It is all about compassion.

Sermon July 22, 2018

It is all about Compassion.

It is such a beautiful word. Full of meaning, full of love, full of presence, and full of passion.

Compassion. It is a noun, but it is filled with action like the very best verb.

The dictionary says compassion means: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The synonyms are beautiful words like: pity · sympathy · feeling · fellow feeling · empathy · understanding · care · concern  · sensitivity · tender-heartedness · soft-heartedness · warm-heartedness · warmth · love · brotherly love · tenderness · gentleness · mercy · mercifulness · tolerance · consideration · kindness · humanity · kind-heartedness · charity · benevolence

All of this is embedded in the beautiful word Compassion.=

In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the crowd of people following him, and he feels compassion for them. To be compassionate literally means “to suffer with/together with” another person. It is a beautiful form of passion, as it shows our humanity and our empathy for others.

This character trait of Jesus marks him throughout his life and teachings, his ministry and his mission. Not only his words were carried by compassion, but even more his acts. He spoke with a compassionate voice and looked with compassionate eyes. He was the one, who came to teach, serve and compassionately heal those who were suffering. He was walking and talking with people, not just to them; he met people in their lives, face to face, not just in reports, on social media or News; and he felt their pain and tended to them as a good shepherd, who cares for his flock.

Jesus saw the other human being in his or her wholeness: both their pain and their purpose. Jesus saw the pain, but even more the potential purpose for relief, renewal and care. Jesus was moved, and so he moved. He went forward, to meet the need.

Jesus truly did embrace the notion by Buechner that “Compassion is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too….. “ 

When we read the Gospel, it is always a good lesson to go back to the Greek word to capture the true meaning of a word, that truly has so may meanings to us that we might forget the simplicity of the word. The Greek word for compassion literally means to be moved in one’s bowels, to be moved in one’s guts. So, compassion is this gut/wrenching feeling that Jesus felt and that we feel, when we truly allow the pain of the others, the pains of the world around us to move us in the core of our being.

Many of us compassionately followed the ordeals of the young sports team, trapped in the darkness of the caves.

Many of us compassionately listen to the scared cries of the young children separated from their parents at the border.

Many of us feel compassion, when we witness suffering, hunger, despair, poverty and pain. This is part of being human – that we have compassion. 

Preparing this sermon, I was thinking a lot about compassion this week.  As compassion is at the core of being church and being a pastor, being a shepherd. And to be honest I have not just been thinking about compassion, but I have been living in and with compassion.

Offering sympathy, pity, understanding and gentle comfort. To the couple with a newborn, to the grieving daughter of a departed father, to the son of a mother in hospice care, to the man in hospital waiting for surgery, to the woman struggling with personal problems, …. And then in return all the compassion, care and gentle support, that I have been given from good people on my way: compassionate people being a good shepherd to me. 

It is all about compassion. As compassion is the proof of our humanity, our faith, our love, our empathy and our dignity. 

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that, when we feel compassion:

 ~ our heart rate slows down,

~ we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin,

~ and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.

Research also indicates that more compassionate societies, those that take good care of their most vulnerable members, assist other nations in need and bring the next generation up with compassion, are the happier places to live.

Many scientists believe that compassion may even be vital to the survival of our species. So, it is not only based on survival of the fittest or strongest, but also survival of the one being compassionate, building good relations and taking care of others.

Jesus knew that compassion was part of our human nature.

Jesus knew that compassion needed to be nurtured.

Jesus knew that compassion was a fundamental part of being a human being.

We are born with a compassionate instinct, we are born with the instinct and capability to be good…. even if we also know that we have tendencies and  sinful desires to focus on our own needs, to focus on my own life and happiness. Making the easy, hasty, self-centered decisions.  

And simply have more self-passion than compassion.

In an interesting article on “Mind and Body.” The question was raised: “Are women more compassionate than men? “ - The article was prompted by a resent conference, where Dalai Lama called for more leaders with compassion and then said: “In that respect, biologically, females have more potential. Females have more sensitivity about others wellbeing.”

It that true? Are women more compassionate than men? While research certainly cannot make such a black and white conclusion, either can we based on  our personal experiences, as I am sure we all have met compassionate warmhearted men and coldhearted self-centered women.

So compassion is innate for males and females. As humans we do have  a compassionate instinct or as the Danish Theologian K. E. Logstsrup calls it a basic "sovereign expressions of life”. Feelings and emotions like trust and compassion. Compassion is natural or Godgiven, but maybe men and women experience or express compassion differently.

One reason why we might think that woman are more compassionate than men is that we think compassion in mostly feminized terms: nurturance, kindness, softness, gentleness and warmth.

We are all humans. We can all express and feel compassion. We can all express love. We can all be compassionate, kind, gentle, courageous beings, as Jesus encouraged and embolded us to be.

Compassion is not just black and white, male or female. We all engage in both nurturing and fierce expression of compassion. Think off a mother who yells and roughly pulls her child away from oncoming traffic, or a male military service member who hold each other in grief after the loss of a friend. Think of all the many heroic acts that happen daily when men and women throw themselves into dangerous situations to help others. Fierce, courageous and even aggressive forms of compassion.

Love, compassion, and kindness are natural to all of us, men and women, Jew or Greek, young or old, - or it can come natural to us if nurtured, taught, implanted, and shared. 

Let me end this sermon with a quote from a wonderful book by Robin R. Meyers : " Saving Jesus from the Church. How to stop worshipping Christ and start following Jesus." In the chapter " Christianity as Compassion, not condemnation" it says:

" Our faith is commissional, not rhetorical. We are commanded to "go and do likewise", not to go and talk likewise. Disciples are empowered to heal and forgive sins, not to apply for endowed chairs or publish and debate papters on the Q Gospel. ….. When I was a kid growing up the message " Jesus is the Answer" was ubiquitous - painted on barns, outcroppings of rock, or as the final installment of a Burma Shave Sign. The message, however, id distinctly unbiblical. The message should be " Jesus is the Assignment. "

So, go and do likewise!