Compassion

Luke 7: 11-15

11 A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him. 12 As he approached the city gate, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14 He stepped forward and touched the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Those carrying him stood still. Jesus said,“Young man, I say to you, get up.” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

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This story is a reminder that everyone has a story.

Everyone.

Now, in my 16 years of ministry, and even when I was a speech therapist, I’ve heard some stories that were believable right away. And I’ve heard stories that were almost fantastical. And the truth is I’ve become a bit guarded and even skeptical at times – which is not at all like me.

In our world today, that’s how we are expected to act. But Jesus calls us to another way – a way of compassion.

Compassion for everyone!

So, what is compassion? What words come to your mind? Care, concern, love, kindness, sympathy, empathy are a few I think of.

Instead, what do we see more of in our world today?

Skepticism, hatred, slander, calling names, intolerance, inhumaneness, unkindness. The opposite!

What has happened to us? Have we become so centered focused, so intent our getting all we can get out of life, that we have forgotten how to be compassionate in this world?

This story reminds us that we can learn compassion again if we can see with Jesus’ eyes, if we respond with our hearts, and if we believe that our touch also has the power to heal.

A couple of years ago, I visited Boston, staying downtown, next to Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, The Old North Church, Paul Revere’s home and many more historical sites. It was January when I went and cold, Snowing much of the time.

My daughter and I would walk everywhere, even at night. The one thing that saddened me terribly was the number of homeless people sleeping up beside a building, trying to stay out of the snow. One night, while the snow was coming down pretty hard, a homeless man came into our hotel. He just wanted to sit down and get warm, before moving on his way. The motel staff and security physically threw him out. It moved me to tears.

Homelessness is a crisis in our world today. And everyone has a story. Some are addicted, some are not. Some are runaways, some are not. Some have families, some do not. Some used to work or serve in the military, and some have never held a job for more than a few weeks at a time, and some have just lost a job. But everyone has a story. Over 15 million people in the US are homeless! How could we let this happen?

Because they aren’t like us. We don’t know them. They have problems too big for us. Really?

If we are honest, we have made people who are experiencing homelessness invisible people. We drive past them standing on the corner begging for money and think that they will just buy drugs with any money. We judge them – well they just need to pull themselves up by the boot straps and do what it takes to get a job or help or a place to live. And we pass on by, not giving it another thought.

Where is our compassion? Can we really learn it again?

Before Jesus came into the city of Nain, he had taught in the synagogue, he had healed people, called the disciples to follow him, and had given a big speech about how God wanted the people to live. He continues on his journey, proclaiming love and faith and healing people.

There is a great crowd with him. I can imagine it would have been comparable to following the Pope through the city streets. And here he comes to the gate of the city of Nain and there is a funeral taking place. Also with a great crowd of people.

In the south, whenever a hearse comes down the road, leading the family to the cemetery, we pull our cars over as a sign of respect to the family – even on the interstate. I wonder why Jesus didn’t just stand to the side and let this crowd go through. Perhaps it is because he saw the pain on the mother’s face.

He saw her. He didn’t just look at her. But he saw her pain! He understood her need.

I’m not saying that every time we look someone in the eyes that we will understand all that they need, but we will see their humanity. And if we practice that one thing – eye contact – we will begin to see the face of God in this person.

It’s so much easier to just avoid that. Ever ride a bus? People are on their phones, reading the paper, or listening to music. Very little eye contact on a bus. Jesus didn’t have to look at her – he had a crowd with him – probably people making suggestions – hey Jesus there is a huge crowd coming – a funeral or something, let’s just stop here and let them by and then we can go into the city.

It’s easier to be disconnected! But it is damaging our ability to understand one another, to see their pain, to be connected as human beings. When did we get like this?

When Jesus connected with this woman, a widow who had now lost her son – perhaps the only person who was caring for her in the world – he responded. Not with logic or referral to an agency, but with his heart.

I think about the woman who runs the only cold weather shelter in our city at the Zion Lutheran Church. She has responded with her heart. This is the ONLY cold weather shelter in our city!! In a population of over 32,000. McMinnville, with a population of almost 34,000 has 4 cold weather shelters!

I heard when I moved here that Newberg had the highest number of churches per capita in Oregon. And yet, we only have one cold weather shelter. Only one small women’s shelter for emergency housing. And a huge number, and growing, of homeless people. Where are all the compassionate Christ followers?

Can we respond with our hearts? Will we?

Jesus responded quickly to meet need and in doing so he touched the funeral pall on which the man who was dead was being carried. What a mistake! It was prohibited for a Jew to touch anything of the dead – even to be in a tent with a dead body was prohibited! If one did that, they had to stay apart from the community for seven days and then go before a priest and be cleansed.

He knew this! And yet responding with his heart, he touched the stretcher. Everyone stood still. And then he told the man to get up…and he did.

He touched something that wasn’t supposed to be touched.

For many years I worked with children who had severe communication disorders. Those with profound speech impairments, with multiple cognitive deficits. One child I remember in particular was blind and he was unable to walk. He was very delayed – all from being shaken as a baby. Now he was in foster care. A child that no one wanted to touch. Another child was suffering with Down Syndrome. He too was unable to walk and talk, was deaf. And to make matters worse, his inability to communicate caused him to have violent outbursts. A child no one wanted to touch.

And yet, the power of touch, of care, of compassion and love helped tremendously. I watch these boys learn words, hug people, smile.

Can we touch people who aren’t supposed to be touched? Maybe a pat on the arm, or holding a hand. The power of touch to communicate compassion is real! And it comes from God!

Love God. Love others. So simple and yet so hard for most of us.

May we practice seeing with the eyes of Jesus, responding to the needs of others with our hearts, and using the power of touch to communicate love.

Amen.

 

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Dangerous

I rarely post my sermons, especially before they are preached, but this just seemed to sum up all my thoughts over the past week or so…..

John 1: 1-14a (The Message)

The Life-Light

1-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.

6-8 There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

9-13 The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
not blood-begotten,
not flesh-begotten,
not sex-begotten.

14 The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.

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Many of you may have heard about my excitement. This year, my daughter is getting me a dog for Christmas. It will be my first puppy in 16 years! And while I dread the potty training and chewing stages, I cannot wait to get puppy snuggles and kisses!

There is something about holding a baby – any baby – that just melts hearts.christchildI haven’t had the chance to hold the new baby born into our church family yet – Aisling Kaia. But I’ve watched the faces of those who have held her. Everything softens and becomes peaceful when we hold a baby. Even if they are fussy, we work hard to soothe them and calm them. And so we are calmed and soothed in our demeanors.

I can think of many folks who need to hold more babies! But seriously, when you think of babies, don’t you just smile? Don’t you think of cuteness and sweetness? Maybe even precious comes to mind.

But I’ll be that there is one word that never comes to mind when you hold a baby – Dangerous.

Dangerous.

As we consider the greatest gift that we never expected, the gift of God himself, we must consider this word as well.

Why? Because Jesus, the baby that was God in the flesh, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Creator of all, was sent to walk the earth with us, and that was a dangerous mission.

Throughout scripture, we read stories of those who were called by God and pushed into dangerous situations! Now, God always equipped them, gave them the power they needed to accomplish the task, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have volunteered! But in the end they were, with God’s help, able to accomplish these God-sized tasks.

Last week I talked a bit about Moses’ call. He was called out of a comfortable life of tending his father-in-law’s sheep! Minding his own business. Trying to forget his past.

And suddenly he’s confronted with God in a burning bush telling him to go back to Egypt and set God’s people free! What would you have said to God?

I’m pretty sure I would have argued with God just like Moses did! “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Just a reminder, Moses was wanted for murder back in Egypt. I would not have wanted to go back either! Sheep herding was a great job! “Just let me stay here God!”

And yet, God was insistent – as God usually is. And Moses returned to a place that was very dangerous for him and for his people.

And then I think about Jonah. You might remember that Jonah was swallowed by a whale! But do you remember why he was swallowed by a whale? Because he ran from God! He was furious at Ninevah and did not want God to forgive them or show them love and mercy! So he spent some time in the belly of a fish.

Once God had his full attention, Jonah completed the task to which he was called.

This dangerous God we follow calls us out of our prejudices and our fears! DO YOU HEAR THAT?

Then why are we afraid of death? Why are we afraid of Muslims? Why do our prejudices control our ministries – you may not have said things like “Well those people don’t deserve our help” but you may have thought it.

Moses was afraid of his own shortcomings, but God equipped him and blessed him and used him to free the Israelites! Jonah wasn’t willing to go where he was called, but God never gave up pursuing him! And he was used to take God’s word of love and mercy and forgiveness to people.

And if we have learned anything, that message, in today’s world is dangerous!

We cannot deny that the birth of Jesus shook up the entire world! His truth, the message of justice for all, the proclamation of peace, and love and forgiveness  and grace upon grace – that is a dangerous message!

You want to find out? Try being vocal about Gun Control! Or become friends with a Muslim. Or stand as a person of faith with LBGTQ people as they work for justice. Heck, just post something about it on Facebook and you might see just how dangerous the message of God’s love is!

Guns and bombs don’t bring peace! Only love and reconciliation will do that. And that’s part of the dangerous message of Jesus Christ.

Hear this scripture from 1 John 3:7-8 The Message (MSG). The writer talks about why Jesus came into this world…

“So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.”

Did you hear that? The Son of God – Jesus the Messiah – entered the world to destroy the devil’s ways. Now, whether you believe in a devil with horns and a pointed tail or not, when this word is used in the scriptures, it is referring to anyone who is an adversary of God, to anyone who engages in slander and hate, to anyone who propagates evil in this world.

And Jesus came to abolish those ways! Dangerous!

Why do these ways seem to come so easy for humanity? Genocide still happens after we said it would never happen again. Racism is still very much a part of the fabric of the United States. In fact it seems we added even more –isms to our hateful and slanderous speech. And not only is hate a worldly/cultural malady, its tendrils have for years invaded religious faith! Come, Lord Jesus!

In 2012, Rose City Park UMC, where my friend Rev. Courtney McHill serves now, put a message on their front sign. It read: God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians. Now without getting caught up in the theology of that statement, it went viral. Well, again, this week in light of all that is going on in our world, it went viral again. Wednesday, the church received a threatening phone call. Standing up against hate, in whatever form it presents itself, is dangerous.

And yet God calls all followers of the Christ, all who put their trust in Jesus, to abolish hate and evil! And it’s gonna push us places we’d never volunteer to go! To do things we’d never offer to do on our own. But God’s gonna give us what we need. The power, the words we need, the wisdom and more, so that through us a new era will be ushered in – an era where love has the final word. An era where sin loses its power over us.

The birth of Jesus, I believe was just the beginning of this dangerous work. It must continue in us! His followers!

This year, I purchased my first Menorah. I’d wanted one for a while because I really like this ritual of light. Do you know the story?

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel – to make them observe Greek/Syrian traditions and worship Greek/Syrian gods. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicize these miracles and to thank God for all God had done, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah – also called the Festival of Lights.

The part of this story that interests me is not only did the people want to thank God for all God had done, they sought to publicize the miracles! Each year, as the Menorah is lit, stories are told that recall the miracles. The lights are put where they shine brightly so that all who see them recall the miracles. It’s a celebration and a passing down of the story so that no one will forget!

We celebrate the birth of our Lord each year, but are we telling and re-telling HIS story, passing it down so that no one will forget?

Another part of lighting the Menorah that has meaning for me is that there is one candle that stands out from the others. It is the shamash. The attendant or server candle. This candle is not extinguished when it’s job is over. No, in fact, that candle is always lit so that if one of the others goes out, it is ready to give more light.

Jesus is our shamash. Always ready to give us his light, calling us to pass it down, to shine brightly in the darkness, so that HIS story will never be forgotten. Not the story of his birth. Not even the story of his death and resurrection – although these are important. I believe the greatest story we can ever tell over and over is the miracle of grace in our lives.

May we all continually seek the dangerous light that shines into the darkness. May we all keep telling our stories – stories of the dangerous work of love and forgiveness that defeats hate and slander. May we all look into the manger and see the life changing light and power that calls us as followers of the Christ to become dangerous in love and truth and bring light and life into the dark places of this world. Amen.

 

 

 

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