Sermon For January 25, 2015 ~ The Season Of Epiphany

Mark 1:16-20 & Jonah 3:1-5, 10

A Season Of Surprises: The God Of Wow!

Sermon #4 “Surprised By The Compassion”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

I think by most standards, we can all agree that I am pretty much a softhearted guy.  I cry at the drop of a hat.  Who knows when I’ll tear up and get all mushy on you.  But there are a few things that will quite predictably determine that I will bawl, blubber, and get all snotty-nosed.  One of the most certain triggers for this schmaltzy behavior is from the now-ancient

Col. Sherman T. Potter on MASH, played by Harry Morgan

Col. Sherman T. Potter on MASH, played by Harry Morgan

television show, MASH.  In it there was a certain military officer, Col. Sherman T. Potter, played by the fantastic Harry Morgan.  He was a gruff, frustrated, eternally longsuffering man who put up with the antics of his unit better than you might imagine someone of his stature and background.  And while he was mostly portrayed as a bit crusty, the writers would occasionally show his sensitive side.  And every now and then they would even have Col. Potter shed a tear.  Now, you want me to start bawling?  Show me a clip of the strong, crotchety Col. Sherman T. Potter crying.  Makes me a blubbering idiot!

The English noun compassion, meaning “to love or suffer together with,” comes from Latin. Its prefix com- comes directly from com, an archaic version of the Latin preposition “with.” Affix “com” with –passion, derived from passus, past participle of the deponent verb patior, patī, passus sum and you get compassion.  Compassion is thus related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who suffers), from patiens, present participle of the same patior, and is akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer).   Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues. (1)

Jonah awaiting God's wrath on Ninevah

Jonah awaiting God’s wrath on Ninevah

I chose this theme word “Compassion” for today based most primarily upon the Hebrew Scripture selection in the lectionary.  It is the famous story of Jonah traveling to the city of Nineveh to preach to them a word from God of repentance, which they promptly did, and from which God forgave their sins.   But Jonah was in for a huge surprise.  Jonah got intensely angry because he had come for the epic fireworks of God’s hellfire and brimstone, and they weren’t happening because of God’s softheartedness, or compassion.  I think it’s fair to say Jonah was flabbergasted and then pissed off by God’s patience with the Ninevites.

So that was the easy connection, but then I got stuck on the Gospel passage for the day: the calling by Jesus of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Somehow it felt like I was forcing this theme of compassion upon the gospel passage.  But then God, in the Divine’s infinite mercy, reminded me of a song about this very passage that comes from our Hispanic sisters and brothers, “Lord, You Have Come To The Lakeshore,” by Cesáreo Gabaráin, Number 342 in the Chalice Hymnal.  This song exudes a deep sense of compassion and care: (to hear and see a video of this song, go online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xVskCCWtUk)

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore

looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;

you only asked me to follow humbly.

O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,

and while smiling have spoken my name;

now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;

by your side I will seek other seas.

You  need my hands full of caring,

through my labors to give others rest,

and constant love that keeps on loving. (2)

Jesus Summons Matthew to Leave the Tax Office, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, 1536. Olga's Gallery.

Jesus Summons Matthew to Leave the Tax Office, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, 1536. Olga’s Gallery.

Then I looked back at the passage from Mark and saw the overwhelming compassion that comes in Jesus’ call to his disciples.  He called them not based on their status in life, not based on their looks or even their talents and abilities, or faithfulness.  Jesus called them – and us – based only on our willingness to respond to the call.  Jesus doesn’t want nor need us to be fully equipped, good-looking, wealthy or even – and hear me clearly – God doesn’t even need us repentant.  He just needs us ready.  If that isn’t surprising, I don’t know what is!

And this fits so well with the Jonah passage, other than the fact that I come off looking pretty bad, just like Jonah did.  In the same way that Jonah wasn’t ready for the city of Nineveh to repent and change their ways and follow God – that is he did not have the compassionate heart needed to believe that people can change, transformation can happen, lives can be turned around… Neither was I willing to see the compassion needed for God to call this rag-tag, diverse, unqualified group of disciples to follow him and change the world.  God has compassion on us and calls us to ministry – all of us – and then expects us to have the very same kind of compassion for those to whom we minister and with whom we share the good news.

My beloved, let us both be ready for and then surprised by compassion in this world.  God calls each and every one of us to full-time ministry – most likely in the places you already are.  This might surprise you, but don’t let it stop you.  Likewise, God calls you to be ready for the people around you to whom you witness the love of God and the grace of Christ and the winsomeness of the Holy Spirit to change.  You must not be surprised when they do, nor in the way in which they turn-around.  It most likely won’t be in the way in which you expect faith to be lived out, nor even want.  But God receives that change, and will forgive and love them just the same as God forgives and loves you, us.  Surprising or not, that is good news indeed.

Amen.

Please watch this Week Of Compassion video https://vimeo.com/119960478 and contribute to our Week Of Compassion offering: http://www.weekofcompassion.org/give/

(1) Wikipedia “Compassion,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion

(2) For a beautiful discussion of the writer/writing of this hymn, go online to: http://www.gbod.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lord-you-have-come-to-the-lakeshore

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