Like most people in our nation my heart was deeply troubled after learning that migrant children were being separated from their mothers and fathers at our nation’s borders. And while I was relieved to learn that President Trump had signed an executive order bringing an apparent end to this inhumane practice, my heart remains troubled today. For I have been grappling with how to speak into this situation as your pastor. (I still don’t know if I got it all right. But here it goes…)
I say ‘grappling’ not because I waver over how I view what occurred at our nation’s borders. With rare exception, I view the forced separation of young children from their parents to be reprehensible and in total opposition to the ways of our Lord Jesus. Rather, I have been losing sleep because I, perhaps like you, wonder: What can I do? What should I do? That has kept me up at night.
I came across a chilling quote by the Reverend James Fenhagen the other day. He writes, “It might well be that the greatest threat to human survival now confronting us is not the loss of energy or the increase of pollution, but the loss of compassion.” I invite you to stop reading and ponder those words for a moment.
As I have pondered these words, God has brought to my mind the many, many places in our country where we need compassion for one another, perhaps now more than ever. The MeToo movement has become a needed clarion call to the deplorable ways that men abuse and denigrate women. The Black Lives Matter movement has been a bold voice raising our awareness of those young black men who have lost their lives at the hands of police. In response, those who are concerned for the safety of the men and women of law enforcement started the Blue Lives Matter movement. These are only a few examples of emerging voices that are speaking up and sharing their fears and their hopes.
Sadly, many people have no interest in listening to these concerns. There are those who respond to their neighbors with anger or defensiveness or apathy. When there is no care or effort made to listen to the fears and hopes of other people there is an erosion of compassion. When one who has been created by our God speaks up, crying out their fears does not our God open His ears? And therefore, shouldn’t we who follow Jesus also do likewise? The answer to this question seems so obvious to me that I sometimes fail to give it a voice. But voice it we must, together.
In the midst of the growing divides in our country I often ask myself who is calling for grace and kindness? Who in our society is working to bring about forgiveness, reconciliation? Who is challenging us to listen to each other and extend goodness to our neighbor or to our enemy? It is not our news media. Not on the right. Not on the left. Our media may inform us. It may raise awareness. I am thankful for our news. But today, for the most part, our news media does not work to bring us together. By and large, news media does not help us build compassion. As far as I can tell neither do many social media posts or many politicians.
And yet, we serve the One who cared for people so much that he offered himself fully. Consider these arresting words from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoken in 1967:
“This is a calling (to peace) that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the (Vietnam) war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all (people) — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?” (“A Time to Break Silence”, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered April 4, 1967)
So what can I do? What should you do? When our hearts are troubled by what has happened to migrant children or when our bellies are filled with rage by the images we see of them? What can we do?
God directs our paths to action in different and important ways. When situations like the one at our nation’s borders arise, I know many who sense a calling from God to walk the pathway of political engagement. They write to our elected officials. They protest. They gather signatures in order to help advance justice and compassion. God directs others to walk the path of supporting humanitarian organizations, whether faith-based or otherwise. These people write checks. They give their time. They lean in and support the important work of helping people on the front lines of need by supporting organizations dedicated to this work. While others are called to action locally. They volunteer in our community. They teach English. They donate food. They open their homes. They walk the pathway of local involvement in our community and support our immigrant neighbors here.
Of the three pathways I mention above, Emmaus as a church has focussed on that last pathway recently. For example, we host an English language class for our neighbors. We continue to build a relationship with Greenvale Elementary in order to learn of their work and support their staff and families. We are learning to network with leaders who serve our immigrant neighbors. And we are committed to learning how to serve even more. So if God has put a burden on your heart, and if you wish to serve locally, then I invite you to partner with Emmaus in our efforts to love our neighbors here in our community.
Of course, this does not mean that our church will never be called by God to engage in the political process. God has and does call the church to such action. And while Emmaus has not historically gotten formally involved in the political process, this does not mean that we never will. If God calls, we must listen and respond. To this I am committed.
But however it is that God calls us, and however it is that God calls you, I urge us in the name of our Lord that our actions and words always be clothed with love and compassion, especially now.
Let our passion be channeled for good not division. Let us denounce the practice so common in our society of name calling, demonizing and insulting those we disagree with. Instead, let us speak the truth in love. Let us show honor to all out of reverence for our Lord. I urge us to use care with our words, to use care with our tone, and to always extend love to those we speak with, whether face-to-face or on social media. Equally as important, let us speak up when we have been hurt or wronged. Let us speak out against injustice. Let us admit when our words or actions have hurt others. Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak. Let us extend kindness and patience by listening to the concerns of others, because listening is an act of love. Let us stand for truth, and let us do it with compassion.
Let us be ambassadors of compassion for the sake of Jesus our Lord.
All praise be to our God.
With deep love,