Advent 1: Compassion
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God's ways and that we may walk in God's paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of God from Jerusalem. God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war
Romans 13: 8-14
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Earlier this year I began some focused work in the study and practice of compassion. Sounds almost ridiculous when I say it out loud- one would assume that's a no brainer for a pastor- that your pastor shouldn't have to study and then practice how to be compassionate. And while that may be true of a stereotype of 'pastor' that may be held in ones head, I assure you, being intentional about compassion is something we all need to both study and practice. It is the central message of Jesus. it is at the core of all things Christ. It is at the heart of every act of God, each movement of the Holy Spirit.
Don't get me wrong, when I look around at our community of faith, compassion is everywhere... from a large ministry like the food pantry to the smallest acts of compassion between individuals that many people never see or find out about. Our church is a caring, loving place where we compassion- or suffering with- happens all the time. So why spend four weeks on it in a series, especially during Advent when we are naturally a more giving, more present, more compassionate society than the rest of the year?
Because, as human beings my beloved congregation of Christ, as much as our hearts might be touched, and even softened by people or situations- you cant look at some of the pictures in Dave's worship art and remain unmoved... our hearts are also fickle. Just as quickly as they are softened, our hearts can become callous, And we don't often see it coming- It's almost like that part of ourselves comes out like a knee jerk reaction- we see a certain person, or hear a newscast, or encounter a choice and a feeling that starts in our knees travels up our spine and constructs a wall around our heart as hard as cement. in fact, once it's upon us, when we realize we've thought or acted un-compassionately- we can shudder at ourselves. Who am I? This isn't me- well, not the "me" I want to be.
And before you start beating yourselves up, there are good valid reasons why this knee jerk reaction comes out at times. It's the way we have been socialized to react. Me first, my family and friends, first, my job, first, security, first, money, first, stuff, first! And these are seeds that have been sewn in us since we were children- a byproduct of living in the wealthiest country in the world and in a capitalistic society. And they've been cultivated- watered, and weeded, and given the light of opportunity at every stage of growth. Survival of the fittest-competition-winning- and it's played out in virtually every aspect of society.
So naturally, when we encounter a person or situation- a need- that threatens to usurp any of the "firsts" in our lives, we react. I'm not getting us off the hook, I'm just trying to explain why it happens. So when I say, I'm doing intentional study and work in compassion, I'm saying that I am acknowledging comppasion does not come naturally to us- and I am actively trying to rid myself of that knee jerk response- I am cultivating compassion- sewing new seeds in my being- amidst the strong plants already in my heart, and giving them daily watering, nurture and light... with the hope that as the roots deepen, they will grow strong enough to push through that cement wall once and for all.
The text I just read lets us know this is not a new problem we are facing, nor it is simply an American problem... Paul is writing to the church at Rome- wake up- get rid of the violence, the greed, the un-forgiveness... ' In her book, Boundless Compassion, she explores the "movement of compassion—awareness, attitude, action—and its four essential aspects- of nonjudgment, nonviolence, forgiveness, and mindfulness."(1) (repeat)
And so you perhaps understand the Intentionality-what Rupp calls awareness, attitude, and action- means putting ourselves always in the mindset of compassion, noticing what and who is around us, what the needs are, and then allowing ourselves to be moved to do something about it. This is modeled for us in the life of Jesus. Nothing went without notice- his attitude was one of giving of himself, his time, his energy, his resources, where it was needed. And then, "Jesus also challenged those whose policies, regulations, and personal behavior caused or contributed to suffering. As his voice for justice gained strength, so did the voices of those who wanted him destroyed. Jesus knew both the risk and the price to be paid for being committed to compassion. In A Spirituality of Caregiving, Henri Nouwen recognizes this challenge: “The Gospel call to be compassionate is one that goes right against the grain, that turns us completely around and requires a total conversion of heart and mind. It is indeed a radical call, a call that goes to the roots of our lives.”3" (2)
Isaiah talked about It In the text Pastor Carole read to us- that God has a new way for us- where the mountain of God, meaning God's way, or God's system, love, compassion, sharing fairness, mercy equity, is seen above any mountain, or system of the world... go to the mountain of God to get our knowledge-
So how do we begin... Rupp suggsts 4 seeds, as she calls them, to cultivate compassion in our awareness, our attitude, and our action. Interestingly, they are the same 4 things that paul mentions in his letter to the Romans- nonjudgment-non-violence, forgiveness, and mindfulness.
And none of these are easy, folks, so as we go through them, again, keep in mind that this is not to beat us up- its to help plant a new seed in our lives-
Non-judgement- easy, right? Try turning It off for 2 hours this afternoon. We have opinions about everything and everyone. We see the world through a lens of our experience- from self protection to exclusion to justification, we look at a person or situation and we instantly judge. Planting a seed of non-judgement means that for every knee jerk judgmental thought that emanates from our being, we send out a second thought that is loving and non judgmental. Driver who cuts us off from *&%$ to 'they are in a rush- hopefully they get thee safely.'
Non-violence- this one Is tough. We've grown dependent on violence for so many things-
forgiveness- hoe to let go of a situation, or feeling, or relationship, and move on- with or without them being in your life...
Mindfulness- people and situations, yes, but also of our own actions- Paul calls us to guard our hearts and minds in Christ- to remember always who we are and in whose image we are created- to remember that it is in our DNA to be good- to be kind- that it is our DNA to love. That we are loved unconditionally, and that we have the capacity, because of our DNA of love, to LOVE uncondiitonally. It is who we are and who we are created to be- the reflected likeness of the creator.
The mirrro might not reflect that- so it's why we are called here together. And ALL of us need reminders- not just when we are feeling low, but all the time- I need reminders- you know what, I see God moving through you- or I ni=oticed how you helped so and so, or thank you for doing good, or whatever
(1) Rupp, Joyce. Boundless Compassion (p. 12). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.
the Prophet Isaiah, and he paints a glorious picture of what "someday" looks like- when God's way has become THE way; when God's mountain is higher than the other mountains of the world. Mountains that we either look up at in hopeless despair, attempt to climb, fall off of, or from time to time repel away from, either out of disgust or for our own safety.
Isaiah uses the metaphor of a mountain for systems that humankind considers powerful- and so God's 'mountain' God's way will be raised higher than any other- and everyone will see it, and people flock to it, and lead others to it, draw knowledge from it, and in turn, teach God's ways to all the earth. And God will serve as referee in human war games and competitions- and take the weapons we use against one another and transform them into tools for building and planting and healing... as the song goes- "we ain't gonna study war no more"... That's the "OK" we get in the end.
Isaiah has a dream — that the wolf and the lamb would someday be feeding together- a dream that things can somehow be as they ought to be, and not as they are.
But this is the season of Advent. When we wait for wildly unrealistic things to happen- We wait for a young girl and and her teenage husband and donkey and an innkeeper and an angel to all work together to create an impossible dream of redemption. We wait for shepherds to bow to a choir of angels and 3 kings of the orient to follow a star. And we wait for the birth of a wrinkly, helpless, red-faced, wailing baby who will be savior to the world.Wildly unrealistic! But this is the stuff dreams are made of...
Dreamers can make us crazy- the realist inside wants to scream or slap them back into reality- 'don't you see what's going on? Get your head out of the clouds!'
But dreamers point us toward something better- they bring us hope- they demand, even for a minute, that we focus on something better- the should be- the could be- and for that minute, if we let them, they give us a glimpse of what peace looks like... and we feel that peace right here, before we grab that warm feeling and toss it out as nonsensical. "Dreamer! Wake up!"
Or as the Apostle Paul says, " love one another.... love is the fulfilling of the law...you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep..."
We wake living the dream... We stand behind it, and put our legs into it, Begin from a place of surety... First one foot, then the other... but make your way to the mountain of the Lord- flock to it, lead others to it, and teach God's ways to all the earth.