Compassion Sunday – Not Sympathy Sunday

Many dread Monday. Some suggest we get little done on Monday after the weekend and that leaves us scrambling on Tuesday and beyond just to catch up. This leaves some calling for a four-day work week. I fear however, that were we to move to four ten hour days, we would find ourselves feeling further behind on Wednesday with much more to do. So, here is hoping you have had a great Monday – and a productive one at that!

Sunday we will share in Compassion Sunday. Some churches who encourage "compassion" ministries took some time to do so this past Sunday. For the rhythm of Snow Hill Compassion Sunday better fits this coming Sunday. We have a number of people and Sunday School classes that help support a "Compassion Child" on a monthly or annual basis. You can read more about this great ministry here.

Our Wednesdays Are for Others ministries are "compassion ministries." Our monthly participation with First Baptist Church, Bethany, feeding the homeless is compassion ministry.

The texts for this coming Sunday paint the picture of the purpose of compassion ministries. Out of our care and love for others God will grant us an occasion to speak about our motivation for serving. We do not respond by saying, "It makes me feel good," even if it might. We do not respond by saying, "It is my obligation as a Christian," though some may make that argument. We do not respond by saying anything less than it is an expression of love for neighbor call on by Jesus himself.

Why is it not enough for me to be sympathetic? Most often we think of sympathy when someone has suffered a tragedy or the loss of a loved one. Our general response is one of sorrow. The word carries the idea of being in agreement or harmony with another person's feelings. When we sit with a friend who lost his job, her spouse, or their house, we can find agreement with their feelings. We say something like, "I know how your feel," which is better I know how you "must feel." We try to approximate how someone feels in hopes of helping during difficulty. But, compassion and sympathy part company at the point of action.

It is not enough to watch a video and hear statistics about the impact of poverty around the world only sharing in another persons feelings. The old saying, "That (advice, compliment) and fifty cents will buy you a cup of coffee," is about as far as sympathy can carry a person. Compassion expresses the action of those feelings. The prefix com- literally means "with." Compassion is the description of being filled with passion that results in action. Jesus, the Scriptures says, "was moved with compassion for the crowds." He did not just sympathize with their plight under Roman domination, the weight of oppression by inequitable systems, the inequality based on ethnicity or gender. No, Jesus saw a people in need and like a Good Shepherd he lay down his life for the very needs he saw and was moved by. (John 10:11-18)

How we love to read Psalm 23. The depiction and the descriptions bring a sense of calm and peace. Images of fresh green grass and refreshing streams of water soothe an otherwise difficult experience. We tend to hoard this image in a way that says something like, "I am glad the LORD is my shepherd" to the neglect of others. Certainly the song writer, David here, signals a very personal experience. But, to think that the description of the Good Shepherd is an exclusively personal experience is to miss the appropriation of that image by Jesus in John's gospel.

In fact, in John's first epistle there seems to be a confidence that arises from the actions of obedience and faithfulness that dispel the fickle heart. (1 John 3:18-24) The gift of the Spirit compels us to find assurance less in a statement of fact but in the ongoing expressive relationship with have with God evident in our decisions to follow Jesus' way.

The consequence of compassion ministries that flow from our portrayal of the Good Shepherd to the world giving evidence of our faithfulness gives cause for us to speak, not before, about the mercy work of Jesus for those in need of healing. We want to speak first in hopes someone trusts our word about Jesus offering the promise of what could be. In Acts it is evident the obedience of this pattern in Peter and John's life game them both pause and cause to suggest their following Jesus brought healing to the lame man. (Acts 4:8-12) Too often we speak first and then find ourselves making excuses for what we did not do hoping we have not tarnished the image of the Good Shepherd. Maybe it would be far better to begin with doing and then speaking so there is validity to our claims about Jesus. This by no means indicates we should not speak. But, consider how many times you spoke to someone about Jesus before you shared the gift of his love only to regret a word spoken or an action taken that expressly contradicted what you believe it means to follow Jesus and show his love. If we begin with action, compassion, our words find greater reception for those hurting from the wounds of life in the world than if we speak and expect a response before we act.

Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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Tuttle,
Oklahoma
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