But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16
Between this weekend’s Women’s Retreat and next weekend’s Men’s Retreat, nearly 80 LPC men and women will leave the routine of soccer games and trips to the grocery store or Home Depot and maybe long Saturday afternoon naps even if only for forty hours or so.
Both the women’s and the men’s retreats are the nth annual; no one has kept track of how many there have been. Retreats are nothing new or original in the program year of LPC or, for that matter, the holy catholic Church. In fact, retreats are what Jesus would do.
In this past Sunday’s gospel lesson from Matthew 14, we saw that having been told the news of his cousin John’s death, “Jesus withdrew to a desolate place.” Luke tells us that pressed by the crowds to teach and heal, Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Our English word retreat comes from the Latin word for withdraw. Jesus retreated to desolate places. We withdraw with sister and brother Christians to places free from the distraction of those things that press upon us. The word desolate might also be translated as wilderness or remote.
Places away from the world of traffic and appointments, obligations and schedules are good places to which we might withdraw now and again. Kenbrook Bible Camp in the Amish county of Lebanon, PA, where the women meet, and Tuscarora Conference Center along the Delaware river near Mount Bethel, PA, where the men meet, are both just a little less than two hours away – far enough away to discourage a Saturday afternoon commute to a soccer game or a birthday party; far enough away to be away.
Jesus withdrew to an away place to pray, that is, to commune with the Father. The tradition of prayer retreats and silent retreats and solo retreats is old and honored. But our retreats are not so. They are in the company of friends and we encounter the Living God through the Word taught by skilled speakers – this year author and teacher Aimee Byrd for the women, and Jonathan Master, Dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University, for the men. We encounter the Living God through worship as we come before him with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We encounter the Living God as we gather as a group in Jesus’ name, remembering his promise to be there with us.
Whether it is on a long walk through the woods with a good friend or two, tossing horse shoes or a bocce ball, those yes-we-need-to-do-this icebreakers, or sharing joy or sorrow with a trusted other, time at a retreat “strengthens our family ties with the household of God.”
Both our men’s and women’s retreats are the nth annual. No one has kept track of how long we have been doing this. But there is nothing old or stale about what we do. In fact, both retreats are experiencing a season of renewal and resurgence. A wonderful tradition, our retreats are, nevertheless, new wineskins being filled with the new wine of solid teaching, joyful worship, and abiding community as we gather in the name and in the presence of the Risen Christ.
Pray for the women who will gather at Kenbrook this weekend and the men at Tuscarora next weekend. Pray that these times in a place away will be used by God to renew and equip us for our lives as disciples in a world of traffic and appointments, obligations and schedules.
I won’t see you Sunday as I will be participating in a pastoral installation in Newtown Square. I am doing so both as the moderator of the presbytery and as a friend honored to have been asked to give the charge to the candidate.