In 1972, Bill Withers found himself a long way from his childhood home in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. He was living in a decrepit house in a rundown section of Los Angeles, trying to make it as a singer/songwriter.
As he sat down at his piano one day, Withers was overwhelmed with nostalgia, aching for the community of friends and family he had left behind. As he tinkered with the keys and chords, a phrase kept repeating in his mind – lean on me.
“Lean on me,” Withers soulfully sang, “when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on … If there is a load you have to bear that you can’t carry, I’m right up the road. I’ll share your load, if you just call me.”
“Lean on Me” raced to the top of the Billboard Charts. It is listed among Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest songs of all time. In fact, it is one of only nine songs to have reached number one with versions recorded by two different artists.
One of the reasons the song resonates with so many people from so many walks of life is that we all need somebody to lean on.
One of the blessings of being a pastor is I get to be the person other people lean on. As they wobble under the weight of divorce and death, abuse and addiction, rebellious children and overbearing bosses, they come to me for advice and support. I have the privilege of listening and sharing with them God’s rock solid promises and guidance. I’m sure, at one point or another, many of you have leaned on your pastor or priest.
That’s what they’re there for.
But who do they lean on? Hopefully they lean first and foremost on their Savior God. As sinful human beings, though, even pastors waiver and worry. When they struggle – when they need help and encouragement – who can they call? Who can they lean on?
Just recently, I happened to read again the story of Joshua leading the Israelites in battle against their enemies, the Amalekites. On that day, God miraculously helped his people through the prophet Moses. Whenever Moses raised his hands, the Israelites began to win the battle, but whenever he lowered them, the Amalekites gained the upper hand.
After a couple of hours, Moses’ shoulders ached. His hands felt like manhole covers. He couldn’t do it any more. So God sent two men – Aaron and Hur – to hold up his hands.
No minister can handle the stress and strain of the ministry on his own. We need the strength God gives through his Word and Sacraments. We need the help of fellow Christians to hold up our hands. We need somebody to lean on.
So, fellow pastors, don’t try to do this on your own. Find another pastor, a friend or a family member whom you trust to talk about the burdens you carry. We all need somebody to lean on.
And for everyone else out there, support your pastor. He may not be perfect, but he is the one God has sent for you and others to lean on.
Pray for him. Give him a call. Encourage him. As the hymn writer says, “You can be like faithful Aaron holding up the prophet’s hands.”
Because we all need somebody to lean on.