For the Healing of the Nations

A favorite hymn was running through my mind last week as I participated in one virtual meeting after another related to COVID-19. It was reinforced by a recent Zoom meeting of the Council of Bishops, where we heard about countries whose struggles with COVID-19 are far more serious than ours in the U.S.

For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord;
for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action, help us rise and pledge our word (2x).
(Tune: CWM RHONDDA: United Methodist Hymnal, #428)

The writer of this hymn, Fred Kaan (1929- 2009) was born in the Netherlands and was ordained in the United Reform Church. Kaan was a pastor in England and also served in ecumenical roles in Switzerland. His great love, however, was hymn writing, with a focus on justice, mercy, and abundant life for all people on our earth.

Statistics released last Friday show that nonfarm payrolls fell by 20.5 million jobs in April and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%. These are both post-World War II records.The actual unemployment rate, including those not looking for jobs and those who are underemployed, surged to 22.8%.

As our world continues to struggle with COVID-19, how is God calling people of faith to live a life of love and action and seek a just and equal sharing of the resources of our earth?

Lead your people into freedom, from despair your world release,
that redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace.
Show us how, through care and goodness, fear will die and hope increase (2x).

One of the most important markers of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health is relationships. People the world over yearn for meaningful connections with others through care and goodness. Like many around the globe, my husband Gary and I connect with our three children and grandchildren every Sunday evening through Zoom. We don’t often have lots of news since we are all confined to home. However, there is comfort and hope in seeing the faces of those we love, laughing together, and offering support and encouragement.

How is God calling you and me to dispel fear and bring hope by reaching out to those who live alone or are afraid or have fallen onto despair? And how can our communities of faith create systems of caring through personal connection with the most vulnerable among us?   

All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned:
pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice may we hallow life’s brief span (2x).

My heart aches for the millions of students around the world who will not be able celebrate their graduations with friends and family. Nor are any of us able to gather for funerals/memorial services or weddings in ways we had hoped for. These milestones are so important, and it is wonderful to witness the creativity of family and friends as they honor these significant occasions.

Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. What is it that kills abundant life in our world? Looking out only for myself? Refusing to help my neighbor? Criticizing those who look differently, dress differently, speak differently, or believe differently? Keeping score? Turning my back on human need?

You, Creator-God, have written, your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness, bring the life of Christ to mind;
that by our response and service, earth its destiny may find (2x).

Clearly, the health and economic effects of COVID-19 continue to be catastrophic for our world. We were honored to have Vice-President Mike Pence visit Des Moines on Friday in response to a rise in confirmed infections in the state. Pence was meeting with religious leaders to encourage them to reopen churches responsibly. At the same time, most of the religious leaders who were present stated clearly that we are not ready yet for in-house worship and must put the safety of parishioners first. It was important dialogue with no easy answers.

About thirty miles from where Vice-President Pence was meeting is Tyson Foods pork plant in Perry where 730 employees – nearly 60% of its workforce – have tested positive for the coronavirus. Many of them are immigrants and refugees. More than 100 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized in Polk County, which includes Des Moines. Karl Keeler, president of MercyOne Central Iowa, a major hospital system, told his staff last week that Iowa’s estimated rate of transmission for the virus remains among the highest in the nation. “Our community spread of the virus remains high. We have a lot of work to do.”

At the same time, we are discovering that in the midst of COVID-19, where so much travel and movement has come to a halt, the earth itself has begun to flourish. Our planet and its creature are beginning to heal, just as everyday life comes to a virtual standstill. Our “energy-friendly” quarantine lifestyle has resulted in less pollution, less waste, cleaner air, and a reduction of greenhouse gases. The earth it literally coming alive.

Fred Kaan based his hymn on Revelation 21. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. 

How will earth find its destiny? I suspect it will happen when we recognize that the God who dwells with us has written God’s name on humankind, upon each heart. When you and I grow into the likeness of Christ and respond by our stewardship of the earth and our love for one another, then our world will become whole again. To a life of love in action, help us rise and pledge our word.

14 thoughts on “For the Healing of the Nations

    • For those lucky enough to have a hymnal at home, the correct # of the hymn is 428. Beautiful words to remind us of God’s love.

  1. Not familiar with the hymn, but the lyrics are quite beautiful and meaningful. Such behavior is expected from the Christian body with respect to its own members, but also one would assume to anyone, especially non-Christians. What a witness this would be! Helping only our own is a witness if non-Christians look at us and see what we do, but opening our doors and souls to others outside the fold would really show just who we are.

  2. GO, GO, GO, Green Earth and all of God’s creatures —Thanks for this reminder, Bishop —continuing to pray for and be supportive of all on the front lines against the virus.

  3. Bishop Haller, thank you for your reflections on one of my favorite hymns. Your wise words helped me examine myself and my faithfulness in a time of isolation and worry. I especially appreciated your comments on “what kills abundant life?’ There is a whole sermon or prayer of confession in that question. And it moves us to consider how we might live a life of love in action. May God continue to guide you in these times of trial.

  4. Go, go, go, Green Earth — and may all of God’s creatures be well. A wonderful reminder of what we have been entrusted with. We continue to pray for and be supportive of everyone who are on the front lines against the virus. Thanks, Bishop

  5. As we witness the healing of the environment during this time of shutdown, I am reminded of God’s call for a year of Jubilee every fifty years. It seems that God knew that a “healthy” economy would lead to an unhealthy planet. A year of Jubilee every fifty years may just be enough to provide for the necessary balance.
    When was the last time a year of Jubilee was a reality?

  6. A wonderful Article. The hymn number in my Methodist Hymnal is 428, so maybe I have a newer or an older edition. No matter, the words exactly fit these times we are all living through and trying to make sense of. Thank you, Laurie, for your insight into so many things that matter to all of us who live on this planet and in God’s world.

  7. Very good insights and I’m proud to be a member of one of your churches in the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Thank you for your encouragement and for reminding us of the selflessness we need to practice. God bless, Cleo Farris

  8. I was born in to a Christian family . I am soon to be 100 yrs old. Christ in my heart has been my strong hold all my life. Heaven is a promise I appreciate.

  9. I am grateful to you and the other denominational leaders for your wise providence and guidance during this pandemic.I will share a quote from the late Dr. George E. LaMore, Jr, Professor Emeritus of our beloved Iowa Wesleyan University here in Mt. Pleasant. Dr. LaMore had it made into a bumper sticker. He said, “Jesus Christ Saves Us from Sin, Not Necessarily Stupidity”. It is a quote that has guided me in much of my thinking. I think it is very fitting in our current crisis.

  10. Iowans will always find a way to enjoy the landmarks of each life. The North Butler High School celebrated the 2020 graduates this Sunday afternoon, May 17, by having each graduate ride in the back of a decorated pickup with posters and ballons, in a 2020 Graduate Parade through the main areas of Greene and Allison. Friends, family and neighbors parked in their vehicles along the parade routes and honked horns, waved and hollered congratulations to the graduates as they paraded by. It helped to raise the spirits of everyone involved and was handled in a safe way for all to keep our distance. Praise the Lord for the happy time for all involved. A more formal celebration is planned for July if Covid 19 allows. Blessings to all these future leaders of our state and country. They were born during 911 year of 2001 and now graduate during 2020 Covid 19 Pandemic, may their future be blessed!

  11. Thank you, Laurie! As usual, your words are a great reminder of what we need to be about in the present time. The words from the hymn you chose are wisdom in stirring, poetic fashion; and the hymn tune to which those words are set is so upbeat, calling us to live into the future God is preparing for us. May God give us strength and wisdom for this day and the days ahead.

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