Gospel of Luke 15:11-24 and Gospel of John 13:33-35
Tenth Sunday of Kingdomtide, November 8, 2015
Sermon 3 of 5 in a Sermon Series Entitled, ‘Compassion as Living Theology’
A young man living on a limited budget moved into a high rise apartment building. A middle-aged couple shared the same view of the rooftop where neighbors often clipped their clean laundry to a clothesline to dry in the morning breeze. Each Saturday morning, while the couple ate their breakfast, they could watch the new resident hanging his laundry. And each Saturday, the woman would say to her husband, “I need to teach that young man how to get his laundry clean. Just look at those t-shirts. I wonder if he is even using detergent.” Of course, she never took any initiative to introduce herself to the young fellow. On the fourth Saturday, she was surprised to see that his laundry looked bright and white. She said to her husband: “Well, good; it looks as if the young man has figured out how to make his laundry clean.” Her husband smiled and said, “Actually, I got up early this morning and washed our window.”
Today, I invite you to consider ‘compassion.’ Our views of others and the ways we relate with others are determined by the clarity of our compassion for others. We should schedule into our lives occasions when we clean our perspectives of others using God’s compassion cloth.
The Hebrew word for ‘compassion’ is also the word for ‘womb.’ The idea conveyed is that ‘compassion’ is a place within us where we make room for other persons and give new life to the world. Compassion is a relational word; compassion presumes discomfort and intimacy.
In the first 39 books of The Bible, you will find the word ‘compassion,’ used almost fifty times. Passage after passage describes how God is always making room in God’s life for us; holding us close, carrying us, nurturing us, being attentive to us, redeeming us.
The 4 Gospels tell how compassion was the core characteristic of Jesus. He was moved with compassion when he saw the many needs of the multitudes. They were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus called upon his followers to “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” In Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, he tells how a man finds himself in a situation brought on – in part – by others taking advantage of him. A priest and a Levite came by, saw the human in need and passed by without making any room in their lives for the one who was hurting. In Jesus’ story, a Samaritan sees the need and ‘has compassion on him.’ In other words, the Samaritan made space in his life for the other person. Before the Samaritan placed the beaten man on his horse, he placed the hurting man in the womb of his love.
Compassion is the sacred space we create within ourselves to make room for others. Compassion presumes discomfort and intimacy. Compassion is like a bridge we traverse between our own vulnerability and our valuing of another person.
Turner was seven years old attending his first summer camp. Turner couldn’t swim, so he listened closely as the lifeguard told him the rules for safe swimming emphasizing the importance of each camper having a buddy. Then the lifeguard asked, “Now, what does it mean to have a buddy?” Turner stood straight and said, “A buddy is someone who drowns with you.”
Bob Lupton reminds us there is such a thing as ‘toxic charity.’ Yet, he also knows there is a tremendous difference between ‘toxic charity’ and ‘compassion.’ Some people stand at the edge of the pool telling people like young Turner to relax or to kick their legs. Some people throw money into programs at the pool to offer swimming lessons or to buy safety equipment – which can help; but these people never create any space in their lives for boys like Turner. They never visit the pool or become involved improving conditions of the pool. Compassionate people are in the pool, serving those who are hurting and afraid while learning how to swim.
Friends, you are a compassionate people. You carry hurting people in the womb of your discipleship? You do so because you are being obedient to Jesus. In the scripture passage Jason Benton read with us this morning, we find these words from Jesus: “I give you a new commandment, that you create space in your lives for one another. Just as I have created space in my life for you, you also should make room in your lives for one another. By this practice of making room in your lives for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you create space in your lives for one another.”
Today, we also read Jesus’ story of the prodigal father, from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version. I call this the ‘prodigal father’ story because the word, ‘prodigal,’ means ‘overabundance’ or ‘superfluous.’ While the two sons certainly express poor behaviors in superfluous ways, the character in Jesus’ parable who is the most ‘overabundant’ is the father. Of course, the older son needed his window washed with God’s compassion cloth.
One father used to sit in the bleachers at his young son’s baseball games. And, whenever the boy would round third and head for home, the father would stand in the bleachers and shout, “Come on home, Charlie; come on home. Come all the way home.”
Friends, we have gathered today in response to the loving God who creates space in the womb of his life for us. Let us never be satisfied to merely be welcomed home by the God who is compassion. Let us come all the way home and become a church that is known as a womb of God’s compassion. Let us schedule regular appointments with ourselves and one another to wash the windows of our lives as we see the laundry of others. May we love one another and all others the way God loves us. Amen and AMEN!