Sympathy and Compassion

Once again, we find ourselves in the first chapter of Mark. Today’s story is nothing more than a continuation of last week’s story. So, the background material remains the same. Jesus is still in Capernaum. Jesus is still with his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It is still the Sabbath. You remember the story. Jesus went to the synagogue to worship and teach. He taught as one with authority. Not on the agenda that day was an exorcism. It was quite a scene. The whole community must have been abuzz about the exorcism and Jesus’s healing power. When worship was over Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew for the main meal of the day. It is while Jesus is in this private residence that he is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. We do not know her exact condition. We are only told she is sick and in bed. Her exact problem is not important. The only thing that is important is that Jesus healed her. However, Jesus’ day was not over. According to the text, Jesus was a better man than me. (No surprise there!) After worship, I take my weekly Sunday afternoon nap. After worship, Jesus healed many in Capernaum. The healing of the demonic had spread so people brought their loved ones to Jesus to be healed. Those healings drained Jesus. Early the next morning, he retreated to a deserted place to pray. In the end the disciples find him, and Jesus relocates the ministry. It is a great story.

It is a great story because it drips with compassion. Think about it for a moment. The people in the story are not just sympathetic. The people in the story are compassionate. Sympathy only feels, compassion helps. Peter’s mother-in-law would have remained ill and maybe died, but the people had compassion on her and got her help. Verse 30 says, “they immediately told Jesus about her.” If “they” would have remained silent, then she would not have been healed. The news of the healing spread rapidly. By that evening many sick and diseased people were arriving because their loved ones had compassion on them. Verse 34 says, “Jesus healed many of their various diseases and exorcised more on that evening.” No one would have been healed or exorcised if their loved ones if their loved ones only had sympathy on them. They were healed and exorcised because their loved ones had compassion on them. Jesus, himself, had compassion on the afflicted and healed many. In the end, Jesus is exhausted and is forced to retreat to a quiet place to rest.

Never underestimate the power of compassion. It has a way of softening our hard world. We respect compassionate people because they remind us the world is not all bad. There are still people who want to help those less fortunate. Ours is not the first generation. The compassionate have always existed.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is remembered as a compassionate man. He often visited the hospitals during the Civil War to cheer up the wounded. He had sympathy for all the wounded. Occasionally he had compassion. On one such occasion, he saw a young soldier, who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” the young soldier replied. Unrecognized by the soldier, Lincoln sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say. The letter read,

          My Dearest Mother,

I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I will not recover. Do not sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.

The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript,

        Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.

Seconds later, the young man awoke. He asked to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. You cannot tell me Abraham Lincoln did not have a compassionate side. However, it is not just true in history. Compassion is still softening our hard world today.

His name is Henry Darby. His story was told by NBC last week. By day he is the principle at South Carolina’s North Charleston High School. By night he stocks shelves at the local Walmart. He is not working those extra hours because he needs to money. He is working those extra hours to help his students who are in need. Every cent he makes goes to them. There is a surplus of need in his school. There are students living under bridges. There are students living in cars. There are students sleeping on an old-stained mattress in unheated trailers. Hard hit by the Coronavirus, 90% of the student body in North Charleston, South Carolina live below the poverty line. To ease his grandchildren’s financial burden, that is what he calls his students, he got a job at Walmart in the middle of the night. On the days he works those extra hours, he gets two hours of sleep a night. His humility is impressive. He said, “You just do what you need to do.” The only thing he asks of his students is to pay it forward. Henry Darby’s story grabbed my attention and my heart. Every night I go to bed, I think of Mr. Darby stacking shelves at Walmart to help other people. He is not just a man of sympathy, who feels bad for his students, He was a man of compassion, who does his best to help. How do you question his compassion? It is not that hard to find compassionate people. I found one at home.

For over a decade, my wife Kathryn and I traveled to Russia to help orphans. It was really her ministry. I would go to support her. Those children were her passion. She did all the work. With little help, she handled the finances, the passports, and the visas to get into the evil empire. She made the plane reservations. She had the contacts in Russia. She raised the money to pay for the orphans needed items, like shoes and medicines. She did it all and never took a single cent. As she spoke at one group after another about the orphans, people would say, “I cannot go because I would want to adopt them all.” That line got old. I knew that was not true because the orphans smelled too bad. Each orphan had a heavy scent of body order. They tried to mask it with men’s cologne women’s perfume. This is the truth. Some did not want to go. Some could not go. Some were afraid to go. Some could not get over the politics. I can only speak for myself. I am glad I went, and I would still be going, if not for Vladimir Putin. He has his own problems today.

If you ask Kathryn about those trips, she will bring up Vlad. She has a special bond with him. He was a social orphan. His parents were alive, but they gave him to the state because he had no legs. He lost them at twelve years old while jumping off railroad cars in Moscow. In his orphanage many of the children had severe disabilities. She really could not help them, but she could help Vlad. If Vlad had been born in America, he would he fitted with prosthetic legs, but he was born in Russia and was given a wheelchair and placed in an orphanage. She was determined to help him, and she did. She raised the needed funds, over $20,000. She got in touch with doctors. She got permission from the orphanage to bring him to America. Vlad lived with us for several months so the work could be completed. Not every day was rewarding. In time, because of those legs, he moved out of the institution and lives independently. We still communicate with Vlad. She still helps Vlad, financially. Like most Russians, he has a hard life, but he is thankful he is not living in an institution. He is thankful he has a future. He has a future because a Christian woman did not just have sympathy for him. He has a future because a Christian woman had compassion for him. The Dalai Lama (born 1935) once said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Has there ever been a time in your life when needed some compassion? Let me answer that question. The answer is YES!

This is the good news for today! Jesus was not just sympathetic about our problem with sin. Jesus was compassionate about our problem with sin. In other words, Jesus did not just feel bad for us, he helped us. You know the story. Jesus was born in the ordinary way, yet he lived an extraordinary life. For three years, he was involved in active ministry and did not do a single thing wrong. He loved everyone and never committed a single sin. He deserved a large prize, but, instead, he received an ugly cross. During Passover, his enemies unleashed their horrible plan. On Friday was Jesus was nailed to a cross, a Roman form of execution. Once dead, they took his lifeless body down and placed it in a new tomb. On Saturday, his enemies celebrated because Jesus was dead. On Saturday, his loved ones grieved because Jesus was dead. On Sunday, those two groups had their lives turned upside down. It was early in the morning when a handful of women showed up at Jesus’s tomb. To their society they were second class citizens. To God they were something special. God entrusted them with a message that would change the world. Jesus had returned from the dead. For forty days, the resurrected Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and proved to everyone he was not a ghost. His was a bodily resurrection. He required food to be satisfied. At the end of the forty days he ascended into heaven, where he is today. The Apostle Paul understood the power of that resurrection. In Romans 6:23 Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, Jesus was not just sympathetic to our sin problem, feeling bad. Jesus was compassionate to our sin problem and died on the cross so we could live!

God’s Heartless Prophet

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “Dove,” but we just call him Jonah. He lived in the eighth century BC. There is no other way to say it. Jonah is a curious Old Testament book because it has a New Testament feel. Let me give you some strange coincidences. First, the meaning of Jonah’s name, dove, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Remember the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism like a dove. (Luke 3:22) Second, Jonah is saved not saved by a whale, but he is saved by a great fish, the symbol of the faith, itself, in the early church. The church exists to save people. Third, as Jesus rose from the dead after three days, Jonah sat in the belly of the great fish for three days. Fourth, Jonah’s call to the Ninevites, Gentiles, non-Jews, is a New Testament theme. Jonah must have been Paul’s favorite Minor Prophet. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It is how I started last week’s message. I just cut and pasted last week’s beginning on to this week’s manuscript. Do you remember what happened last week?

God called Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh because her sins were great. Jonah understands God’s commands but refuses to go. Instead, he goes to the port city of Joppa and buys a ticket for Tarshish. Today, we would say he sailed from Israel to Spain. That 2,200-hundred-mile journey would happen on a slow-moving wooden ship. Somewhere on the journey a great storm hits the Mediterranean Sea. The sailors blame Jonah for the storm and cast him into the sea. He would have died, if not for the great fish. He swallows Jonah and for three days Jonah sat in his stomach. When the prophet is liberated, he heads to Nineveh and delivers his message of repentance. Here is the good news for today. The people of the great city of Nineveh did repent. Everyone should be happy but not everyone is. Jonah is unhappy because his ministry is successful. It does not make sense, but it happened. We find Jonah today sitting alone and pouting.

He is not just pouting, he is mad. He is mad God had compassion on an enemy of Israel. He wanted God’s compassion to be shown only to Israel, not on Gentiles and certainly not on the Ninevites. They were notorious for their sinning and did not deserve God’s grace. Yet, God showed them grace and Jonah is mad. He lashed out at God in prayer and complains. He tells God death is a better option for him than living in a world where the Ninevites are forgiven. We can relate to Jonah because each one of us has been upset with God from time to time. Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not know all that facts. Sometimes we get mad at God because we blame God for the misdeeds of others.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not get what we want. On Tuesday afternoon, Kathryn and I received a group text from our daughter Anna. She and her fiancé, Jeff, have decided to postpone their wedding again because of the pandemic. They are supposed to be married by now. They were originally going to get married on May 30 but postponed because of the coronavirus. They rescheduled for September 19. It is not going to happen because of the coronavirus. They have decided to reschedule their wedding. Their new date is April 10. We are all hoping the coronavirus has passed by next spring. Can someone tell me if that will happen? Everything is so difficult right now. I will admit it. I was mad at God. If any couple deserves the wedding of their dreams it is Anna and Jeff. They are good people, who have worked hard for a bright future, but they must wait to get married because of this invisible enemy. I stayed up late on Tuesday and got up early on Wednesday because I was mad at God. Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not get what we want.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we get something we did not expect. Sitting in my wife’s office is a prayer card from a funeral we attended about eighteen months ago. The one who died was my college roommate, Jim Humphrey. I do not know why it is on display, because it upsets me. Jim was simply great and there was no one I respected and enjoyed more. Jim was killed in a traffic accident and it seemed so unfair or cruel. He had been in the ministry for decades and had just retired. He had settled in this area and we dreamed of the fun we were going to have together. Now he is gone, and I still cannot answer the question, why? I will be honest with you. When I look at his picture on that prayer card, I am not just sad. I am mad. Sometimes we get mad at God because we get something we did not expect.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we think God owes us something. We have been extra good, so we deserve an extra blessing. That was Jonah’s story. He was raised to believe he was special. He was one of God’s Chosen People. That meant all the good things in life would be showered on him and his people. That meant all the good things were withheld from everyone else, including and especially the Ninevites. They did not deserve any goodness, but they received God’s grace. It is hard to feel special when you are treated like everyone else. Sometimes we get mad at God because we think God owes us something. Yet, this story is not about being mad at God. We all get mad at God occasionally. There is no sign in the story God is upset with Jonah because he was mad. It is fine to get mad at God occasionally and shake your little fist at him. God wants to have an honest relationship with us. God wants to have an honest relationship with you. The story is about something much deeper than human emotions. Look at the text with me one more time.

Jonah, the pouting prophet, goes to the east end of the city to observe the happenings. He was still hoping Nineveh would be destroyed. He builds himself a little shelter to protect himself from the sun and the heat. The structure is incomplete, so God has a plant grow around Jonah. The Bible says it was a leafy plant, vine, so ample shade was given to the prophet. For the first time in the story Jonah is happy, but his happiness does not last long. God also provided a worm and the worm damaged the leafy plant. In time, the plant died, and Jonah is upset about the plant’s demise. Once again, Jonah complains and requests to die. The scene exposes the real issue. Jonah is more upset over the death of a plant than he was the death of people. How can you be more concerned about a thing than a person? The scripture seems to go out of the way to tell us there are one-hundred and twenty thousand people and each one had a soul. Each one was loved by God. God is shocked by Jonah’s heartlessness. Here is a question you must answer. How heartless are you?

When I was in seminary, I took a class called Basic Christian Theology. It was a required class for all first-year students. It was taught by a man by the name of William Arnett. He was a veteran professor who was close to retiring. Every class was about the same. He would lecture on a certain block of material and close the class by answering questions. The topic on one day was heaven. When the lecture ended the questions began. One of the students in my class raised her hand and asked the question, “Dr. Arnett, when I get to heaven, will my dog be waiting for me?” We were not surprised by the question because her dog accompanied her to class every day. The dog and the young woman were inseparable. Today, we would call that dog a therapy dog. Dr. Arnett took his glasses off and answered the question clearly, “No! Dogs do not go to heaven because dogs do not have a soul. Dogs only have a spirit.” The young woman got emotional and fired back, “If my dog is not going to be in heaven, then I don’t want to go to heaven.” The veteran educator came back with the line, “You only have two choices. If you do not want to go to heaven, then you are going to hell. You may want to reconsider. Hell is not a pleasant place.”

Do dogs go to heaven? I have been asked that question during my time here. Years ago, a teenager asked me that question. I remembered my Basic Christian Theology class. I answered with a no. All the teenagers got mad at me, and they looked for some proof I was wrong. They contacted a former youth director here at the church, who was then surviving as a missionary in Romania, and asked her the question, do dogs go to heaven? She said I was right. Dogs do not go to heaven because dogs do not have a soul, only a spirit.

You may not like the answer, but it is part of classic protestant theology. However, the classic Roman Catholic answer to the question, do dogs go to heaven, is yes. That means if you want to see your dog in heaven, then you are more catholic than you think. Can I be honest with you? I hope Dr. Arnett was wrong. I hope dogs go to heaven because I want to spend eternity with all the dogs I have ever owned, including the world’s best dog, Macy. Billy Graham gives us dog lovers hope. He said dogs will be in heaven if they are required for our happiness. It is a big question in the minds of many. Do dogs go to heaven? Here is a bigger question to God.

Why are we more concerned about getting dogs into heaven and so unconcerned about getting more people into heaven? In other words, why are we so heartless? In other words, we are sitting under a vine preoccupied with the salvation of our family pets and ignoring the spiritual deficiency of people. Please do not misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with plants. There is nothing wrong with dogs and cats. They make our lives complete and give us much needed unconditional love. However, through the eyes of God, people are much more valuable. How concerned are you about the salvation of the people in your life?

On September 19, 2019, the Washington Monument was reopened after a $10.7 million renovation. The work took three years. The work was needed after an earthquake struck the area. During the work, graffiti from the 1800’s was discovered. It is not like graffiti today. The discovered graffiti read:

Whoever is the human instrument under God in the conversion of one soul, erects a monument to his own memory more lofty and enduing than this.

It is signed BFB. No one knows who that was, but he is right. Why are we so heartless?

Give Up Indifference!

Perhaps the greatest name in American history is Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Everyone knows his story. Self-educated, he became a lawyer in Illinois and in time became our sixteenth president in 1860. His election was not embraced by all. Before he could be sworn into office, the country was divided over the issue of state’s rights. (We still struggle with state’s rights.) Lincoln sat in the oval office during the bloody years of the Civil War, tested time and time again.

History tells us Abraham Lincoln often visited military hospitals during the Civil War to cheer up the wounded. On one occasion, he saw a young soldier who was near death. Lincoln’s heart was broken. “Is there anything I can do for you,” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” the young soldier replied. Unrecognized by the soldier, Lincoln sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say. The letter read,

My Dearest Mother,

I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I won’t recover. Don’t sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.

The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript,

Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.

Asking to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President,” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. We can admire Lincoln for many reasons. One of the reasons was his compassion. Do the people in your life consider you compassionate? Maybe this is a better question: Has there is been a time your life when you needed some compassion? I wrote this message in the middle of the great pandemic cause by the coronavirus. Now is a time when compassion is needed. Webster defines compassion as, “A sympathy for the feeling of others, often including a desire to help.” Compassion has always been important because our world can be a hard place. You know it is true. You don’t have to be a soldier in a civil war to relate to that story. I have never met a person who never needed compassion occasionally.

Have you ever felt victimized? You did absolutely nothing wrong and you tried your very best. The problem is everything went wrong. Your entire world attacked you and you found yourself filled with self-pity. In a world filled with seven and a half billion people, you felt completely alone. Then, from a most unexpected source, God sent you someone who showed you kindness and compassion. The rest of the world questioned your motives and desires, but your angel only gave you peace. Compassion can be a powerful medicine. The scripture lesson for today is filled with compassion.

Let me let you in on a little secret. It has become my custom to take a nap on Sunday afternoons. I have no proof to support the following statement, but I believe it is true. I expend more energy on Sunday morning then the rest of the week combined. I get up early on Sunday mornings to review my material and update my prayers. I participate in three worship services, which means I preach three times. I relate to countless people and try to remember everyone’s story. I try to welcome everyone who enters our building. There is a certain amount of stress to my job. I try to be prophetic; I am speaking for God, yet I can’t insult anyone. Some have real thin skin. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I find these few hours to be exhausting. When I leave the church after Sunday morning I am spent. I struggle with the simplest conversations because I can’t focus. I eat a lunch out, enjoy my wife’s company, turn off my cell phone and take a nap on the sofa. It is the deepest sleep I have all week. This fact is not exciting, but it is true.

According to the text today, Jesus was a better man than I. When Jesus left worship, he didn’t nap; he healed the sick. I don’t just mean a healing I mean a multitude of healings. Verses thirty-three and thirty-four say, “The whole town (of Capernaum) gathered at the door (of Simon and Andrew’s house), and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” One of those healings, the first one mentioned, was the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. Verse thirty is key to our understanding of this morning’s message. It says she was healed because they told Jesus about her. I am not exactly sure who is included in the word “they”, but “they” must have included Simon Peter. She may not have been healed if “they” had not told Jesus about her. “They” had compassion on her and got her some help. They got her the best help you can possibly get someone in need, Jesus. She benefited from their compassion. Do the people in your life consider you a compassionate person?

Today, I want to cultivate your compassionate side. I want to do this by giving three pieces of pastoral advice that you should never forget. Our world needs more compassionate people because our world has a surplus of struggling people. You can find the struggling everywhere. You can find them in your neighborhood. You can find them at work. You can find them at school. You can find them at church. We are not excluded. Our world is filled with suffering, broken people who need compassion.

Compassion is sensitive to the needs of others.

First, never forget, compassion is sensitive to the needs of others. British statesman and financier Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), whose fortune was used to endow the world-famous Rhodes Scholarships, was a stickler for correct dress—but apparently not at the expense of someone else’s feelings. A young man was invited to dine with Rhodes. He arrived by train and had to go directly to Rhodes’s home in his travel-stained clothes. Once there, he was appalled to find the other guests already assembled, wearing full evening dress. After what seemed a long time Rhodes appeared, in a shabby old blue suit. Later the young man learned that his host had been dressed in evening clothes too, but he put on the old suit when he heard of his young guest’s dilemma.

Simon’s mother-law was in bed with a fever. The story doesn’t come with a medical chart and a graph with all her test scores. The truth is, we don’t know the source of her suffering. That is not important; all that is important is that others had compassion on her. They got her help. Does anyone in your life need help? Do you have anyone in your life that needs Jesus? If you do, say, “Amen!” Compassion is sensitive to the needs of others.

Compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Second, never forget, compassion takes advantage of interruptions. Have you ever noticed there are times when your agenda and God’s agenda don’t match? You know the scene. You have a million things to do. You have a deadline to meet or a sea of people waiting for you. You are in a hurry trying to get it done in time and suddenly, someone shows up who just talked to you. They have a problem and you are the

only one that can help. I know it is hard, but remember, compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Consider these ten Bible stories with me:

1. The Parable of the Good Samaritan

2. The Greatest Commandment

3. The Blessing of the Little Children

4. The Healing of the Ten Lepers

5. The Healing of the Paralytic

6. The Healing of the Man Blind from Birth

7. The Rich Young Ruler

8. Zacchaeus

9. Blind Bartimaeus

10. Nicodemus

What do they all have in common? They are all special moments in the Bible that were produced by interruptions. Jesus had compassion on these people and used these interruptions to do real ministry. Have you ever noticed there are times when your agenda and God’s agenda don’t match? The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law was not on the agenda for the day, but Jesus healed her because this was an opportunity for true ministry. Compassion is sensitive.Compassion takes advantage of interruptions.

Compassion is gracious.

Third and final, never forget, compassion is gracious. When I was in the Cleveland area, I had a parishioner who claimed he hadn’t missed church for fifty years. One day, I figured out he had heard 2600 sermons, plus the messages on the liturgical holidays. You do the math, fifty years times fifty-two weeks. I was impressed.

One year I got involved in the annual pulpit exchange. You know the event. It is a way to get to know other preachers in the area. I went to the Presbyterian Church, and the Lutheran Church minister came to my church. The Lutheran preacher was just great! He was new to the area and everyone was surprised to discover he was Korean. Mr. 2600 sermons saw the Lutheran minister and thought he was Japanese. He stood up from his pew and began yelling some ugly language. He said, “We fought them in the war. I don’t have to listen to them in my church.” He stormed out of the church, never to be seen again. Everyone wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know if he had heard a single word of those 2600 sermons. There is no room for prejudiced behavior in God’s church, because compassion is gracious.

I really don’t want to offend anyone, but I must ask, how much of a difference is Jesus making in your life? How many sermons have you heard in your life? How many of those sermons altered your life? The world doesn’t really care about your opinions. The world needs your compassion. Compassion is sensitive.Compassion takes advantage of interruptions. Compassion is gracious.

Let us end at the side of our dying Civil War soldier. You remember the soldier. He was wounded and Abraham Lincoln came to visit him. In time, the president wrote a letter home for him and said his good-bye’s. The soldier couldn’t believe the president’s kindness and compassion. But he really couldn’t believe it when the president said next, “Now, is there anything else I can do?” The lad feebly replied, “Will you please hold my hand? I think it would help me see this through to the end.” With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lincoln held the young man’s hand until he died. How many hands have you held during life’s most difficult moments? The situation may not be death, it may be divorce. The situation maybe a family problem, it may be a personal pain. It may be disease; it may be disappointment. How many hands have you held? How many people in your life need compassion? Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) was a Scottish Baptist minister He once said, “Kindness and compassion make a person attractive.” How attractive are you?