Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“Evening Shade” was a show that starred Burt Reynolds as a small town football coach in Arkansas. One night the coach’s two small children were leaning out the upstairs window, looking at the stars.
They began to chat. The boy says: “I’m glad I’ve got you guys. It sure would be lonely without you.” His sister replies, “Remember Sunday School.” The boy looks at her and asks: “Remember Sunday School? What do you mean by that? Oh, yeah. You mean how God is always here so we’re never alone.” She nods and says, “Yeah, that’s what I mean.” and her brother looks back at the sky and sighs, “Well, I know that’s right, but sometimes I just need somebody with some skin on them.”
I think most of us know how he feels. The world can be a difficult and dangerous and lonely place. And as comforting as it is to believe in a God in Heaven who loves us and cares about us and has a plan for our lives; sometimes you just need somebody to talk to who will talk back. That’s why people flocked to Jesus. Sure there were those who had heard about his miracles and just wanted to see a good show. And there were those who were there just because everybody else was there.
It’s like the Friday night high school football in the small-town south. When my son was in the band I used to sit in the stands and listen to women talk about church and teen-agers talk about who’s dating whom. One night the Methodist preacher told me to sit with him. He said, “This is the section for the football fans. The other people are just here because everybody else in town is here.”
So there were the thrill seekers and the crowd seekers, but there were also the God seekers, those who had heard about Jesus; had heard about his words and his actions and had come to catch a glimpse of the Holy. Jesus and the apostles had been really busy and really needed a break. So Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” They were going on retreat, on vacation, on holiday. But it was not to be. By the time they got where they were going, a crowd had gathered. Jesus looked at them and weighed his own and his companions’ weariness against something he saw in the faces turned up at him, something in the crowd’s eyes. What was it that swayed Jesus to give up the plan to rest? I think he looked at them and saw their hunger. Not a hunger for food, but a hunger for companionship, a hunger for community, a hunger for love, a hunger for God.
Verse 34 says, “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion literally means “to feel with.” Jesus felt compassion for them because he had felt what they were feeling. After his baptism, the Spirit drove him into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. There he learned what it feels like to be abandoned, deserted, alone in the universe. He also learned what one does and does not need in a time like that.
There in the wilderness, Jesus realized that fixing every human hurt was not to be his mission. People didn’t need a Superman jumping to their rescue. People needed to know that God was in the world with them, not off in heaven above and beyond them. People needed to know that God cared, and that God wanted them to care, and to act with caring as well. So, there in the desert, Jesus came to a momentous decision; he would purposely withhold his power, restrain himself. Throughout his ministry opportunities for healings came to Jesus, but he didn’t go looking for them. Every time he worked a miracle it happened because of those three little words – “he had compassion.”
That he had compassion is the most important thing we can say about Jesus, and about God. We live in the midst of a world in which people are afraid of their own shadows, a world where if they believe in God at all, they believe God to be either remote and uncaring, or cruel and vindictive. In such a world, we in the church have been called to witness to the fact that he had compassion.
The world in which we live is depressed and sad and frightened and on edge about the future. And into this bog of sadness and sorrow, we the church are called to imitate our Lord and find ways to break into the cycle of fear and violence with words and acts of hope and assurance, words and acts of compassion and healing. Now, that is a mighty tall order isn’t it? What can one church do? What can one Christian do? In the face of all this hurt and pain, who are we to think we can make a difference?
Those must have been the sorts of questions a little Albanian nun asked herself over fifty years ago when she found herself in Calcutta, one of the worst and most hopeless places in the world. And what she decided to do was to do what Jesus did in our story, she had compassion on the ones right in front of her. She dealt with the need she was given and did what she could. She began to pick up the dying beggars off the streets of Calcutta and to give them a decent place to die. That was it. She washed their wounds and their bottoms, she cleaned their sheets and their latrines. She fed them, and bathed them and turned them on their pallets when no one else would touch them. She had compassion, one dying person at a time. We are called to have compassion, to preach compassion, to teach compassion, to live compassion. We are called to break whatever rules and taboos and cultural barriers necessary to let the world know God is not harsh, God is not out to get them, God is not punishing them for their sins. God is love. God is steadfast, everlasting, never-ending love.
God is reaching out into the midst of our fear of death with an offer of life, of life eternal.
“He had compassion.” Jesus had compassion then, and God has compassion now. Open up your hearts and let God love you. Open up your arms and show God’s love to the world.
AMEN AND AMEN