Help with Apathy

Help with Apathy

January 28, 2024 • Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross

If you have not figured it out by now, I am a diehard Detroit Lions Fan.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had something to get excited about.  We are the few maybe even only franchise that has not appeared in a Super Bowl .  They have not made it to an NFC title game in 32 years.  In 2008, we broke another record and went 0-16.  It’s really been the same thing year after year.  In fact, we used to have saying ,”Same Old Lions.”  


The phrase describes the experience of watching them get really close to winning and somehow finding a way to lose…over the years some might even become apathetic or indifferent when the result never seems to change.  But as a stated at the start of this sermon, I am a diehard Detroit Lions fan.  This means that regardless of how they are playing and where they playing, they are still my team. Doesn’t matter where I live I find ways to show my support. The game might be on the other side of the country and that doesn’t matter.  My body may not be present at the game but my heart  is certainly there. 


I wonder if that’s how Nehemiah felt when he heard about the conditions of his people back in Jerusalem.  His body was in the Persian city of Susa but his heart was in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah would play a pivotal role in the history of God’s people.  For decades they were living as exiles, scattered throughout this new foreign empire.  However, a small remnant of people were given permission to return back to Jerusalem.  And as one would expect, they retuned back to a city that was still devastated.  Remember they had been defeated by other kingdoms.  Everything was in ruins.  So words gets back to Nehemiah who was working as cup bearer to this foreign King about the conditions of his people and the conditions of Jerusalem.   Up until this point he was probably apathetic and unbothered because he wasn’t aware of the conditions of this one holy city.  But it want until he became aware.  In fact that is a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to create a mirage of peace and tranquility until we become aware. It’s easy to paint a perfect picture on a canvas of naivety, until we become aware.   Most people are indifferent not by choice but simply because they have not been exposed to a reality outside of the their own bubble.  And God intervenes in our lives not by giving us answers but simply making us aware. (Slide) One of the greatest gifts God can give us in our own apathy is exposure to the realities and lives experiences of other people.   Jerusalem is 800-900 miles away.  It’s was a three months journey away. And he can not shake what he’s heard.  It brings him to tears.  He can’t shake what he’s been told.  He can’t fall asleep. Even though his work, his address, his life is in this foreign city of Susa  his heart is this city almost 900 miles away.      


I think Nehemiah gives us a great reminder that change often starts with a concern.  (Slide).  Concern can be powerful motivator when is used appropriately.  In fact, one could suggest this is concern was his compass.  It's what God used to steer him in a particular direction.  It’s what God used to direct his focus.  He could have chosen to ignore it and go right back to tasting food for the King, he but embraces what troubles him. 


In many ways, I think Nehemiah gives us permission and an invitation to do the same.  How we live out our faith often starts with a concern. It’s starts with what keeping you up at night. Start with meeting a need. Start with the issue that keeps you day dreaming.  I’ve always felt that God places something inside of each of us; a passions, an interest, a particular wiring that draws our attention to some concern.  It might be a concern for recent immigrants, a concern for seniors, a concern for young families, a concern for those with special needs, a concern for the poor, a concern for children, and even a concern for the environment and even wildlife.    As a congregation we have said that pour concern is for people who have given up on church or the possibility of a God that loves them.


So, Don’t ignore your concerns.  They often serve as a compass to where God is in inviting you to use your gifts or meet a need.  Dont ignore the things that break your heart. It’s the thing God uses to steer us in particular direction.  


Because we have a choice whether to embrace it or ignore it.  We see Nehemiah reactions juxtaposed with the response of the remnant living in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah is somewhere crying and broken-hearted and we get no indication that they are having a similar emotional response…We get no indication that they are rallying to build.  We get no indication that they are bothered enough to change their situation.  In fact, by the time Nehemiah is moved to return, they have been living there for months now and it seems they have conceded. “Going through the motions”.  Tough question we have to periodically ask ourselves.  Where do we feel we are going through the motions. (Slide)


 And I think their condition is one of the most difficult seasons with people of faith.  It’s when for whatever reason, we find ourselves struggling with apathy.  We struggle with a lack of concern.  Going through the motions. We struggle with seasons of indifference. Maybe they were overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done.  Maybe they just got used to to things.  Maybe they thought it was somebody else’s responsibility.  But their community was not going to rebuild itself.  One of the greatest obstacles of faith is not having 0 faith it’s dealing with faith that has become indifferent.  Running on empty.  Faith that’s lost interest. 


We don’t have honest conversations about how to help people when they are in these seasons.  We help people start the fire, but we don’t teach them how to stoke. People don’t always know how to get more wood to keep stoking their faith.   To keep stoking their relationship.  To keep stoking their calling.  To keep stoking the fire the God lit one day in their lives.   Are honest people about what happens when the fire goes out.  Their bodies were present, but their hearts were not in it.  



Sometimes the behavior has to proceed proceed the inspiration. (Slide)  Dr. Remit Weems, biblical scholar and theological, wrote a book years ago called “Listening for God.  A ministers journey through silence and doubt.”   She goes through her own journey struggling through times when as a minister or mother or spouse she felt empty. Listen to her words,  “I learned to let go of my naive belief that breaking out into goose bumps at the talk of the sacred was a signal of intimacy with God. I learned to trust the winter months of faith, when it's difficult to remember why one ever bothered to believe. I stopped being so hard on myself and demanding that, as a wife, scholar, and writer, I should always feel excited about what I was doing, or that I should, as a mother and a minister, always sparkle with alertness and insight. This was hard to accept in a culture where, at the first sign of dullness or tedium or monotony, it's all right to give up, walk away, or try something new in hopes of finding new meaning, new thrills, new satisfaction.  I stopped complaining about "going through the motions." I decided it was all right to pray (whether in new or old ways) and not feel anything. The point was to pray, whatever way I could bear at the moment. Rituals are routines that force us to live faithfully even when we no longer feel like being faithful. Until our heart has the time to arouse itself and find its way back to those we love, rituals make us show up for duty. (Slide)


Here’s all I’m trying to say,  along own own faith journey for whatever reason, you may get to place where you feel like your heart is not in it.  You may feel like your passion for you once loved starts to wane.   But that’s sometimes part of the journey.  You’re not always going to feel like doing the things You believe God called you to do.  You may not always feel like dealing with the emotional roller coasters of relationships.  You won’t always feel like forgiving people. You won’t always feel like.  Because let’s face it’s always easier to walk past the ruins and just pretend like they don’t exist.  But the power of ritual.  That’s the power of duty.  It invites us to show up and when we sometimes don’t feel like so that one when the passion comes, when God spirit rests on us, we are reminded of why we’re concerned.  Apathy might a part of the journey but it should be dominate narrative. Is that not the hope of a gospel that revives and breathes life into dead things?


Raising the Heat.  

Watch what Nehemiah does. He goes for three days to see it for himself.  It’s nothing they haven’t seen before.  But he’s seeing it with fresh eyes. “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”  


He’s teaching a class on change management before its even a term.  In the world of organizational leadership he’s doing something called “Raising the Heat.”  Individuals and communities are never going to change or move from a place of indifference unless they become uncomfortable with the status quo. He’s raising the stakes just enough so that people can hear it without tuning him out.  He’s creating an environment where people are being invited to actually look at their reality and comes to terms with the what’s in front of them. He’s raising the thermostat just enough so that change can happen.  He has to careful.  Too hot and they just become even more apathetic.   Too cold and nothing changes.  Leadership is having a hand on the thermostat and knowing just how much people need to see and hear in order to be open to what God is trying to do.  Because God didn’t send Nehemiah there to make them comfortable.  God didn’t send Nehemiah there so that things could remain the same. This was more than just about brick and mortar, but restoring dignity and honor to a people that were in desperate need of hope.  They were now able to see their situation through fresh eyes, and they respond with. “Let us start rebuilding.” A people that was once apathetic to their own conditions are willing to see it through.  A people who were once complacent with unfavorable conditions are responding like people with inspiration. 


It’s almost as though they come alive.   What you are watching is the power of redemption.  We are witnessing a theology of resurrection. Think about about it like this, our faith rests on the belief that a man was dead for three and days and came alive. I think our faith constantly reminds us of Gods ability to make impossible situations come alive. It was more than just an rebuilding of a temple, but a resurrection of the human spirit.  A reawakening of the soul.  As exiles they were allowed to return to live but now Nehemiahs charge is inviting them to come alive.   And sooner or later everyone will be challenged with the question,  WHAT MAKES YOU COME ALIVE?  That is where we find the fullness of faith. It’s where they would find their own joy. And it’s where they found community.  His passion became the catalyst to breathe life into this condemned situation.


Lions Game

Let me go back to my original story, the last two playoff games my son and I have gone to Buffalo Wild Wings in Carmel to watch the game. We noticed interesting happening the last time we were there.  When we first got there. The restaurant was pretty busy and when something good happened to the lions, there was maybe one or two other groups that clapped.  The crowd was pretty apathetic.  And I get it!  We were in another city and why would people in Carmel Indiana be emotionally invested with a team from either Detroit or Tampa Bay.  Their hearts were not in it.  I’m sure that most of the patrons in their did not care until…... By the second half Jay Black another member of our church showed up and now we had added to our numbers. Let me confess…. We did not keep our excitement to ourselves.  We were high-fiving.  Calling out plays.  I was growling my chants of “HERE WE GOO……..”COULD BE HEARD throughout the restaurant.  And somehow the once apathetic crowd suddenly became emotionally invested.  We were no longer the only ones showing our excitement.  It was as though our passion had legs.  It was though our excitement brought attention to a room filled with apathy.  All we did was just give them a reason to be excited again. And for somebody here today that’s all God wants  in those seasons where it seems like are in different.  In those season where your concern is getting cold… Those seasons where you are going through the motions, the seasons where we become apathetic to even the things that matter most……God just wants you feel like what’s it like to come alive again…