I don’t know about you but reading Jesus’s charge to the disciples in this week’s gospel was a little exhausting. Let’s recap: they were to spread the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. They were to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. To be the labourers of the harvest that he had planted. No small task, indeed. If it is exhausting, well, the second lesson reminds us somewhat sternly, “Endurance produces character.”
It is a lot – especially after these last few months. We are beginning to see some light, even if science warns us that it may be only temporary. But we are tired. We feel disheartened. We just want life to be easy. We want to know: where do we go from here?
And yet, our responsibility does not fade because we are tired. Our faith should not lie fallow because we have endured so much. So, what should be the nature of a rest in this moment of pause before the next wave crashes upon us?
We must be ready. Make ourselves resilient. We must, as Jesus did, prepare the harvest and become ready to reap it when the time comes.
Mental health research suggests there are five components to positive mental health. Having a community connection. Exercising. Learning a new skill. Being mindful. And volunteering. In many ways, we have instinctively sought out those essentials – taking more time outside, cooking, and picking up hobbies, and trying to be more thoughtful. In other ways, those essentials in our lives have been denied to us this past spring. But now we have a chance, if in a new normal, to reclaim parts of them. We may see one another in small groups while physically distancing. We can return to the parks and play sports in limited ways. It has been harder to do the volunteering in the traditional sense, but we can think outside the box – and to achieve the new normal, a great many volunteers will be necessary.
If we are to follow the call of Jesus, we must prepare the harvest in this quiet time. Where we are frayed and weary, we need to rejuvenate. Where we are disheartened, we must learn resilience. We can do that by following those five essentials – indeed each one of them was taught by Jesus in the gospel.
Too often, we react to a problem after it has already happened. That is one takeaway lesson from these past months. But now we have a moment to prepare. Each one of us must take these tasks seriously, so that we are ready to do the labourer’s role when the time comes.
These past weeks, the message of the gospel has been one of outward service – just as it is today. And the job is a big one, full of risk: we are sheep sent among wolves; as the second lesson says, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Of course, none of us can be wise or innocent all the time — perhaps, on hard days, not even most of the time. But we know it is much harder to be both of those qualities when we are burned out, anxious, and depressed. That is when patience is short, tempers flare, and mistakes happen. That is when we give up and lose hope.
Our faith is a guidebook first and foremost to the service of others – the list we hear this morning. To be healers, to be labourers, to be light-bringers. Sometimes, that focus may suggest that self-care is selfish, by comparison, that it is time wasted when we could be doing better. But in fact, we must all prepare our minds and bodies for the work of laboring on behalf of the gospel.
This is what we know, what we have learned. The time is coming again when there will be more healing to be done, more support to be offered, and more care to be given. At that time, we will have to step up, again, even as we also deal with the stress and anxiety ourselves. To be strong, we must train.
So, may we focus this way: take that list from Jesus and ask ourselves – how can we carry out that mission? What skills do I need to do this work? What preparation must I do to be ready? How can I be a healer, a labourer, a light-bringer where the need is greatest and the suffering highest?
I suspect many of those answers will come down to those five essentials. To be resilient, we require the support of community, like the one that Jesus created for himself. To endure, we need to exercise, so we can physically keep up. To be strong, we need to practice mindfulness, so that we give our busy brains a rest, perhaps through prayer, perhaps in nature. To do the work, we may need to acquire a new skill – whether it’s mental health first aid, or even just practising the skills of listening to and hearing another person. And then to find value and purpose in life, to make true our faith, we must go out in service for others.
A mindful, resilient, giving mind is not only a faithful one; it is an empathetic one. And surely, what we all need to both practise and receive, now and in the time to come, is empathy. Let us prepare for the labour to which Jesus calls us, so that we are ready – and able – to provide it to those most in need.
Todays readings are from the 2ndSunday after Pentecost—June 14, 2020