July 18, 2021 “Compassion and Need, and the Need for Compassion”

“Compassion and Need, And the Need for Compassion”

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”  ~ Arthur Shopenhauer

“More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgement. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

“That’s what I consider true generosity. You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Jonathan Booth offered me this bit of wisdom the other day. He said, “A good preacher always starts his sermon with a joke. A lesser preacher will start his sermon with a good story. And a third rate preacher will open with scripture. Our gospel passage today is from the book of Mark, chapter 6…..”

Let’s try this on for size: Let’s say that you have been granted the distinct honor of being in charge of the Community Compassion fund in – let’s say – Yamhill and Polk counties. Your newfound job is simple, really: it consists of distributing money and resources to those in need in your community. And because this is a totally made up scenario, let’s say that you have been promised unlimited funds – all the money you could ever need. It would be like winning the lottery. The big difference is, of course, that you don’t get to keep this mountain of cash for yourself, but that’s all right. This is better than winning the lottery. This is a chance to make a real and lasting difference in the world. It’s an opportunity to be a changing force; a messenger of good news, an everlasting source of joy. Sounds like a dream job, right? Well, it is for a while. But soon enough, after you have hired staff and set up programs around the area, you just might find that you haven’t really made things any better. Sure, this new job of yours has made a lot of folks happy and financially secure, but you made one mistake: you never asked people what they need. It was a mistake, because what people need can’t always be satisfied with money. All of a sudden, this dream job ain’t so dreamy.

Our passage today from Mark’s gospel is all about two things: compassion and need. Come to think about it, these two things go hand in hand. You probably noticed that we read just a few verses starting at vs. 30 and then skipped all the way to verse 53. What we skipped over was Mark’s account of the feeding of the multitudes – you know, the loaves and fishes story – and the incident on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus had to walk out on the water to rescue his disciples who were about to drown in some mighty rough seas. Now both of these episodes were amazing and important. So why should the scholars that created the Lectionary skip over them?  That’s the question I kept asking myself. For one thing, these two stories are told much better in Matthew, Luke, and John. And for another, it focuses our attention on the compassion of Christ.

So let’s recap just a bit. The disciples have returned from their first mission without Jesus and they are excited. They have preached the gospel to many and have healed many more. They’re jazzed at this new found power of the Holy Spirit and it’s my guess that the big question on their minds is “OK boss, what’s next?” But Jesus tells them they are going to find a secluded place to take a break – to rest. We have to appreciate that. So they hopped in a boat to get away from the crowds, but when the word got out where they were headed a crowd (33) ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.                                                                                                

Rather than get all bent out of shape, Mark tells us (vs 34)  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Jesus recognized a need, and rather than make some kind of a judgement call, “he had compassion on them.”

The second part of the gospel message finds Christ and his disciples landing on the shores of the town of Gennesaret after sailing through a storm that almost drowned them all. They needed rest, but it was not to be. (vs 54) As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And of course, Jesus healed, Jesus healed. So what’s the takeaway here? Are we to understand that we as the church – as the body of Christ – are to work ourselves silly and go without rest to cater to every need on the face of the earth? Jesus had no trouble finding folks who were in need; they came to him. And the compassion of Christ means that sometimes you have to put your plans for rest on hold temporarily to heal, to teach, to be Christ in this world. These two -compassion and need – always go together. That being said, I have to ask you – what do you need? What do you need to feel whole, to be happy, to lead fulfilling lives, to feel like you belong and have a place to call your own? I’m convinced that a lot of the reason for the serious drop in church membership and attendance all across the country is that we have relied on folks to show up out of a sense of duty, a sense of obligation. This was the cultural norm for decades. When I was young, one of the questions you would ask the new kid was, “What church do you go to?” Not anymore. In recent years, that cultural support has withered. Folks have quit showing up at church doors, not because they are particularly hostile to the church. It’s that they are not compelled to show up. We can’t rely on a sense of duty anymore. What if, instead, folks might be compelled to show up out of sense of wonder and joy and genuine desire. That’s as it should be. But here’s the thing: that will only happen if we are clear and honest about what we – as individuals and as a church community – if we are clear and honest about what we need in order to flourish and be the people God has called us to be. So, I’ll ask it again: what do we need?

In today’s passage from Mark, the needs are clear enough. People who are sick want to be healed and people who are hungry want to be fed. Those needs are still with us today, sometimes in our congregation and sometimes in the communities around us. Praise be to God that this church body has been moved to supply those needs whenever they could, not out of a sense of duty, but our of compassion. But what about those intangible needs: the souls that need fed and hearts that need healed? Here is where I find the greatest hope of all. We are the church. We have the greatest job of all times: in charge of the Community Compassion Fund through the presence of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Think about it – unlimited resources and a love that is eternal. For people of compassion, that’s the greatest job ever.

Amen & Shalom


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