WORSHIP November 13 11:00 Traditional Worship Service
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Luke 6:20-31 “Walking with the Weary”
Do not grow weary in doing what is right. These are words that Paul wrote to a church in a city called Thessalonica. It had been one of the churches he helped to start on his missionary journeys. It was one of the many faith communities he cares about, and he is concerned about their ability to keep going, so he gives them this word of encouragement. He gives them this word to help motivate them to help inspire them to keep on living out their faith and working hard to do what is right.
Do not grow weary…it is a noble thing to say, but so often it is a hard not to feel weary when there are so many things in the world that can sap our energy. In fact, I bet many of you walked in here this morning feeling a little weary. I bet many of you who are watching us online have something going on in your life which is just a little exhausting. Maybe you are feeling physical weary. Your body is getting older and everything is just a little harder to do than it used to be. Maybe you are recovering from an illness or an injury that has been making it difficult to function. Perhaps you are exhausted from balancing the demands of a job, family, and extra activities. Perhaps you are a parent or grandparent weary from trying to connect with your kids or grandkids and nothing seems to be getting through to them. Maybe you’re weary from a financial strain you are dealing with. Maybe you are weary from the daily bombardment of tragic news from around the world. Maybe you are weary from the recent election cycle of negative attack ads, flyers in the mail, and political discourse which seems more concerned with mudslinging and making enemies out of opponents than it does with actually addressing the issues and working together to solve problems.
Whatever it is, there are plenty of things that can cause us to feel a little weary. So while the words of Paul are meant to be encouraging, they can also fall flat upon our souls because we know all too well that exhaustion of our spirits is a real thing. It can be hard to keep doing what is right when we are tired and wondering if it all makes a difference anyway. Sometimes, then, what we need is something outside of ourselves to get us going again. We need a voice beyond our own to call us back into action—to call us to move again even in the midst of our exhaustion so that our spirits can be renewed by an encounter with God’s presence.
Father Gary Caster recalls a time in his life when he had such an experience working with Mother Teresa at one of the Sisters of Charity hospice homes in Washington DC. He was a young man studying for the priesthood and working full time as a teacher when he also volunteered to help the Sisters of Charity with physical labor as they were setting up their new facility. As he was working there, Mother Teresa came to visit so he had a chance to meet her. One night as he was going home after doing his volunteer work she told him, “You will come tomorrow to do the overnight shift at the shelter.” Father Gary said he had responded that he wasn’t sure he could make it because he had so much going on with his seminary studies and his teaching duties. But as he left Mother Teresa just repeated again, “You will come.”
Father Gary was tired and not sure how he wanted to respond to the request which sounded more like a command. He decided the next day, however, that he could manage one night and showed up to do a volunteer shift at the hospice shelter. As a part of his rounds, he had to take care of a man who was dying of AIDS. He put on the gown and other requisite gear and began to attending to the man. He gave him a bath, helped him dress, then started to leave the room. Before he got outside of the door, however, the man asked the young priest if he could hold his hand. Father Gary paused for a moment, then said he could sit for a while. The man reached out his hand and the young man grasped it gently in his own. He doesn’t remember how long it was, but Father Gary said the man didn’t say much he just kept holding his hand. He just wanted to know someone was there with him. Father Gary talks about the impact this experience had on his journey of faith. It was a profound moment when he realized that such a simple act could mean so much to someone else. He wasn’t a doctor, a nurse, or family member. He was just a stranger doing some volunteer work, yet the man reached out to him. The man trusted him enough to be vulnerable and ask for his presence. In the process Father Gary said he felt God’s presence. He felt blessed by the man’s request even though he was one doing the caregiving. He had been glad he had listened to Mother Teresa when she had said “You will come.”
Jesus makes a similar calling to his disciples in the passage we heard from the Gospel of Luke this morning. In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus lifts up how God’s blessing is for people that the disciples may not have believed were blessed before. Those who are poor, hungry or grieving do not seem to be blessed. Quite the opposite. Yet this is who Jesus is lifting up. Is he saying that these kinds of folks have a good life? That they are happy about the situations they are in? How can that be?
To figure out some of what Jesus might have meant, it may be helpful to look more closely at the Greek word that is translated as “blessed.” The word is makarios, and it’s meaning is a little more nuanced than what we get from the English word happy. The idea behind makarios is that something is made “large” or “lengthy.” When God “blesses” us, God “extends” God’s benefits to us. God “enlarges” the mercy given to us. God “lengthens” charity in our direction.
What Jesus might be saying then is not so much that being in these kinds of situations is necessarily a good thing or a reason to be happy, but rather that God’s love can extend even to folks who are in these situations. God’s mercy is still with the poor, the hungry and grieving, even if the world doesn’t think so. If these are folks that God’s blessing can be given to, then they are folks the disciples are called to walk with as well. As Jesus will say later on in the chapter, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” In other words, if God has walked with you when you are weary then you can walk with others when they are weary too.
This last Friday our nation celebrated Veteran’s Day. It is good that we have this day once a year, because we can easily forget that veterans are a group in our society that can feel especially weary from the trauma they have experienced. Each day, 17 veterans in the United States die by suicide, according to a report released last year by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a shocking number that Richard Casper, an Iraq combat vet himself is determined to bring down by reaching out to vets who have suffered brain injuries or post-traumatic stress along with suicidal thoughts. He is the founder of CreatiVets. Since it was launched in 2013, CreatiVets has helped more than 850 veterans through its songwriting and other arts programs.
Casper says that “With all these injuries—physical, psychological, moral—we’re trying to find a positive way of helping vets look at their stories. Songwriting helps repurpose memories,” he says. The non-profit founder shares how his own struggles with post-traumatic stress left him suicidal until he began creating sculpture and music. “Art and music can save veterans’ lives. It changed me.”
A recent participant who is being positively affected by the program is U.S. Army veteran KC Shaw, a 41-year-old former master sergeant who spent 20 years fighting in Iraq and slipping unnoticed into battle zones as a member of the special operations forces. He began his two-decade military career as an idealistic recruit who enlisted the day after 9/11, but over the years became a broken soldier, damaged by the carnage of war, losing friends in battle and a sense of self. Once back home, he had to pick up the pieces. “It was like I was in a deep, dark, cave and didn’t know how to get out,” says Shaw of his lowest point. “It felt like the easiest way to get rid of that pain is to end yourself.”
Shaw was flown to Nashville as a part of the CreatiVet program to work with nationally known singers and songwriters. An older veteran was assigned as a volunteer to meet with him as well as to walk with him through the process and be a support. For Shaw, who finally found help through both traditional therapy and art therapy as well as medication, the songwriting experience is one more step toward a healthier life — and a way to spread the message that things can get better.
A volunteer with the program says the experience can be profound for the vets who go through it. “I’ve seen military men and women with a tough outer shell weep,” he said. “It’s a place for healing to begin.”
Veterans and musicians walking with those who are weary and finding the blessing of healing. Such blessing can come through just simple acts of listening closely and helping someone process their experience through art. What is a way you could bring such blessing? Who could you walk with who is weary? Is there a caregiver who’s loved one you could sit with for a couple hours so they could go get a cup of coffee? Is there a parent who might be overwhelmed and could use some time to go to the gym? Is there someone who is weary of being alone and could use an invitation to lunch?
I don’t know how you walked in here this morning, but as you walk out I want you to remember that you are blessed. I want you to remember that God’s mercy has been extended to you. God’s love has been enlarged to include you. And no matter how weary you might feel, you can trust that God reaches out through Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, you can keep going because I am walking with you”
-Pastor Erik Goehner