Compassion Fatigue and Harvest Hope
Readings: Psalm 104:1-24; Matthew 18:15-23
Heaven on Earth;
We need it now.
I’m sick of all of this hanging around.
Sick of sorrow.
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing Again and again
That there’s gonna be peace on Earth.
These aren’t my words, but are taken from the song ‘Peace on Earth’ by U2, a song we’ll come back to when we look at the history of peace activism in Wales in November. For some of us, the mere mention of U2 will make our eyes roll as we think of some mega-rich Christian celebrity preaching at us yet again.
But I wonder, if you can look beyond who wrote the words, whether you empathise with the sentiment? Sick of sorrow. Sick of pain. Sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be peace on Earth. Some weeks, most weeks, I can. Daily we come across stories of conflict; news of war; headlines of horror. Sometimes, it can feel hard enough to cope with the hurt or sheer busyness of our own lives that listening to foreign atrocities and the tragedies of people we’ll likely never meet can feel like a step too far. We get bad news fatigue…so we switch the channel, tune into a different station and search for some good news, because, after all, that’s what we’re about as Christians, isn’t it? The good news of God?
I’m sure some of us here – and I include myself in this – even winced when we heard that this year’s Baptist Missionary Society harvest appeal was Syria’s Forgotten Families because…well, we’ve done our bit, haven’t we? We’ve held welcome events for the Syrian families in our community and given money and collected clothing so can’t we just have a bit of a ‘plough the fields and scatter’, pumpkins and parsnips sort of service?
And then, even those of us who do have the stamina and compassion to keep working to welcome, support, love our sisters and brothers from or in Syria might well find it hard to get our heads round the situation. The sheer numbers of dead and wounded in Syria are simply overwhelming. In April, the UN’s Syria envoy estimated that over 400 000 people had been killed. I don’t know about you but I just can’t get my head round that. Stalin is not someone I frequently find myself quoting, but it’s reported that it was during a meeting with Churchill in 1943, that he said, “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic”. And I can understand that. Hearing of the death of one mother, one father, one child, can touch us deeply. But hearing a number like 400 000 deaths is beyond my emotional capacity.
Which is perhaps why it’s important, to listen, not to statistics, but to stories – to the tales of what life is like for a father whose 18-month old daughter has spent her entire life living in a tent in a refugee camp in Lebanon, or to a 10 year old girl who hasn’t been to school in 3 years but whose dream is to be a French teacher. So let’s pause and listen to their stories now…
https://vimeo.com/165576343 [Syria’s Forgotten Families video]
“How many times must I forgive my brother?” Peter asks, hoping for a ballpark figure. Is it…what…seven times, is that enough? And I get that mentality. Sometimes we want a number, a limit, a boundary on our actions because this Christian thing can be exhausting. It can be difficult to navigate, to work out how we should live. So how many times do I have to forgive my brother, or give money to some collection or show love to my Syrian sister or brother? Is it seven times? Have we done our part after a welcome evening and the donation of some clothing?
To which Jesus responds – ‘no, not seven times but seventy times seven…not a limited number but again and again and again and again’. We may well get compassion fatigue. We may get tired of hearing the sad stories of others. We may want pretty harvest displays and cosy, comfortable songs…and none of this is wrong in itself but we cannot simply surrender to such thinking. For we believe that there is good news to be said and heard. We believe that there is hope, love, light in even the darkest situation and we are called to show it. Not just once. Not seven times. But again and again and again and again.
It might be hard and sometimes and we might all get tired or distracted but that’s one reason why we gather together every week – to worship, yes, but also to encourage one another on our walk with God. To remind ourselves that God blesses us in abundance – with all the fruits of the Earth and good things of creation, again and again – so that we might, in turn, bless others.
This harvest-time then, may we thank God for the opportunity to support the Baptist harvest appeal with our time, money and prayers. May we delight in sharing our dinner tables at our lunch today with one another, with our friends from Syria and Eritrea, with Christ, our guest and host. May we sing the songs of the composer of the cosmos, the God who creates and recreates us in love and wonder. And in our living out the good news of God’s extravagant love for all creation, may we heed the words of our sister Teresa who said –
“Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Ours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Ours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Ours are the hands, ours are the feet, ours are the eyes, we are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but ours.” Amen.