One of Those Days

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July 22, 2018. Have you ever had one of those days when you just need to have a break? Jesus and his disciples had those days. He had compassion for the human need facing him, and as his followers his compassion begins to take hold in our lives. So what do we do when we need some rest? Pastor Stephanie’s sermon today is about following our shepherd and receiving what we need from his hands.


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You’ve all had “those days,” haven’t you? When all you want to do is get away from work after a [mic cuts out]. (I’m having one of those days. Okay, at least I got the children’s message in the right time. But now I’ve got to shut the mic off. So here we go.) But you had those days where all you want to do is get away from work after a trying day, or from the nursing home where you become emotionally drained, or from school with its impossible demands on your time, or frankly from your colicky child whom you love more than life itself, but now you just have to have a break. You long for a place where you can relax in peace and quiet, where you can experience some comfort and refreshment, and you’re just about to, and the relief is on the way, and then something happens to interrupt your plans. And you’re back on duty being responsible and caring for the needs of others.


This is pretty much where we find Jesus and his disciples in our gospel reading today. They’ve had it rough — and I mean emotionally, physically, mentally, in every possible way rough. They’re just coming off the horrific news, as we read in the scriptures last week, of the death of John the Baptist. And that would have been unnerving at the very least. To know that Herod’s family system would take such vengeance on one of their own would have shaken them to the core. John was not only a co-worker, if you will. He was Jesus’ own cousin and possibly one of his closest confidants.


What was going on in Herod’s palace? During that time, the disciples had been out in the countryside, sent by Jesus to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick. That had to be quite demanding as well. Exhilarating, and yet challenging. So now we have them all getting reunited. What a debriefing process that must have been: super, super high highs, and at least one devastating low. They are all beyond tired and weary from it all. So Jesus suggest that they retreat for some much needed R&R, and that is where they are headed as they make their way across the sea when they are met with enormous need, right in front of them. Crowds of people have gathered along the shoreline, desperate to experience Jesus’ healing presence for themselves and their loved ones.


The nearest I can come to imagining this would be to relate to you an experience I had in South India in 2006. My husband and I were part of a group of eight people who, with our gracious hosts from the church of South India, visited churches, schools, and medical facilities connected to our denomination’s mission work. We were there for 14 life-changing days. Never have I met so many joy-filled, dedicated Christian believers all in one place as we met there. Nor have I met such crowds of people with so many looks of desperation and pleas of help on their very beings. To be with a small entourage in a sea of human need in the city of Chennai, or even on the hillsides of Kerala, is something I will never forget. I only know that by about day 12, I was nearly completely physically exhausted, and it was an over-the-top emotionally draining experience.


Now, let’s go back to the scene where Jesus and his disciples are anticipating a much-needed rest. They’ve had many days of meeting needs and caring for people, while managing their own weariness from doing so. Imagine the reality of that time of rest fading away as they face the vast human need coming into focus before their eyes. Can you imagine trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ face in slow motion as he catches a glimpse of the crowd? What kind of face do you expect to see? A tired face, an annoyed face? Perhaps a little mix of both? Maybe we imagine Jesus sighing deeply, knowing there’s still work to be done, but internally wishing it were not so. Not right now.


We could relate to any one of those responses. Perhaps there was a mixture of those descriptions pertinent to Jesus at that time, but the prevailing image that is created in the gospel of Jesus at that point is whatever it takes for us to imagine a look of compassion on his face, compassion that overrides the rest of what was going on inside of him. We are told that Jesus was moved deeply from within by seeing the people in such need, and with such earnestness to receive from him. In the words ascribed to him there, we see that he noted that the people were tired and harried and “were like sheep without a shepherd.” We can hear, even in those words, that he said how his heart was going out to them.


Compassion. The Greek word is splagchnizomai. It’s not a word synonymous with pity, as we often use it in our own language. It’s a word that you can almost feel as you say it. You want to practice that? Splagchnizomai. It calls for something from the deep, because it is literally a visceral word. It means to be moved down deep into the deepest part of our beings, even described as being passion that arrives from our bowels.


It makes me think of something like the feeling we had when we heard of the devastating accident at Table Rock Lake a few days ago. It was bad enough learning of the fatalities and feeling with the families who experience the loss of loved ones. But then it got even more intense when we learned that one woman and her nephew lost nine of their family members. For her it was the loss of her husband and all of her children. That is incomprehensible. One cannot help but have a physical reaction to such a situation. That’s more than we can bear to imagine for another.


But when we have a feeling of relating so deeply to the pain and hurt that another must be feeling, we do often bear some of the pain within ourselves. That is compassion in its rawest form. It means to have pathos or feeling with one another. The prefix “com” means “with.” A compassionate response is to relate deeply, to suffer with or alongside, whatever is causing sorrow for another. Even saying this I know that I have hooked some of you in situations where you have had deep compassion for the sorrow of another, and for yourself perhaps.


Mark shows us over and over again, Jesus demonstrates for us what it is like to be full of compassion, because just as we say “God is love” it’s also true that God in Jesus is compassion. As followers of Jesus, his compassion begins to take hold of our lives. He gives us the opportunity and the ability to see what he sees, the more the reality of his dwelling within us takes hold. As we receive grace and provision for ourselves a transaction of sorts takes place. He transforms us, introducing grateful response for what we have received, which in turn helps us to be able to want to give that to others. We are able to give to another something qualitatively more valuable because of his presence in our lives than we could have ever conjured up ourselves. In a very real way the Good Shepherd operates through us, shaping us into people who are more able to see others with compassion and with love.


As we grow in compassion, we can see what Jesus sees in each person a little bit more clearly. I think we together could compile a rather lengthy list among ourselves, if I were to ask you what calls for compassion in your life. What has taken extra strength and prayer for you to deal with, because it is intense and causes you to feel deeply for those who are suffering? I might suggest an easy one: family members and friends with chronic illnesses would surely make the list. Also thinking of those who live without adequate food or shelter. Additionally, policies in our government that make life more difficult for the most vulnerable. Hearing instances of bullying that degrade people, or seeing it in our schools, neighborhoods, or workplaces. And certainly when recurring incidences of racial discrimination and mistreatment occur in our city, time and again, and we imagine how hurtful that is. That’s just to name a few items on a list, and I’m sure you have plenty more that pop into your head.


I came across a story this week that I liked because it stretches us to see how Jesus taught us to see. It goes like this: A rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when night had ended and day had begun. “Could it be,” said one of the students, “That when you see an animal off in the distance, you are able to tell it is a sheep rather than a dog?” “No,” said the rabbi. Another said, “Is it when you are looking off in the distance at some trees, and you see a particular one and you can identify that as a fig tree rather than a peach tree?” “No, that is not it,” answered the rabbi. After a few more unsuccessful suggestions, the pupils demanded of the rabbi, “Then what is it? How can we tell when night has ended and day has begun?” It is when you look at the face of a woman or man, a girl or a boy, and on that face you see your sister or your brother,” said the rabbi, “Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”


Even in our short time together, I can already see that this congregation is growing, and has grown significantly in seeing the face of others created in the image of God, not only within the congregation but within this community and the world at large. We see it, we know it, and even yet that isn’t always the main issue as we know. Some of you may be thinking in response to all of this: I do see this. I do feel this. I have this list, but I am tired and weary myself. All that is going on in the world and with people for whom I care who are struggling, wears me out. Every day a new crisis or two is reported. We already see and feel too much of the world’s burden many times.


It is true that we are in a similar place to that of the disciples in our gospel reading. We too are invited to take a rest to be restored within the context of so very much need, so many people who are tired and harried and wanting something which will fill them.


So what do we do? We too continue to follow the shepherd and receive what we need from his hands. It is for our own needs. It is also so we have something to give to others. He shepherds us, he feeds us, he heals us because he loves us and wants us to be filled with his love and grace. He also sends us out as the fed and healed sons and daughters to be his compassionate presence wherever we go.


As we receive the words of life shared with us today, read, sung, and prayed together, and as we receive the nourishment that is present at the table, we are given some of the rest that we need. We are fed and refreshed from a never-ending supply of grace. It comes from the bread and wine given and poured out by the compassionate one to address the weariness and the hurriedness of our lives. It is given to restore hope, to experience healing, and to receive strength for the journey that each each of us must travel.


Thanks be to God.


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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot