Follow Jesus’ Model of Self-Care – January 24

A sermon based on Luke 6:6-19
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 24, 2021
by Rev. Scott Elliott

This year has started off in such a dynamic way. Already I have veered from the Revised Common Lectionary a couple of times. Today is one of those times. The Lectionary is a great tool for helping us get through a lot of the Bible and it keeps pastors from only preaching on texts they like. Its weakness though is that the texts lined up by the Lectionary for the week might not speak to pressing issues at hand.
A few weeks back on Baptism of Christ Sunday we looked at the Lectionary lesson from the Gospel of Mark and it inspired the general theme of this sermon. The text that day was about John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism. The sermon touched on the violence on January 6th and centered – as John and Jesus do– on non-violence. But I also spent some time urging us all to include self-care in the midst of turmoil noting that following his baptism Jesus took time to take care of himself in the wilderness with angels and animals amidst temptations.
Last week on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday the sermon centered on the manner of the genuine equality God created us all with and has in mind for every human every day. There is a primary theme of caring for humans in the Bible and it is certainly a theme in Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings. See each person is made in the very image of God and how we treat them is how we treat the Christ within them.
We spend a lot of our energy as church working on genuine equality, taking care of others. We push the idea to love our neighbors as ourselves a lot. That’s what seeking justice, loving kindness looks like. Just as that is a primary driving force of Jesus’ teachings and the early church, it is a primary driving force of our missions and ministries. And rightly so as well-being for humanity on earth is a primary mandate of YHWH and Jesus and the early church. The commands to love our neighbor as our self, to do unto others as we would have done to our self and the idea of Christ and God being in humanity includes our tending to the well-being of everyone, and everyone includes our self . .. YOU.
Many Christian religious elite focus on self over and above, or even to the exclusion of others. So, I want to be careful to point out that taking care of self does not mean taking less care of others. It means equal care for others AND self, for all of our well-being. The means of self-care can be different from caring for others– and by definition we alone can provide SELF care. They are our steps to well-being to initiate.
Just as Jesus could not stop outside sources from disrupting his well-being, we might not be able to either. But Jesus knowing that, still tended to his own health, he had a self-love even as he acted selflessly. He did not harm himself. He did not ignore his health either. He took CARE of himself. In the Gospels accounts we find explicit and implicit references to how Jesus was good to himself. He tended to his own well-being. The steps he took to self-care offer us models we can take. You may have other steps that you know work for you and that’s fine– the point is to make sure we are tending to our well-being, to the image of God and Christ within our self.
With that said, the Gospels references to Jesus’ self-care practices do offer excellent ideas that we can consider and try. And I would encourage us all to consider and try them. Some may work for you others may not, they all seem to have done wonders for Jesus. They are good spiritual practices.
As I mentioned, in Mark the earliest Gospel, the first thing Jesus did was go outdoors alone and be with nature. Although it does not get much press Jesus in the Bible seems to be what we might call an outdoorsy guy. He goes off and meditates and prays alone outside – which I have long found great for my own self-care. Being outside with wildlife and the angels – God’s messengers– that show up in creation can be very calming and good for the body and soul.
God advises in Psalm 46 “be still and know that I am God.” Being still suggests that we not take our cell phone out or pop open our laptop or tablet and let outside news and information and noises un-still us. When you go outside in the wilderness to be alone with God, don’t listen to outside human voices, rather listen FOR what Elijah was told in the verses in our invocation, is “God’s still small voice.” The voice of God, the Word of God is not just what spoke creation into being it is what calls us to well-being for others AND for self. That voice is in creation whispering God’s message which we can hear when we stop and listen (which I have preached before). God is still speaking and one way to hear God’s words is to just go and listen outdoors alone. Ride. Walk. Sit. Lie. Pray. Listen. Be like Jesus in the wilderness.
Jesus does other things outdoors than be alone for self-care. A part of self-care is to be in the presence of groups of people. When it is safe of course. Right now, with Covid we should mask up and keep safe distance. Safely being where people are is a way to self-care. Jesus meets with masses of people outside on the mount and on the plain. He leads a parade. He meets for worship and instruction and for sharing food and wine. He takes boat rides and walks about lakes. He fishes too. He is outdoors alone and also with others.
And it is not just with the masses Jesus hangs around with. Jesus gathers friends close to him. In fact, in Mark the first thing Jesus does after spending forty days and nights in the wilderness is gather people. I love that the story is full of puns as Jesus fishes for fishermen to fish for men, he meant fish all humans. But I like the story even more because Jesus knows he cannot work and live or take care of himself without the company of others. The first thing he does before he faces people with his mission and ministry is have companions, friends and community. We also know he keeps in contact with his personal family. His mother and siblings are a part of who Jesus hangs out with. He does this outside amongst creation.
Jesus of course also does self-care things inside. Again –in Covid times I have to repeat– he does this safely and we must too. He eats and he drinks with others. He meets and talks with others. He goes to places of worship. He prays indoors. He reads and discusses scripture indoors. He tells stories there too. I also need to point out that he tells puns (the fishermen pun is just one among many). Jesus has a sense of humor and laughter is good medicine for well-being. So do look for and find moments when you can have fun and have a laugh. It is good self-care.

I also want to quickly point out that the Bible indicates that Jesus took naps. Getting enough sleep and even more than enough sleep is excellent self-care, especially in troubling times. The last self-care practice Jesus modeled that I want to discuss is one that is laced throughout Jesus’ ministry. It’s love. Love for self and others and creation and God is all good for the soul. That doing for others we do as church is also good for our selves too. Tending to the well-being of the large and the small of creation helps self. It’s loving self.
One great example is something we may not connect to self-care is forgiveness. Jesus tells us to forgive, because it is good for others and self, for everyone. I am not talking about forgetting a harm. I am talking about doing the work needed to heal from harm whether it was done to you by another, or done by you to another. Being on either side of forgiveness helps the soul. It is good care for self. That’s why Jesus talks about it so much.
So, there we have it a very quick primer on how Jesus modeled self-care. Connection to creation. Prayer. Solitude. Rest. Friends. Family, Community. Food and drink. Story. Scripture. Worship. Love. Forgiveness. God is in all of that and with us always. May we all practice as many of those as we can in these difficult times. May we take care and seek well-being for others AND for self.