.
 
It is increasingly clear to me that the only way through the exhaustion of this time, to true Sabbath rest, is to crucify the parts of the Church that are broken and begin in new ways. This is painful because it means that we will have to either let go or break down nearly everything we have said yes to. I have just as much to lose, repent of, give up and walk away from as everyone else does. The marriage of Christianity with colonialism, white supremacy, racism and capitalism is killing all of us, not just the Church, but the Creation itself. That’s why we are tired. We are too often working for, serving, worshipping and trying to “grow” the wrong thing. It’s a crisis of faith. That’s what Jesus was trying to teach. That’s what the fourth commandment about Sabbath is all about. A wise colleague of mine said that the reason the Israelites had to wander in the desert for so long was that it takes generational change to work the ways of empire out of your system. It is going to take generations to renew and remake our broken church and re-form it into the Way of Jesus.
 
So, how to find rest in the midst of all of this is still the elusive question I keep coming back to. I do not have the answer to that question, but I know where the answers will come from. They’ll come from movements like the Poor People’s Campaign. They’ll come from courageous leaders who are taking our beloved Church in new directions which will have to first to through the cross to resurrection. They’ll come from deep attentiveness and practice in the Way of Jesus. They’ll come from not taking ourselves so seriously, and remembering that it is going to take generations to undo all of this, and it is not all up to us. Rest and renewal will come from true community, that is expansive, safe, filled with the love of God and the Way of Jesus, tended to by the joy of the Spirit.
 
I hope that renewal and rest are on the agenda for you in these summer months. I am in need of it as much as anyone else. I am grateful to be on that journey with all of you.
Grace and Peace,

Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, General Presbyter

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