September 21, 2020

Sabbatical? Ha!

Sabbatical? Ha!
or, What I learned on my summer November “vacation”

First, let me say, it’s good to be back. Helpful as it is to take a breather once in awhile, I miss the conversation. Actually, I’m not sure I could have participated anyway. I’ll explain in a moment.

Second, thanks to Jeff and the other writers for taking on extra duty in November. It’s great to have such gifted and loving colleagues.

Now, as for my “month off” — last year I had a genuine sabbatical. I took two full weeks off work, spent most of a week at Gethsemani Abbey in silence and prayer, spent another week on a leisurely tour of family visits. And for the whole month, I was able to rest, relax, and get out from under the pressure of daily deadlines.

Not so this year.

My daily work on Internet Monk was replaced by reading, study, travel, preparation for services and sermons, and other responsibilities related to my ordination process. Each week started on Monday with a twenty-hour day of traveling to Chicago (described in this post) to attend the “Theology of Luther” class at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. There was a time when I could do something like that with impunity, but I am no longer as…er…adaptable as I once was. This body wants some sleep. Needless to say, that long day sets me back and I’m scrambling to catch up the rest of the week.

The class has been wonderful. It makes me want to read and learn from Martin Luther more and more. After the jump, I’ll share some of what I learned from my class project.

I have also been working in a congregation on Sundays, which involves a forty-mile drive each way. Working with the pastor has been great. I’ve been helping celebrate the Sunday worship service, preach, lead the adult Sunday School class, and plan various prayers and elements in the services. I’m also planning and leading some special services: Thanksgiving, a “Blue Christmas” service, and a New Year’s Eve service.

I’ve started a new blog to keep track of the sermons I’m preaching: Mike’s Sermon Blog. The first sermon and children’s sermon is up, and I’ll be preaching again next Sunday.

And of course, I continue to work with my beloved hospice patients each day.

Now for one of my main learning experiences from November.

Martin Luther’s pastoral heart and wisdom was something that I grew to appreciate even more through this fall’s studies. We were asked to do one major class project and I decided to focus on Luther the pastor.

I did it in the form of a blog that serves as a “Pastor’s Handbook” of lessons from some of Martin Luther’s most important sermons, which he preached in March of 1522. That was when the reformer returned from a year-long “exile” at Wartburg Castle to the town of Wittenberg and began applying the Gospel to the life of the church there. Luther had preached and provided spiritual ministry in Wittenberg prior to this time, but the challenges he faced upon his return made this a season when he had to become a truly “Lutheran” pastor. Luther himself acknowledged this when he signed his correspondence during this period, “The Ecclesiast.”

These sermons became known as the “Invocavit Sermons,” for they began on the first Sunday in Lent (Invocavit Sunday).

Luther had returned to Wittenberg. He had been forced into hiding at the Wartburg because he had been declared a heretic after the Diet of Worms, where he refused to recant his views. During that year, some of his friends and neighbors had thought him surely dead, his work ended and now in the hands of colleagues like Karlstadt and Zwilling. Those two friends, along with Melanchthon, had taken the principles Luther had taught and had introduced changes in the churches during Luther’s absence. This had led to upheaval and civil unrest in Wittenberg. Many of the townspeople had participated in the enthusiasms during that year: experiencing changes in the mass, destroying altars and religious images, welcoming as married neighbors monks and priests and nuns who had left the cloisters for a life in the world. A new found sense of freedom and self-determination had swept over the town. “We’ll show them we’re real Christians!” many proclaimed, as they flaunted their liberty in Christ by openly defying the traditions of the past.

Still, there were many who were not so sure. It was unclear who was in charge and what the future would hold. The town was a mess of unresolved matters. Then in the spring of 1522, word began spreading: the reformer was alive, and back home in Wittenberg! He would address the congregation on Invocavit Sunday, March 9, 1522.

That he did, and for eight straight days he called the people of Wittenberg to task for their actions and encouraged them to a wise use of our freedom in Christ. And remarkably, the eight-day sermon series had its intended effect. By all reports, a spirit of order and tranquility was restored almost immediately. Karlstadt and Zwilling took assignments in other parishes. On March 30, Melanchthon reported to another colleague, “Everything here has been well restored by Doctor Martinus.”

It was Luther’s physical presence in Wittenberg as well as the power of the words he spoke that had stemmed the tide of reckless enthusiasm and won time for him to begin doing the kind of daily pastoral work that might infuse the truths of the gospel into the practices of the people and the churches. As their pastor for many years, he had earned their trust, and the added credibility of his own suffering for the sake of the gospel must have deeply impressed his fellow believers. One of the greatest lessons of this historical incident is that it is not merely the Word but the Word incarnated in a pastor who exercises faith and expresses love that makes the difference.

* * *

You can read the eleven posts that tell this story more fully and look at each Invocavit sermon and the pastoral lessons I drew from them at: Armed with the Chief Things.

It’s good to be back.


  1. Welcome back.

    Enjoyed your sermon, Chaplain Mike. Bookmarked your sermon blog and look forward to listening to many more.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. You have been missed! The rest of the writing team did a massively wonderous job in your absence, and I feel blessed to be part of our little cyber-congregatiion of ragmuffins, misfits, and seekers. Like migrating geese, when the leader gets exhausted, he drops back into the formation to glide on the breeze, and someone else takes the difficult “point” position.

  3. YOU’RE BACK!!!!! YOU WERE MISSED!!!!! 😀 WE LOVE YOU MR. M!! :-p

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Sabbatical? Ha!
    or, What I learned on my summer November “vacation”

    Could you make a movie script out of it for National Lampoon?

    • Complete with Christie Brinkley in a ferrari pacing the bus/car to Chicago! 😛 Hopefully there are no stories about a dog and a wet picnic basket!

  5. Welcome back, Bro in Christ!

  6. Welcome back, CM! Glad to hear you have enjoyed your class!

  7. Glad you survived. Look forward to hearing further from you.

  8. Randy Thompson says

    Welcome back!

    I tried a variation of the “Blue Christmas” service at my previous church, only I called it “Silent Night,”–it was a service of readings, quiet music, and silence, and was intended to be a quiet “time out” in the pre-Christmas craziness. Unfortunately, the attendance wasn’t too great. Presumably, people were either too busy or too depressed to come!

  9. Welcome back, Chaplain Mike!

  10. Thanks for your blog, Mike and very glad you’re back. I’m wondering if you can let us in on some of the stuff you’re reading. As a non-Lutheran (former Evangelical Free pastor), I’d be interested in what Lutheran’s are reading these days.

    Thanks again. May you have a blessed Advent.

  11. Welcome home Chaplain Mike. Jeff, Martha, Damaris and other IMonks and Monkettes did a great job but you were missed. SO, you were a little busy huh?

    Wherever did you find that picture? Now that’s tired. Perfect.