Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
In a rather depressing cartoon, an overweight, wealthy man walking around the block at his doctor's insistance comes upon three homeless people, each on a different street corner. Coming to the first he yells, "Get a job!" Needless to say, the homeless man is surprised. Then the wealthy man comes to the second homeless gentleman and blurts out, "Get a grip!" This verbal attack startles the second man. The third homeless man is met and the wealthy man, enjoying his power and control, bellows, "Get a life, you scum!"
With a smug sense of satisfaction the rich man keep walking, pleased with the advice he has delivered to those who contribute "nothing" to society. After a little he turns the fourth corner on the block and runs into the three homeless men standing together. Surrounding him, they firmly, yet gently, remind him, "Get a heart!"
This is part of the gospel lesson for today.
Jesus has sent the disciples out, two-by-two, to preach and heal. They were to take nothing for the journey, to be homeless, and if they found they were not welcome they were to knock the dust off their sandals as an insult against the inhospitable and move on.
It turns out that the disciples basically had a great deal of success. They came back full of themselves and reported how many souls had been saved, how many baptism performed, and how many healings confirmed.
You can imagine the hub-bub and excitement running through the disciples as they told their stories and shared the techniques they used. There was much rejoicing and planning how to do even better when Jesus sent them out again, perhaps in fours or eights and how they could leave some in particularly responsive places and spread the word farther and faster. What a high time. They were so caught up in this experience of glory that there wasn't even time to eat. I'm sure you can remember a time when you were so caught up events that it didn't matter if you ate or not, your sustenance was your activity. You may remember such high times as courting a beloved or such low times as waiting for someone to slowly die.
At any rate, I expect the disciples were surprised when they were not asked to go farther, faster. Jesus, says, "Break time. We are getting too caught up in church growth technique." And so off they go in the boat to a resting place.
As they get to the resting place to have a Sabbath experience, what should happen but a crowd gathers. Jesus sees them. Note this, Jesus sees them. It is recorded that Jesus had compassion for the people, pitied them, was heart-broken over them, sorrowed in the presence of their sorrow and need. Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. And so Jesus began to teach them what it was they needed, just as he had taught the disciples what it was that they needed.
After some wonderful stories about feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish and walking on a windy sea that we will hear about another time, we hear that wherever Jesus went people came forward from their individual lives and unique difficulties to join in a crowd before Jesus. Just the fringe of his clothes or his least word brought healing and hope to those who were sick and distraught and invisible.
Jesus had a heart for people. When he was around, people came
out of the woodwork. There was a sense of a better life ahead
because their concerns would be taken seriously, their experiences
would have new meaning.
If there were one hallmark of what it means to follow Jesus it is to go beyond the techniques of church and to be compassionate with one another and with our neighbors. If we have the greatest worship available but we do not have compassion, our worship is just pleasing to ourselves. If we have a wonderful building but we do not use it compassionately and openly, our building is kept from the ministry it was designed for by its builders forty plus years ago. If our excellent education staff only care for our own children, we increase the distance between faith and life.
These are three key issues before us worship, building use, education for all. We can go any number of ways with each of these issues. Whichever way we go we will please many and upset some. If, for a moment though, we can take a look behind the scenes we will find this scripture, with the disciples making too much of the particular technique or decision-making and still needing to learn compassion, is more important than who wins and who loses a particular decision.
I am suggesting that the measuring rod for our decisions needs to be our ministry, what it is that GOD desires from us in this day and in this place. Are we able to follow GOD's grace into people's lives? If so compassion will abound; if not it won't.
In the last congregation I was in there was a poor person who would periodically come around. She dressed poorly, her hygiene wasn't the best, her speech was halting. She was basically an invisible person in our community. You could see her and categorize her and ignore her quickly as being of no account. Yet she asked, time and again, when will you have a meal for the hungry here on the north side, like they do on the south side? Travel for the poor is tricky and to have one meal site in that size town didn't meet her need.
Eventually a few people heard her question as a real question. A question that needed to be responded to out of compassion, not out of hope that we would get new members or out of fear of the building getting dirty. The problem was that the issue was larger than that congregation could handle on its own and so after a year's work they had signed on 10 other congregations to take turns. This is just like Harvest House here in West Bend. At first they served 50+ people and now they are serving over 100 people per week.
This one compassionate act has the possibility of opening up a whole new way of being church for them. Will they continue to ask first, where does our compassion need to be enacted today? Nobody knows. The temptation to fall back into taking care of self first is very strong.
Since we have Harvest House in this community we probably don't need to repeat it, but thought could always be put toward expanding it. Today I simply want to raise a couple of questions about the invisible people around us.
Have you noticed there are increasing numbers of Blacks in our community. In just the short time I have been here, every time I walk over to church I see more and more. For me this is a situation to be rejoiced in. I am aware it is also a difficulty for those who remember West Bend being more isolated and homogenous than it now is. My question is about these invisible people. Where are they worshipping? Would they be at home with any worship style we have experimented with? How can we help care for their souls as well as their bodies? Won't we have to ask them what they need and then see that the needed resources are available? Do we need to pay some strong lay people from our Black churches in Milwaukee to come out here on Sundays and to pay rent for a facility for them to get started in? Do we leave it up to someone else? What is compassion in this situation?
Other questions need to be asked about the invisible kids on the street who have been kicked out of their homes and are cruising from one setting to another? Do we have an obligation of compassion to do more than support the abuse shelter, but to openly speak out as a congregation on this issue? How do we use our compassion to set up a financial counseling center for those who are so far in debt they cannot respond to the blessings of GOD by giving all they can?
And the list goes on. The places where compassion will lead us is endless and the requirements upon our tired lives goes on, but there is no better way for us to live than through our compassion with others, our sharing in their struggles and sorrows.
Compassionate Jesus, your way challenges us. Send Holy Spirit to us that we might have the courage to live compassionately beyond our fear of loss. Lead us into GOD's love that first loved us that we might next love our neighbors, whomever they might be. Help your Church make invisible people visible and to live alongside them. Thank you. Amen.