COMPASSION = ?
by Tim Zingale
Romans 5:6-11, Matthew 9:35
There are two verses in our texts for today that I would like to call to your attention. The first is in our lesson from Romans which says: “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” and the other verse is found in our gospel lesson saying:” When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, “He had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
These two verses, I feel, sum up for us the meaning of the gospel message, the Good News of Jesus Christ. God shows His love for us while we were still sinners, or enemies of God and Jesus had compassion for the people. But what does that mean?? God loves us and Jesus had compassion? These two words oft times have a vague and mysterious meaning. What does it mean to love?? What does it mean to have compassion??
In Roget’s Thesaurus, which is a book of synonyms and antonyms, he lists many words which describe or expand on the meaning of love and compassion. These words are, sympathy, charity, mercy, generosity, pity, and we could go on and on. And each of these words can be described with many others. The list is endless. But that still doesn’t get us to the meaning, to the heart of the matter, what does it mean that God loves us, what does it mean that Jesus had compassion? Maybe scripture might help, how about John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that who so ever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
“Yes, that verse speaks about God’s love for us, but does it describe it? Can we see love in that verse? Yes and no. Yes we can see love because God’s love is visible only through Christ. No, we cannot see love, because we do not see the actions of Christ. The only true way to see God’s love, to describe God’s love is to see Christ. Christ is God’s love incarnate, or God’s love made real in this world. So, as we look through the New Testament, as we look for descriptions of what does it mean that God loves us, we need to look at the actions of Christ.
When Christ had compassion on the crowds, He was in a sense, in all reality, showing the people, showing us what it means that God loves us. As He healed, as He forgave sins, as He brought people together, as He made especially women feel part of God’s created order, He showed us and them God’s love.
Jesus is the one who shows us very dramatically what God’s love is like. It is a forgiving, accepting, caring, merciful, compassionate love. It is a love which allowed God’s only son to be killed on a cross so that you and I might have eternal life. It is a love which was willing to sacrifice God’s son so that reconciliation might happen on this earth. “While we were yet sinner, Christ died for us.” While we were yet sinners, Christ reconciled God the Father with the creation.
So, if one is to describe God’s love it can be described in the action, words and deeds of Christ. It can be called a reconciling love, a love which brings people together. It is a love which forgives, it is a love which is willing to sacrifice, it is a love which is willing to give instead of take.
That love of God is seen through Christ and the cross, but at the same time, the love of Christ is seen today not only through the actions, words and deeds of Christ in the Bible, but through the actions of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of people today. Paul says very clearly, that you and I are little “little Christs” out in the world. People see Christ today through us, through you and me. Paul says in Romans 12:9,”Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor.”
Paul says further in Ephesians 5: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul says further,”for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light,”
As you can tell, you and I are to be little Christ’s in this world. We are to be Christ like, loving one another as Christ has loved us. We are to be free with our love, expressive with our love, we are to be generous with our love toward our neighbor.
As you have come to know my preaching style, I am comfortable telling stories and this morning, I would like to tell you some stories which sum up for me this love of God through Christ and then my love for my neighbor. It is in the experiences of these stories, that Christ becomes alive for the individual. I hope and pray that as you listen, Christ will come alive for you and then you in His love will become alive for your neighbor. Our faith is not static, but alive and expressive. As you listen to each story, decide which character you are. Who are you in each story??
Story # 1.
“A group of men were traveling across the desert. They were total strangers when they started, some were well to do business men, others were common working men, and one was a criminal, a thief. This band of men traveled together across the hot desert sand. They encountered more wind storms they they anticipated, so their food, their water began to run low. They wore woolen hoods to keep the hot, biting sand from stinging their faces as they traveled. As they traveled, a man noticed that one was missing, the one called Jasmin. They looked around in the driving wind storm, but all they could see was his empty camel. No rider. The men thought it wasn’t worth going back to look for Jasmin since he was the thief among them. He wasn’t worth saving. But, Lawrence, a wealthy business man, a man who had a lot to loose risked leaving the group to go back to look for Jasmin. Lawrence traced over their route, and finally found Jasmin, half mad with heat and thirst. He shared what little water and food he had, placed him on his own camel, and led the camel forward once more. They traveled on and on until they reached the group. When they arrived, all were surprised they had made it. They were bewildered that Lawrence, the rich man, would risk his life for a thief, a crook. They marveled at his love, his respect for a human life.
Do you see yourself in this story?? I do, I am Jasmin. In my relationship with God I am the criminal, I am the outcast, I am the sinner. I am the enemy of God. But Paul says,,”For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” You and I are Jasmin, having broken God’s laws, having become lost in the storms of life and failed to live according to God’s commandments. But all is not lost, Christ is Lawrence. Christ saves the lost. Christ finds the lost. Paul says,”much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his (Jesus) life.”
Peirre von Passen in his book, Days of our Years, tells of a little hunchback, Ugolin, who lived in a small French village. He had a difficult because he was a monstrous looking person. Children would not play with him. One night some men who were drinking started making fun of him. One kicked him, spit on him tore off his clothes and finally left him in a pool of blood. Later that night, the local priest found him, took him home, washed him and put him to bed. The next day, while the priest was conducting mass, Ugolin, went to the river and drowned himself. When his sister found out, she committed suicide. Though they were suicides, the priest planned a double funeral in the church for he said, “Those children were not suicides. they were murdered by society without mercy.” The day came for the funeral and the priest went to the pulpit. While looking at everyone, he began his sermon says, “Christians!!!When the Lord of Life and of Death shall ask me on the Day of Judgment, Pastor where are your sheep??? I will not answer him. On the third time he will ask, Pastor…..Where are your sheep?? I will hang my head in shame and I will answer, They are not sheep, Lord…they were a pack of wolves!!!”
Who do you relate to in this story?? The priest, the boy and girl, the towns people??? Maybe all three. As the priest, you and I are the word of God in the world reminding people they are not all that God intends for them to be. You and I are not perfect. We need the love of God, the transforming love of God in our lives. If you and I were not or are not at one point or another a pack of wolves, if we did not have a sense of our own sinfulness, then, then, you do not need Jesus Christ, you do not need to be here, you do not need to come and eat and drink this morning, you do not need the cross, you can get up and leave right now because there is nothing here for you.
But if you sense you can be and at times are that pack of wolves at times in your lives, if you treat people badly, if you reject God, if you feel life is not as perfect as you would like it, then, you are in the right spot, because here transformation takes place, here lives are changed, here you and I encounter God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. Here you and I have a personal relationship with Christ through the Word, through the Sacraments, through fellowship with each other. Here hurts are healed, here lives are made whole, here fellowship and love are present.
Lutherans have far to often be accused of being stuffed shirts, non expressive in our faith. But I think Lutheranism is broad enough to allow for expression, to allow for joy, to allow emotion of faith to be expressed. I have said many times in my other churches, but probably not here yet, that if someone would shout an amen, or praise the Lord, or alleluia during one of my sermons, I would know that maybe someone was listening, that someone was interested, that everyone was not asleep. There is a power present here that means something, it means business is not usual. Life can be changed. People can be renewed.
Because of that power, we would not have an Ugolin and his sister dying for nothing. All of us at one time or another can relate to the hurt, the pain, the abandonment these young people felt. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all been there. But what is so sad in that story, is they felt they had no where to turn, no one who would care, no one to help.
But my dear friends, I hope and pray that does not ever happen here, because all of us have someone I hope, we have Christ, and we have Christ incarnate in someone here in the church. If we do not, then there is something wrong with the church and its members.
Here people is where the power of Christ is present. Here is where the compassion of the people of God should be present. Here is where love should abound for each other. Here is where we should and do feel free to express that love for Christ and love for neighbor. Here is where deeds of mercy and love should begin and then spread out across the land. But if we cannot love each other here in this particular family of God, then I do not know where else that love can be felt.
I like to think of the church as a family and in that family, each of us gives of ourselves, receives from others and is willing to sacrifice for another. In that way we express Christ’s love for us and we become little Christ for one another.
I would like to close with a story of that kind of caring. As you listen, think of yourself as the mother, at times, in the family of God, as you listen, think of yourself as the girl, because I believe as members of God’s family, we are constantly changing roles, constantly giving, constantly receiving, constantly being loved.
The story is told of a young girl whose mother was very beautiful–all except her hands, which were shriveled and scarred and hideous. One day the girl asked her mother about her hands….The mother told her how their house caught fire when the girl was very little. The mother rushed upstairs to the room where the girl was sleeping in her crib, and with the help of Lord was able to carry the babe downstairs and outside without being harmed. But in doing so, the mother’s hands were terribly burned. This brought sobs to the child as she said, “O Mother, you know I’ve always loved you–especially your face, your smile your eyes. But better than all, now I love your hands.”