“Ministry of Compassion”
July 3rd, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
*I can understand the disciples, who in last week’s lesson from the gospel of Luke, when they entered a village of Samaritans and were not received well said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” I sometimes wish I had that superpower! Now, let’s not get caught up in arguing about whether the disciples had such a power, let’s remember what Jesus did—he turned and rebuked them. (“Stop thinking such foolishness! Is that what I’ve taught you?”)
*I especially can understand the disciples because I am a lifelong Presbyterian, of the reformed family of faith. We had the Puritans as religious ancestors, who lifted up the preacher Jonathan Edwards, who is famous for his Bible-thumping, weeping and **wailing sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” warning that we, that is us sinners, are going to HELL… “ a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God…” You get the idea.
Yes, Jesus, we need to be reminded that you do not give us permission to reign down hell fire on those who are not doing what we want them to do. No, you want us to do a much harder thing—to have compassion.
*Compassion literally means “to suffer together”—to see another’s suffering, to be moved by another’s suffering, not just to say “I feel you, or worse yet, I know how you feel” but to be compelled to relieve that suffering. I know this is not a popular idea in the world that we live in. All you have to do is drive onto a crowded roadway, HONK, HONK, “no, you are not going to get ahead of me!” and you know we do not have compassion for one another!
*Worse yet, it seems that our country has become the Wild West once again, everyone out for themselves, and everyone willing to fight to the death to make sure that I can scramble up the ladder, no matter how many or who you have to step on. I have some bad news **today—Jesus is not cool with that. Jesus rebukes that kind of behavior. Jesus sends out his disciples, to every nook and cranny with a directive—go, do a ministry of compassion.
And in case, I thought I might have gotten the tenor of the **message wrong, the Apostle Paul chimes in, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow… So let us not grow weary in doing what is right…” How did you know we get weary of doing right? How did you know that it is exhausting to try to be compassionate with everyone at all times? And we are going to mess up. We are going to run into situations that we just can’t fix, or we just can’t cope with, or we just can’t summon the strength it takes to do the hard work Jesus is calling us to do.
*And that is ok, because I believe we are not only called to have compassion for others, but we need to have compassion for ourselves, for our weaknesses, for our faults, for that is what makes us human. The Old Testament reading for today was one that Minister Kim **preached on a few weeks ago, where the great Syrian general Naaman (not Jewish), who had leprosy, learns from a maidservant, a Jewish slave he picked up fighting some war, that maybe the “foreign” prophet, Elisha, could heal him. Here is how Seasons of the Spirit tells the story.
*Naaman: I am Naaman. I am a commander of many. I am strong. But my body is not what I need it to be. Response: We are strong…but our bodies are not always what we want them to be.
*Maidservant: I am a maidservant in Naaman’s household. I am not strong. I am not powerful. But I know on whom to call.
Response: O God, be with us and help us.
*Naaman: She sent me to God’s prophet, a man named Elisha. He left me on his doorstep, refused to see me, to consult with me. I was so angry…
Response: Pride blinded you to what was important.
*Maidservant: I am Naaman’s servant. I am not strong. I am not powerful. But I know on whom to call, and I know to whom to listen.
*Naaman: My servant told me to stop, to listen, to do the thing Elisha said. Response: Pride let go of you.
*Naaman: So I went. I washed. I was made whole!
*Naaman, and Maidservant: Praise be to God!
Response: Praise be to God!
*Compassion. Even for one’s self. We do what we can, and we lean on God for the rest. And compassion doesn’t have to be something that breaks the bank. Compassion can be something very simple. I believe I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. *Joseph Martin, one of the composers we love, was in New York City, probably playing at Carnegie Hall. He and his family were rushing somewhere, and they passed a young man sitting on the street corner, playing his guitar. The guitar case was open, and people had thrown some dollars in. As Joe passed, he took the bills in his pocket out, and added them to the small pile. Joe got half way **down the block when he realized his son Jonathan was still standing near the young man. So, fuming, he barreled back down the sidewalk, and pulled at Jonathan’s sleeve. “Come on, we’re going to be late, I already put money in his case.” And Jonathan, in the wisdom of a child, said, “But Dad, nobody is listening to his song.”
*That is what we are called to—to listen to the song. We can see this in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples he is sending out on the road. Don’t take anything with you (which allows others to be compassionate to you).
When you arrive, stay with those who welcome you. Eat with them. Cure the sick. And give them the good news: the Kingdom of God has come near!
*But if you are not welcome, (and I can see Jesus looking over his glasses at them) what do you think you are to do? (and I can see the disciples looking at the ground, because they STILL want to answer, “rain down fire from heaven on them?”!). If you are not **welcome, then shake the dust off your feet (one commentator says to signal that you will “let them be”). BUT give them the good news: the Kingdom of God has come near!
*Do you notice? Even if you are not welcome, even in an inhospitable place, even to those who are mean, and nasty, and utterly undeserving, you speak the good news, in compassion, “the Kingdom of God has come near.”
*And you speak those words, not just with your mouth, but with your actions, with your attitude, with your life.
That is what it is to follow.
That is what it is to live in the Spirit.
That is what Jesus asks of us—a life full compassion.
May we be blessed so we may be a blessing in Jesus’ name.
May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.