Many are the times I said to myself, “Go ahead, keep on eating. You deserve it.” Especially when I’m eating all by myself, and that big jar of peanut butter, or that big carton of ice cream is sitting right in front of me, and no one is there to stop me with an accusing look.
I admit it. I’m a full-fledged member of the “me generation”, and it’s laid down a very persistent culture that seems to egg me on even more in this time of pandemic. “You have to take care of yourself,” I hear so many pastors, counselors, and self-help gurus saying.
But our second reading for this Sunday was written for an even more stressful time; and the Apostle Paul gives lots of advice in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, but none of them encourage self-indulgence. “You are of the day,” Paul says. “Keep awake, keep sober,” he says. “Arm yourself with faith, love, and hope,” he says. And then he concludes this reading with, “encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”
Our first lesson, Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, catches our attention with a vivid metaphor and stark set of warnings. In an oracle, the Lord tells us, “I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.’” In the original Hebrew, that bit about complacency reads literally, “the people who congeal on their dregs.” The people who first heard this would have seen this kind of thing often. When wine was made it was left on the sediment from the grapes just long enough to develop a robust taste and color. If left to set too long on the lees it would congeal into a worthless mess. God is warning us, “You may think you are taking care of yourself with self-indulgence, but you are actually just getting fat, sassy, and worthless.” And as the oracle goes on, “Your silver and gold won’t save you. Your blood will become like dust, and your flesh like dung.”
Look again at 1 Thessalonians, and this day’s concluding exhortation: “Encourage one another and build up each other.” The great good news here is that the Lord has passed on to us the Spirit of caring for others. Jesus died for us that we may live. And in the circle of belonging that God has made us for, and called us to return to, we care for ourselves when we care for each other. This is the way we live. We thrive as part of the great “each other.”
So, it’s not a trade off. There is never a time in our lives when we do better at self care by becoming more self-indulgent and forgetting, even for a moment, the people around us. They are better at lifting us up when we work harder at encouraging them. That’s how God’s circle works.
Too much peanut butter just clogs the veins. A little sip from the wine of Holy Communion is just what we need as we take care of ourselves by caring for others.
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