First Reading: Psalm 40:1-11
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
The Psalms are a guidebook for prayer – and in Psalm 40, which we heard earlier, we find the prayer of a person who’s been rescued from some great calamity—and that same person is asking God to continue to show up, to be with them, to be attentive to what they need. And they promise to share the story of God’s providence for them with the whole people of God.
It’s a solid psalm to keep in your back pocket for those moments when you get to pause and catch your breath.
And it’s also a really good reminder for us that even and especially when things are hard and you don’t know how you’re going to make it through, God is with you.
But this isn’t just a “you and Jesus against the world” action movie, either.
Usually, when pastors pull out the chunk of 1 Corinthians we’re about to hear, it’s because we want to remind you that you have something to give. But today, I want us to listen for the ways this passage calls us to be connected to one another – to be interdependent – rather than just focus on what each part of the Body of Christ can do.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
To make a very long sermon very short:
Paul reminds us here that no one is disposable. None of us are the baby teeth or the appendix in the Body of Christ.
And more importantly, no matter how small or insignificant you may feel, you are important to this body and you are worth taking care of.
As we discussed a bit in December, everybody has stuff – histories, conflicts, secrets. Ideally, everybody would also have all of the support and resources they need to not get overwhelmed by their stuff.
But we don’t live in an ideal world.
How many of us, in the last week or so, have felt overwhelmed?
What overwhelms each of us is going to be different – we’re in lots of different life stages, with different family and community makeups, different jobs and different physical issues. But I want to give y’all a visual that I think will help sort out what kind of help or care we might need.
Each of us carries an invisible bucket around. In that bucket, we put all of our worries and fears and anxieties. Thus, it’s called The Anxiety Bucket.
At the bottom of our anxiety bucket is what I like to call Existential Anxiety. This is the anxiety that keeps us alive, reminding us that we need food, water, shelter, etc.
The next layer of anxiety is called Chronic Anxiety. These are long-term worries, usually about the past or the future: are the kids going to turn out okay, why did I say that awkward thing 15 years ago, long-term family conflicts, any trauma you’ve experienced, chronic medical issues, etc.
Everyone carries around a different amount of Chronic Anxiety, which leaves a different amount of room for the final layer – Situational Anxiety.
Situational Anxiety is generally short-term spikes in anxiety – the furnace breaks, everybody has norovirus, you have three places you’re supposed to be all at once three days in a row, etc.
The general idea with the anxiety bucket is this: when the bucket overflows, bad things happen. Those negative reactions can affect each of us in different ways.
You might snap at the people you love or yell at the kids for no apparent reason. You might isolate yourself from loved ones, cutting off the people who might most be able to help you.
Sometimes, it’s your body that reacts – headaches, exhaustion, disordered eating (either eating too much or eating too little), grinding your teeth, or even numbing those negative feelings with drugs or alcohol.
Some of us take refuge in our minds – you start spinning wildly impossible worst-case scenarios and start prepping for the Zombie apocalypse. You might throw yourself into a project or research or a video game to distract your brain. Or, on the other hand, you might focus so intensely on a particular problem that you lose touch with the rest of the things that are important to you.
Some of us can walk around pretty comfortably without spilling our buckets all over each other – but some of us live right at the edge, all day every day.
Here’s the thing: we all have coping mechanisms that we rely on when things get hard. But some of those coping mechanisms are healthier than others – and when the anxiety bucket overflows, and we start hitting the really unhealthy and unhelpful parts of ourselves, then we risk doing more damage to ourselves, to our relationships, and to our world.
So how do we bail out the anxiety bucket?
The first line of defense is self-care – these are things we can do on our own that refresh us. Take a break. Vent. Set some tighter boundaries around your time and your energy. Do something soothing, whether it’s snuggling with the dog or organizing a drawer or doing something creative. Eat something healthy. If you can, move your body – take a walk, stretch, throw a baseball around, do yoga, whatever. Pray or meditate for a few minutes.
Honestly though, most of those things work best when you’re trying to get through some situational anxiety. They can take the edge off, but a long walk probably won’t do much for your worries about your retirement account.
The next level is what I like to call Community Care. This is what Paul was talking about when he said “when one member suffers, all suffer with them – and when one rejoices, all rejoice together.”
It can also be the hardest for us to ask for, because it involves being vulnerable: asking folks to pray for you and with you, spending some time talking through those big things with someone you trust, celebrating small victories and milestones with the people you love.
This is like sticking a tap into the middle of the anxiety bucket: you can get at some of that chronic anxiety when you have the support of a beloved community. It might still be there, but you’ll have a release valve before you get to the overflow point.
But if you really want to chip away at that chronic anxiety, I still highly recommend some professional care. Whether it’s figuring out how to be healthier in the middle of some dysfunctional relationships, dealing with long-term anger, excavating some of the most painful parts of your past or dreaming about a better future, a good counselor can help you go through that bucket cup by cup, without judgment.
One more thing:
I know we’re all built to be as independent as physically possible. And when we’re immersed in that stiff-upper-lip culture, asking for help can feel like failure. But I saw this great cartoon the other day that put a different spin on what that means for us.
It had some cute drawings of baby animals, and it said:
“Animals learn their most important survival skill first. An hours-old foal can run, and a newly-hatched snake can bite. What do babies do? They cry. Your most important survival skill is asking for help.”
Humans were never meant to do life alone. We see this in Scripture over and over and over again, from the beginning to the end. So please, let us have the privilege of caring for you when you need it – let us hold you in prayer and feed you and cry with you, because you really are worth taking care of.
God is faithful. God’s love is steadfast. God’s presence goes with you wherever you go—from the highest of heights to your desk on Monday morning to the depths of the sea and the darkest midnights. And God calls each of us, as individuals and as the body of Christ, to love as Jesus loved – seeking healing and hope for all people.
We are messy and imperfect, and we may very well be crazy, but we are not alone. And that is good news.