Today’s devotional is written by The Rev. Kyle Lovett

There’s an old saying, sometimes attributed to an early American preacher and sometimes attributed to a journalist or lawyer about their professions:

“[The preacher should] comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

(Maybe you’ve experienced one or the other of those kinds of sermons in your church life? I sure have! And I’ve delivered both kinds, too!)

As this pandemic has worn on, many of us have turned more and more to seeking comfort for ourselves – and to comforting others – and have decreased afflicting the comfortable.  I know I have bowed out of some of the social justice marches I would “normally” have attended before the threat of catching COVID in large crowds.

I was recently reminded of the preacher’s admonition when I read the Benediction given by (now retired) Bishop Woodie White at the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado:

And now may the Lord torment you.

May the Lord keep before you the faces of
the hungry, the lonely, the rejected, and
the despised.

May the Lord afflict you with pain
for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed,
the abused, the victims of violence

May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst
for justice and righteousness.

May the Lord give you courage and strength and
compassion to make ours a better world,
to make your community a better community,
to make your church a better church.

And may you do your best to make it so,
and after you have done your best,
may the Lord grant you peace.

Today, if we’re paying attention and uncover our eyes and ears for the news, we are indeed tormented – with the steep rise in COVID-19 infections bringing crises in our local hospitals and ERs; with 100 days of war in Ukraine by Rissia; and maybe especially with the murders of sweet, innocent little children with the weapons of war. I find myself weighed down by the first half of Bishop White’s benediction.

I remember the modeling by the church elders of my youth, captured in this beloved UCC bumper sticker from the 1970’s:

To Believe is to Care.  To Care is to Do.

I’ve spent my life doing, because the Church raised me to care.  And I’ve found it hard to keep doingthese past two years.  Maybe you have, too?

When I feel particularly sad about how much energy it has been taking just to get by, day by day, I remember that – like you – I am still doing my best, under the current circumstances.

Thank God we’re part of a faith community that holds us all – the exhausted and the activist – in the Divine embrace.

Thank God we have each other, in the Beloved Community.  Collectively, we dance with the ebb and flow of our energies – sometimes able to do and sometimes able just to be.  And thus, for today, a revised ending to the Benediction:

May you do your best,
and after you have done your best,
may the Lord grant you peace.