CLERGY CORNER: Lessons “on the course”

Posted on 17 May 2018 by LeslieM

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

I was fortunate to have within my last parish a parishioner who owned a golf shop. Not only did he line me up with a new set of clubs, but he gave me some free lessons from his computer-simulated golf course.

Jack was an accomplished golfer and it had been years since I had picked up a club, so he let me take a practice swing. I lined up on the ball, adjusted my grip and swung. I felt this wonderful sensation of a true connection. I thought to myself, “Jeff, you are a natural.” And then Jack shared with me the results. I sliced it and I sliced it good. The ball landed on a fairway alright, but not the fairway in front of me.

Then Jack adjusted my stance, my posture, my grip, my swing and then I swung. Everything about this felt awkward. There was nothing that felt right. But, when I completed my swing, Jack applauded, saying, “Congratulations, you are a chip and a put away from a par.”

I know that if I practiced and practiced, and spent a lot of time on the course, there may be a day when awkward would feel natural and natural would feel wrong. My muscle memory would be sound and I would have a completely different game. Alas, parish ministry doesn’t afford me a lot of opportunities for golf. But I never forgot that experience. When I did what felt good, it turned out to be wrong; and, when I did what felt wrong, it turned out to be right. Wouldn’t it be nice if every good action had a corresponding sensation? In life, that doesn’t always happen.

So what is a good example of this happening in life? I can paint a scenario that is all too familiar, unfortunately. There is the peaceful community disrupted by a random act of violence. Perhaps a gunman or a bomber unleashes a wrath of hatred that brings death and destruction to innocent bystanders who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The perpetrator is identified and quickly becomes, in the eyes of the public, Public Enemy No 1. And, as a pastor, I know that my faith community is shaken to the core and it is obvious that the pain we are all feeling calls us to prayer.

In our tradition, we pray the prayer of the church with each petition ending with “Lord, hear our prayer.” And we pray the prayer out loud: “Lord, we pray for the victims of the most recent act of violence, for those who were killed, those who were injured, as well as their family and friends …Lord, hear our prayer … Lord, we pray for our community as we witness another act of violence. We pray for peace … Lord, hear our prayer.” And then I name the name of “Public Enemy No. 1.” I pray that God be merciful and comfort his or her family and friends in this time of crises. I can assure you, though the words “Lord, hear our prayer” are spoken, there are a few audible gulps and moans.

From the perspective of the one leading the prayers I must admit, it felt natural to pray for the victims. It did not feel natural to pray for Public Enemy No. 1. Yet, my faith dictates that this must be done. In spite of any feelings I may have, I am called to love my enemy. Like an awkward golf swing, it does not feel right but it is the right thing to do. It doesn’t feel comfortable. I must admit, if I prayed for God’s wrath to smite this perpetrator of violence it would have felt very comfortable. The problem, of course, is I would have “sliced it.”

I know that many people rely upon their feelings when they make a decision, saying or thinking, “It just felt right at the time.” Comfort can be deceiving and, oftentimes, we find ourselves facing ethical dilemmas calling us to do the right thing, not the comfortable thing.

It may not feel right to pray for our enemies, but it is the right thing to do. May God give us the strength to do the right thing, even when it doesn’t feel comfortable.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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