Burned Out Savior

Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 9/9/18

Jesus Christ is not his first and last name.  Instead, affirming him as both Son of God and Son of Man simultaneously, he is a comingling of divinity and humanity.  But when it comes to Christology, or the study of Christ, the Church’s scholarship has focused almost entirely on the miraculous healings, the clairvoyant insight, and the supranatural powers. 

Mark, surprisingly, the gospel account closest to the Savior’s life and accepted as the most authentic, has a decidedly low Christology.  The author records an emotional Jesus, a man who raises his voice in anger and rolls his eyes at the disciples, who screams at the storm and weeps on the cross.  And in today’s text, Jesus is having a very human moment.   

Taking seriously the fullness of his humanity and all the imperfections that come along with inhabiting skin, what does Jesus here get wrong?

Mark 7:24-37 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Congregational Responses:

He contradicted every previous ethic.

He slanders a woman already slandered by society.

He doesn’t realize he’s tired.

In seminary, I began seeing a spiritual director.  Bobbi was one of the first women ordained as an Episcopal priest, serving faithfully in the church and classroom.  During our holy time together, we would walk together with intention, or study a sacred text, or pray sometimes using words.  As our soul sharing deepened, I came to rely more and more on her wisdom and trust her guidance as Spirit led.  As graduation neared, I asked  about the habits of ministry that kept her so alive and curious after 35 years.  As clergy, I remember her saying that we’re often taught that Jesus is the only way.  He spilled out his life and broke his body for everyone else; he abstained from his desires and abandoned his own needs; he emptied out his young life as a selfless martyr on the cross and died.  In doing so, he ended up only lasting 36 months in fulltime ministry.  If your intent is to sustain God’s calling from now until retirement, then, perhaps, don’t do what Jesus would do. 

Mark’s Gospel has no birth narrative.  He has no chance to grow into his calling or develop any healthy habits.  Instead, an adult Jesus is immediately baptized into ministry among the suffering masses.  Trying to keep up, he heals a mother-in-law, rebukes an unclean spirit, cleanses the leper, restores a withered hand, resuscitates a girl, stops a woman’s hemorrhage, casts out many demons and feeds 5000 without delay. But the crowds don’t just keep coming, they increase in size and desperation making ministry, even for the Son of God, an overwhelming crush of needs that never quite get met. 

Although he periodically tried to escape for retreat, he could harness the power of God for the good of everyone else but remained powerless to clear his own calendar.  What Jesus gets wrong is the inability to take a weekly break.  To practice God’s most ignored commandment and, regularly embrace Sabbath. 

Saving the world can get exhausting, and when we refuse to rest, we quickly start to act in very unJesus ways. Preaching fairness instead of grace, shrinking the Table instead of adding chairs, and insulting the very women we’ve come to champion, forgetting that being a caregiver always comes with a cost.  Compassion fatigue is real, and the only faithful response is to do less.    

According to a recent study, it happens to 72% of mental health workers and 85% of health care professionals, and 100% of Christians. Or all of us called to the religion of helping. That’s why Karl Barth says, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.” So lock the door and turn off the phone, decline the invitation, and engage in the spiritual disciple of saying, “I’m not available right now.”  “No,” sometimes can be the holiest and most life sustaining word we utter.

There are plenty of Christians worshipping the perfection of Christ for one hour a week.  But if you want to follow Jesus for the rest of your days, then let us learn from his mistake, and take the weekend off.