Sermon: "To Show Compassion"

Third in the "Why the Church?" series.
Delivered September 25, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3

Theme: When we look at the life of Jesus, we see Jesus involved in ministries of compassion. Compassion has to be part of a witness of the church. Evangelism has to go with compassion. Preaching has to go with practice. What we say with our lips has to be matched with our lives.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Matthew 9:35-38; 14:14; 15:32

Sermon Notes are at the end.

I went to an evangelism conference in 1989. It was a little different than most of the conferences that I get a chance to go to now because this was specifically an evangelistic conference designed around the object of reaching out to people who had severe disabilities. And so I was at this conference for two days and I don't remember a whole lot about what was said, because it was in Japanese and I didn't know Japanese very well yet, and so I spent two days listening to a whole lot of talk that I didn't understand, but I still learned a whole lot those two days because we brought three people with us from our church that were profoundly disabled: they had very strong physical challenges. They couldn't feed themselves, they couldn't move on their own, and they couldn't bathe themselves. We brought these three Christian brothers to this conference with us because they were concerned about their outreach to the people that they lived with and I can still remember an elder in our church; I will call him Mr. S. Mr. S. led us in carrying these people to their wheelchairs, moving them around the conference, feeding them at the mealtimes and since this is Japan one of the big things for any conference in Japan is that after all the meetings are over at night everybody goes to the communal bath and soaks in the tub for a while. And so what he did was, together with our help: the other people who were there, washed each of these Christian brothers and then moved them in to the tub so they could sit and soak just like everybody else and enjoy that time of relaxation together. I couldn't understand any of the words, but I could understand him and what he was doing. He had a heart of compassion that welled up in sacrificial service. It might have been exhausting. It might have been embarrassing, but he was willing to help the people around him. It wasn't clinical. It wasn't rough. It was just patient, loving service, and I watched him for the next two years and he was always like this. He was always ready in compassion to serve.

Compassion is a big deal for the church. Compassion has to be part of a witness of the church. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see Jesus involved in ministries of compassion. I want to read to you a section from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 9, a few verses that talk about one of the many times that Jesus was involved in a ministry of compassion. Matthew, Chapter 9, beginning with Verse 35:

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

Let's pray: God we thank you for this your word and pray that as we think about it together, we will respond with the obedience that comes through faith. For its in Jesus name that we pray, Amen.

Jesus' ministry was filled with acts of compassion. Think of how many times we find him healing people who are physically sick, delivering people who have spiritual oppression, feeding people, doing miracles to feed people. In this passage there is an important word that's right in the middle of this. It says in Verse 36, "When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them." Compassion is a visceral word. It has to do with something that we feel in our gut. It's not a clinical sort of thing. It's not a strategic sort of thing. It's that gut level response to a need that we sense. Some of the older translation would translate this as bowels of compassion, because that's what the word actually means, and it talks about that gut level thing. In English we might say that our heart went out to them. And so, here we see Jesus, we see Jesus is not sitting there making a clinical strategic decision of how can my outreach be more effective. We see him relating to the needs around him from the gut. He can't help but have this response, because it's the kind of response that God has to human need. Because from the very start the Scriptures declare that our God is a compassionate God. We can go all the way back to the Book of Exodus. In Exodus, Chapter 34 we hear this: "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness." This is what God is like; compassionate and gracious.

Now these same words are used again and again throughout the Old Testament. They are remixed. They are made shorter. Psalm 103, Verse 8: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love." Jesus was compassionate because God is compassionate and filled with the compassion of God: with this deep, visceral response to human need. Jesus meets the needs he encounters whatever the kind of need he faces. Verse 36, the same verse that talks about Jesus compassion it says that he sees that people are harassed and helpless. They are sick that is why they are there. But they are also without a shepherd: like sheep without a shepherd. This has a political and a religious meaning for Jesus, because the shepherds were supposed to be the religious leaders and the political leaders that together were supposed to draw people back in to a right relationship with God, so that Israel could experience the blessings that God wanted to pour out on that nation. And so he looks out and he sees a people that are being tossed all around because they don't have the spiritual leadership to draw them back to God. They don't have the political leadership and so they are being oppressed by other nations. It's all intertwined. He sees they are sick. He sees they are harassed and without spiritual direction and he feels compassion.

We see this word come up again and again in Jesus' ministry. I just want to point out to two other times in the Book of Matthew that it comes out. First in Chapter 14, Verse 14 in Matthew. Jesus was on a boat.

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."

He sees sick people and has compassion. Chapter 15, Verse 32:

"Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."

Jesus had compassion on hungry people. And in these cases he enlists his disciples in to some kind of response with him, so when the people are hungry and Jesus is about ready to do a miracle, he starts talking to them and says, "Lets help them". And they say, "Well there is no way of helping them." So he challenges their conception of God and God's concern and God's power and then he actually has them go out and see if they can find things and then he has them distribute things to feed the people and then he has them collect the leftovers when its all over. It's a partnership between Jesus and the disciples.

In today's chapter, in Chapter 9, Jesus tells them to pray. Here's a need. There are harvesters that need to go out, so ask the Lord of the harvest, that he might send some more harvesters in to his harvest: some more workers. And so he asked them to pray and to partner with him in that way, but he's also by implication saying that they are going to be maybe some of the workers that God sends out then in to this harvest. So God's compassion then is supposed to motivate and shape our response to the world around us. Now the church has always known this so it's not new news.

One of the earliest ministries of the church was with children at risk. In the Roman days one of the things that they did in their culture was that if they had an unwanted child they would abandon the child outside somewhere and expose the child to the elements hoping that it would die quickly. This happened particularly with the female children. And so one of the earliest ministries of the church was to find these children, to nurse them back to health, and to raise them as their own. When the plagues came like they did around 165 AD and then again in 251 AD, one of the ministries of the church was to minister to those who were dying from the diseases. Even though people in the church died from catching those diseases, they would still serve the people around them by ministering to the sick. The Upper Julian said about Christians: "Christians support not only their poor, but ours as well." In the Middle Ages the push towards having hospital type care came from the Christian church. In the 19th century, orphanages went up all over the world because of the work of churches and missionaries, caring for children at risk. Schools for women went up all around the world as the Protestant missionary enterprise hit different countries because as they went to country after country they found that particularly young girls were at risk in culture after culture and so schools all over the world were started for women. Again and again the churches had compassion on the weak, on those who were at risk and those who had needs.

And today it's as important as ever that we have ministry like this. Right now one of the polls says that 60% of Americans think that the church is irrelevant. Depending on how you define an active Christian, we might have up to 170 million non-Christians in the United States right now, which would make it the third largest mission field in the world. There are huge needs here. People have stopped listening to the church. So what do we do when people stop listening? Well you talk louder. You yell at them. You know how well that works. If you have been overseas and you are talking to a shopkeeper and you say, "no, no, no I want the green one" and they are looking at you. And you say, "THE GREEN ONE". Now I have been on the other side of that a few times in Japanese. I didn't understand it any better when it was yelled at me than when it was whispered to me. And yet that's the response of the church to the fact that the culture around us in not listening. So we want to say it louder. We want to get more TV shows, better-produced ones. We have billboards out. We want to use technology in every kind of way to get the word out more, but you know maybe its not that people haven't heard, maybe it's because they don't believe it because they have never seen it. Maybe we have to show them something even as we speak the truth of the Gospel. The church is called to demonstrate the life we declare. We have a declaration that Jesus is Lord, that he has come to save people and remake lives and then along with that declaration we are supposed to demonstrate that that makes a difference, that its real, that we live a different kind of life because of that. Now it doesn't mean that we do it perfectly. Golly, we make mistakes in our relationship with one another all the time. We fail. We have blind spots, but even in the middle of all that imperfect life together, the world should be able to see something different. And overflowing out of that they should experience something different, as we reach out to them in love and compassion. Declaration. Demonstration. Evangelism has to go with compassion. Preaching has to go with practice. What we say with our lips has to be matched with our lives. That's our love for one another, imperfect as it is and that's our love for others.

Now the Presbyterian Church has emphasized this for years. It's one of the things that makes me glad to be a Presbyterian. We have long tradition of recognizing that the church has a very deep ministry to the world. One of the things that's been taught in the Presbyterian Church is the great ends of the church. There are six things that are pointed out that describe what the church is for. The first is the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of human kind. Evangelism. The second is the shelter, nuture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God: to disciple people. The third and fourth: the maintenance of divine worship, and then the preservation of the truth. The fact that we are a worshipping congregation and we have a doctrine and a certain teaching that we hold to. And then the final two, talk more about our outward witness. It says the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world. Exhibition is a "see" word. It's a visual word. It's something that is displayed, not just something that is told. We are supposed to exhibit the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven to the world around us.

Robert Lewis, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock condenses it even more. He condenses it down to one sentence that talks about the church. What is the church? A community of people who present living proof of a loving God to a watching world. Living proof of a loving God to a watching world. So we have to ask ourselves individually and as a church, how are we living proof of a loving God to the world around us? It's a fair question. And its one that will challenge us if we take it seriously. It all boils down to the fact that we are supposed to live out the gospel and it means a lot more than just pointing at the things that are wrong in the culture around us. It means rolling up our sleeves to be part of the solution.

Next Thursday a group of about 15 people, most of them people from this church, are going to Liberty, Mississippi in order to put the roofs back on two houses for missionary widows. They just made the decision last Monday to do this that is why you haven't seen anything about it and if you want to be part of that there is still time. You can call the church office and get Pete Penno's phone number. Peter Penno, Andrew Brooks, Dick Wallace, Scott Corey and others are involved in this. They are willing to get their hands dirty, willing to have a hands on experience of showing compassion. That is part of what the church is all about. And it's not just for storm victims, because there are all kinds of other victims constantly living around us and living in other places in the world. There are a lot of children who are at risk. There the AIDS orphans in Southern Africa, hungry children in the Sudan, children injured by war in Iraq, and here in Baltimore: homeless children, abused children, aborted children. There are needs all around us and we have the need as the church to get involved.

Now some of that is giving money for ministries and missionaries, but there are also ways that we can get involved directly and that's in part what today is all about. Outside there are all kinds of tables of different ministries that connect with the needs that surround us in Baltimore. Groups like Woodberry Crossing that gets children at risk outside of the city for a while to fish, to pet animals, to just see what a farm is like; Evangelizing Youth Ministries and the puppet shows they do in Baltimore's inner city. Rick Lieberman does a similar sort of thing out in the city. There is ACTC that meets the needs of needy people: homeless people's food, and Shepherd's Clinic that meets the medical needs of families. Baltimore Christian School that focuses in on poorer families. Habitat for Humanity that's trying to provide decent housing for families in the Sandtown area. There is all kinds of things out there, all kinds of opportunities.

Now I have often talked about our vision for this church, to be a church without walls, moving people towards Christ where we live, work and play. I have talked a lot about God's vision for this church, that he has called us to make disciples of all nations beginning here and extending to the very ends of the earth. But I want to talk just for a second about my vision for this church. What is it that stirs my heart when I think of one possible future for Central Presbyterian Church? I would like to see the day that this church has such a hands on impact in Baltimore that some non-Christian principal in one of the worst schools in the city begins to wrestle with the reality of God and the reality of Jesus Christ because she can't explain the love and support and help she gets from us any other way. I long for that. I long for the day that once we build some of the new space we have that it is going to be filled with hundreds of teachers and administrators from schools at risk, that are networking together and somehow have a forum for relating to the problems: a new forum that we helped create somehow. And so that they will be here not just because we are a church, but because we are a church that has proven that God cares. It's one of the things that stirs me, a possible future for us.

Chapter 9, Verse 38, Jesus tells them to pray to the Lord of the hearts, "Ask the lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers out in to his harvest field." It's God harvest field. It's on God's heart. It's God compassion behind it and we are to ask God to send people out in to this harvest. He wants to change lives. He wants to change this city. He wants to change the world. He wants to send out harvesters, workers, and this is not just pastors and missionaries. It's carpenters, file clerks, landscapers, painters, lawyers, people that will hold infants, people that will counsel expectant mothers, people that are willing to gather and distribute aid to homeless people, people that are willing to walk in to schools and begin to paint, begin to landscape, begin to clean. Workers for God's harvest, to declare and to demonstrate the kingdom of God: the calling to be the human face that shows God's love and compassion to the world around us. It's an incredible calling. What a privilege.

Let's pray. God we know that as in so many other places in our lives Lord, we know we fall short. Yet we thank you for the great heritage we have at this church of other people who have gone before us who have shown compassion again and again, who have shown us how to do it, who have been faithful and now we pray for the grace for us to be faithful in our generation to the challenges that surround us, to meet the needs of the children and others that you called us to. So God, here we are, send us. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

  • Declaration --- Demonstration
  • Evangelism --- Compassion
  • Preach --- Practice
  • Lips --- Lives
The Great Ends of the Church:
  1. the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
  2. the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
  3. the maintenance of divine worship;
  4. the preservation of the truth;
  5. the promotion of social righteousness;
  6. the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

The Church: A community of people who present living proof of a loving God to a watching world.

© 2005, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145