Reading: Matthew 11:25-30
Imagine for a moment that you wake up tomorrow and all that you normally do on a Monday doesn’t need to happen. No emails, no phone calls, nothing on the ToDo list, no meetings in the diary, no responsibilities outside of your family. Does it feel weird, odd, maybe you can’t imagine such a Monday morning!
It maybe that you’ve experienced what you’ve just imagined, maybe when you’ve changed jobs and had a break between the two or maybe when you’ve retired. For me it’s a completely unknown experience, since I began work after university, 17 years ago, there has always been something to do in a Monday, since I began work as lay worker 14 and a half years ago my diary, my time off, my weekends have revolved around the Church year and taking Sunday services. And before you think I’m complaining I’m not, it has been good and I absolutely love what God has called me to do.
But tomorrow, will be different, tomorrow I begin my first sabbatical, just over three months during which I am relieved on my normal responsibilities of ministry here in Tynedale, three months when I am invited to stop, to rest, to walk in a different way with God and with my family, a time to be refreshed from what has been over the last 10 years and renewed for the ministry God will ask of me in the years ahead.
Sabbaticals are a great gift to Methodist Ministers after we have served as ministers for 10 years and then after every 7 further years. They are one of the ways I believe the Church models good practice and cares for those called to ordained ministry. They offer us an invitation to rest, to walk at a different pace, to see things differently for a while.
Rest is of course important for us all, it’s not something just for ministers on sabbatical. Our reading today helps us to see how we can rest well, how our rest can be a time of meeting with God, walking with Jesus, in the power of the holy spirit.
Sabbaticals, rest with God are not a holiday, it’s important to say that I’m not just going on holiday for three months tomorrow. There will be a holiday element to my sabbatical but it’s not a three month holiday. Before your sabbatical is approved you have to agree a sabbatical plan with the district which sets aims for the sabbatical.
The aims that have been agreed for my sabbatical are:
– Rest, recuperation and retreat
– Read, reflect and learn about rules and rhythms of life
For me at the heart of this time away from active ministry is a desire to open myself to God, to rest in God’s presence, to learn new things to equip me to minister, to allow God to minister to me and to grow and deepen my faith. This is something I seek to do all the time but the reality of life and active ministry means that I don’t always find the time to do this as much as I’d like to – the sabbatical gives me a much greater opportunity to do these things.
Finding time to open ourselves to God and to rest in his presence though is a something I believe all of us should seek to do as we seek to find a good balance of life, work, family all underpinned by our faith in Jesus.
In our Bible reading today we hear an invitation from Jesus to rest in him.
The passage begins with Jesus praying to his father in heaven, talking with God and giving thanks that he has hidden things from those who are wise and revealed them to those who are childlike. This may seem an odd verse, but it’s a reflection on the verses before where Jesus rebukes those who won’t recognise that the Messiah is amongst them. In Jewish tradition the way to God, the way to know God and understand God was to study, to learn, to be wise. Jesus is showing that God doesn’t need us to be wise, learned, studious; how he reveals himself to us is in childlike ways, through seeing his love and standing in wonder at his goodness, grace and power. I think this is a real encouragement that I don’t need to be wise!
Going on from this in verse 27 Jesus speaks of how everything that he knows comes from his Father and that he knows the Father completely. In the same way the Father knows Jesus completely. This verse shows us the intimate way in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in relationship with each other and know each other. This verse can come across that the Trinity keep this knowledge to themselves but the commentators clarify for us that these verses speak of the way the three persons of the Trinity know each other completely and fully, as Christians as we grow on our journey of faith we too come to know more and more of them, having more and more revealed to us as we grow in faith. Times of rest, times of sabbatical enable us to meet God and have more of him revealed to us.
Jesus then continues, having prayed about being open to God through childlike eyes, having spoken of the intimacy of God by inviting us into that intimacy.
Jesus says in verse 28 “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
These verses directly relate to Jesus’ opening verse, when Jesus prayers about the wise, he is speaking of those who heavy burdened by the law – to take on the yoke was to take on the yoke of the torah, the heaviness of the law. Jesus is saying to those burdened by the law, burdened by seeking to be wise that they need to let go of being yoked to the law and be yoked to him instead. To be yoked to his love which is gentle and humble not heavy and burdening.
But the understanding of taking on Jesus’ yoke goes further that exchanging the torah for Jesus’ way of love and grace. Those Jesus was speaking to would have known what it was to Yoke your oxen together, this picture shows that, yoking your oxen was to connect them together, to tie them together. So Jesus saying take on my yoke, is not just taking on the way of love, but tying ourselves to Jesus to let him walk with us, carry us, enable us to rest and walk with him.
Of course once the oxen were tied together they had to trust each other, trust each other not to pull the other towards danger, trust each other to go together in the right direction. It’s the same for us, there are times in our lives when we need to set down things that burden us or maybe they don’t, for me my work doesn’t burden be but I’m called to put it down for this sabbatical season. As we put them down, as we more consciously take on the yoke of Jesus we have to trust Jesus, trust Jesus to care for us in our vulnerability … will I cope without email! … trust Jesus to lead us into more truth, trust Jesus to care for those who we let go of for a season … I will entrust you to God and know that I have nothing to worry about whilst I’m away. Taking on the yoke is about taking on the Jesus way, but entrusting our walk, our rest to God.
This passage is an invitation to us all, to walk always in the way of Jesus, in his yoke – his I love, his grace, his gentleness, his humbleness – but also at particular times to lay down our burdens to rest, to be recuperated, to walk with Jesus and learn more about him and his love for us.
I have the real gift in these next three months of walking with Jesus and trusting him to reveal more of himself to me. Not everyone has the gift of a sabbatical but equally ministers shouldn’t leave resting in God for 7 years till their next sabbatical. Each of us needs to find a good balance of work, family, volunteering, service, rest – in each of those we can take on the yoke of Jesus but when we stop and rest we have a real opportunity to consciously walk closely with Jesus, to let him draw close to us and to be renewed and refreshed.
As you reflect on my words from today I invite you think about that balance in your own life and where you can find opportunities to lay down your burdens and rest with God.
You might of course be wondering what happens here at Trinity whilst I’m away? As many of you will be aware we are part of the Tynedale Circuit and my ordained colleagues in the Circuit will be around whilst I’m away and available for services, meetings and pastoral care etc. They of course have their own Churches to care for and the day to day life of Trinity will be looked after by our wonderful team of Church Stewards, the Church staff and the many of you who are the people who make Trinity the amazing church it is and enables it to exercise its ministry. In Trinity Times there is more information on the practicalities of who to contact for what and when.
On another level, in these three months Trinity gets a rest from me – a blessing to you all! But you don’t get a rest from God, I am so excited about what God has been doing amongst us in recent weeks and months and I cannot wait to hear what God will do amongst you whilst I’m away. I am as excited about what God will do amongst you here as what God will do with us whilst I/we are away.
During this time please continue to be open to God, please follow his leading and his spirit and please don’t say ‘oh we need to wait for David to get back’ if God is at work – go with God, go for it!
If you’d like to hear some of what God is doing with me over this coming months, have a look at www.davidgoodall.co.uk where I hope to blog some of what I/we are up to – although I’m not promising how often I’ll write, it will be as I’m led to or not to!
Taking time out is both a real opportunity and a real challenge, I’m not honestly sure how I feel about no email or phone calls for 3 months, or knowing what God is doing amongst you here! But I know it is all in God’s hand so will be fine!
I know without a doubt that this time is right for me that God has things to show me, to teach me, to treat me to and I know that God will be good to you here too. I know that I’m called to take on the yoke of Jesus in a different way for this season, to see where God leads me and to be refreshed by God.
I will happily trust in Jesus for these coming months, the Good Shepherd who will lead me, renew me and refresh me.
In this season I invite you to also trust more and more in Jesus and to walk with him as he invites us to in this great passage. As you walk with him and trust in him, give him your burdens, rest in him and look for his love and grace which he offers to us all, take on his yoke with anticipation of his blessing. May you be blessed by God as you walk, rest and trust him and I look forward to hearing all that God does amongst you as you do. Be blessed! Amen.