A Measure of Compassion

 

2 Samuel 7:1–14
Psalm 89:20–37
Mark 6:30–34, 53–56

 

6:30 “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

 

53 “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Shepherd God, you call us into a rhythm of work and rest that our lives may be the better for it. So shape our work and our rest that the world will recognize us as Jesus’ disciples and our service as what you would have us do. Amen.

 

It was a surreal experience getting a text message that your home town is in the midst of a mass shooting.  Midafternoon on Thursday my middle brother sent me a text message about an “active shooter in Chattanooga.”  Chattanooga is the city where we grew up.  The news was sketchy but as the day went on it only got worse. Rumors swirling that it was an ISIS attack on military installments.  What about my family, friends and the people I know back there.  Are they safe?  What has happened to the world?  Violence and death and terror seem to rule the day.  As the day turned to night the details continued: four US Marines were dead, a policeman was injured and a US Navy Sailor was in critical condition and has since died.  Then came the news that the gunman, a Muslim, was dead.

 

What makes this reality even worse is that it creates more discontent and more animosity for interfaith relations.  It allows the critics to point out the fact that it is not only radicalized Muslims that are a threat to us but even naturalized citizens who seem like all American guys can actually be wolves in sheep clothing.  For supporters of building interfaith bridges it sets back the cause because yet again it is one of “them” that has done this cowardly and disastrous act.

 

As I learned more about the Chattanooga shootings I remembered the parts of town that rolled of the tongues of the newscasters Lee Highway, Amnicola Highway, Hixson, Colonel Shores, Red Bank High School, all places I am very familiar with.  How can this happen where I grew up?

 

The Mayor of Chattanooga Andy Berke, who was a grade school classmate of mine was all over the television and his quote said it all “it is incomprehensible to see what happened and the way that individuals who proudly serve our country were treated.”[1]  The victims of the crime were rushed to Erlanger Medical Center, the hospital where my father practiced medicine. It is just so surreal and my emotions run the gamut from anger, sadness, rage and compassion.

 

I have been thinking about this for a few days now and I realize that violence is all too common place and I have to admit that I may not have paid as close attention if this violent act took place in Wichita or Dubuque.  Have we become so callous to violence and death that it just washes over us like the weather reports and sports highlights?  After all it was just a month ago that Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers at the bible study at the Immanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.  It was on Thursday night that a jury in Colorado found James Holmes guilty of first-degree murder in the mass shooting inside of a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

 

I am not feeling particularly Christian in my thoughts and feelings and I am not moved to compassion for those who commit these cowardly acts of violence in death for their misguided beliefs and interpretations of holy writings.  Whether it is a White Supremacist, an Islamic Terrorist or a lawbreaking cop.  Their acts of violence and terrorism that seek to change the world that God created and God sustains and that God redeemed through Jesus are wrong and evil and we can’t stand for them anymore.  Yes, I am angry and passionate about this because it hurts, it hurts us all when it seems that evil is wining and violence continues.  Have we lost all sense of compassion?

 

And that is what this sermon was supposed to be about before the tragic events of Thursday afternoon took place.

 

Compassion. The word compassion has its root in a word that means “guts” or the seat of feeling. You know the saying, “You feel it in your gut.”  You know that feeling – where your reaction to something sends your stomach churning.  That’s compassion – a visceral feeling.  Jesus has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd, lost, lacking guidance, in need of care, and of protection.

 

But for Jesus, compassion is not just a feeling but an action.  And Jesus shows his followers that compassion is essential to discipleship. Compassion, this gut feeling causes you to go outside of yourself to care for another.

 

For Jesus and his followers, compassion is not an optional, there is no vacation from showing and giving compassion.  The reason is simple: Compassion is who Jesus is. Jesus has come proclaiming a God who is not uncaring but compassionate.  But what if Jesus were to say: “Sorry, I can’t be compassionate right now, I’m on vacation”? It contradicts his very message, his very being.  If Jesus stops being compassionate, he stops being Jesus; he stops being the Son of God.

 

Of course Jesus is going to show compassion.  What else is new?   As if Jesus is just automatically going to cease to have compassion on anyone who comes along. Yet we dare not take the compassion of Jesus for granted, because when you think about it, it is an extraordinary thing, a monumental thing, that Jesus should have compassion on “them.”

 

See, the thing that really gets me about this statement is not that “compassion on them”, but that Jesus had compassion on “them.”

 

Can’t you see them, waiting like a bunch of vultures for Jesus and the disciples when they got out of the boat, clamoring, demanding: “Jesus, heal me first . . . Jesus, give me some food . . . Jesus, make me feel better,” They are dirty, sweaty, needing a bath, so loud and demanding.  And Jesus has compassion on “them.”

 

Now I’m all in favor of compassion.  Given the right circumstances, I can be very compassionate. I was moved to compassion a few weeks ago when Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers at the bible study at the Immanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.   I feel compassion for my family.  I feel compassion for friends who face hard times.  I hurt deeply for them.  I know what it is to feel compassion.  No, my problem is feeling compassion for “them.” Them, a word we use to distance ourselves from a particular type of people or group of people. Them and Us, I am so glad I am not one of them. Would you look at them and how they are acting?

 

You know what I am talking about: Them! The people who are not like us, who don’t look, act, worship, and live like we do. They have different values and morals and lifestyles. The people we don’t want to show or share compassion with. You know —“them!”

 

Jesus interrupts the disciples’ vacation to them.  They are not the handpicked and well qualified, they are everywoman and everyman, anyone and everyone.  They were people: some who are sick and wanted to be healed.  Others who are hungry and wanted to be fed.  Still others had spiritual needs and hungers that were eating away at their souls.  These are precisely the ones who “Jesus had compassion on.”

 

That is why this unassuming story from Mark in between the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water is so radical: “Jesus had compassion on ‘them.’” It upsets all the careful arrangements of our world.

 

Jesus has compassion precisely on the ones the world tells us to ignore. The least, the last and the lost, the “riff-raff” with whom Jesus associated.

 

Maybe it is the events of this week or maybe it is the work of the Holy Spirit but I realize that this story is more of a blessing than an indictment because  in a very strange twist – I realize that Jesus compassion on them includes me and us.

 

If we can understand that, if we can begin to know that God has compassion on us just as we are, then perhaps we can begin to feel compassion on the ones we consider as “them.”

 

You know:

The next time you see someone who really turns your stomach, stop and think, “Wait, Jesus had compassion on them.”

 

Next time you come across someone who is dirty and smelly and unpleasant, let the thought come to your mind: “Jesus had compassion on them”

 

Next time you come across someone who pushes every one of your buttons: “Imagine, Jesus had compassion on him or her.”

 

Next time you we hear of violence and terror: “Imagine, Jesus had compassion on them”

 

Thanks be to God, Jesus had compassion – especially on them.  Because “them,” includes all of “us.”

 

Let us pray:

[1] Twitter feed of Andy Berke and also found on http://www.npr.org/2015/07/17/423740589/chattanoogans-find-killings-of-four-marines-incomprehensible

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