Sunday, 12 July 2015

Compassion - A Sermon by Kevin Bright

Mark 6.30-34 & 53-56, Ephesians 2.11-22 I was recently fortunate enough to have a few days to explore the city of Bologna. After walking many miles ticking off various tourist sites I was ravenous and spotted a nice deli. ‘Un panino con prosciutto crudo e pomodoro’ I asked the man using my very basic Italian, (a Parma ham and tomato sandwich). The first thing I had to do was decide which type of bread I would like, then I wondered if he had got fed up with my poor Italian as the man walked away but to my relief it was only to put on those blue gloves required to meet food hygiene standards. Next he got the big shoulder of ham and walked it over to the slicing machine, which he switched on and then adjusted the cutting blade several times before producing some wafer thin slices. Next the ham was walked back to the fridge with my slices resting on the machine. Now don’t get me wrong I’m a big fan of the slow food movement but I only wanted a sandwich, it felt like my blood pressure was rising and I was beginning to wonder why everything is so far apart, was he not expecting a customer today, what does he do when there is a queue? He then checked that I wanted tomato, I guess it had been so long since my initial request that he couldn’t remember. As he walked to the end of the shop to pick up two tomatoes my heart sank and what seemed like minutes passed. The tomatoes were individually washed and sliced before being carefully placed on the roll. The prosciutto was added then the roll was placed on a piece of paper and off he went again, it was all taking so long that I thought perhaps he now needed a siesta, but no he came back with a neatly cut piece of tape to seal the paper wrapping and to finish it was placed in a little bag! Well that’s the express version as otherwise I won’t get around to mentioning God and Jesus today. As I watched the conclusion to this laid back process I began to smile, everything was clean and fresh, carefully prepared and it dawned upon me that I didn’t actually have to be anywhere at any particular time. I needed to slow down and relax when the opportunity was there and the roll was delicious, much better than anything you would buy in a supermarket. So many of us feel the need to get everything done quickly and move onto the next thing. Even those of us who may not be rushing from one place to the next often feel the need to fill every moment. Today’s reading follows the sending out of the disciples in pairs by Jesus, you will remember the discussion last week about him instructing them to shake the dust from their feet in the places where they are not made welcome. Then Mark’s gospel tells of the brutal execution of John the Baptist. After that , we get to today when the disciples return from their first missionary journey and are excited to share the news of their journeys. We heard that they ‘told him all that they had done and taught.’ It’s almost as if the disciples were like children with a good school report for their father. Jesus can empathise with the hard work they have done and all they have been through and responds by saying to the disciples, 'Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' But the crowds spot them heading of in the boat and hurry on ahead of Jesus and his disciples arriving in the wilderness before them. Now if you were seeking some peace after a lot of hard work and stress, if you even took the trouble of going by boat, how would you feel to arrive at the destination only to be greeted by hordes of people? I have to say that this thought crossed my mind when my cousin arranged for a hundred or more to spring a surprise 70th party on my auntie, what if she just wanted a quiet night out with immediate family? Anyway if I were one of the disciples I’m sure I’d think to myself enough is enough, I need some ‘me time’ so please can you all leave, but Jesus sees it differently. He looks on the hurrying crowds like the people were sheep without a shepherd. They were “coming and going” and “had no leisure even to eat’. My sandwich maker would be appalled. Jesus didn’t look upon these people as a nuisance, an unwelcome inconvenience preventing the quiet time he had planned’ he had compassion for them’ because the compassion of God dwelt within him. Whilst it emphasises the shortcomings of many of us ready to focus on our own needs and unwilling to see the needs of others when the time doesn’t suit us it is also a very hopeful message for our relationship with God. At least one newspaper reported that British tourists on a Greek island complained that their holiday was ruined by the fact that dishevelled refugees who had fled persecution in North Africa were visible in some areas frequented by people who were there to enjoy themselves. Our natural instinct maybe disbelief at how heartless some people are but there is no doubt that many suffer compassion fatigue because of so much dreadful news from around the world. As a coping mechanism many of us block out the fact that each tragedy affects a human body just the same as ours. I guess a lot of us hope to escape reality for a while on holiday and aren’t ready to accept that we have travelled to a place where we come face to face with it instead. The hopeful message for us is that Jesus was showing how God feels to people who are lost, who don’t know what to believe in or who to follow. People who sometimes get so used to rushing from one thing to the next without really taking time to stop and think. Perhaps amongst the ‘many things’ Jesus taught the people gathered was about the dangers of rushing from one situation to the next just because that is what everyone else is doing. We can easily get caught up in ways of living which aspire to conform or even exceed the way of the crowd without stopping to think about what really matters. Sometimes we need the courage to step out of the crowd and follow a different course which we know to be better. If the people were able to take this on board they would become less sheep like, following the flock without any long term plans and more human, able to think for themselves and lead their own lives. When we take some time for rest and peace we can sometimes see things differently. Away from the treadmill that never stops we are able to stop chasing after more and able to see what we already have, literally we can count our blessings. There is even the possibility of experiencing grateful contentment. There’s certainly no fun in struggling to meet our daily needs or provide for a family but at the opposite end of the scale what some people will call success others may view as self enforced slavery. God wants us to take time for rest, time to meet with him, time to appreciate our food and every other aspect of the world he created. We heard Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians challenging us to think about our bodies. Of course spiritual thoughts and experiences are wonderful but God came to us in the flesh to show that our physical bodily lives are also central to our relationship with him. How we treat them, what we do with them all matter. Every individual human across the globe starts and ends their bodily life in the same way even though where the body is born can make a great difference to our life chances. Paul wants us to think about why we exclude some people from certain things because their bodies don’t look like ours. Perhaps different skin colour, perhaps bodies without the physical capability we have. Then there are bodies which stop working as well as they once did what’s our reaction? Compassion, exclusion, indifference? In this case the message to the church in Ephesus is that God wants the former Jews and gentiles to come together as a single family in Christ. Gentile Christians were once like foreigners to Israel but because of Jesus they now equal members. The former Jews were challenged to think beyond the temple in Jerusalem as the place where they could meet God. This was radical stuff for them as it was at the centre of their Jewish lives and rituals but Paul wants them to understand that God wants his home to be in our hearts and minds and bodies, whatever their differences may be. It’s a reminder as to why our bodies are so important and how they offer the most wonderful possibility to let others become aware that God can dwell in us. When we are moved to compassion and kindness God can be seen at work in us as he was when Jesus took pity upon the crowds that pursued him. The irony is that some of us need to do less in order to realise this potential. Amen Kevin Bright 12th July 2015

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