Today we woke up to news that several tornadoes touched down near Dayton.
Sunday, we talked about flooding in Oklahoma and I asked our congregation to consider donating toward the construction and operation of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia. Before that, there was flooding in Iowa and Nebraska and we were raising money for a Habitat for Humanity house here in Alliance, Ohio. Before that, it was something else, and there was something else before that, and so on.
There seems to be a never-ending stream of need.
There is always someone, or some organization, asking for our money or our time. And, after a while, we can be tempted to shut it all out, to numb ourselves to the needs of the people around us, and just live quietly in our own world while we pretend that the rest of the world will be okay without our help or participation. This is not uncommon. In fact, there’s even a scientific name for it.
It’s called “compassion fatigue.”
The constant demand for our attention, for our money, for our time, and for our effort can wear us down. We get tired of helping and we grow weary of even being asked.
But this isn’t new to the twenty first century.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he writes about people, inside the church, who won’t do their share of the work but still show up to get food and other help from the rest of the church. It was bad enough that they even instituted an official policy, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” But even so, some of the idle non-workers were spending their time gossiping about everyone else and it was disrupting the entire church. People were frustrated. They were tired. They felt as if they were being taken advantage of.
They had compassion fatigue.
But after Paul calls out the busybodies and urges them to earn the food that they were eating, he sends this message to the rest of the church who were already doing more than their fair share:
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Never tire of doing good.
I know that someone always seems to be asking for something. I know that sometimes it feels like someone is trying to take advantage of us. I know that the pleas for disasters and calls to alleviate poverty and suffering from across the country and around the world seem to be almost constant and never-ending.
But it has always been that way and it will almost certainly continue as long as we draw breath.
Three out of the four gospel writers record Jesus words, “You will always have the poor among you…” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8). And these words remind us that until the world is remade at the end of time, there will always be people in need.
But, as the followers of Jesus Christ we have been called to do something about it. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. John Wesley put it this way:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
We have been both blessed and called by God to be his agents in the world. We are the only Jesus that most people will ever see. We are his hands and his feet in a hurting, suffering, hungry world.
May we never tire of doing good.