Saturday, July 19, 2003

Changing Your World:
Through Compassion
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

[Shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 20, 2003)

Recently, I read some words spoken this past December at JFK Airport in New York City. They were said as the shoeboxes of Operation Christmas Child, packed with gifts for children in impoverished and war-ravaged countries (some of which were given by the people of Friendship) were being sent overseas. The speaker was a man who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and who is a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ, the lead singer of the rock band U2, Bono. Listen to what he said:

"Two and a half million Africans are gonna die next year because they...can't get a hold of the drugs that we take for granted in Europe and America. That's not a cause, that's an emergency.

"These, these children that are going to receive these boxes on Christmas, this may be their last Christmas a lot of them and [it] makes me [feel] sick in the pit of my stomach. I think it's absolutely unacceptable. I don't think we should have it, I don't think our Father in heaven will have it, and there's a lot of people here from the church today, pastors: let me share with you a conviction: God is on His knees to the church on this one. God Almighty is on His knees... begging us to turn around the super tanker of indifference on this subject of, of AIDS.

"[AIDS] brings the best out of the church, like you see today in this response to these children [many of whom are] suffering with HIV, but if we're honest, it has also brought the worst out of the church; judgmentalism, a kind of sense that these people who have AIDS, "Well, they got it 'cause they deserve it." Well, from my studies of the scriptures, I don't see a hierarchy to sin. I don't see sexual immorality registering higher up on the list than...greed [which is a problem]...we suffer from in the West."

For me, those are convicting and convincing words and I believe that they reflect the heart of the God we know through Jesus Christ, the God I claim to follow. I feel that if you and I are going to change the world for the better, we simply must live with the same compassion that God has shown to us through Jesus Christ! Compassion was at the heart of everything Jesus did when He lived on this planet. He died and rose for us out of a compassionate desire to see our sins forgiven and to have us with Him forever.

Our Bible lesson for today finds Jesus with His twelve closest followers, disciples, who were also called apostles. That word apostle is interesting; it means sent one. In a way, all followers of Jesus are apostles: He gathers us to Himself to be loved and encouraged at a pep rally like this on Sunday mornings and then, He sends us into the world to pass His love on to others.

We see how that works in our lesson. The apostles have just returned from a mission trip in which they shared the love, forgiveness, healing, and hope that Jesus gives to those who follow Him. And they’re pumped, excited! Jesus invites them to come with Him to a quiet place where they can debrief, pray, and recharge their spiritual, emotional, and physical batteries. But everywhere they go, they encounter people in need. We’re told that Jesus looked on these people with compassion and He cared for their needs. In Jesus’ Name and with His power at the center of our lives, you and I need to do the same thing. To change our world and to change the world around us, we need to be compassionate.

But what exactly does it mean to be compassionate? First of all, I think it means getting outside ourselves and being sensitive to what life is like for other people. When we exhibit compassion, we notice the highs and the lows that happen in other people’s lives. Jesus had that perspective. He calls us to be as compassionate toward others as He has been toward us.

Years ago, Dave Hamilton and his friend Billy loved to go to the rugged riverbanks of the Pacific Northwest to fish. But Billy returned from a tour of duty in the Vietnam War with both legs amputated. That made it impossible for him to go to those remote spots where he and Dave had once fished. Dave felt compassion for his friend and for others in similar situations. He approached a group for which he did volunteer work and asked if they couldn’t create a campsite where disabled people could come to enjoy the outdoors. In 1992, a place called Friends Landing was opened. It includes fishing piers, boat launches, and tents and every bit of it is wheelchair accessible. Even the trails that go through the forest are paved. It all started when one man got outside himself to see things from somebody else’s perspective. You and I can be compassionate toward those in our lives by looking at life through their eyes: the neighbor who has just lost a loved one, the parent wrestling with a rebellious child, the kid everybody loves to hate. Extending compassion to someone else is simply enacting Jesus’ golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Being compassionate also means being interruptible. Jesus always had a mission, but He rarely had a deadline. Jesus has given us a mission—to share Him and His love. We can’t let our schedules or agendas get in the way of fulfilling it. Our hearts need to be open to helping others with their spiritual, emotional, physical, relational needs.

Several times a year, even though sometimes I would rather not do it, I volunteer to be the on-call chaplain for Clermont Mercy Hospital. I did it for another two weeks recently. One night last week, I had just gotten home after our small group and doing some work here at the building afterwards. Earlier, my daughter had called me to say, “Dad, I bought some ice cream for you so you can have it when you get here.” When I arrived, my son was all-smiles as he pointed to the TV set. There was a PBS documentary about one of my heroes, Martin Luther. Phil wanted to watch it with me. I went to the kitchen and scooped out a generous helping of ice cream with chocolate sauce and had just sat down to watch the show when the hospital beeper went off.

Oy! For half a second, I must confess, the thought crossed my mind, "Just ignore it. You’ve had a long day." But I called the hospital and learned that a woman had just died. Her family was asking for a pastor. So, I stuck the ice cream into the freezer and drove to the hospital. There, I spent time with several generations who survived this ninety-five year old woman who had died. The family, while waiting for their own pastor to show up, simply wanted a pastor with whom they could pray. We prayed several times together and in between, I learned that this woman—Hazel—had remained strong until just hours before she died.

Not only that, I found out that she was a person of remarkable faith who had followed Christ through her whole life. Just a few weeks before she died, another old woman approached Hazel’s granddaughter and said, “You know, I used to be an atheist. But when I saw the way your grandmother loved Jesus and other people, I just knew there had to be a God. She’s the reason I’m a Christian!” I felt incredibly blessed and inspired by my time with that family. I was glad that I responded to that beeper!

As you leave here today, I want to challenge you (and me) in three ways. First: I ask you to be open to the interruptions that come your way. Interruptions present us with opportunities to share God’s compassion. Let yourself be interruptible!

Second: Plan to be compassionate. Build it into your life. Start collecting those shoe boxes and the gifts you’ll tuck inside them for Operation Christmas Child once more this year. Check out the information on the lobby bulletin board about providing school supplies for kids in our community. Contact Carol Barrett and get involved with our outreach program. We need to build compassion into our lives, planning for it.

Third: Join me in praying about something I’ve been dreaming of and talking about for a long time. Sometime in the next eighteen months, I would like for a group of Friendship folks to go to some spiritually or economically impoverished country on a mission trip. It could be Mexico or Haiti or England or even somewhere in this country. It’s a big world that keeps getting smaller. Going to other places and offering the compassion of Jesus will enlarge our hearts and help others to see Jesus. Charity and compassion begin at home, it’s true; but they must never stop at home. God so loved the whole world that He sent His Son and you and I are called to love that same whole world. So, pray about it: ask God where He wants us to go on a mission trip in order to share and serve and love and be compassionate in His Name. Ask God if He might want you to go on this mission trip—to expand the horizons of your personal compassion. Ask God if He wants you to dare to do something so great that it cannot possibly work unless He is empowering you and inspiring you. Taking such a dare will deepen our faith!

But whether you feel led by God to take a mission trip or not, I believe that the God Who went to a cross and rose from the dead is on His knees today begging you and me to love the world as much as He loves us. He calls us to be compassionate. If we will share compassion as He begs us to do, our worlds—starting with us and moving out to those we touch—will be changed! And that will be a very good thing.

[The true story of Dave and Billy can be found in the July, 2003 issue of Guideposts.]