Week of Compassion is the relief, refugee and development mission fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. Week of Compassion seeks to equip and empower Disciples to alleviate the suffering of others through disaster response, humanitarian aid, sustainable development and the promotion of mission opportunities.
This week and next we are asked to consider how we as individuals and as a church can further our support of Week of Compassion and the work they do.
Work like: Storm relief in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico as well as numerous other efforts around our country. Also…Earthquake relief in Mexico. Refugee assistance in Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Russia, and Bangladesh. Water programs in Haiti and Sierra Leone. Girls Advocacy and Women Empowerment programs in parts of Africa. Boko Haram Conflict Relief in Cameroon and Chad. Drought relief in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The list of needs and places goes on and on and on.
The work Week of Compassion offers make the words of the Apostle Paul ring loud and true: “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.”
This is the scriptural focus for this year’s Week of Compassion theme which is “More Than We Can Imagine.”
It is a reminder that the God we worship week after week; the God we pray to day after day; the God we proudly proclaim we follow—even to the cross—is able to do and be more than we can imagine.
And that’s what we are called to do today, and throughout this season of Lent…Imagine.
As we continue into this young Lenten season… as we consider our support of Week of Compassion…and as we have lingering in our minds and hearts the events of this past week…let us imagine.
These words of Apostle Paul are powerful, prayerful, hopeful, and inspiring. Still, the concept Paul outlines is powerful in another way, particularly the words, “Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
I am struck by the words, and the idea, around “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Like Han Solo to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, as Luke tries to convince Han to help Princess Leah. Luke explains how Han could earn a reward more than he can imagine. Solo responds saying, “I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.” Can’t we all imagine quite a bit?
Every time the Mega Millions or Powerball lotteries reach an exorbitant amount I find myself imagining what winning such a jackpot would mean—what I would do with that “quite a bit” of wealth.
There’s a woman in New Hampshire who won last month’s 560 million dollar Powerball—but hasn’t yet claimed her winnings because she wants to remain anonymous. She has actually gone to court and asked a judge to let her keep her jackpot, but not divulge her identity. For every day she doesn’t claim her prize she losses making the interest off her winnings that amounts to fourteen thousand dollars. $14,000. A day. The amount of lost interest is now closing in on half a million dollars. It makes me imagine what even $14,000 a day would be like.
It’s easy and it’s fun to imagine wealth. We see a lot of it as entertainment, sports, and news glorify it. Advertisers prey on our imagination of such to get us to “invest” in ways that will help us get it.
Oh, we’re good and imagining. More than we can imagine!? Ha! We can imagine quite a bit. Or can we?
We can imagine quite a bit of wealth, but do we ever imagine quite a bit of other things? Things like…hope, peace, joy, and love. (I know, such a preacher question.)
So how about this… Do we ever imagine quite a bit of things like…food, clean water…health care… safety…kindness…consideration of others…acceptance…empathy?
Do we ever imagine a world so full of compassion for all of God’s children that compassion—not fear and apathy—reigns supreme? Do we?
God does. God does because God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the abundant, capable power of God is at work—and that it is at work within us, capable of coming out of us so that the “more than we can imagine” ceases to be a dream and becomes a reality.
But do we believe this?
In more than just words… In more than just a nod of the head to the preacher asking a rhetorical question…do we believe God is able to do more than we can imagine, in us and through us?
Do we believe this?
In more than just the implicit consent that comes with the moniker of “Christian,” do we believe this?
That’s the question I ask each of us, myself included…now, in this season of Lent—this season of introspection and repentance.
But it’s a question I ask because of the events that took place in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday…Valentine’s Day…Ash Wednesday.
I ask this question, today…as we consider our support to Week of Compassion…on the first Sunday of Lent…in the days since yet another mass shooting in our country that has left seventeen dead and countless lives shattered… Do we believe God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can imagine?
I’ll admit it… I doubt. I doubt because to look at it all causes doubt.
But my introspection and repentance helps me realize my doubt is not in our God. My doubt is in me. It is in us—the children of God who proclaim our God is able…within us and through us.
I doubt because of fear. I doubt because of apathy. I doubt because of inaction.
In December 2012 a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and killed twenty children and six adults. We wept and prayed… and moved on.
In June 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and injured 58 in an Orlando nightclub, making it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. We wept and prayed… and moved on.
That sad and horrendous record stood for just sixteen months when in October of last year a gunman in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured 851. We wept and prayed… and moved on.
There have been more than a dozen school shootings in 2018 already—the latest on Wednesday, February 14th, in Parkland, Florida where 17
people were shot to death.
When will it stop? When will the weeping, praying, and moving on stop?
I shudder to think…it won’t stop.
It won’t stop. It’s never going to stop until we start imagining…
Until we imagine a world where everyone is truly safe and that laws are enacted to actually keep everyone safe and not to simply keep a few happy—it’s not going to stop.
Until we imagine having actual conversations with people who we disagree with and who disagree with us—conversations where we actually listen to one another instead of waiting to tell them how we are right and how they are wrong—it’s not going to stop.
Until we imagine that all people were created in the image of God—it’s not going to stop.
Until we imagine that maybe our way is not the only way or even the best way—it’s not going to stop.
Until we imagine that there has to be a better way—and that we can find it if we would stop making everything about ourselves, and remember we are all in this thing called life, on this place we call earth, together—it’s not going to stop.
Until we imagine that Jesus really did mean it when he said the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” even when our neighbor is black, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, Muslim, old, young, rich, poor, handicapped, sick, mentally ill or any of the labels we slap on people then push them to the margins—it’s not going to stop.
The pain, the hurt, the seeing someone different from me as my opposition or as my enemy is never going to stop until we at the very least begin to imagine a better way—a way that Jesus showed—a way of grace and peace, of acceptance and love; a way of hope; a way of compassion; a way that God is capable of doing abundantly far more within us and through us.
Facebook and Twitter rants and snarky memes aren’t going to change anything.
Saying, “Now is not the time to talk about this…” is not going to change anything.
Saying, “But it’s my constitutional right” is not going to change anything.
Seeing those who are different from us as our opposition is not going to change anything.
Only when we truly believe, “To God be the glory…who by the power at work within us…is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…”…until we believe this, and truly live in such belief, then nothing will change. Nothing.
All of us are capable of imagining.
We imagine what we’d do with lottery winnings.
We imagine what we want for our children and our children’s children.
We imagine the things we want to hear from our preachers—and sometimes what we don’t.
We imagine great organizations like Week of Compassion helping others in need on our behalf.
We imagine all manners of things we want—and dream for.
But do we ever imagine God doing abundantly more than we can imagine—and doing it through us?
Do we ever imagine God accomplishing the imagined, making it a reality, through us?
That is what the Apostle Paul is telling us. God can, God does, God is doing and accomplishing abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine—and we can be a part of its reality if we will first imagine.
As we continue into this Lenten season… as we consider our support of Week of Compassion…and as we have lingering in our minds and hearts the events of this past week…let us imagine.
Let us imagine a better way than ever before.
Let us imagine God able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ever imagine. Let us imagine. Amen.
Merciful and patient God, oh how we must try your patience.
We rush through life as though we had a mighty schedule to keep, plotting our days, minute by minute, crowding each moment with tasks, stresses and pressures.
If we slowed even for a moment, it wouldn’t take much to notice the growing dimness and anxiety in our lives. It wouldn’t take long for us to realize we have once again, done exactly what we said we would not do—give in to the ways of this world.
Which is why we need the season of Lent—the season when we are intentional about looking deep within ourselves, and acknowledging our need for a Savior, because in an effort to find abundant life, we feast at the table piled high with fear and doubt; and drink from the cup of apathy. The very plans we weave, the efforts we make, become bonds which imprison us.
So it is our prayer O God, that you help us unbind ourselves from these worldly ways, and instead bind ourselves to you.
May you help us slow down and reflect on the many ways in which you bless us. Let us be immersed in your hope, peace, joy and love which is always abundant. Inspire us to imagine, with you and one another, better days.
Holy God we pray for the community of Parkland, Florida. May they and all who are impacted by Wednesday’s shooting be immersed in your peace—for yet again the unthinkable has happened—a school shooting.
Lord we know that no sense can ever be made of such senselessness. No words or even any prayers can make it better.
Still, we add our prayers to the all the rest, and pray your spirit rests within that devastated community. We pray that from this atrocity, we as a society, as a country, as human beings in this together, that we will find a better, more hopeful, more compassionate way.
So may a season of new life begin—a season determined to be one where no longer senselessness happens, but rather a season where we hear you speaking to us your love, your forgiveness, your compassion, and your eternal promise of abundant life.
Hear now the prayers of our hearts as we offer them in this time of holy silence.
All this we pray in the name of the one we walk in the wilderness with, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”