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2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Take a deep breath. Maybe even close your eyes. Try to get as comfortable as you can, because it’s time to face some of the truths that many of us (myself included) are extremely good at ignoring.
Okay, here we go:
It is okay to say no.
It is okay to take a break.
It is okay to ask for help.
You are not required to do everything by yourself.
Take another deep breath. Open your eyes. How do those statements make you feel?
Maybe you feel some relief. Maybe you’re thinking “Well, duh”. Or maybe you’re like me and are screaming internally because there is no way that those statements could ever ever be true for you.
Full confession: As every description of my Myers-Briggs type so kindly reminds me, I am a perfectionist with a bit of a superhuman complex. I’m incredibly stubborn, routinely bite off more than I can chew, think I can do everything myself, set impossibly high standards for myself and often others, and have had to be reminded more than once that I am only human. And more than almost anything else, I hate feeling weak. In my mind, if I feel weak, I have failed.
The three things that make me feel the weakest?
- Saying no
- Taking a break
- Asking for help
I’m sure that some of you can relate, especially considering that we live in a culture that has a tendency to idolize independence and romanticize being overworked to the point of utter exhaustion.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus could also relate to these concerns that are so central to my daily life.
I don’t really think that Jesus would have considered himself to be a perfectionist, but I wouldn’t blame him if he had.
At least Jesus had some evidence to back up a superhuman complex. After all he could heal the sick and walk on water, turn water into wine and even raise the dead. After all, he was the Son of God, fully human, yes, but also fully divine.
But despite all that, I don’t think that Jesus was completely caught up in his perfect divinity, convinced that he alone could save the world without ever having to ask for a bit of help. I’m not saying that he was without fault, Jesus was as human as any of us with flaws to prove it – but he knew that he couldn’t do God’s work alone.
Jesus, having been traveling and teaching all through the land with his disciples, came at last to Nazareth, his hometown. On the Sabbath he went to the temple, as was his custom, and began to preach. And was promptly flat-out rejected.
“What wisdom could the carpenter’s son have?” The crowds questioned him incredulously. “What does he think he’s doing?”
“He’s just like us, nothing special, look at his family gathered here! What powers could he have?”
In this moment, Jesus could have done many things. He could have fought back, rebuked those who rejected him, or performed some great miracle to force those around him to believe in his teachings. Instead, he left, without doing anything more than give a good quote about honoring prophets and curing a couple of sick people.
Many great sermons have been written about this story, about Jesus’ rejection by his kin and complete inability to successfully preach in the temple there, but the part of this story that I find the most interesting isn’t his rejection or catchy quote about honor, it’s what happens after.
Run out of Nazareth as the laughingstock of the town, Jesus is undeniably not in a position of power. He is weak. And then he voluntarily does something that some would say made him even weaker.
He gets help spreading his message. He lets others take a share of the burden. The very first thing that Jesus does after being rejected and turned away by his people is to give his disciples authority over unclean spirits and send them out, two by two, to spread his teachings and heal the infirm.
And instead of weakening Jesus (as we might be trained to think), this help does the opposite. It makes him strong.
With his disciples’ help, suddenly more and more people are hearing and about Jesus and his teachings, more and more people are being healed, more and more people are spreading the word about this great new prophet.
Could Jesus have done it himself? Sure. It wouldn’t have been impossible for Jesus to achieve what he did alone, but it would have taken a lot more effort, a lot more energy, and a lot more time (three factors which, for the record, tend to be the leading causes of physical and emotional burn-out).
We need help too. We need breaks to rest and recharge too because fatigue and burnout are real.
I know that there seem to be many days now where I read the news in the morning and that alone exhausts me. I know that some days I read the news and struggle to even get as angry as I want to be, as if I’m slowing becoming numb to the overwhelming amount of pain and suffering in the world.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear about yet another shooting, whenever I think about the refugees and immigrants unable to seek a new life in this country, whenever I learn of the latest unjust policy from our government, whenever another month passes and there is still no end in sight for Lucio’s stay in sanctuary, I want to protest, I want to write, I want to do anything I possibly can to turn the world around. But, most days it seems like the only act of resistance I have the energy for is simply getting out of bed in the morning.
Because I am tired. Because I sometimes feel that no matter how hard I work, no matter how loud I shout, the powers-that-be will never actually listen. And that makes me feel so incredibly weak.
And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that some of you have been feeling similarly, because if I know one thing about this congregation, it’s that we are a group of people who will work tirelessly to care for and bring justice to each other and the world. And those are things that take a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of physical and spiritual energy.
But the funny thing (and I bet y’all can relate) is that as soon as I say no to going to the protest that I don’t really have time for anyway, as soon as I let myself stop and take a little break from my seemingly constant work, as soon as I ask a friend if they’d be willing to help me with a project, I start feeling a lot less hopeless. I even start feeling, dare I say it, strong?
It’s almost as if it’s exactly like Paul says in his second letter to the church at Corinth; that it is through weakness and vulnerability, not power and independence, that we become strong.
Friends, I don’t need to tell you that we’re living in a world that seems to get scarier and even more broken by the day. I don’t need to tell you that it’s going to take a lot of time to fix corrupt systems and unjust policy. I don’t need to remind you that yes, the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but it is a long, long arc and an almost unbearably slow process. I know that we are all very much aware of these truths.
What I want to remind you is this: We don’t have to fix the world or even just one of its many problems alone. In fact, we can’t. If we’re in this fight for the long run, and we are (simply by just being alive), then we alone simply do not have the time or the energy for that.
So, dear ones, rest. Take some time. Breathe. Become weak so that you can be strong once more.
I’d like to invite us to claim our weakness and affirm our humanity by saying together some of the phrases that I began with; please repeat after me:
It okay for me to say no. (pause)
It is good for me to take a break and rest. (pause)
Asking for help does not mean I have failed. (pause)
I do not have to do everything alone. (pause)
Friends, it is our weakness, holy weakness, that makes us strong.
The road ahead is long, but we are not alone.
Even the Son of God did not carry the burdens of the world by himself. Why should we?