A Sermon on Sustainability When We've Hit Month Six of a Pandemic

I didn’t really want to preach this sermon today. Which is odd because I love conversations about sustainability. I didn’t want to preach it because, well, we’re in a pandemic. Nothing is as it was. Which makes me feel like putting off conversations about healthy boundaries and limits and what’s possible and what’s not. We’re in survival mode, it feels.

What about you? Do you know your limits during this season? You may be aware of them after you’ve seen them in the rear view mirror. Or you may see them coming. Or your heart knows, but your habits are so strong that it will take a pretty big breakdown for you to finally admit, maybe, just maybe, you’ve passed your limit in an area of your life.

In fact, there’s an article floating around entitled, “Your Surge Capacity is Depleted -- It’s Why You Feel Awful.” The author, Tara Haelle, writes, “In those early months of the pandemic, I, along with most of the of the country, was using ‘surge capacity’ to operate. Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems -- mental and physical -- that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different -- the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.”

She goes on to say our surge capacity can be renewed, but how might we do that when the emergency phase has now become chronic?

Haelle writes, “This is an unprecedented disaster for most of us but it’s different from a hurricane or tornado where you can look outside and see the damage. The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school and home life that almost none of us have experience with. We underestimate how severe the adversity is and that people may be experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty severe and ongoing, unfolding, cascading disaster. It’s important to recognize that it’s normal to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.”

It is in this reality that we share a fourth value Pastor Ann and myself hold in this season of work together with you. Sustainability.

Sustainability: We will joyfully interrupt white supremacist values of overwork with rest and play. We will commit to being stewards – of self and community.

Before we look at our sacred text for today, I want to share a note on why white supremacy is included in our value statement. Most ears we’ve shared this with have perked up there and wanted to know what that was about.

We named a few characteristics of white dominant culture this summer. A few more of these include perfectionism, competition, power hoarding, individualism, over-working, progress is bigger & more. That paints quite a picture doesn’t it. Some will say, “Well, that’s American.” Yes, this has become a way of life in our country and I hope we can agree that it’s not serving as well. One day, I will write an entire book on this fact. Hustle culture is killing us, especially our younger generations. But to the point today. These norms are normal because of white dominant culture. White ancestors baked them into the fabric of who we are. And many Americans accept them as fact today.

But as Jesus followers, we’re invited to look closely at how the assumed norms of our culture are leading to human flourishing. Or are they leading to a diminishing of life? Ann and I want to joyfully interrupt the white supremacist value of overwork with rest and play. I know some of you will wish I said white dominant culture instead of white supremacy. I understand the charge and electricity behind “white supremacy.”

Here’s why we intentionally say white supremacy. Many in our culture struggle with overwork because it’s an expectation in the air. That’s what culture is. Unspoken and unnamed norms. America is a country built on white supremacy. A belief that whiteness and all its values, goals and beliefs is primary. We live in a country with all that built into our institutions. And until we all bring our full attention and creativity to each system in our country -- to question them, to seek out the roots of white supremacy and then build something better together, we will continue to struggle with white supremacy as a country.

Hope that helps in explaining what we’re seeking to interrupt. I welcome further questions and reflections via email this week!

Let’s take a deep breath...and turn out attention to Psalm 16.

5 You, Lord, are my portion, my cup;

you control my destiny.

6 The property lines have fallen beautifully for me;

yes, I have a lovely home.

The property lines have fallen beautifully for me. I couldn’t shake this phrase from my mind. It made me think of how all the lines, the boundaries of my life have moved, have dissolved, have shifted, have disappeared, have felt constricting, etc.

At month six of navigating this pandemic together, how do the boundaries of your life feel lately? Are your limits and your boundaries similar to what they were? Or maybe you’re like many I hear from. Our boundaries, our limits and what we can handle has shifted drastically but we’re still operating with expectations, plans and agendas that made sense pre-Covid.

This is unsustainable. They no longer make sense. But many of us struggle to slow down long enough to notice the dissonance between what we think is possible and what we can actually sustain during this season.

Another way to look at this: The lines around our lives can feel like a trap or they can feel like freedom.

When we avoid the inner work of noticing how life can shift, then we come to see the lines around our lives as a trap. Because we, the beloved human, inside our lives, we’re changing! We’re experiencing pain and difficulty. We’re working on letting go old ways of being. We’re choosing new ones. And that invites us to consider the lines around our lives.

When we look to God, to Spirit, to our true selves for wisdom, for grounding, for a new identity that gives strength to sustain life through an ongoing pandemic, this scripture can become true in our lives. The lines can fall beautifully. The lines can feel like freedom, not a trap.

We can discern new lines. That protect our energy. Our hearts. Our wellbeing. We can save the best of what we have to offer for the things that matter to us.

Ann and I deeply value sustainability. We’re very aware that burnout for pastors is especially high. We’re working with SPRC this fall to identify what is realistic for Ann and I to support during pandemic and where our limits are. We will do our best to communicate that to the wider church so we’re all on the same page.

I must confess this isn’t easy work. I’m new to this community. Like any new team member, I want to put my best foot forward. To contribute at a high level and make a difference.

And... as a follower of Jesus who values sustainability, I continue to take a hard look at my calendar, these sacred days each week, and prayerfully wonder what I can offer when my energy is depleted, when my kids are schooling online, when the world feels like it’s on fire and yet, there is a spark of ferocious hope flickering in my heart. Lately? I’m fighting for that flicker. I refuse to give up on it. And that work looks like being very intentional in what I can commit to and what does the most good for the most people in this season.

Friends, God made one you. And God did a pretty incredible job making you. You have specific gifts - things you love - things you don’t like - ways of seeing life - that we need. But here’s the thing, we need your ferocious flicker of hope. Yes, there’s a million things trying to kill that flame right now. I get it. Same.


God put that flame there. It only goes out if we stop tending to it. If we stop listening to it. If we give up.

We are Jesus people. We are here to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Please know, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that you have what you need to resist, to love, to care, to receive, to give. You have it. It’s in that flame. And it’s your job to protect that flame.

You have permission to rearrange the lines in your life.

You have permission to ask God for a new vision for how to sustain yourself through this pandemic.

You have permission to fight for your flame. To make sure it has space to breathe, to dance. To clear back the clutter so others can be inspired by your ferocious hope.

And if that means changes to your expectations, do it.

If that means a shift in mindset or attitude, do it.

If that means a new commitment to caring for yourself, do it.

If that means quitting an activity, do it.

If that means starting something new that will give you life in this season, do it.

If that means letting go of an old way of being, do it.

God will guide you forward. I trust it as much as I trust my next breath.

I’m experiencing it now, in this season of life. It’s a beautiful thing to receive the gifts of God that have been ours all along.

You get to be a steward of you. I heard once that stewardship is the act of arranging ourselves so God can spend us. That’s what sustainability invites us to consider and to act on.

A member of our church shared this beautiful image this week. I asked her permission to share it with you. She shared, “This season of life feels like our World War. We need to adapt and adjust. Practice resilience. It’s like a personal organizer who visits your home. They empty it all, throw it on the bed. We’re bringing all this stuff out. We know our country has had an ugly underbelly. Now is our time to look at it all and examine it all. To figure out what doesn’t work. What do we need to address. What might we stop doing. We release the harm. We put back into our cabinets what we need.”

Sounds similar to the values we've been naming. The most important things to us. Friends, we’re each invited to this work in our own lives. And as a communal human family. May God’s wild love and grace guide us forward in this holy work. Amen!