(a reflection on the times from Pastor Peter K. Perry)
Pastor Ruth and I have noticed a trend in recent weeks that began after the November elections and has continued to the present day. People in the church, representing both sides of America’s political divide, are anxious about where the church stands on the many issues that are in the spotlight of public discourse in these days: immigration, refugees, military use, public protest, policing, education, gun control, human sexuality, health insurance, the environment, and more. The anxiety is manifested in a couple of ways.
Is it well with your soul? First, people stop by to chat or call to set up appointments. They want to talk about the state of their soul. Many seem to be suffering from a sort of spiritual discontent that I think may have roots in the constant sense of divisiveness we see reported on the news and flashing before our eyes on social media. I’ve been encouraging people to spend less time engaging the newsfeeds and more time engaging God. Spend at least as much time in quiet prayer as you do watching FOX News or Rachel Maddow.
Sweet Hour of Prayer. Private prayer between you and God is great place to do your personal soulwork, but our times of public prayer are another place where anxiety is manifested. People are bringing partisan prayers to church. When the pastors leading the Sunday morning prayers get two diametrically opposed prayer requests handed to them, that center aisle of the church where we try to be a pastor to all becomes a gymnast’s balance beam. We try to choose our words carefully, and read your requests faithfully, knowing that one person’s prayer for the President may be another person’s call to resistance. When you add in the complicating factor that your pastors have their own political passions and persuasions, it can sometimes get messy and people sometimes leave with hurt feelings. Maybe we should try to pray the Quaker way and just all be quiet before our God. At the very least, as we enter into our times of public prayer, could our first prayer be for the people in the room with whom we share the air?
Wonderful Words of Life. But even if we solve the puzzle of public prayer, your pastors are still expected to preach, right? Preaching is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is informed by the pastor’s prayer, study of scripture, and the world around us, especially our congregation – the people we love and serve. When I read the Scripture, it speaks to me, it convicts me, it persuades me. And my job is to interpret this to you. But many are anxious that our preaching is too politically oriented.
The church, and I would argue, every preacher, must faithfully interpret the Word of God for the times in which we live. Failure to speak to the world and to our times is the surest way to make the church what its critics often say it is: irrelevant. But the issues the Bible speaks about are inherently political.
When I share a passage about Jesus calling for us to care for the poor, I step into the pulpit worried that I somehow might be “too political” in the eyes of some. When I quote the prophets, who proclaimed God’s call to beat swords into plowshares, I know I risk offending people who are passionate about the Second Amendment. These days as I prepare and preach, I pray for the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Samson and the patience of Job.
I invite you all during the weeks between now and Easter to read the Gospels again. Start with Matthew and work your way all the way through John. Immerse yourself in the teachings of Jesus. See for yourself what Jesus says and consider how it speaks to our world today. This Bible reading activity, coupled with the already prescribed prayer time, might help alleviate some of the anxiety you may be feeling in these days.