Jesus set an example for us of the importance of rest, writes Rev. Amanda Currie of Regina.
I have to admit I’m feeling pretty tired after my extended term as moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Normally this elected position lasts one year, but thanks to the pandemic I did two years. I remember one former moderator telling me that after his term ended, he and his wife went on a great trip to celebrate and relax. Due to the ongoing Covid situation, travelling is not likely for me, but I’m looking forward to a good rest.
I don’t think I’m the only minister who could really use some down time this summer, some good rest and a lot of extra sleep. If you were thinking that you’d hold on until the pandemic is completely resolved and then take a holiday, please don’t try to do that. It’s not a good plan.
If you need some biblical backing for taking a holiday, just think of the command to keep the sabbath. Or remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Just a couple chapters later in Matthew is the well-known parable about the reign of God being like a mustard seed (13:31). It looks tiny and insignificant at first, like it couldn’t make a difference in the world. But when it is planted in the ground, it grows. It grows and grows into a big tree with large branches, and it becomes a safe haven for all the birds of the air.
Likely you’ve heard that parable many times before. In the relief and development sector, it’s sometimes used to remind us that tiny gifts can grow into something with a big impact, bringing help and hope to people in crisis in faraway lands. It reminds us that little people and little congregations, often with few resources, can make a difference when they give generously from what they have.
The main message we tend to pick up about the mustard seed is that God can do great things with our small contributions. And that usually leads to the conclusion that we better start making some small contributions. Give some money. Volunteer some time. Make an effort to pray. Pitch in and help somehow. It’s not up to us to do it all, but we are called to do something for sure!
The gardener sleeps
But there’s another parable (adjacent to the mustard seed parable in Mark 4) that often gets overlooked: Jesus also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Yes, the gardener goes to sleep.
Just think about the alternative. That would be a gardener who works day and night without any rest. She doesn’t leave her garden. She hovers over the seeds and the sprouting plants. She worries over the weather and frets over the wildlife around that could potentially interrupt the growing process.
Some people say that talking to your plants can help them to grow, but too much attention can actually backfire in many cases. Like when some of us overwater our plants or fiddle around so much with the soil and the leaves and the stalks that we actually cause them damage. It reminds me of the figurative watched pot that will not boil. Or it’s like a soufflé that falls because you keep opening the oven door to check on it.
The message for us today could be: “Leave it alone and take a rest. It’ll be okay.”
Those among us who are students may relate to the temptation to keep studying through the night. You’ve got a big exam in the morning, and an all-nighter seems like the only way to cram all that information into your head. But former students know that it rarely works. Study hard. Stay up late if you need to. But then go to bed. Sleep. Let your mind rest. And you’ll have a much better chance of success in the morning.
Scatter seed, then rest
I’m pretty sure the same thing applies to our ministries in the church. After the hectic pace of the last two years, I need a good rest this summer. After ministering through more than a year of pandemic, I expect that you do also. Take to heart the good news that once you scatter the seed that you have been given, you are welcome to go to bed at night.
There’s a certain amount of trust involved in going to sleep. You’re not going to accomplish a lot of tasks while you’re asleep. You won’t be able to control what happens while you’re unconscious. You’ll have to let go and let God.
When it comes to gardening, you have to trust that there won’t be frost, and that rain will fall, and that the sun will rise in the morning. Your job’s not done yet, because harvest time will come. But in between, you’ll have to trust that the plants will grow without you supervising and micro-managing their progress. We need to trust God about our ministries too. We do our best to scatter seeds, and then we rest. We trust that God will produce the growth, and we prepare ourselves for the next phase of our work.
As always, we can take Jesus as our example and guide, following His lead in ministering to God’s people. Remember Jesus’ busy ministry? Remember the crowds and the people seeking healing? He worked hard and had long days, but then He rested. He snuck away to solitary places to pray and be renewed in strength. He ate food and laughed with His friends. He accepted the care of a woman friend who anointed Him with costly perfume.
And did you notice that Jesus didn’t get all his work done? You thought you were the only one! They lined up at his door, looking for healing, and He helped as many as He could. But there would always be more sick people to heal, more lonely people to befriend, more outcasts to welcome, more confused people to teach, more proud people to correct. And the offer of salvation to all people, the promise of God’s reign being made complete, did not come through the tireless efforts of the earthly Jesus. It was accomplished by God, somewhat mysteriously, and certainly unexpectedly, while Jesus slept.
In the course of His ministry, Jesus scattered a lot of seeds. Seeds of healing, seeds of teaching, seeds of merciful, gracious welcoming and loving. But when He was rejected, betrayed and denied, He didn’t keep on fighting the good fight. He gave up his life, He died and was buried. Like a seed being planted in the ground. And that’s when God did the amazing thing that extended God’s grace to all people. While Jesus slept, God raised Him up to live again!
He was like a plant growing up from a tiny seed to become the tallest tree with big leafy branches, creating a resting place for all the birds. Offering healing, teaching justice, proclaiming and enacting God’s gracious love and welcome not just to some people, but to all the people in every time and place. And we are among those people. We are among those figurative birds who are given a home and a resting place among the big leafy branches of the tree that is God’s Kingdom coming on earth. We are invited to trust God, and to rest there awhile.
Rev. Amanda Currie is minister at First Presbyterian Church in Regina, Sask. Her recent position as moderator included convening and chairing the annual national gathering of the denomination and representing that body at visits to congregations and church gatherings across the country to preach, share, listen and connect. A moderator during a pandemic, she reports, does a lot of preaching online, meeting virtually, writing pastoral messages and making videos. This article is adapted from one in the Presbyterian Connection (summer 2021) and reprinted with permission. Photo of person reading in a hammock by Radek Grzybowski from Unsplash.