December 18, 2016
Be it unto me as you have said:
may my heartbeat be his ocean
even as my veins run wet with rain
that he spoke into existence.
Be it unto me as you have said:
that the Word Himself will cry out
for my embrace in the dark
which in the beginning, he named Night.
Be it unto me as you have said:
thus my hands will guide his first step
on the green earth that is turning
safely in the curve of his palm.
Be upon me, be within me,
be over me, be beside me,
be, grow, walk, God:
I am the servant of the Lord.
Advent is a season of pregnancy. It begins a new church year, which walks through the story of Jesus’ life. But when we begin, we don’t start with Jesus' birth. We start by expecting. We start with conception—his coming as conceived by the prophets. Then, the fourth and final Sunday of Advent culminates with the sudden appearance of a celestial messenger to a Jewish girl, bearing the promise of a baby boy. This last Sunday belongs to Mary, and her story is the icon by which we learn to say yes to God.
In Luke's Gospel, he tells us that when the veil between what is seen and what is unseen is snatched away before Mary’s eyes, she is greatly troubled. But she doesn’t run. The angel says that she will have a son. To bear a son in the ancient Middle East was a sign of honor, even success. But certainly not before marriage. It’s perilous, this promise. It’s not without pain.
Who will believe me? she may have wondered. “How will this be?” she asks Gabriel. As a Jew, Mary would have prayed for the advent of the Messiah—the one who God promised would come and save her people from suffering. But to be the vessel by which he emerges into the world? “One day,” was here, and it didn’t look like she expected.
Gabriel tells her more: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Scholars tell us that the word translated as overshadow is the same word used for the holy presence of God that dwelled within the Jewish temple. Mary was going to be a temple, her womb the Holy of Holies—the sanctum where the very presence of God resides.
Then, comes the part in Luke’s story where my breath snags every single time—Mary’s yes. “Behold,” she says, "I am the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word.”
She doesn’t ask any more questions. She says yes before she knows what her intended husband is going to say. She says yes to being ostracized, to nausea and sore feet and labor, to sleepless nights, to utter mystery, and to unfathomable blessing. She says yes to God. Her yes is a step out of her known reality, setting foot into virgin territory. No one can tell her what is going to happen. Her faith is astonishing. I’m a woman, not too much older than Mary might have been. What answer would I have given?
Maybe we have not seen an angel, but we are offered the promise of Christ all the same. Mary’s yes is a picture of the yes that we can give, too. The church fathers call Mary the first Christian (Christ-in), as she was the first to have Christ within her. If you have said yes to Jesus, like Mary did, you are called to bear him within you and bring him into the world, like Mary did. And just like Mary, your circumstances will be less than ideal. Things will be against you. There won’t be any epidural for the painful process of surrendering your body to God. There wasn't any room in the hotels when God’s mother arrived to Bethlehem, sweating and swollen. I think God could have convinced the innkeeper, if that had been his will—hadn’t Mary been through enough, riding on a swaybacked donkey over rocks, scandalously huge with a baby that’s not her husband's? But Mary had made room for Jesus in her body, and she was willing to bleed for him on the filthy ground if that’s what God’s promise of salvation meant. She would one day watch him bleed on a filthy cross.
May we give that kind of yes to God. May we prepare him room within our hearts, our bodies, within our very lives. May we go to the stable, and then to the cross, believing his promises, saying yes when it makes no sense, when it hurts, when it leads into the unknown. May we surrender ourselves to him this Advent, that we may be vessels of his deliverance, bringing him into the world. And like Mary, may they say of us, “Blessed are they who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to them from the Lord.” Come, Lord Jesus.
March 12, 2016
As he begins his 20th year of ministry at Resurrection this fall, our beloved senior pastor, Bishop Stewart, will be taking a sabbatical this summer with Katherine and their children from May 2–August 14. Below, he answers questions about their travels, how he plans to limit his reading list, and how excited he is to return after a time of rest.
1. How do sabbaticals work at Resurrection?
First, as many of you know, sabbath is an integral part of the Resurrection identity. In fact, in 2014, we took an entire Sabbath Year as a church to spend more time in prayer and waiting on the Lord. We believe that sabbath rest equips us to worship the Lord and serve others from a place of strength and peace. Sabbath also reminds us that it is the Lord who gives the growth, and that ministry is not something that we do in our own power.
Our goal in developing a sabbatical policy for our staff was to reflect this deeply biblical principle of sabbath rest. Scripture depicts cycles of sabbath rest: weekly, monthly and yearly patterns are all of vital importance to the Christian life.
And so in accordance with the seven-year pattern of sabbath found in Scripture (Lev. 25), full-time staff at Resurrection have the opportunity to take a sabbatical after seven years of service.
2. Why this summer?
I served Resurrection for 13 years without taking a sabbatical. After that happened, the Vestry agreed that I could take three consecutive summers of short sabbatical time, and then take a longer sabbatical in 2013. However, 2013 was the year when I was chosen bishop, and so we had to postpone it. The ensuing combination of diocesan responsibilities and difficult timing meant that my longer sabbatical had to be delayed until this summer, 2016.
3. Why is this sabbatical important for you, and for the Ruch family?
Our family is deeply thankful that after 25 years of full-time ministry, and right before starting our 20th year of ministry at Resurrection, we have this opportunity for extended family rest and a season of focused prayer.
We have always done ministry as a family, and so we live the joys and the pressures together. As important as this sabbatical is for me as a pastor, it is also vital for Katherine and the children to have time away from the challenges and pressures of local church ministry.
4. We're going to miss you! How are you able to be gone so long?
It's been a real challenge for me to get to a place where I feel the freedom to do this. But I feel the freedom to do so for a few reasons. First, I am confident in our leadership team. It will be wonderful for Resurrection to see that there are incredible leaders who are in place to serve the church.
Second, I feel that our new vision of equipping everyone means that Resurrection is being called into a new sense of responsibility and engagement with the ministry of the church. Resurrection is in a really healthy place, and this is an opportunity for growth. You all are ready for this. As the people of God, you are ready to be the body of Christ, and Katherine and I are not essential to that. I trust all of you with the work of equipping everyone for transformation, and I can't wait to return and see how the Lord has worked through you.
5. What will you be doing while you are on sabbatical?
I have four main goals for my sabbatical.
6. Where will you be during these weeks away?
We will be in the area for the first three weeks of May. We will then leave as a family for Brazil on May 25. I will be in Brazil until August 2, and Katherine and the children return August 8.
As many of you may know, Katherine was raised in Brazil. This country is deeply important to her and us, and so we are excited for the children to experience this place in an extended way.
We will be spending our first month there in São Paulo, staying with Katherine's family. Her parents are longtime missionaries there. During the second month, we will be hosted by Brazilian Bishop Miguel Uchoa in Recife. I am excited to continue building a global partnership with our Brazilian brothers and sisters as I connect with the Anglican church there.
7. We're really excited for you and the family to have this time together. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I am really thankful to the Vestry of Resurrection and the Bishop's Council of the diocese for the funding they are providing to make this possible. Also, while I am looking forward to rest, I am extremely excited about coming back in the fall and serving and leading the vision of equipping everyone for transformation.
If there's anything else you want to know, please contact me at email@example.com. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Bishop Stewart's last Sunday before his sabbatical will be May 1. We will be praying for him, Katherine, and the children before they embark on their time of rest. We are so excited to send out the Ruch family, and we can't wait until they return this fall rested, rejuvenated, and ready for their 20th year of ministry.