Sermon for October 18, 2020
Text: Galatians 6:7-10
For me, one of the saddest consequences of the pandemic and the forced isolation that has been imposed upon us is the expectation of self-sufficiency. In being asked to “shelter in place,” we have had to figure out how to go it all on our own. We are holed up in little bunkers, some of us, getting groceries delivered, some ordering stuff on Amazon, some learning technology we hadn’t imagined we’d ever need to learn, some coming up with creative ways to do things (like me making videos for online worship or using Zoom as a platform for Bible study; others have devised meals with extended family on Zoom or in their backyards, created parades to celebrate birthdays and graduations — our recent Annual Conference, conducted on Zoom, is another example of such innovation). “Necessity is the mother of invention,” it is said, and that has certainly been true over the past several months. This crisis, as most crises do, has brought out gifts in us that we didn’t know we had. Many of those gifts have been incubated, though, because we have spent a lot of time by ourselves, with the idea that we are supposed to be self-reliant.
You may remember what Pastor Monique-Cheri Pierre said about self-sufficiency in her message last week: that self-sufficiency is one of the obstacles (along with forgetfulness and distraction) to being connected to Christ. And even those who are not people of faith will agree that this enforced state of expected self-sufficiency has taken a great toll on our society at large. The rates of depression, poor school performance, domestic violence, substance abuse, and the bitterness of political acrimony in this election year, are deeply disturbing.
In spite of the expectation placed upon us to be self-sufficient, and the strong value, in our nation, of so-called “independence,” the message of faith is that we are not hard-wired to be self-serving. We were made, by our Creator, to serve others, to be in connection, and to be interdependent. Self-sufficiency is an illusion.
The temptation to self-sufficiency was here long before COVID-19, and long before the founding of our nation. In his letter to the church at Galatia in the first century, Paul issues harsh words of warning: “Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation” (v. 8). Those words rang as true then as they do today.
In this time of isolation, I think we are especially seeing how this plays out. Staying focused only on ourselves, on our well-being, our survival, begins to take a toll. I believe it is part of what is at play in this very divisive political climate of ours, the lack of respect, the demonizing of the other. Staying focused on only ourselves wears on the spirit; it drains us. Turning inward for too long diminishes us as human beings. It impairs our thinking. It shrivels our prayer life. And I would not be surprised to learn that it lowers our life expectancy, impacts us physically as well as emotionally and spiritually.
But turning our service outward brings an almost immediate boost in energy, a rising of hope and even happiness, along with a sense of connectedness, rootedness and place, a reminder of who we are, of our humanity, and our connection with the divine, a flowing of grace.
We hear frequently of “compassion fatigue” — but service (that is, doing something, not just helplessly watching) more often gives us energy. I find that doing good doesn’t really make you tired. There is such a thing as “good tired” (like “good trouble,” to quote Sen. John Lewis). When you are doing good, even when the work is hard — when you are doing good for the benefit of others, especially for those who don’t have a reason to expect it from you, and who don’t have the ability to pay you back in kind, that kind of “tired” can bring you back to life, and back to yourself, to the person you were meant to be.
A key challenge of this COVID-19 crisis — and of being the church now — is how to stay focused on service to others when public health guidelines require us to keep our distance. It requires the creativity that we have already begun to harness in our efforts to get our own needs met.
For those of us who are used to serving from home, it has come naturally: to make masks and engage in quilting or knitting projects, or to write cards and letters of comfort or political advocacy, for example. For those of us who are used to going out in order to serve, it may be harder to make the leap. How do we assure that the hungry are getting fed, the homeless are finding warmth and shelter, and that racism is interrupted and dismantled? Sometimes — in times like these — we have to shift our strategy and tactics, because we don’t have a building to do some of these things in, or groups of people to do these things with. Technology can be our friend, not just for serving ourselves, but for serving others: as a tool for giving, a tool for advocacy, a tool for learning and staying informed, and a tool for connection.
On Saturday afternoon I got an education in using my computer to contribute my efforts to getting out the vote, participating, safely from home, in a phone bank, using Zoom and a sophisticated computer-dialing system, to give my time to talk to voters who had applied in another state for mail-in ballots (a place where that was not automatic). I encouraged them to get their ballots in early, leaving a lot of voicemails, and talking to, and thanking, a few people who had already voted. I was blessed to learn something new, and to make some connections with others. I was a little anxious, at first, about learning the technology, but in the end, felt I had done my part for democracy, to encourage others in exercising their right to vote and to make their voices heard. It was actually kind of fun, which surprised me, because I once quit a telemarketing job after half a day, and I used to be nervous about talking on the phone, or talking to strangers. I’m chalking it up either to a change in me, or to the blessing that comes from focusing on serving others.
(If you’d like to learn more about how you can participate in this effort, let me know!)
And while I’m at it, let me encourage you to cast your ballot.
Let us not get tired of doing good, as Paul says. Let us trust that harvest time is coming. Let us not give up. Let us turn our hearts toward service and toward the needs of others. In so doing, we will not only survive, but thrive. Amen.