Sermon: Disappointment and Compassion

Juliane Poirier Uncategorized

Sermon Disappointment and Compassion February 9, 2020

Jesus said, “Your ancestors have also been taught ‘Love your neighbors and hate the one who hates you.’However, I say to you, love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. For that will reveal your identity as children of your heavenly Father. God is kind to all by bringing the sunrise to warm and rainfall to refresh whether a person does what is good or evil.What reward do you deserve if you only love the loveable? Don’t even the tax collectors do that? How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends? Don’t even the ungodly do that? Since you are children of a perfect God in heaven, you are to be perfect like God.” Matthew 5: 43-48Passion Translation

 Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Then He said to His disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers.Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for the harvest.” Matthew 9: 35-38 Common English Bible

There is a scene from one of my favorite movies, Casablanca, that takes place when the German Major Strasser orders that Ric’s Café be closed because the Nazis had been singing a German patriotic song, and the locals drowned them out with a passionate rendition of the French national anthem. Local policeman Captain Renault, charmingly played by Claude Rains, blows his whistle and orders everyone out of the café. Ric demands to know why Captain Renault has shut down the café. “I am shocked!” announces Captain Renault, “shocked to find that there is gambling going on here!” Just then the employee who runs the roulette wheel comes to Captain Renault with francs in his hand and says, “Your winnings, monsieur.” Captain Renault pockets the money and says, “Thank you very much.”

Last Saturday United Methodist Women hosted a women’s retreat for sixty women here, many of whom don’t attend our church. It was an amazing day, full of music and conversation and reflection. The theme of the retreat was Honoring the Sacred Self: Tending the Fire Within, with a focus on self-compassion. This seemed like a slam-dunk to me: I’m a pastor, and I’m fairly self-aware, I understand compassion.  But instead, I found myself like Captain Renault, shocked! shocked to discover that my compassion is a thin veneer over impatience and judgement and disappointment towards others and myself.

I’m aware of my strong dislike of the current political administration… but on Saturday, and since then, I’ve realized that that my disappointment and irritation with this administration is leaking into other areas of my life, towards others who have disappointed me, towards others I judge, and those who haven’t lived up to my standards.  I’ve discovered (again, but still, like Captain Renault, I am shocked!) that I have as little compassion for myself and I do for others, at the way my thoughts and actions are so much like those I judge, and so much less than perfect. “Since you are children of a perfect God in heaven,” Jesus told His followers, “You are to be perfect like God.”

Being a professional Christian (“professional Christian” is an expression used by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Leaving Church, where she writes about leaving ministry because being a “professional Christian” no longer fits who she is. It’s a good book and I’m happy to loan it out.) Being a clergywoman (a professional Christian) is an odd job. In some ways it’s like being 13 years old again, when I was as tall as I am now, with no identifiable shape, and feet the size of banana boxes, awkward and shy, and full of self-criticism. Thirteen-year-old girls are mean girls, and if you’ve been a 13-year-old girl you know what I’m talking about. In the throes of insecurity and identity crisis, reducing other girls to your level of misery seems to be a kind of comfort.  “Since you are children of a perfect God you are to be perfect.” In Jesus’ day, to be called a “child of someone” was to recognize and compliment their behavior and actions reflecting their parent or mentor. I’ve realized that it’s not just me as a pastor and professional Christian, but the whole church is in an identity crisis about what it means to be Christ-followers… to be children of a perfect God. The church is discovering that we are like (and we’re being outed as) a pack of “mean girls.” I’m shocked! to realize (again) that that extremely self-critical thirteen-year-old girl still lives in me, and compassion is not a word she yet understands.

Before Jesus told His followers that what identifies them as God’s children is love – unqualified, undeserved, radical, love for all people – He talked about retaliating, about the natural response to getting even with those who abuse and misuse others. “Turn the other cheek” He said, and “Go the second mile” and “Give your outer garment as well as your inner clothes to whoever asks.”   Jesus’ facial expressions, and His tone of voice, and His gestures are lost to us, of course, but His humor and understanding of human nature speaks loudly in these words. To turn the other cheek was to make an aggressor strike you with an open palm, which would be done only to a peer and not a subordinate, elevating you to their status. Roman soldiers could command you to carry their burdens for one mile only, and by going the second mile with them was to put them in danger of a disciplinary action. To give your coat as well as your inner clothes was to then be naked, and in the ancient world the shame of this was on the person viewing the nakedness. To love is not to be a doormat or to passively accept abuse, but it is to use humor and resourcefulness as a sort of spiritual martial arts. Gandhi and Dr. King both used the humor and resourcefulness and vulnerability and compassion that Jesus taught and modeled as means of changing the world. God is known throughout Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as an indiscriminate lover of humankind, who showers blessings on the deserving and the undeserving.

Compassion is a word that means “to suffer with.” When we have compassion, or rather when we practice compassion (because I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally to us) we are suffering with the deserving and the undeserving. We are walking in their shoes, imagining their unique suffering, perhaps their soullessness, and hardheartedness.  We are peering into their hearts to see a lack of love, or self-respect, or kindness. When we see another’s suffering, then I think we can transpose our hearts, or lay our hearts over theirs, and pray for their suffering.

Love, Jesus said, the kind of love that costs us (effort, pride or suspending judgement, or whatever reason we feel justified in withholding love from someone) love is what identifies us as God’s children.  Surprisingly this is what it means to be perfect: to love as God loves. If we could do this on our own, we would, but we can’t. We can only love with this kind of radical and stupid-sounding love because we know ourselves to be part of the pack of “mean girls.” We know ourselves to be small-minded, prejudiced, and judgmental…. We know ourselves to be less than perfect. It’s in cultivating a relationship with the Risen Christ, who sees us as we are and loves us compassionately, that we learn to identify ourselves as children of God.  

I’ve said before that what I love about Jesus is because (to quote my favorite pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, He had “skin in the game.” He lived our life and suffered as we do. He did everything He could to show humanity the face of God, the face of love, and we rejected Him and silenced Him because to be loved like that (and to be expected to love like that) is difficult and painful and demands that we let go of how life and we have disappointed us, and we allow God’s love to transform us. This is lifetime work, of course, but it has to start now, if we are going to be children of God. If we are going to be known as lovers of the world.

Yesterday many of us from church went to Napa College to see “This is My Brave” a venue for teenagers and young adult to tell their stories through poetry, dance, song, and testimony, of dealing with mental health issues. The vulnerability of these young people on stage was staggering and heart-touching and transformative. The compassion they showed to themselves showed me that I can be compassionate with myself and with all that disappoints me, all who disappoint me, all with all who are less than perfect… because to be perfect is simply to love as God loves… and this is a lifelong process.

Several times in the New Testament we read that Jesus was filled with compassion when He saw people who were helpless and harassed. He cured the sick, touched the untouchable, and ate the sinner. He said to His disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for the harvest.” I take that to mean that Jesus still sees the helpless and harassed, the uncared for, the sick at heart and the heartless, and He needs us to be filled with compassion, and to love them as God loves them, as God loves us. Please join me in the Responsive Prayer for Compassion.

Responsive Prayer for Compassion

Pastor: Compassionate God,
You have compassion enough for all.
Everyone: Lord in Your mercy,
Have compassion for us.

Pastor: Jesus, out of Your compassion for us,
You invite us to come away with You
to a place of rest and quiet.
Everyone: Help us to say yes and then
to be able to come away with You.
Lord in Your mercy,
Have compassion for us.

Pastor: Lord, out of Your compassion You care for
those who are harassed, helpless, and lost.

Everyone: Sometimes we feel that way ourselves.
Lord in Your mercy,
Have compassion for us.

Pastor: Lord in Your compassion teach us to follow You,
to trust You, to love You and to love as You love.
Lord in Your compassion feed us who are hungry;
Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Everyone: Lord in Your compassion heal us in the places we need healed.
Lord in Your mercy,
Have compassion for us.

Pastor: And Lord in Your having compassion for us
Teach us to have compassion for others as You do.
Help us to show compassion in action the way You did.
Everyone: And remind us when it is time to come away with You
for quiet and rest.
Lord in Your mercy,
Have compassion for us.

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