Created to Care
Text: I Corinthians 12:14-27
Every so often I hear a phrase that lingers, a phrase not quickly forgotten. I heard just such a phrase recently – “condemned to care.” It is an odd phrase with an unusual combination of words. I cannot say that I like this phrase. It makes “care” feel like a heavy burden, a joyless obligation. It makes me wonder if genuine care can ever be obligatory.
There is a much more commonly used phrase that is in competition with “condemned to care.” I myself have used this phrase with some frequency ever since I could toddle. It is the phrase, “I don’t care.”
The little brother snatches his sister’s favorite toy and in great defiance, she yells at him, “I don’t care.” The teacher tells the student that unless she improves her study habits, she is going to fail the course, to which the belligerent student replies, “I don’t care.” The spouse announces, “I’ve had all that I can take; I’m leaving” and the other spouse shouts back, “Frankly, I don’t care.”
You and I sometimes go to great extremes to establish why we don’t care. “I can’t help the fact that Joe can’t hold a job. I can’t worry about him. I’ve got my own problems to deal with.” “Don’t tell me that those foreigners crossing our borders are my concern. They shouldn’t even be here. They are here illegally and I’ve got more important things to worry about.” “I am not losing a minute’s sleep over the guy with the ‘feed me’ poster at the Interstate exit. And don’t tell me that I should. He’s not my problem.” I don’t care. I don’t care. Do you hear what I am saying? I don’t care.
And sadly, the more we say it, the more we don’t care. And as our care for others diminishes, our world grows smaller and smaller. We reserve our care only for those we deem deserving – our spouse, our partner, our children, and maybe a dog, maybe a cat.
We may give a heart’s inch of care for a distant relative, but that is it. Those are enough for whom to care. Caring for those few alone can bring more trial and heartbreak than we can stand. So, we restrict our care and the more we do, the more our “I don’t care” attitude moves from being a defense mechanism to being a sad statement of fact.
This matter of care is hardly a modern dilemma. In writing Christians in Corinth, Paul faces the same issue. He addresses a church divided. Some follow Paul. Some follow Peter. Some follow Apollos. Those who follow Paul don’t care for those who follow Peter. Those who follow Apollos don’t care for those who follow Paul, and so it goes.
Paul reminds his friends in Corinth that in Christ they are not “condemned to care”; rather, by God’s grace, they are created to care. The metaphor he uses to make his point is the human body. In order for the body to function well the hands need the arms and the legs need the feet and the feet need the toes. Paul writes, “Now Christ’s body is yourselves, each of you with a part to play in the whole.”
If Paul were standing here today, he would remind us that despite all our “condemned to care” and “I don’t care” rhetoric that you and I are intimately related to each other. We are connected not necessarily through DNA or by any match we might make on Ancestry.com. We are related to each other by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, by that same Spirit you and I are created to care, you and I have been given the privilege to care.
In another powerful phrase in the Corinthian letter, Paul speaks to what it means to care and to care deeply. He writes, “If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” Substitute the words “person” and “everyone” for “parts” and you can track Paul better. “If one person is hurt, everyone shares their pain. If one person is honored, everyone shares their joy.”
To be a child of Christ, then, means that you and I are not “condemned to care” or that we “could care less,”; no, you and I are created to care even when it is hard to do so and it extends to people with whom we fundamentally disagree.
Now, the way that you and I care will be as different as we are. For as Paul goes on to say, “As it is, God has put all the separate parts into the body as God chose. If they were all the same part, how could they be a body?” We are not created to care in the same way, and yet, in countless ways, we are created to care.
Surely there are times when each of us suffers from “compassion fatigue.” We grow weary of caring about people and situations about which there is no change in sight. We can also grow resentful of caring about the world’s problems when few others do. But, in Paul’s first letter to his friends in Corinth, we gently overhear these words, “God does not grow weary in loving you, in caring for you. You are precious in God’s sight every morning, every night, every day.” Chew on those words of assurance long enough and soon you’ll find the energy to care, you’ll find new ways to care. You will certainly learn that you are not “condemned to care.”
As you look around your neighborhood, your classroom, your office, your pew, who is quietly or not so quietly awaiting your care? Who is trying to hold together a marriage that is unraveling at the seams? Who is trying to keep an impossible boss satisfied? Who is worried sick about a child who is no longer a child but still is acting like one? Who is waiting for lab results or is about to start a round of chemo or radiation or is wearing grief like a heavy sweater? Just pause for a moment to look around, to look and to listen, and you will find plenty of folks within arms’ reach who are awaiting our care.
And, often, it does not take nearly as much to care as you and I think it might. A warm look, a hand placed gently on a slumping shoulder, a kind smile, an invitation for a cup of coffee, a casserole made and delivered, a card sent, a phone call made. It can be as simple as a long handshake and as hard as sitting with someone while they receive some dreaded news.
In my worst moments, in our worst moments, we can resent that we are created to care. We can even feel as if we are "condemned to care." I can hear the ugly thoughts that sometimes climb into my brain: “Look, nobody is going out of their way to care for me, to care for my family, why should I go out my way to care for them?” “Look, people need to learn to stand on their own two feet. My care only keeps them from standing.”
And, just when these ugly, ill-founded thoughts start to take hold, God looks down upon me and says, “Gary, you are so wrong. If you never remember anything else, remember that I care for you in more ways that you can possibly imagine. And as I care for you, so you are to care for others. You are not ‘condemned to care’, as if ‘caring’ were a plague that Christians have to suffer. You are created to care, privileged to care, and not just for each other, not just for yourselves, but for all of this beloved world.”
I think about our call to care when the poet Mary Oliver writes these words, “There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own” (Moments). At the close of another of her poem’s, “The Summer Day,” Oliver ends with a question. It is the question that Paul asks of the church in Corinth. It is the question that confronts us with each passing hour, with each new day. The poem asks us,
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
I can’t pretend to answer that question for you, but with Paul as our guide, I would suggest that the answer to that question will never be right until it includes diving “headlong,” diving “heart first” into a life of care, within a community of care.
But I am telling you only what you already know, what you already do. For you preach the sermon about care with your lives and it is a magnificent sight to see.
On my best days, I seek to join you.