As a Scot, I am sort of unique. I don’t drink whiskey and have never played a round of golf. However, my golf-obsessed friends tell me that there is such a thing as a mulligan: the chance to take a shot again because you didn’t like the first one. So I wonder: who do we ask for a mulligan for 2020? I don’t know about you, but I would really like a do-over of this year.
Here in Switzerland, over the last few months of our COVID lockdown, I’ve found myself constantly saying things to myself like, “I wasn’t trained for this,” “I have never ministered like this before,” “people have never had to handle stuff like this before,” “how will they cope?” and “how on earth can I respond to that?”
As if COVID hasn’t been difficult enough for our churches to handle and navigate, the death of George Floyd exposed racism to still be a malignant and yet callously mundane force in many cultures worldwide. Social media exploded with reactions, from righteous indignation, to a great deal of malicious misinformation, to some not-so-righteous responses from people who feel under attack (or let’s face it, who are just unrepentant racists in denial). A couple of U.S. pastors told me privately that they were glad that their churches have been on lockdown and not meeting face to face – because the face to face interaction most likely to happen between some congregants was angry confrontation. Months of lockdown anxiety and politically potent issues have made some of our congregations powder kegs of pent-up frustration and barely concealed anger.
So how do we respond to all that we have gone through and all we are facing right now in our churches and cultures?
How should we respond to all the hurts, anxiety, and anger with which people are emerging from lockdown?
What should be our response as disciples of Jesus? Because if we are not responding first and foremost as disciples, we are in trouble, and heading for more.
Now I know we can be too eisegetical when it comes to Jesus’ culture – reading our contemporary situation back into his. Nevertheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the culture in which Jesus ministered was riven with sectarian divisiveness and filled with enormous amounts of real and pressing human need. It struck me recently while reading the Gospels that Jesus was often confronted by angry people and needy people. What Jesus faced in Judea 2,000 years ago must have felt somewhat like 2020 does to us in many ways. (Though I am sure Jesus is happy to be spared “Zoom fatigue” and the frustrations of low bandwidth.)
All of this fills my mind and prayers as lockdown in Switzerland eases and people begin to meet again, with appropriate masks and social distance. Recently, a song and a text came together in Holy Spirit serendipity, giving my answer on how I should respond as a disciple, and how we as a church should respond as a community. As I hit play on a video incorporated in our online service, I heard the voice of the Spirit through the words of the song: “everyone needs compassion.”
Those who are struggling with the physical, emotional, and relational impact of COVID need compassion. The victims of racism need compassion – and justice. Even racists need our compassion, if we are serious about that enemy-loving stuff that Jesus seems to have been serious about. People with whom I differ on politics need compassion. I need compassion. The politicians who frustrate me and have a talent for pushing my buttons need compassion.
Just in case I hadn’t got the message, God followed up with a verse from the Gospel of Luke. I’ve been preaching a series called “Overflow,” about how God’s character overflows into our lives and then overflows from our lives into the lives of those around us. I chose the texts weeks before, and as I heard the song, that Sunday I was due to preach about overflowing with -compassion. “Show mercy and compassion for others, just as your heavenly Father overflows with mercy and compassion for all.” (Luke 6:36)
In that moment, I could see the message of Luke 6:36. I could see what it meant for myself, for the church I pastor, and may I tentatively suggest, for the whole Church of Jesus Christ at the moment. Faced with everything that is happening to us, in us and around us, we are to be people and communities of indiscriminate, overflowing compassion.
Two words from this verse jump out at me: “just as,” drawing a direct parallel between God’s treatment of me and my posture towards others. Jesus is telling us that God’s compassion needs to be experienced and expressed: experienced by us as his people and expressed to the people around us. Just as our heavenly Father overflows with indiscriminate compassion for all, we are to allow that compassion to overflow without restriction or discrimination to those around us.
Is there anything that our world needs more right now than people and communities of overflowing, indiscriminate compassion?
I’m now praying for what I’m calling compassion collisions. I am praying that God will fill me, fill us as a church, until we are brimming full of his compassion, and that God would make us bump into people, spilling his compassion all over them through us.
Maybe you would join me in praying for compassion collisions?
What if we pray for Holy Spirit-orchestrated compassion collisions in our families, in our churches, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods? What if God’s antidote for the anger and need swirling around us right now is his compassion administered through us?
Featured image courtesy Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash.