Come home to Calvary
When we first come into the world as tiny newborns, we are completely dependent on others for our survival. There are a few things that help us: some built in reflexes, brown fat, the ability to cry, and that amazing newborn smell that draws in the adult humans.
But if someone else doesn’t feed us; if someone else doesn’t carry us to safe and warm places;
if someone else doesn’t defend us from predators or harm, we will not make it.
As we grow older, we learn to be more self-sufficient and independent; it’s a necessary part of our development.
But it has its challenges. Ask any parent of a two-year-old how well that goes.
I can’t tell you how many times a day Joey tells me, “I do it myself,” and then proceeds to take ten minutes doing what would’ve taken me two.
But I try to remember as she painstakingly puts her shoes on or climbs out of the car oh-so-slowly
that this is all necessary for her growth. And it’s true.
All of us need to learn how to be more independent as we get older.
But sometimes I think that just because we can be independent, we begin to believe that we must be independent. And we forget that we are created for community, to live with and for others, to need and to support others, that humans are ultimately relational creatures.
In our creation stories found in the book of Genesis, we are told that God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26).
We bear the image of God, the imago dei.
And some will argue that that means we look like God or can reason or think or communicate like God.
But some theologians believe that when God created us in God’s image, it actually means that we are created for relationship.
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
These pronouns used in Genesis are first person plural pronouns, not singular!
It’s us and our, not my.
And so perhaps this is God in God’s triune form:
the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
God, three-in-one, talking to God’s self.
Through the Trinity, God has always existed in relationship.
So, for us to be created in the image of God could very well mean that we, too, are created for relationship.
Now, there is no country in the world that glorifies independence and self-reliance as much as these United States.
The notion of the “self-made man” (and yes, usually it is in reference to a man) is lauded and upheld as the ideal of our society.
We celebrate those who have gone from rags to riches, especially if we perceive that they’ve done it on their own, without having to rely on anyone else or any government assistance to make their own dreams come true.
But back in 2012, over ten years ago now, Brian Miller and Mark Lapham wrote a book entitled The Self-Made Myth.
In it, they expose the false claim that businesses succeed as a result of one heroic individual who had little or no outside help.
Miller and Lapham call the idea of the “self-made man” a myth.
They assert that public investments and supports help make success possible and include profiles on Warren Buffett, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, and several others who lift up their reliance on good policies and people who made their success possible.
This book also refutes the claims of self-proclaimed self-made individuals like Donald Trump and Ross Perot.
And remember this was written back in 2012.
Their take, as authors of this book and activists for a more just system, is that it takes a village to raise a business, just like it takes a village to raise a child.
An unlikely spokesperson for this concept is no other than former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the epitome of the American dream. Did you know that he is an immigrant from Austria who came to the United States with only $20 in his pockets? But he went on to win Mr. Olympia seven times, became a movie star by playing the Terminator on the big screen, and was elected governor of California not once, but twice.
However, he has never referred to himself as a self-made man. In fact, in his commencement speech to the graduates of the University of Houston, he said:
“Now, these diplomas — there will only be one name and this is yours, but I hope it doesn’t confuse you and you think that maybe you made it that far by yourself … It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us. …I didn’t make it that far on my own. I mean, to accept that credit or that medal, would discount every single person that has helped me get here today, that gave me advice, that made an effort, that lifted me up when I fell … The whole concept of the self‑made man or woman is a myth.”
He then went on to name those who had supported him, from his parents to the people at Gold’s Gym, and even director James Cameron.
Initially, as I considered today’s scripture and began writing this sermon, I thought the main point would be, just because you can do it on your own, doesn’t mean you should.
But I think it’s more accurate to say, we really can’t do it on our own, so why do we try?
Let me lift that up again:
The difference is “just because you can do it on your own, doesn’t mean you should” vs “we really can’t do it on our own, so why do we try?”
We were meant to rely on each other, to live in community, to be vulnerable, to risk loving and caring and bearing one another’s burdens—to put it biblically: to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “God helps those who help themselves.”
That is what’s called a “phantom verse,” in that it does not exist, but people will insist that it does.
If anything, in scripture, we actually find examples of the very opposite: leaders who ask for help, who are given help, who rely on others to help them and guide them.
Even Moses, the hero of Exodus, needed help.
When God calls Moses, through a literal burning bush, to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses responds, “umm… like, I don’t know. I don’t really like public speaking,and I’m not really that good at it, you know?” [that’s the Joann Lee translation of Exodus chapter 4, verse 10].
But essentially, that is what he says. Look it up when you get a chance!
Now, God is tempted to say to Moses, “Too bad. Get on with it.”
But God instead gives Moses a helper, his brother Aaron, someone to speak on his behalf when necessary, someone to share leadership with, someone who can support him and walk with him on this journey.
Aaron shows up and helps Moses get the job done.
The image on our bulletin is a painting of a battle fought much later on, in chapter 17 of Exodus, after they have left Egypt, wandered in the desert, and finally reached the promise land.
Moses and Aaron are too old to fight in this battle.
Scripture says: So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. (Exodus 17:10-12)
Moses could not do it on his own. So he got help, tangible, hands-on help.
That is the way we are called to lead and live with one another.
If Moses and Aaron don’t compel you, perhaps we can learn from the geese.
Geese are strange and kind of scary animals when on the ground.
But they are amazing and almost even majestic when they fly in formation.
And do you know how geese handle the responsibility of leading the flight formation?
It’s not one alpha goose who does it on their own. It’s shared.
When one gets tired, it peels off and moves to the back, and another takes its place!
Geese inherently know how to share leadership, how to trust one another to get them to where they need to go.
I imagine if geese can do it; God has made it possible for humanity to do so as well.
Dr. Rosales Mesza, an indigenous Mexican woman with a PhD in psychology writes, “We’re running out of emotional capacity because we’re trying to do things individually that were meant to be done collectively.”
Friends, we are not meant to travel this road called life on our own.Nor are we meant to lead on our own—in fact, that’s one of the things I love about being a presbyterian—our leadership structure is designed to be shared and distributed.
Victor, Marci, and I, we’re not the priests with all the power.
Instead, there is a priesthood of all believers, and we are all called, each and every one of you, to lead and share in the transforming work of Jesus Christ.
And it’s not easy. Because people are hard.
And especially after this pandemic, which in my opinion is still going on, figuring out how to be with other people is awkward, as well as challenging and exciting.
But we were meant to live life together.
And you know, maybe there are folks out there who would argue that you can actually live life on your own.
I’m sure someone has managed to do so.
But we absolutely cannot live a life of Christian faith on our own.
Lillian Daniel, a UCC minister and author of When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough writes, and forgive the language: “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon…People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”
Human community, as messy and complicated as it is, is where we learn to live out our faith.
It’s where our faith becomes realized, where our faith can be practiced, and where our faith turns into action.
So can we, will we, experience and seek out the holy found in one another?
And can we, will we, risk being in relationship and relying on others?
Can we? Will we?
And listen, that question terrifies me, too.
I do not like relying on others. Group projects are the worst.
So if that makes you uncomfortable, I get it.
Especially after how some of us responded to masking and vaccinations in this country, I am even more hesitant to trust and risk being in community.
But people of God, we are called to be salt and light to the world.
We are called to be a city on top of a hill.
We are called to be leaders in our community.
We are called to be changemakers and justice-seekers.
Not because we are better than others but because we are guided and compelled by love, so we cannot help but try and make a difference in the world.
And how will they know whom we serve?
Well, they will know we are Christians, not by our rules, not by our theology, not by our power, or rhetoric, or purity, but by the very thing that compels us: our love.
And love, whether we like it or not, requires other people.
So be an Aaron – reach out your hand, and support someone whose arms are tired.
Or be a Moses, and ask for help when you need it, and let someone amplify your voice
or lift up your hand when you just can’t anymore.
Friends, you are not alone.
God is with you.
But so are the hands and feet of Jesus embodied in everyday, ordinary people who are very possibly annoying you right now in the pews.
But that very person bears the image of God, and we all need each other.
So, turn and face your neighbor for just a second.
Tell them, “I got you.”
And now say, “And you’ve got me.”
That’s it; right there.
I got you, and you got me.
May it be so. Amen.
 Miller, Brian, and Mike Lapham. The Self-made Myth: And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012.
Exodus 4:27 – 5:9
The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him. Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labours!’ Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!’ That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, ‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.” Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labour at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.