Resting = Trusting in God's Grace
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I just want to acknowledge right now that I know it’s the Fourth of July. I could preach about the problems or potential of the United States. We could take a close look at the ideals of the Founding Fathers (and point out that there were no Founding Mothers). We could talk about how Thomas Jefferson didn’t believe in miracles, including Jesus’s resurrection. We could ponder Christianity and nationalism.
But I think we’re tired. Overwhelmed. Depleted. Weak.
And I think the Spirit has a message for all that today—facilitated by our dear friend Paul of Tarsus.
Paul’s entire second letter to the Corinthians is an exploration of what makes a follower of Christ powerful, worthy, faithful. He’s basically in a theological debate with other apostles of his time about what makes a good disciple. His opponents have accused him of exploiting the community coffers. Paul strikes back by accusing them of relying on their rhetoric and cleverness and claims of religious visions. And let’s be real: Paul is doing and claiming the exact same things as his rivals—he just happens to be a smarter and smoother talker. He’s more convincing—maybe. We actually don’t have the original arguments and accusations made against him. We just have Paul’s side of the story—which probably speaks to the fact that he’s more convincing.
And I don’t want to take anything away from him: underneath his bluster and incisive critique is some beautiful belief about what it means to follow Christ. In the epistle we heard today, Paul claims that Jesus told him (in one of those religious visions he accused his rivals of boasting about), “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
I think this is an idea we tend to like more in theory than in practice. In theory, we love that Jesus, the Son of God, who presumably had all the power of the universe at his fingertips, chose instead to become a victim, to lay down his life in an act of humility. In practice, we as a culture look for every reason to blame victims for somehow causing their own suffering, while we celebrate those who dominate.
In practice, we kick grace to the curb, accounting for any pain or privilege in the world as earned in some way. I’m poor because I didn’t work hard enough. I’m sick because I didn’t take care of myself. I make more money because I worked harder than everyone else.
In our world, weakness doesn’t earn power, only strength does.
This unconscious rejection of grace seeps into every part of us. After all, the cultural currency of our time is in claiming how busy we are. It seems innocent enough. We may even say it with regret or lament, but we still have to say it. “I’ve been working 60, 70, 80 hours a week.” In the priest world, it’s “I’m three-quarters time, but everyone knows I work way more than full time.” Parents schedule every hour of their kids’ days. When we have free time, we find every kind of “productive” way to fill it—with home improvement projects or yard work.
And I’m not saying having activities are necessarily bad things. Some of us garden or build things as a prayer practice. It’s more about the attention and intention we give our time. Are we cleaning the house because it will bring us peace and satisfaction, or are we cleaning because we have free time that we’re supposed to use “productively”?
The implication is that how much we work, how much time we spend on “productive” activities, indicates our worth.
Busy-ness is our currency today, just as rhetoric and cleverness and claims of religious visions were the currency for apostles in Paul’s time.
Which brings us to the pandemic. The pandemic threw a wrench in our busy-ness. Our jobs changed, our social lives changed, our kids’ activities changed. I remember at the beginning of lockdown how everyone, including me, was scrambling to reinvent our busy-ness. Meetings and conferences and happy hours moved to Zoom. Frantic runs to the hardware stores for new projects in the homes we were now locked in. Aspirations to learn Spanish or how to paint. New workout routines.
And again, I’m not saying any of this was bad, but I am saying that when the world slowed down, we did our best to try to speed it up again. At first.
But then, eventually, I think we all settled into a new way of being. Our Spanish lessons fell by the wayside. There was nothing left to fix in our houses. Our workplaces had finally accepted that the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere and made temporary changes permanent.
We slowed down. We reluctantly settled into the notion that we don’t have to be so productive, so busy. And honestly we had to. Because we couldn’t hold off feeling our loss forever. And yes, we all experienced loss. Our country lost over 600,000 people to covid. More than the total population of my home state of Wyoming.
Some of us had friends and family who died during this time, and we couldn’t even say goodbye in person. Some of us lost our jobs. Some of us lost relationships because of disagreements about wearing masks. We all lost our connection to community in some way because we couldn’t be physically together—at church, at school. We lost our sense of safety.
We slowed down, and our lives changed. We let go of our worth being determined by our busy-ness. We let ourselves feel our weakness, even if we didn’t really like it. We let ourselves settle into grace.
But now the world is opening! Mask mandates are going away, restaurants are at full capacity, and we can hug! And I have to admit, a lot of it feels good. It feels good being back here with you. It feels good chanting at Thorns games with 25,000 other supporters. Some of the loss has been alleviated.
But you know what else this means? Back to the busy-ness! Who needs grace anymore? We can earn our worth again!
Grace is a tricky thing. If you google “grace,” the main definition you’ll find is “God’s unmerited favor.” Or “God’s love despite how terrible we are.” All of the definitions are framed around sin, which can be helpful. I definitely want to know that God still loves me even when I screw up.
But even though we believe that God will love us even when we screw up, it seems that we still think we have to work hard to be worthy—of love, of thriving, of care.
So maybe we need to look at grace from a different angle. Maybe we need to look at it more as, “we are inherently enough because God created us.” Work, busy-ness, productivity can’t earn us God’s love because we already have God’s love.
Knowing that God loves us, that God wants love for the whole world, is what should inspire how we live, move, and have our being—not fear that we’re not doing enough.
“I am enough because God created me.” I just want to invite you to put your hand on your heart, if you’re comfortable doing that, take a deep breath, and say it with me, “I am enough because God created me.” Let’s take another breath...and say it one more time: “I am enough because God created me.”
That’s what grace means.
And that’s why I’m inviting our St. Luke’s community into a time of rest for the rest of the summer. As I wrote in our newsletter this week, I've asked our ministry team leaders to do only what is absolutely essential to maintain their ministries. Our Vestry will not be meeting in July, and I have scaled back my meetings and obligations so that I can also rest. In the coming weeks, I will be inviting each of us to find ways to help us rest, and we will be creating ways to gather and sit with all we've been through.
In order to heal from this extraordinarily challenging time, we need to slow down.
Resting is one big way to demonstrate our trust in God’s grace. We don’t have to keep proving our strength, our worth, our faith. We just have to know that we are enough because God created us.