Only One Bucket:
How We Work With God to Save the World, One Life at a Time. A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After
Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of
Toronto, Sunday, 5 September, 2021.
I’ll begin by saying how good it is to be back with
you, dear Saints, after a restful and rejuvenating month off in August. On my desk when I returned was a letter
from the Anglican Territory of the People (formerly the Diocese of the Caribou),
thanking All Saints for the money ($1,836.00) we raised for the Lytton Fire
Fund. Also waiting for me was the
excellent news that, while I was gone, All
Saints raised $1,665.00 for the “Love My Neighbour” campaign to provide COVID
vaccinations for those living in countries far less fortunate than our own. All of
this on top of our ongoing contributions to Faith Works, not to mention your
ongoing stewardship that supports the life and ministry of this parish.
All of that is wonderful stuff, truly signs of a
dynamic and missional minded parish, of which I’m so grateful to be a
part. But (my sermons usually hinge on a
“but”) do you ever think that whatever you do to help others, it’s not
enough? Isn’t there always another good
cause with a flyer in your letter box?
Isn’t there always another worthy ask?
My wife Joy, bless her, supports dozens of charities every month, and consequently
our incoming mail reflects that. Every
day in the post there’s three or four appeals –
The Scott Mission, Therapy Dogs, World Vision, the Alzheimer’s Society,
the United Way – the list is endless because there’s an ocean of need out
there. How does anyone know when they’ve
done enough when the appeals keep coming?
Just as a kind-hearted individual can feel
overwhelmed, so can a parish. At All
Saints, we have chosen to focus on certain issues, such as refugee sponsorship
and reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters. As part of the Diocese of Toronto, we are
also frequently asked to consider and support other causes, including climate
change and environmental stewardship, homelessness, low income and seniors’
housing, food insecurity, and race relations.
Some of these issues may not be as visible within our privileged enclave
of King, but they exist within the Diocese.
How can a parish know when it’s done enough when the calls for action
When we are feeling overwhelmed by this legion of
appeals to our individual and collective charity, I think it’s vital to keep
firmly in mind the principle that there is only so much we can do to help
others. This principle is not just key to
managing our charitable giving, it’s also, frankly, vital to our mental
health. Social media and twenty four
hour news cycles can be hugely stressful to human heart and soul. Do we focus on the fact that the world is
literally on fire? Do we focus on the
people of Afghanistan? Or Ethiopia? What about indigenous communities in
northern Canada that still don’t have running water? What about saving the Oak Ridge
One of the best things I read this summer was a short piece by the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz Weber on this issue of stress. She writes that we were made to
care about suffering and injustice within our immediate circle, within our
village if you will, but not within the world at a whole. As Bolz Weber puts it, if we think of our
available compassion as a finite bucket of water, then there is only so much
fire we can put out.
So I try and tell myself that It’s ok to focus on one fire.
It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care
about what’s yours to care about.
“That’s enough” is very wise advice, because one of
the signs of burnout in our faith lives is what’s known as “compassion fatigue”,
the exhaustion of our ability to care about and to help others. So who should we help? Or, to
use the question that provokes Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan,
“Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10.25).
Tomorrow, Sept 6, is Rosh
Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. RabbiBrad Hirschfield writes that this day is in Jewish tradition the birthday of
Adam and Eve, and thus reminds Jews of their common humanity. Part of this common humanity is the
obligation of Tikkum Olam, Hebrew words meaning “repair the world”: all
of us share in creation, and so all of us are called to fix it when it goes
wrong. But fixing creation is a big job,
and this brings us back to the problem of our human limits. As Bolz Weber noted, if the world is on fire,
and I only have one bucket, how can I put out the fire?
answer to this question, Hirschfield points to an ancient saying of the rabbis
from two thousand years ago: “whoever
saves one life saves the world”. So we do what we can, as we can. And if we are wondering where to find that
life that needs saving, Hirschfield cites another ancient piece of Jewish
wisdom, “The poor of your village take priority.” The
word “village” today means everywhere and anywhere Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the global village
is truer now than ever. Helping someone
with food security in King Township counts.
Helping a Syrian family get to Canada counts. Getting hockey gear to an indigenous
community counts. We do what we can, as
Thinking of a global village
saves us from being tribal and insular.
It saves us from only caring about people who look like us and think
like us. Perhaps this was something
that Jesus learned from the gentile woman in today’s gospel. She reminded Jesus that she was part of his
village because she was, like him, a descendant of Adam and Eve, and so she
broadened his view of who was part of God’s family. May she do the same for us.
So don’t worry if there
are limits to your charity and to your caring.
It’s important to protect yourself by focusing on what you can do, as
you can do it, so that there will be enough water in your spiritual and emotional
bucket to sustain you as you sustain others.
Let’s focus on what we can do,
individually and collectively as All Saints, so that we can partner with God in
God’s work of saving the world, one life at a time.