Called to Caregiving

2 Corinthians 1:3-11
7th Sunday of Easter
Stephen Minsters' Commissioning
Elizabeth M. Deibert
20 May 2012

Can you remember the first time you scraped your knee?    Did someone provide comfort?   If you had never scraped your knee ever, would grimace when you see a kid (or worse, an adult) trip and skin their knee.   The sight of it triggers your memory of the feeling, and the memory of the feeling makes you empathetic, especially if you yourself were comforted when it happened to you.

Can you remember a time when you were not chosen, left out, excluded.   I was the youngest in my family and remembering feeling left out from all the exciting things that I imagined happened in the house, after I had to go to bed.   Maybe you were the last one picked when teams were chosen.  Maybe you were the kid who didn’t get the invitation to the party everyone was talking about.   If you were left to tough it out on these difficult occasions, then you might have missed the opportunity to develop empathy for others.   Most parents these days want to protect their children from negative experiences, but you see, it is not the negative experience itself that is so bad, but the experience without any comfort.

I can recall the very place on the front steps where I was standing at age ten when my mother told me that a little three year old girl, a friend of our family, was killed in a car accident.   A sleepy driver crossed over into the lane where her father was driving and in the days before car seats for toddlers, this life was finished for cute little Carmen.   I had no idea at age ten what it was like to be the parent of a child who died in a car crash, nor to be the driver of the car that veered into the other lane, causing the death of a little girl.   But I remember hearing my mom reflect on that death from two perspectives.   She had lost her father in a car accident when she was 15.

Empathy is a natural response of our human race because we are created in the image of God, who empathized with us to the ultimate degree by being one of us.    

In the opening of his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is defending his apostolic authority by speaking about the value of suffering, as it allows us to be comforted by God and then to be comforters of others who suffer.   Paul uses the Greek word parakaleio in its noun and verb forms ten times in this passage we are about to read.   The New Revised Standard Version translates the words as console and consolation, and but I don’t think that is a very effective translation of a word that means to comfort, encourage, strengthen, so you will see that I have changed the word in our reading from the screen.   Another word I changed is the word, “afflicted”  It means squeezed or put in a narrow place.   So I’m using the contemporary word, “stress”  because I never hear anyone talk of being afflicted, but everybody these days is stressed to the max or so it seems.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our stress, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any stress with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are being comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.  (NRSV)

And you’ll see here that someone translated afflicted/stress as trouble.   And mercy is changed to compassion here.  

Many people want to approach suffering with the question “why?”   One answer to that question is that we suffer so we know how to comfort others.   It builds empathy.   That is, when our suffering is coupled with the comforting presence of God and others.   Paul gives another reason for suffering.   He says he was utterly, unbearably crushed, despairing of life, thinking that he would die – so that he would rely not on himself but on God who raises the dead.  He says, if I am being troubled/stressed, it is for your comfort and salvation/healing/wholeness.   If I am being comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience WHEN you patiently endure – suffering like others do.

An infant needs to learn that suffering/crying leads to being comforted.  Likewise, in the church, Christians need to learn that when we are in trouble, people will be there for us.   Richard and I experienced this kind of support this week when we were under the strain of thinking that our daughter Emily in Korea had meningitis.   But in our anxiety while waiting to hear from tests, we received the comfort of many who suffered with us, who reached out in compassionate care-giving.  People who were able to translate their experience of worry over a sick loved one to our situation.   

Thank you for suffering with us and rejoicing with us in the news that Emily is okay, despite having had a sudden seizure in the night.  Thank God for sister Catherine being there with her to help her.   Never have I been more grateful for Facebook because thru it we were able to communicate with Catherine in the hospital with Emily and through it, we were able to receive countless consolations and promises of prayer, from England, from Switzerland, from multiple states in the USA, and a phone call from Rob Tuite, who has had his share of suffering in the last year and because of it has a deeper inclination to comfort others.   So like Paul, we can “give thanks …for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

Today we commission our first class of Stephen Ministers at Peace.   Stephen Ministry was developed by a Lutheran pastor in the 1970’s because he knew he did not have enough time to provide the kind of care he knew suffering people needed.    Pastors are there in the moment of crisis, but often the suffering lingers while the pastor has moved to the next crisis in the congregation.   Those who grieve often don’t hit the bottom until months after a death.   Those who experience an unwelcomed divorce know that it can take months or years to heal, to adjust.   Those who lose a job or a home or move away from close friends or become empty-nesters can undergo a season of depression.   Stephen Ministers are the “after people.”  They are the professional comforters.   In Biblical times there were professional mourners who would come to weep with you at the time of a death.   Stephen Ministers are skilled, caring listeners who come to help you sort through trouble.  Stephen Ministers can help you to experience the comfort of Christ by being with you in your difficult days.   Men are assigned to men and women to women, always confidentially and only when you agree that having a Stephen Minister would be helpful. 

All of us are called to the ministry of caregiving, but the people who will be commissioned today have spent many hours in training, and have committed to serve in an intentional process of Christian caregiving for the Peace congregation & Friends of Peace.   This means they will participate in supervision and training twice/month and will be prepared to meet with a care receiver on a weekly basis.   Three of our ordained Presbyterian ministers with years of pastoral experience will be working with the Stephen Ministers and me.   We encourage you to seek out Stephen Ministry when you are going through any kind of trouble.  Just tell me or one of the Stephen MInisters that you’d like to consider this kind of support.

Two weeks ago, we read from John 15 that we should abide in the vine and love one another, that our joy may be complete.   Last week we read from the 1 Letter of John, chapter 4, that since God loves us so much, we should love one another and if we do, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us.   Now we are hearing that love involves suffering.   Because we cannot comfort people if we have not suffered and experienced the comfort that has its origin in God’s love.  

Our ability to empathize is cultivated by our experience of being comforted when we have suffered.   Remember how it feels to scrape your knee?  Remember how it feels to be excluded?   Remember how it feels to lose someone you love?   Assuming you got the comfort you needed to heal, you will have the resources to be a comforter of others.   This is a huge part of what it means to be human – to be like Christ who suffered with us, for us, in order to be a comfort to us.   And he promised us the Spirit, the paraklete, who is the great Comforter, who groans with us with sighs too deep for words.

We simply cannot learn Christian compassion without pain.   No, we are troubled, stressed for the comfort and salvation of others.   And we are comforted to be a comfort to those who endure suffering with patience.   It is the grandest circle of life, drawing us closer to death, so that we rely completely on the one who rescues us from death.   In God we hope and to God we give thanks in all circumstances.   No one understands this better than this guy, Nick, born with no arms and legs.   (View 4 minute video by Nick, a man of great faith)

(Note:  Go to and search for Nick Vujicic or copy this link into your browser