Praying The News

September 3, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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“Praying the News”

Rev. Melanie Homan

September 3, 2017

Romans 12:9-21The Message (MSG)

9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Message

One of the deepest honors I have as a pastor, is to be with people at some of the key moments in their lives. I GET to baptize babies, and officiate at weddings, and preside over funerals.  I get to sit with people as they make decisions about advanced directives.  I get to pray with people at their bedsides in hospitals and even help them navigate the Emergency Room in the middle of the night.  Before serving here at Lake Harriet, pastoral care was my sole job at the Methodist Church up on Roseville.  Whereas we have a handful of funerals a year, I usually officiated1-2 funerals a week.

Over the years, I’ve treasured the conversations I’ve had with people who know their days are numbered. We talk about all of the things you’d imagine – how they are doing, where they are experiencing God, what their worries and hopes are.  And then we pray.

I always figured I knew what people would want me to pray about when their health is failing – but I also didn’t want to miss something important, so I ask people what they would like me to pray for.

And that’s when it happens. The blessed unexpected.  “Please pray for peace.”  “I’m so worried about all of the people affected by the hurricane.  Pray that they find food and shelter and that people help them.”  “Please pray for my neighbor – she’s going through a hard time.” Or, “I’m really concerned about our nation’s children.  They face so many pressures at school, that I never had to face.” Or, “I fought in World War II.  I know what war is like.  I’m concerned about our soldiers.  Pray that they will be okay.”

When offering pastoral care, my attention is on the person right in front me, and they come back with all of this love and care and concern for people beyond themselves. And so it goes, that our prayer chain faithfully prays for those connected to our congregation who are going through a hard time, and in turn, when I visit them, we pray for the world.

This is increasingly the case as it seems week after week a different part of the world is bombarded by some devastating disaster – both natural and human made. How do we carry on in the face of such world events?  I was listening to a news blurb the other day on the radio – they were talking about the different disasters and how much money individuals have been giving to try and help other people.  They were talking about people like us, who aren’t living in places of mass devastation, but feel hopeless as we watch images on tv and on our phones.  We run the risk of coming down with what’s called “donor fatigue”.  It’s the feeling that no matter how much we serve and how much we give, that it will never be enough to address the intense needs the world over.

How do we resist the slow, but persistent spread of donor fatigue that can plague our bodies, spreading like an insipid virus and bacteria? Surely there will continue to be hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, poverty, and wars.  So how do we stay connected with the concerns of the world without being taken out of commission ourselves in the process?

Just as when we have a head cold, the age old wisdom is that it’s important to slow down and get plenty of rest if you want to get better. This goes back to our creation story that even God rested for a day, and expected all of creation to need rest and Sabbath, as well.  What does this have to do with natural disasters?  Like I shared last week, for me, it means that sometimes I need to go on a news fast.  I’m rendered incapable of working when I become too overwhelmed by the suffering of the world.  So I take a news fast – I allow myself a break from the bombardment of information that comes through the radio, my phone, the newspaper.

But this is not a long-term solution. This is meant to put things back into perspective and

get me grounded back into who I am and the God to whom I belong. So I may take a news fast for a day when I’m particularly overwhelmed.  But this can’t become an easy fix, a stick your head in the sand response to the needs of the world.  So after taking a Sabbath rest from the news, I face it head on.  I write my check to the United Methodist Committee on Relief because I know that 100 percent of my donation will go directly to relief work.  And then I pray the news.

In the Quaker tradition, they speak of bringing their prayers into the light of God. They speak of fully expecting the Spirit to be present with them in prayer.  And so that is what I do when I read the news.

As I’m reading these articles, I bring them into the light of God. Sure, I still alternate between feeling disgust, then sadness or concern, then joy, depending on the article, but I don’t leave it at that.  As I read, I bring my feelings, the people behind the stories, and my concerns for the world to God in prayer.  This is bringing prayers into the light of God,

trusting the Spirit to be present with us as we do so. And I carry on through my day, empowered by God, freed to give my care and attention to the things before me each day.

In Romans chapter 12, Paul speaks timeless words that are helpful to us as we stay connected with the events of the world without being suffocated by them. Paul writes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.  So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

Persevere in prayer”.

Paul gives us a laundry list of what it means to live an ethical, principled life. The United Methodist Church paid for a full page add in the New York Times after the Charlottesville protests with Paul’s words.  “Don’t let evil get the best of you.  Get the best of evil by doing good.”  “Don’t insist on getting even or hitting back.”

There were two things that happened this past week that caught my interest. Not because they were huge, important things, but more because they weren’t.  It was part of my “break” from all that is stressful in the world.  One was the fight between McGregor and Mayweather.  I just don’t get boxing.  So I started reading up on the fight because I wanted to understand why friends and family were paying $100 to watch two men beat each other up for loads of money.  Who do you cheer for when you don’t like either person?  It’s pretty much impossible to reconcile Paul’s words with boxing, hockey, football.  Don’t hit back.  Paul says Don’t hit back, and we pay ridiculous amount of money to watch other people do just that.  I tried to expose myself to different perspectives on fighting, but I still don’t get it.

And the other thing that happened – the thing I know you were all waiting for – the release of a new single by Taylor Swift. Whether you like her or not, it’s impossible to turn on the radio and not regularly hear her upbeat calls for us to “shake it off”.  A new, catchy tune.  That’s what we all need.  A song with a funky tempo and easy to sing lyrics about how everything is going to be ok.  That’s what I was expecting.

That’s not what we got. What we got, and is now being played over and over and over on the radio – is a revenge song.  And what the world needs now is NOT another revenge song.

Look what you made me do! Isn’t that what someone blaming a victim says?

The whole refrain, over and over and over.

Look what you made me do,

Look what you just made me do.
The world moves on, another day, another drama, But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours
Ooh, look what you made me do Look what you made me do. over and over and over.

If I could just have 5 minutes with Taylor Swift, I would tell her to read Romans 12. I would tell her that she does not wear revenge well.  It does not look good on her.  Because it doesn’t look good on anyone!!!

“Don’t insist on getting even or hitting back.” And “Don’t let evil get the best of you. Get the best of evil by doing good.”  Doing good.

Throughout the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul is talking about love – love radiating out like the ripples of water when you drop a rock in a puddle.  The first ring of people we love are those closest to us.  He talks about sisterly and brotherly love.  Then he talks about love in the community.  Then love of strangers.  Then love of enemies.  The circles get broader and broader and go further and further out.

These verses are short, but they are not easy.

So I pray the news each day, whether it is important news or fluffy news. I bring my concerns to the light of God.  I pray for God’s mercy and grace.  And I sometimes pray this poem written by Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest, philosopher, and biologist. It reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Phillipians, that God, who began a good work in us, will bring it to completion.  May this be for us a healing salve for our wounds and the wounds of the world.

Trust in the slow work of God.

We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We would like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

to something unknown,

something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability –

and that it may take a very long time.

Ideas mature gradually.

Let them grow,

Let them take shape themselves

without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today

what time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this spirit gradually

forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that God’s hand is leading your surely thru

the obscurity and the “becoming”

and accept

the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

Since your activity has to be far-reaching,

it must emanate from a heart

that has suffered.

We must offer our existence to God,

Who neither wastes nor spoils,

but rather makes use –

better use than we could ever anticipate –

Of the struggle in which

we are enveloped.

Amen.