Colossians 3:12-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[c] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.
3 quotes from Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life found on goodreads.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
“Those who really can receive bread from a stranger and smile in gratitude, can feed many without even realizing it. Those who can sit in silence with their fellow man not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief, and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart, can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.”
“This leaves us with the urgent question: How can we be or become a caring community, a community of people not trying to cover the pain or to avoid it by sophisticated bypasses, but rather share it as the source of healing and new life? It is important to realize that you cannot get a Ph.D. in caring, that caring cannot be delegated by specialists, and that therefore nobody can be excused from caring. Still, in a society like ours, we have a strong tendency to refer to specialists. When someone does not feel well, we quickly think, 'Where can we find a doctor?' When someone is confused, we easily advise him to go to a counselor. And when someone is dying, we quickly call a priest. Even when someone wants to pray we wonder if there is a minister around.”
Let’s all take a moment to bring awareness to our breath. Sometimes it’s easiest to do that with eyes closed so if that is comfortable please close your eyes or softly gaze on the floor, a candle, a banner. As you focus on your breath, slow it down and notice it, breathing in as deeply and gently as possible. Imagine that the breath is coming in and out of your heart. Breathing in through your heart and then out through your heart. As you breathe, activate a feeling of care, compassion, gratitude or appreciation - maybe visualizing a beloved person or pet in your mind’s eye who you deeply care for or appreciate. Continue your heart focused breath and hold this feeling for a moment. As we hold this, let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you oh God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen and thank you.
I want to share with you today about a program we have here at CUCC called Caring Ministry. If you are like me at all, before I was hired as Pastoral Associate with focus on guiding Caring Ministry here, maybe you don’t understand what that is – I know I had a vague idea but not a full one.
Here’s what I have learned. Here at CUCC we have several people who have been trained to offer lay pastoral care to members of our community and currently we have 3 active Caring Ministers, you’ll meet them in a bit. These people visit or regularly call and check in on our Sages, those who are sick, those living in skilled or assisted living communities, those going through a tough time in their life, or those who need a listening ear. They are also in the Prayer Circle, help with the Sages Luncheon and with memorial services if available. There are a myriad of other things that Caring Ministers do and talents/gifts that they share with us as well. If you have ever been trained by this church or another one to be in this kind of role, please raise your hand.
Now some of you might wonder why we need a Caring Ministry group since you have Nicole and me here to offer pastoral care. The truth is, the 2 of us can not do it alone AND, we are all called to care for one another in community – we are all ministers and we are all called to care.
When I was preparing for this sermon, I looked for biblical texts that spoke about caring for others or Jesus calling followers to care. There are a bunch. The last one I found accidently was the Colossians text. It was marked in my Bible with a note because at some point in my life since seminary I apparently participated in a group sermon of some sort utilizing this text though I have no recollection of when or where it was & I don’t recognize the names of the participants who took part though we each took a different characteristic to preach about – my note says my word to preach on was kindness. Anyway, the text spoke to me for lots of different reasons.
Here is a summary of the text, I won’t read it all again: clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This is how I would describe our Caring Ministers. They are people who offer themselves with all of these traits or characteristics. They show up to be in relationship, to be a supportive presence, to listen, to accept what is without needing to fix or judge. They have no agenda except to witness and walk alongside someone who is alone, struggling, sick, living with dementia, grieving or sometimes dying. For sure sometimes a Caring Ministers job is about “doing something” for someone – fix a meal, repair a broken item in a home, install medical equipment, or visit with someone while the caregiver takes a needed break. Mostly the work of Caring Ministry is about simply being with a person offering their listening and presence as a representative of God and this church.
Perhaps that sounds daunting and some of you are thinking, “Thank Goodness we have those Caring Ministers to do that work – I could never do that!” However, a close read of the text in Colossians reveals something else. This is communal work – everyone is called to care not just the leader or a small group of people.
Henri Nouwen also shares that this is a call to the whole community. I love this quote - “This leaves us with the urgent question: How can we be or become a caring community, a community of people not trying to cover the pain or to avoid it by sophisticated bypasses, but rather share it as the source of healing and new life? It is important to realize that you cannot get a Ph.D. in caring, that caring cannot be delegated by specialists, and that therefore nobody can be excused from caring.”
This is to say we are called to care for one another and caring is a joint responsibility of a community called to be in relationship with one another. So again, Caring Ministry involves Nicole & I and the Caring Ministry team to be sure, but it also involves you who are members of this CUCC community.
No sermon from me is truly complete without me talking about horses and the wisdom they share with us. So here is some horse wisdom to add to our reflection this morning.
Horses are dependent on one another, especially in the wild. As a herd animal, they need each other to both survive and thrive as a community, group or band. They recognize that each one has a role in the herd, they genuinely care for one another and if a predator is around, they work together to communicate and move away from the danger and when possible assure that all members of the herd survive. In domestic situations, horses do better when in a herd and often display the same characteristics. I have seen multiple times that when a horse is sick or hurt, the other horses gather around to protect, support and hold space.
Some of you know that in early January of this year one of my horses got critically sick. Acacia was our lead mare, the head of the herd and the other 3 horses looked to her for guidance. In my coaching practice, she was an amazing coach and teacher for clients, often helping people in deep and profound ways. While the vet was there treating her, the 3 of them stood around us watching quietly. When she left and it was just the 5 of us, they would continue to stand around her when they weren’t eating. I tried to let the 3 out to graze in the pasture but they wouldn’t leave the paddock. They didn’t leave her side, staying with her around the clock. Even in the middle of the night when I came out to give medicine and check on her, they were all near her. When it was clear that something catastrophic happened and she was suffering, I made the horrible decision to euthanize. Those horses stood quietly by, holding space for all of us. And then we grieved together – each horse taking his or her turn coming up to her body as if to pay respect. Only then after each one greeted her would they go out to pasture.
Horses have taught me a lot over the years and in that experience, they really taught me about asking for help and taking care of myself. My father used to call me “Miss Independent” and I am not known for asking others for help when I’m hurting or struggling. That afternoon in chaos I knew I couldn’t do this alone and despite my normal “don’t be vulnerable in front of others” front, I took a risk and reached out for help and support. The horses did it, so could I. The vet was amazing. I texted Jai to come home early from work and then texted 2 horse friends, both of whom came in record time. They held space for us to grieve, cried with us, listened. Then when it was time, they helped us with all the logistics that we couldn’t quite think about ourselves. One brought dinner and ate with us. I eventually was able to let others know and the cards, texts, phone calls and emails poured in. The support and care was simply perfect and I know it made a huge difference as we waded through our grief.
In all honesty I didn’t reach out for support from the church. Nicole had only been her for a couple of days and I didn’t want to bother her. I didn’t call a Caring Minister because I didn’t truly know who they were or what training they had. My loss for sure.
I share this story because I bet, I’m not alone in not being great to reach out when I’m hurting or struggling. Maybe you don’t want to bother others. Maybe you think what you are going through is too trivial. Maybe you don’t want to be a burden. Maybe it’s hard to be vulnerable. There are a plethora of reasons we create not to reach out for help and support.
However, just like horses, we humans are social creatures and not made to go through life (the good or hard times) alone. We are inter-dependent and need one another. Asking for care or daring to ask for care may take great courage and strength because our culture has conditioned us to do things on our own. The text from Colossians and the readings from Henri Nouwen all point to something different. To be in authentic, Christian community is to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, support and love so that all know they are surrounded by God’s great love shown through us. This is what community is for, especially caring ones.
I know this congregation is full of loving, caring people and that we each struggle with something at various times in our lives. We can’t get through without help from each other. As Nouwen said we can’t cover or hide pain and expect to be in authentic community. We each give and receive care at times in our lives.
So how do you offer care? Often care happens organically. When you see someone you don’t know sitting by themselves in the sanctuary or standing alone in the fellowship hall, go up and introduce yourself and offer to share your experience her or introduce them around. I watched once as Carol Gibson engaged a relative newcomer who had been coming for a few weeks and got her signed up on the list for a nametag. I know when someone shares in joys and concerns often people go to them after to offer support. We also have the lotsahelping hands website – there was a blurb about it in the e-news last week and it will be in again this week. We’ll continue to have that in the forefront so you can volunteer to help out when someone is need. Maybe you are feeling called to get some training and join our Caring Ministry group – we would love to have you join us. Talk to me or one of the Caring Ministers during the Fellowship Time or call or email if you are interested. And lastly, if you are need of care from this amazing, loving congregation please reach out to me, Nicole or one of the Caring Ministers so we can support you.
We are called to care and be cared for. It’s what makes us a loving an authentic community grounded in the love of God.