The Economy of Care
Rev. Leanne Walt
Obedience takes many shapes. The precise contours of Christian living vary from age to age, circumstance to circumstance, making it impossible to consider a set of directives to span the eras and generations. Joining the church on this day takes on a different meaning than it did in 1707 or 1807 or 1977 or 1997. Context changes, culture changes, community changes.
Yet, so often Scripture, as is the case for us this morning in the 1st Psalm and 9th chapter of Mark, leads us down a path of sharp choices, toward a distinct fork in the road – “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ and sorry I could not travel both.” In Psalm 1 we can either take the path of the wicked or the righteous and in Mark we see Jesus place a small child in the midst of the disciples, a symbol of society’s last and least, and declare that the notion of greatness is conceived in terms of our ability to care for the lowly among us. The economy of care that Jesus sets forth is one in which power is derived from our ability to care for the powerless and greatness is made manifest by our ability to respond to those in need.
The economy of care guides and structures our days and obedience to it takes many shapes. I think of the economy of care that ministry has afforded me the opportunity to witness, like a film reel viewed slide by slide…
It wasn’t so long ago when I frequented the sixth floor of the North End Rehab and Nursing Home, taking in the ripe smell of freshly gutted fish on the outskirts of Quincy Market as I passed by in order to make my way to Alice and Leo’s room overlooking the brick streets of the North End. I’d usually find Leo sitting beside Alice’s bed playing solitaire and listening to the Sox game on his small transistor radio. “There’s nothing like catching a ball game on the radio,” Leo would tell me as he recalled Saturdays spent washing his car in the driveway with the game playing in the background or when he and Alice would end their day with a walk at dusk, radio in hand, listening to the play by play at Fenway.
Alice had a rare diseased that was eating away at her bones, preventing her from walking and had progressed to her brain. Against his children’s wishes, Leo decided to sell their home and stay with her in the nursing home, even though as he approached 90 he was fully able to live independently. There he kept with her regular company, through presence and voice, baseball and playing cards, walking with her in the lane of memory and love/hand in hand/ the powerful and the powerless.
The economy of care guides and structures our days and obedience to it takes many shapes reminds the woman who took in her formerly incarcerated son, ever aware of that thin line between love and enablement, yet standing firm in that assured promise of our faith, “that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And those for whom getting loved ones dressed in the morning after a restless night of accompanied bathroom trips is the biggest feat of the day.
Years before my own inauguration into motherhood, I will forever recall the parishioner and mother of five telling me that love happens at 3 a.m. when you’ve been up all night with your sick child standing over the toilet…I have yet to discover this truth for myself…it’s to come, I’m sure.
Much of asked of us in this life – by dependent children and aging parents, troubled siblings and failing spouses. When I consider this congregation and the heart and soul that beats within it, I’m struck by the level of compassion that emanates out from within this very community – by the amount of care you offer others in your lives.
Obedience takes many shapes ~ ministering to the children of our day and time, to the last and the least in our society can come by way of feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, but and it can also come by way of tending to our very own – opening the doors of our hearts and pocketbooks and even homes to family and friends and neighbors who are not strong enough to open doors for themselves.
Much is asked of us in this life and much is asked of us in the church, it seems, and here in this church, much is given in return. For our size we offer a tremendous depth of ministry engaging in our call to stewardship and service, faith and discipleship. Yet, we are not only called here to offer our care to others but to allow ourselves to be cared for, to receive prayers and visits, handwritten notes and casseroles.
Indeed our faith – our worship, prayer, and practice - is active and not passive and we regularly work to heed that call to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, in order to love our neighbor we must first love ourselves and to love ourselves is to know ourselves. Calvin reflected that “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” To know God and to know ourselves is to know when we need care, to be attune to our bodies and minds and our needs versus desires, and to recognize those times and occasions when we need to receive rather than give. When we gain this sense of self, then we can come to this place and allow ourselves to soak in the nourishment of the Spirit in hymns sung, prayers spoken, Word broken open.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. It’s ok to come, rest in the Lord.
Last week I sat at a corner table in Kristin’s restaurant with a pastor from Nashville. He and his wife made the bold decision to uproot their family of five to come to Braintree with the call on their hearts to start a new church. When the bill came at the end of the meal he quickly reached for it and I said, “No, no, no, let’s split it.” He said, “No, I got it.” I said, “No, no, I insist…”
And before I could make my typical plea to pick up the tab, he asked,
“What, you haven’t learned to accept grace?”
It is ok to receive/to allow ourselves to be cared for.
Obedience takes many shapes and we’re called to celebrate our place in God’s economy of care, at once servant of all and the one in need of being served. There’s a depth of compassion operative in this economy that even those who know it fully cannot understand. When our actions are compelled by motivations greater than word or explanation and by a love beyond our comprehension.
When Jesus places the least among us, we are taken to a place where need permeates, and yet care responds;
where helplessness overwhelms, and yet hope abounds;
where hurt lingers, and yet grace prevails.
When we have truly allowed God into our experience of care – we will allow ourselves to be on both ends of it – as the recipient and the giver, knowing that we have God’s permission to accept grace as well as impart it.
 Frost, Robert, “The Road Not Taken”
 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion