Compassion

Rejoicing in Difficulty

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice

This Christmas learn to rejoice, not because things are going well, but because Jesus is near. He promises to be near as we face difficulty. He is also near in terms of his coming kingdom. 

Sunday, December 16, 2018
Advent 3
Remember those in Prison

What makes a marriage?

[People asked Jesus] "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

Many people are troubled by the passage where Jesus speaks about marriage and divorce. It is important to note, however that Jesus’s words are directly followed by verses that demonstrate Jesus’s concern for the needs of children. I would argue that Jesus is not laying down a law prohibiting divorce, but rather expressing, as he does in all of his teachings, the demands that living a compassionate life places on each of us. As we go through life, we form relationships that involve promises. In marriage, we promise mutual aide, "in sickness and in health."

Sunday, October 7, 2018
Pentecost 20

Chasing Unicorns on Labor Day

[Real religion is] to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep neself from being polluted by the world.”

There was a time, I’m old enough to remember, when religious people had 84 reasons to believe the world was going to end in 1984. Then there was a time, not long after that, when many churches, my own included, stockpiled batteries, bottled water, and baby diapers, because they were convinced that Y2K would make such things valuable. There was a time when almost every Christian woman I knew, wore a little angel on their shoulder (for protection or advice, I never found out). Unicorn chasing would be in the Christian Olympics, if we ever decided to have our own, because we think the Greek one has too many pagan symbols. Such malarky gives religion a bad name.

Jesus’s brother James is blunt, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

When I was younger, I was taught by well meaning religious people that the “stain of the world” was drugs, sex, and rock&roll. Now that I am mature enough to recognize such teaching as malarky, I see that the stain of the world is populism, greed, and whatever is considered “truth” on cable news.

James is the most practical of the New Testament books, and may give us the clearest view of Jesus’s day to day teaching. James devotes the second chapter of his little book rebuking Christians for bringing the world’s love of the rich, famous, and powerful, into the church. There was in his day a moral majority that thought being poor was a sin. There is today, a majority in many churches who are content to ignore people of color and their concerns about our society. Churches by their silence, paint themselves with the stain of the world that is racism.

Sunday, September 2, 2018
Pentecost 15

A Busy Week

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is always busy doing good, but he’s never in a hurry. Obstacles are placed in his way, but he exudes confidence that the kingdom of God will not be delayed. The people he meets, themselves, face incredible challenges. In one week alone; he helps his disciples deal with a storm (crossing Galilee twice in a small boat), confronts a man enslaved to mental illness (a legion of demons), heals a woman with a persistent illness (bleeding), and raises a twelve year old child from the dead. At the end of this hectic time (Mark 4:35-6:3), he goes to church and gets heckled by people because of his humble origins (the illegitimate child of Joseph the carpenter). Everything Jesus does, though, is summed up by what he taught at the week’s beginning; the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, growing among us. Even when it looks small, it is persistent (Mark 4:30-32).

So when we read stories like raising Jairus’s daughter, we shouldn’t say “Look how powerful Jesus is” (Mark 5:21-43). Instead, look at what surrounds these miracles. Jesus teaches how the kingdom of God is among us. Then Jesus sends the disciples (and us) out to do the same things he was doing, always working to forward the good that God has planned for this world (Mark 6:7-13).

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Pentecost 8

Rules don't always Rule

Our society is getting obsessed by rules. I grew up in 1960s, we broke the rules. Go to Barnes &Noble and just note how many books have the word rules in the title. You’ll find 10 rules for dieting, dating, and getting your dog to behave. One of the best sellers on Amazon this year was  “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Why now?

I’m betting that it has to do with our current political polarization. Whether you are arguing about immigration or the Russia investigation, one or both sides will be running to the rulebook to make their case. The NFL just passed a rule regarding players kneeling during the anthem. Notice that they didn’t pass a rule to prevent hot dogs and beer from the being sold during the anthem, or the announcers speaking over the playing of the anthem, or the coaches using the 10 extra minutes they can get with all the players in the locker room to prep for the game.

All of this has something to do with Jesus. Mark begins his gospel by showing us Jesus breaking the rules. There was a lot of religious rules back then that most people ignored — But if you were a religious teacher, you were expected to keep all the rules, plus make up a few more, just to prove yourself more holy. Jesus didn’t play this game.

Sunday, June 3, 2018
Pentecost 3

The way to be an Authority

When Jesus went into the local synagog people were amazed because he taught with authority. They were used to hearing long discussions about what constituted work on the sabbath and who was allowed to marry whom. A meeting began with the phrase, “Rabbi so and so says X, and Rabbi such and such says Y…” and continued until all parties were exhausted. Normal people went home, fed the kids, planted the fields, and watched the sunset. Jesus began differently. “You have heard in the past… I tell you, ‘love your neighbor.’”

Before Jesus, there had been much discussion about what constituted murder. Is abortion murder? Is it murder if you go to war in a far off jungle and set huts on fire to kill the one enemy hiding among a hundred peasants? Is it murder if you allow the industry that you work for to put a cancer causing chemical into the water? But Jesus said, “Anyone who remains angry at another person is committing murder” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Before Jesus there was a raging debate about how much people should donate, that is, pay in temple tax or place upon the altar for distribution to the poor. Jesus came and said, “If you have a broken relationship with another person, go and heal that break before going to worship or working at a charity” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Epiphany 4

Will Work for Love

We have a family member who inserts into every conversation some reference as to how hard she’s working, how under appreciated she is, and/or how much she is doing for the family. We call her the martyr. In this world, her clones are legion. Jesus tells a story that is incomprehensible to anyone afflicted with her condition (Matthew 20:1-16). It deals with a vineyard owner who hires five groups of day-laborers throughout a one hot September day. The first group worked from 7 am to 7 pm, the second from 9 am to 7 pm, the third slept in that morning but got hired to work noon to 7. Needing to get his harvest in, he hired a few more layabouts to join the crew at 3 pm and a final group of workers at 5 pm. This last group of workers only put in two hours in the cool of the evening. Even though the five groups did differing amounts of work, the vineyard owner decides to pay them all the same. What! Don’t we get more for working harder? Not in Jesus’ story. Jesus implies that God doesn’t reward us for how much work we do.

This story reminds me of the Bible duo Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Remember? Martha works all day to serve Jesus a dozen dishes at a meal, Mary avoids the heat of the kitchen and sits at his feet. Jesus says that Mary did okay. Every time that story is told, a dozen martyrdom Martha’s get angry and complain.

Here’s the truth. Deal with it:

God isn’t interested in how hard we work, but in how compassionate we are.

Sunday, September 24, 2017
Pentecost 20

When Children Weren't Optional

This Sunday is about midway between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It also is the Sunday we often use to recognize those who are graduating. Jesus (Luke 7:11-17) and Elijah (I Kings 17) both raise from death the only child of a widow. Jesus, we are told, has compassion. He has compassion on all of us, but one assumes that why it was mentioned in this circumstance is because the widow’s economic survival and status in the community is dependent upon her son. Many parents live vicariously through their children, but we have to go back several generations to hear what it is like to depend upon your children to keep you from poverty — that is — to provide a home for you when you are old, to work the family farm, to carry on the family name, to immigrate to a better land and send back needed cash, or, and think specifically of your graduates here, to be the one who is first to get a real education. Imagine a time when children weren’t optional.

 

Sunday, June 5, 2016
Pentecost 3

Pilate's Dilemma

Whatever you speak about this week, take to time to dwell on the Christian’s obligation to be compassionate in all circumstances. All circumstances includes Syrian refugees. The terrorist attacks in Paris have shifted our cultural vision, from pity towards the thousands who are homeless and hungry, to eye-pluckingly-spiteful revenge taking for fear that one or two wolves might be hiding naked among the huddled masses yearning to be free. One political cartoon contrasted the bombing of ISIS with the recruitment of terrorists online and captioned, “An analogue response to a digital threat.” We, as Christians, are always in danger of becoming pre-Jesus and compassionless in our responses to perceived threats in our secular, protect-yourself-first, world.

 

Something the Dali Lama says is helpful at this point: "Of course the mind can rationalize fighting back ... but the heart, the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside you."

 

Sunday, November 22, 2015
Pentecost 28

Not Far From the Path

I sometimes tell people that the reason I am a writer today, is because I bought a computer in 1984 that had Spell Check installed. In grade school, I would get the weekly spelling test back with three or four out of the ten words marked wrong. As classes progressed and I was given essays and creative writing assignments, they would always come back with some variant of “nice story” or “interesting points” at the top, and then such a multitude of red marks and grammatical mistakes that the net grade barely passed. I didn’t know that I could write, until a mechanism allowed me to stop focusing upon the rules. In Mark 10:17-31, a rich young man comes to Jesus claiming to have kept all the rules. He is like the teacher’s pet at my grade school, a perfect speller. But something has brought him to Jesus. He knows that he is spiritually lost. He is like the novelist who writes a perfectly composed story, with each sentence grammatically correct, but fails to unfold a plot.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2015
Pentecost 23

The Heart of Religion

The great physicist Richard Feynman once described what he and other scientists were doing this way: “[The Universe] is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules.” I think he was right, but his analogy scares me a bit. People who attempt to learn something, like chess or swimming or religion, often get fascinated with irrelevant customs and nonessentials. A child may think that it is impossible to learn to swim without a blue bathing suit or that chess (or science) is only played by boys. Further, if we were to describe chess to someone who has never seen it, we might mention that the pieces are black and white, that the opponents sit on opposite sides of the board, and that it is played by two humans. None of these things are required, and drawing a novice’s attention to petty rituals can interfere with their grasping the game’s brilliant simplicity. The same is true of religion.

Jesus says:
There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Sunday, August 30, 2015
Pentecost 17

Managing Your Expectations

I have learned a spiritual rule: Whenever my expectations for others cause me to treat them in a less than compassionate way, something is wrong with my expectations. This rule needs to be consistently applied whenever we act as church leaders. Before turning something sticky, like staff management, consider the following examples:

 

Dependence not Codependence

Long ago I read a sci-fi story about a world where appreciation was the currency, not money. Gold was plentiful, so people tried hard to be liked. I can’t remember much more about the story except that it ended badly. It’s not healthy for us to devote too much of our  lives to the pursuit of popularity. At the time, I thought the sci-fi story was far fetched. How could you monetize appreciation? Guess what? I’m on Facebook and I need to be Liked, I have a blog and I track how my hits, and when I preach, I listen hoping to hear people say, “Good sermon, Bill.”

 

Jesus exampled a life in which one does the compassionate and true thing without expectation of being Liked. His teachings always form a reality check; “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you…” In Mark 6, he faces difficulty in Capernaum because people knew him as a child. He says, “a prophet is without honor…” This is normal, people are still the same. The way he responds is to move along to the next village.

 

Sunday, July 5, 2015
Pentecost 9

This isn't Me

Little David goes up to the front line, lunch pail in hand. Everyone around him is dressed like a soldier. They have khaki pants with big pockets to put their grenades and candy bars in. They have helmets with Go-pro cameras and night vision goggles. They have riffles that shoot around corners. And when David volunteers to face Goliath, the soldiers offer to trade clothes and let him wear their cool stuff.

 

“This isn’t me.”

 

It’s a significant moment in the story and a place that we have all been in. People are always insisting that we dress a certain way, that we protect ourselves by putting on the things that they depend upon, that we forsake our integrity and conform to the approach they have for facing life’s problems.

 

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Pentecost 7

Food as Message

Amos gets a vision of Summer fruit (makes you wonder how ‘seasonal’ the Lectionary is in the southern hemisphere) and concludes that religious people can either be very good or utterly rotten. I’ve been picking blue berries as fast as I can this week. Why? Because I failed to keep up with picking the strawberries this year and most of them went rotten. There is nothing more delightful than a strawberry gently culled at its prime.  A day or two later and the strawberry gets soft, then turns black and inedible, unfit even for slugs (fortunately, they prefer beer). So, Amos would say, is the social conscious of our fine church members. Sometimes they can be good and generous and sweet. At other times, they fully blend in with the materialist herd of American culture, “Buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” (Amos 8:6).

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013
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