Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
God won’t give you more than you can handle. Have you ever heard this? Have you ever said it? This is one of those famous idioms, a saying that usually comes to me when these this: “Pastor, doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle?”
That phrase is absolute garbage. Let me tell you why. Every single one of us has either known someone or witnessed a situation or lived through an experience where it was quite frankly, more than we could handle. The evidence is pretty clear on this.
Furthermore, to assign responsibility to God for the circumstances that make us feel overwhelmed does not reflect either the love nor the free will that God gives to us. God does not micromanage our lives. God is not Oprah, saying, “You get a problem, and you get a problem, and you get a problem…EVERYONE GETS A PROBLEM!” God does not cause war or car accidents or disease or addiction or abuse or bullying or all the many things that weigh us down and give us the feeling that we can’t handle life.
At the beginning of March a BBC reporter published a photograph that has haunted me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone back to this picture to ponder and lament and grieve. It’s the photo of a man on a train platform in Kyiv, with tears welling in his eyes after he’s said goodbye to his family. The picture is on the front of your bulletin, and the caption said this:
“Alexander’s tearful farewell with family at the Kyiv railway station. They’re going to the relative safety of Lviv, he’s staying to fight. Wouldn’t let go of a toy ambulance his 8 year old son gave him as he put them on the train.”
Alexander’s name might as well be Atlas, for he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. I cannot imagine all the thoughts racing through his head at the moment of this picture, but it looks like he may have more than he can handle. I mean, can this man even load a rifle? What did he do in his day job? Has he ever had any training? Will he ever see his family again? How lost would you be? How would you feel in his shoes?
And as hospitals and evacuation routes and civilian centers are bombed and shelled and targeted by the Russian military it seems like there is more than the people can handle. Heck, simply witnessing little snippets of this evil playing out on our screens makes this senseless aggression from Putin seem like more than we can handle, even if we’re living comfortably halfway ‘round the world.
God won’t give you more than you can handle. These words are so hollow and bankrupt to a person undergoing chemotherapy or grieving the sudden loss of a loved one or watching life as they know it go up in smoke. We often have too much on our plate and are struggling to keep it together—whether in the face of an acute crisis or a chronic situation that drags on forever.
So why on earth does Paul say, in verse 13 in our reading from 1st Corinthians, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it?” What on earth is this about? Doesn’t that sound a little like “God won’t give you more than you can handle?”
What if I told you that in this portion of First Corinthians Paul was writing specifically about the first century, multicultural problem in Corinth about eating meat that had been part of ritual pagan sacrifices and worship? Meat offered to idols. This community’s testing is over whether or not to eat the New York strip steak sacrificed to the god Apollo, not about if our health or broken relationships or stress at work or a pandemic or a war will be an overwhelming burden to endure. All of a sudden, when you relocate the larger context of this chapter, this well-known idiom makes no sense whatsoever.
However, the promise Paul states remains, no matter if we’re discussing idolatry and meat sacrifices or an unjust invasion and destruction of a sovereign nation. God will provide a way out so that we may be able to endure. God will journey with us. God will accompany us, whether we are lost in the crushing weight of anxiety or trying to find safety in the space between bullets.
God will be present. God will provide. God is faithful. To me, that all sounds much more appealing than a puffed-up idiom we all know to be counterfeit. Because we do not choose to be tested in these ways—nor does God assign those things to us that we might learn some life lesson. We do not celebrate and rejoice in these tests. But we do strive to journey in life in a way that produces health and wholeness for all, and at the same time honor God.
God will give us a way out. Those words are true, and most often the way out that God provides is through each other. We endure through the compassion, wisdom, actions, and love of individuals and community. Our faithful response is to be present, just as God is present, and to make the kingdom of God appear by our witness. That’s why we show up with a casserole when someone is sick or grieving. That’s why we give hugs when there’s no words to say and wait side by side as events unfold. That’s why we give encouragement even when the odds are stacked against our friends. It’s why we hold each other in the power of prayer.
As for the situation in Ukraine, how can we respond? How do we provide a way our for people around the globe? How do we help the assaulted and afflicted to endure? Outside of buying a gun and a one-way ticket to Ukraine, what do we do?
First, we open our hearts, and we pour them out in prayer and compassion. When we start with prayer it helps us bring clarity to how we can provide endurance as we ask God to intervene.
Second, we open our wallets and our pocketbooks. This may seem cliché and easy, but financial resources are ever so important in providing for the needs of the vulnerable. Give to Lutheran World Relief. Give to Lutheran Disaster Response. Give to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Give to Razom for Ukraine. Give to the Red Cross. Millions of people need our assistance.
Third, we open our throats. Advocate. Call, write, and email Representative Joyce, Senators Toomey and Casey, and President Biden. Make your concerns and your faithful witness heard on behalf of those enduring catastrophe.
Fourth, open your hands. If there’s a way to serve and volunteer, do it. If you have a ministry idea, tell us. We, together, are the church. Don’t sit on the sidelines if you have an idea.
Fifth, open your minds. Listen to trusted sources about what’s taking place. Remain educated about this conflict, this world, and where help is needed. Do not forget or normalize the terrible aggression and violence we are witnessing.
The world throws a lot at us, sometimes much more than we can handle. But with God by our side, and with the strength of each other, we will find the way out, we can prevail, we can lift burdens. Together, we just may be able to handle it. AMEN.