Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor, writes on her blog that she had a moment of clarity of how things are affecting her these days, after a super loud muscle car tore down her street blasting music and she shouted some choice words at the driver out her door. Yes, she is a pastor. Could the driver hear those words, probably not, did someone else on her street, well maybe.
This incident got her thinking about circuit breakers. She writes about how she once lived in a really old apartment building with not great electrical wiring, made before electric appliances were in frequent use. Every time she forgot herself and used a hair dryer while the stereo was on, she would trip a fuse.
She realized that our situation these days is like that. There are so many dire situations that call for our attention- the rise of power of the Taliban and the danger and destruction that is going to mean for so many Afghanis; the fires burning wreaking havoc where they are and their smoke particles in the air burning our throats; the tragic earthquake in Haiti as that nation was still trying to figure out an urgent complicated political situation; this delta variant that keeps picking up speed in its spread, hospitals running out of room and now even young ones dying from it. So many situations that tug on our hearts, we want to DO something but in many cases the situation is so complex or so removed from what is in our hands to do, that it trips our circuit and we want to just collapse in a puddle, our frustration with the human pain all around us is overwhelming and so we are irritable or downright mean to people just living their lives around us.
Or we might just start tuning everything out. This is sometimes called compassion fatigue, and I think many of us might be suffering from it, or coming in and out of it in waves. That is what I would say about myself, in and out of compassion fatigue, in waves.
Waves. Today we hear about Jesus and his disciples, the verses start where those sent learners we heard about last week return to Jesus and want to tell him all about what they have done and taught. He sent them to preach, to heal, to cast out demons, and they have done it. But there are so many people around them knowing there is a whole team that can attend to them, so Jesus realizes they need to draw away for awhile. Come with me, just us, we’ll go somewhere quiet and rest, and they go off to a solitary place, they take a little boat trip.
There was so much need around them, it was never going to stop. Jesus has them draw away to just be. To recharge, to reflect on what they have done, to have something to eat. But while they are on the boat, people run on shore to beat them where they are going.
I like to think that maybe just while on the boat, that trip amongst the waves, the disciples were able to relax a little. Enjoy the openness of the sky, the refreshment of the water around. Maybe they laughed a little with Jesus, kept telling those stories, rejoicing at how God had been at work through them.
Then they land on shore again, and there is a large crowd. Instead of sending people away so they can have their private dinner and retreat, Jesus sees they are like sheep without a shepherd.
They are in need of a leader. So he teaches them, many things. He probably did some of that re-orienting to God’s way and telling people God’s kingdom is coming near, inviting them to turn around back to God, like he had been before.
He has compassion on them. A few verses earlier Jesus had tried to get away, after the boat ride he is moved, the word compassion has an association with a feeling in your gut, he wants to help the people again.
The way of a disciple is a way of compassion and service, balanced out with rest and renewal. By the end of these verses people are constantly piling up those in need of healing to just touch the edge of his cloak, and that is enough for them, just as it was for the woman who reached out in the middle of the crowd.
There are those in this world who will hear of another person’s suffering and say something like, Well too bad for them. It is the same sentiment from the story of Cain and Abel, when Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and maybe that comes from something like compassion fatigue, or not having experienced true care and love at a time in need of that person’s life.
But for a disciple of Jesus, we know the answer is, yes. What we can do to help someone else, is what God expects us to do. We are to do what we need to, to be able to return to a place of compassion, look around and see how we can serve.
Palm UMC does compassion and service pretty well. Remember when we had a celebration of service, almost 2 years ago now, and just about every person in the congregation had done something. That was the day I passed out the little glass bowls and washcloths to symbolize the service aspect of our call to discipleship.
These days, I know, things are complicated, it’s not like life wasn’t complicated before but to serve others in a time of pandemic we have had to get creative. Susan, Janice and Marian continue to give out the little gift bags to shut ins, another kind of bag goes to the Sunday school kids- we have done the Covid grant checks through the District fund, we have had outdoor events for the neighborhood-
You have cared for your neighbors or prayed for them and made phone calls and sent notes-
I am proud of all of that service our church has engaged in, all the ways we have lived out the compassion that Jesus showed and taught, all the ways we have continued to serve.
But even Jesus had to get away with his close buddies now and again- and especially he withdrew to pray. He had a cycle, it seems, a way to balance out giving himself away to others and being refilled by God and by his close circle.
We are in a series on Back to Basics of Discipleship, and my plan was to talk about compassion and service, which are definitely hallmarks of being a disciple of Jesus. But this week it was really clear to me that there is always a cycle, a balance, between compassion and service, and rest and renewal.
I am asking us to reflect on different questions every week lately. I would like during this whole series, for you to consider for yourself, in what area is God calling me to grow as a disciple? Last week, go- do something, say something- as Jesus has sent us to do. If you thought of something to do, did you do it? It took me until Friday but I got to it.
This week, let’s take a reading on our circuit. Are we being overloaded, has the circuit breaker already been tripped? Is there just too much to care about? Is it taking a toll on us or are we taking it out on others around us?
How can you carve out time, and if it’s only moments of deep breathing, that’s what it is- but how can you carve out time for refreshment, renewal, rest with Jesus so that you can flip that circuit breaker switch back?
After Pastor Nadia had her realization of how her overloaded circuit was the reason behind her shouting at a loud car, she found a way to flip the switch back, she prayed and asked God to bless that person.
May we find the rest and renewal we need, even in these crazy times, so that the compassion and service we have known in Jesus can move through us again.