Pentecost 6B 2018
Fr. Dale Matson
On this Sunday so close to Independence Day, I would like to begin with a prayer by our first president George Washington.
“Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ”. – This is a prayer of our first president George Washington. For those historians who claim George Washington was a deist, it doesn’t appear to me to be the case based on President Washington’s prayer.
From Deuteronomy we hear this. “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Can you see how this wrathful, vindictive God of the Old Testament has a soft spot for the poor? Prior to our passages, God declared the year of Jubilee where all debts are forgiven every seven years. The people were warned that even if the year of Jubilee is near, don’t use this as an excuse not to lend money.
Years ago, I was returning from a failed job interview and had stopped at a gas station somewhere between Lacrosse and Milwaukee. As I was filling my tank, a young woman pulled up in a jalopy of a car on the other side of the pump. She had two small children in the car with her. I still remember the plastic sheeting covering a rear window which was broken out. When she got out of the car, I could see that she was heading to the attendant with only a dollar in her hand. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. Although I didn’t have a lot of spare cash myself, I had enough to offer her a five-dollar bill toward her gas. Her smile was her silent “Thanks”. I believe this was a compassion imparted by God. While I have had similar experiences since then, I don’t believe any have had the same impact on me.
While God is partial to the poor and the needy, “He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:13), He is also sovereign in his compassion. And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." (Exodus 33:1).
Our Lord Jesus was a man of compassion but sometimes delayed helping (Lazarus) and only did what he saw His father doing. “Therefore, Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).
In this 24/7 world of need we find ourselves a part of, it is necessary that we don’t turn the grace of compassion into a law of service. We are finite and the needs of our world are infinite. Our compassion for others is given by God to us and directed by God for us. It is Him who we serve. If our prime directive is to love, worship and serve God then it is to Him we must listen. He will direct our paths in serving Him. Jesus also allowed others to minister to him as demonstrated by the woman breaking the spices over his head. "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.” (Matt. 26:6-10).
Those in the church who experience compassion fatigue and burnout have allowed others to determine their service priorities when it should be God who does this. I am continually reminded of a portion of the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace, “……to know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom…” (BCP, p.99). Jesus himself is our model for not allowing others to determine our service. I am writing this to those on the edge of dropping out; those who are exhausted and weary from doing good.
In our Psalm today we hear in part,
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice?
6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
I used to conduct evening prayer at the chapel once a week. After becoming a priest, I conducted morning prayer once a week. As most of you remember, our Cathedral campus was spacious, unfenced, and kind of like a landscaped mall with several buildings including a school. It was located in a poorer area of Fresno surrounded by aging apartments. Because it was a large corner lot by an intersection, many folks cut through the campus as a shortcut to somewhere in the neighborhood. These folks also shopped in our second-hand store and came on Wednesdays for our food pantry. Some stopped in to our Parish offices to ask for rent money or for Pastoral counseling. As a church we at St. James were continually reminded by our circumstances to be compassionate.
When it comes to compassion, I believe we are called to take care of and make time for our family. Sharon and I have lost both are parents but we still have siblings, children and grandchildren. Families are like our homes. They surround and protect us but require constant attention. It is so easy to take our relatives for granted. This is especially true of those who live in other states or even other countries. St. Paul has this to say in his first letter to Timothy. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (5:8).
Sharon is very good at putting both of our families on the front burner of our agenda. On our recent trip back east, we visited my son and his family in Kentucky and my 3 siblings in Michigan. The trip was arranged by Sharon. I’m not righteous about this. If it weren’t for Sharon, I probably would travel back less often.
The problems with my family can’t be avoided or denied when I am there. As my son and I were riding in the car alone together, He exclaimed, “I’m crazy, just plain crazy”. I couldn’t help but say, “You’re not crazy and saying it means you will have to be a liar to believe otherwise.” Life is difficult for him and his wife with two young children and each having a full-time job. Things always seem to be hectic for them. Ignoring their pain is like hearing a noise in your car and turning up the radio to drown out the noise. That approach only postpones the inevitable.
Although my 3 siblings all live within a half an hour from one another, they rarely get together. My older brother who is 81 got lost driving to my younger sister’s house for our gathering. His excuse, “I think I’ve only been here three times.”, he stated. “That would be three times in about 18 years.” I said to myself.
My 83-year-old sister took care of my mother’s affairs when she came down with dementia. Now it is my younger sister who is taking over for my older sister who now refers to me as Sharon’s husband because she can no longer remember my name.
It was good getting together, perhaps for the last time, to look at photographs and talk about the past with my siblings. I can say that God was in it big time. And Sharon was there to silently photograph and video our time together with her iPhone. Sharon conducted separate interviews with both her parents and grandfather recorded and transferred to DVD.
Even though it was painful to see the decline in my older siblings, it was a great joy to be with them. There was no greater good work to be done than this. As we dropped off my older sister, I said good bye thinking the rather sobering thought that the next time we visit, she may not know me at all. Or, The Lord could call me home first. Compassion begins at home and sometimes it is simply caring enough to listen and being there.
Family is important and Jesus critically reminded the Pharisees that they couldn’t get out of taking care of their parents by saying they couldn’t help their parents because they had to donate to the temple. (Mark 7:9-13) This was just an excuse for them to ignore family. The mission work begins in our homes, in our church and our parish neighborhood.
As we examine our reading from St. Paul we see that compassionate giving is also at the heart of his comments. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter, I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).
Finally, I am struck by the compassion simply stated in our Gospel Lesson (Mark 5) “22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.” Amen