By Pastor Scott W. Rosekrans
A couple of months ago a Facebook acquaintance posted a photo of an empty delivery truck with a caption that read: “Your Thoughts and Prayers have just Arrived.” I’ll have to admit my initial reaction was anger due in part to who the poster was and also because it struck a nerve. At first, I assumed it was a tongue-in-cheek cheap shot at Christians who, when tragedy strikes say that the victims are in our “thoughts and prayers” and then implying that is the extent of our response.
I stuck to the proverb at times attributed to Mark Twain of never arguing with fools and did not respond. I have since realized that I missed a teachable moment where I could have enlightened him, and his followers who all seemed to like his post.
The more I thought about it the more thought provoking it became. Critiques like these are commonplace because people no longer think “organized” religion is relevant. While studies show that the vast majority of people are spiritual and believe in God, they don’t see the results that would justify rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning; they don’t see us as practicing what we preach.
A Seeker Study commissioned by The United Methodist Church found that there were significant numbers of people out there looking for spirituality. They wanted to go to a place where they felt welcomed, a place full of people who cared, a place where they could be nourished and a place that cared about what was going on outside the doors. A place that was invested in social justice.
Social justice. What a novel concept. Nothing new as that was what drove Jesus’s ministry. The Jewish hierarchy under oppressive Roman rule seemed to be more interested in self-preservation than in ministering to the last, the least and the lost. Martin Luther was equally done with his “church” and thought it needed to be reformed. Likewise, John Wesley was at odds with his Church of England as they turned a blind eye to the plight of the poor throughout the British Isles.
Paragraph 102 of our United Methodist Book of Discipline says, “for Wesley there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” Wesley would be the first to admit that all that is needed for salvation was faith, but would also point to the words of the Apostle James who said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (James 2:14) James goes on to point out that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
In his writings on True Christian Faith, Wesley wrote, “of this faith three things are specially to be noted, first, that it is fruitful in bringing forth good works; secondly, that without it can no good works be done; and thirdly, what good works this faith doth bring forth.”
Wesley’s telling us that our true Christian faith is at the heart of all we do. He goes on to explain that, “for the first, as light cannot be hid but will show itself at one place or other, so true faith cannot be hid but will break out and show itself by good works.” You can’t hide true faith, it will shine and show itself. He continued by saying that, “the soul that hath a living faith will be always doing some good work, which shall declare that it is living.”
If you have a living faith, you won’t be able to help yourself. Doing good works just comes naturally.
If I had to defend my Facebook acquaintance, I’d say that maybe he was reacting out of frustration over the recent spate of tragedies we’ve seen in the world in 2017. Raging forest fires in California, a major hurricane that devastated Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico, the mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and the senseless murder of innocent Christians at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas to name just a few. Perhaps he was frustrated with the thoughts and prayers responses he heard from responding officials and reporters who were expressing their sympathy. Maybe he believed they didn’t need a truck load of thoughts and prayers, they needed a truck load of disaster relief.
I appreciate that. I appreciate how overwhelming it can be. But to many people of faith, our first order of business is always to pray. We pray for those who are suffering and for those who are grieving. We pray that God will send someone to the scene to help in the recovery effort. We pray knowing that the Holy Spirit might indeed move us to be those people.
My congregation gets that. This past year we’ve been involved in numerous missions; some ongoing and some that required an immediate response. We work to live into Wesley’s admonishment to lose no opportunity of doing good in any kind. “Be zealous of good works. Willingly omit no work either of piety or mercy. Do all the good you possibly can, to the bodies and souls of all men.”
It may be that prayer is all we can do, but many of us do understand that we have to stop after the prayers have been offered up, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act. May God allow bless those actions as a testament to the faith we have received.
Scott Rosekrans serves as pastor to the people of Community United Methodist Church in Port Hadlock, Washington.