“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The Message translation says, Jesus was `heart-broken.’
How do we respond to our hurting world in the name and after the manner of Jesus? I want to share more about what went on at BC Conference in May, and I think the best way to do that and to begin to address the question of how we respond is to share a story. Today I want to share David Anderson’s story.
David told the story of when he was in ministry at 100 Mile House United Church in the Cariboo. I remember this story; I was his neighbour to the north in Williams Lake. The year was 1996.
Theirs was a typical small congregation – with seniors and some middle-ages and a few younger families with children.
One day, a young woman Laura, showed up at church with her little boy Antony in a stroller. She had walked 4kms to get there. She was warmly welcomed by the congregation and afterward, David noted, one of the families offered to give Laura a ride home, thoughtfully stopping at the grocery store on the way.
Laura continued to come to church quite regularly and the congregation always welcomed her and Antony and made them feel at home. Laura was living with a boyfriend but no one ever saw him; he never accompanied her. Worshiping with the congregation was life-giving for Laura, she loved being a part of it all.
One day, David woke to hear the horrible news that Laura and little Antony had been murdered by her boyfriend. He and the congregation were of course devastated. They grieved Laura & Antony’s death and agonized over the killing of these two precious people.
A year or so later, David attended the trial of the boyfriend. The Crown was trying to determine whether he should be sentenced to 1st or 2nd degree murder. What let to him kill this wonderful young woman and this innocent child? The young man said he didn’t know. They were arguing, he said. The Crown pushed for clarity – arguing about what? What was so terrible that murder seemed the best course of action? Finally, the young man said, `We were arguing because she wanted me to go to church.’
How would you feel? How would you feel, sitting in that court room and hearing those words? David cried and he did some heavy soul-searching. Could he or others done something to prevent this? Could they have tried to reach out to the young man? Was the church really such a threat? What was ministry about anyway?
A mentor said to him, `If you want to know what the church should be about – go back and see what Jesus was about. Imitate that, model Christ. People have to be able to see that following Jesus makes a difference in our world, in our life.’
David is now the minister at Eagle Ridge United Church in Coquitlum BC. About 4 years ago, a young woman Misty, and her baby girl Pippa, starting coming to church. Misty was worried that she would not be accepted – her life had not gone well, and she was on her own supporting this baby. Well… she was welcomed with open arms and has received support and blessing. She has since found the love of her life and recently told David that, as a family they were seriously thinking of moving to a more rural setting. David steeled himself against the disappointment of loving this lovely little family.
Misty went on to say, “…then we realized we can’t move – we want Pippa to be raised by Eagle Ridge United Church.”
Jesus sent the disciples out to share compassion, to ease the burdens of those feeling lost and lonely and dis-empowered. That seems – well, like the kind of thing Jesus would do. However, according to the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum, the extension of compassion to others was considered a serious flaw in one’s character in the Greek-Roman world. Greek culture thought compassion to be unenlightened human weakness, the Romans believed it destroyed one’s dignity, so Jesus’ revelation that God’s realm is one of generosity and grace was dangerous on many levels. The apostles entrusted to this task are asked to risk their safety and minister boldly. They must depend entirely on God and the generosity of others for all their needs.
Compassion still seems to be considered a weakness, even by some who claim to be Christian. But truly it is a sign of God’s presence, it is the Holy Spirit active in the lives of all who strive to live compassion, regardless of their religious affiliation (or non-affiliation). It is a blessing in our lives and a blessing for a wounded world.
(We were listening to Michael Enright this morning as we drove to church and he was reflecting on the disturbing rise of hate-crimes and hate-based websites & twitter accounts. A poem called 1939 echoed these prophetic words: We must love each other or die.)
I’ve been reading this passage from Matthew for many years – I always find it a challenge, but this week I read it in a slightly different translation, and I appreciated hearing it in a slightly different way. From ‘The Message’ we hear Jesus say: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far off place to convert unbelievers. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighbourhood….
Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment – you ARE the equipment.”
You are the equipment. Wow. Equip us Holy One for the call to compassion, to show that our relationship with you makes a difference in our lives. May it be so.