When Compassion Leads Us beyond Comfort
“I get enough bad news during the week. I don’t need to hear more of it in a sermon.” As much as I may want people to leave the sanctuary feeling inspired to make a difference in the world, I have occasionally received comments such as this following sermons that address topics like climate change or a particular racial injustice. A comment of this kind can have lots of origins. Maybe someone really has had a week from hell with the worst of news coming from a doctor’s diagnosis or a phone call in the middle of the night. And, then sometimes the comment could simply arise from the comforts of a privileged life that does not want the intrusions of an unjust world.
In such moments, I try to remind myself of what church is really about. Undoubtedly, a church is a refuge, a sanctuary, a shelter from the storm. At the same time, the church is also a launching pad. It is about equipping ourselves to go back out into a bad news world with a good news ministry. For me, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is an indication of how we make this transition from refuge to launching pad. After Herod beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus went into retreat. He needed some alone time. But then he returns, and Matthew tells us it was compassion that drew him out. He saw the crowds. He saw the sick. He saw their desperate needs, their struggles, their hunger.
In addressing the climate crisis and in addressing the environmental injustices of places like East Chicago, we may find that we sometimes need to take care of ourselves and go into retreat. But eventually God calls us back out. Compassion compels us through the doors and out into the streets. Compassion places us back within the invigorating, life-giving streams of God’s active love in the world. In this, let us find the renewal we need in responding to God’s call.
Share Your Story of Responding to God’s Call: Through the UCC’s Three Great Loves initiative, churches and members are invited to share how they are enacting compassion through love of neighbor, love of children, and love of creation.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as The_Green_Rev.