31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 24, 2017
Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“This week, you will need to have an immense level of compassion, flexibility, and care.”
Those were Don Carlson’s words to volunteers at the Family Promise training, and they are good words to remember as we prepare to host homeless families this week.
Those in the homeless community live in incredible uncertainty. They don’t have a permanent place to call their own, a secure place to return to and keep their belongings, and sometimes, that affects their employment status because of the difficulty of getting a good night’s sleep, reliable transportation, or childcare. And once you lose your job, you need an address to apply for a new one.
Those in the homeless community live in incredible uncertainty and fear, which is only compounded when you are a parent, caring for a young family. Our Family Promise guests will require us to have an immense level of compassion, flexibility, and care.
But hosting Family Promise or not, every week of our lives requires us to have an immense level of compassion, flexibility, and care.
Compassion – it’s not one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to Galatians, but it certainly is an essential quality of the Christian life. When the lawyer asks Jesus to define how we live faithful lives so we may inherit eternal life, Jesus points the man to the law- to loving God with all our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds, and our neighbors as ourselves. And when the man probes further by asking who is his neighbor, Jesus tells him a story about compassion.
The Samaritan, as a despised racial minority in Israel, is a most surprising hero in a Jewish story about neighbors and compassion. Jews had a lot of prejudices about Samaritans: they weren’t good people; they didn’t follow the law; they weren’t “holy” enough.
But in Jesus’ story, it is the Samaritan who was moved with pity to help. It was the Samaritan who had mercy on the man robbed and beaten. It was the Samaritan who showed compassion.
The word compassion comes from two words. “Com” meaning with, together, completely; and “passion” which comes from the word, “pati”, to suffer.
When we have compassion on another, we choose to completely be with them in their suffering, hardship, and pain.
Interestingly enough, the Greek word for compassion can also be translated “spleen” or “intestine”. The King James translation of our Colossians’ passage actually reads, “put on the …..bowels of mercies, [and] kindness” (Colossians 3:12, KJV)
“Bowels of mercy” doesn’t have quite the same poetic value as clothed in compassion, but it gives us a different perspective for understanding compassion.
When we are moved by compassion to help someone, it often is a deep internal gut feeling. We hear their story of misfortune; we witness their pain; we see them literally beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, and we are “moved with pity” (Luke 10:33). Something deep inside us, our hearts, our spleens? wants to walk with them, show them mercy, help them through their suffering, hardship, and pain.
Clothed with compassion does not have the same implication. Clothed with compassion gives the impression that we can just slip compassion on – or slip it off.
And yet, think about those moments when you do not know someone’s story, when you have not witnessed their pain or even life, when you cannot see any visible hurt or trauma, where does that deep internal feeling to help and be kind come from? Where is the compassion then?
Sadly, too often, it is totally lacking. And we have all been on the lack of giving and the lack of receiving end.
The person you call and are annoyed at when they do not get back to you for three days, and then you discover their brother has been in the hospital.
The person who emails you at work and when they don’t get an immediate response, emails you again and again and again, not knowing you were so crazy busy that you didn’t get a chance to put on your auto responder before you went to that work conference.
The store clerk who seems to be distracted and not listening to us, when totally unbeknownst to us, they have just been told they have MS, and understandably, they are distracted and not listening to us as we ask about kitchen gadgets.
It is so easy to judge when we do not have all of the facts, when we do not know someone’s entire story. It is so easy to think only about what we want, what we need, and not consider at all what our neighbor needs. And that is exactly why we need to purposefully clothe ourselves in compassion.
As “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”, as those who through our baptisms have died and been resurrected with Jesus so we too might walk in the newness of life, we have already been clothed with compassion. And at the same time, we are constantly living into it, daily learning to put on our compassion.
As those claimed by God, given the name of Christian, and blessed with water and the Holy Spirit, we have already been transformed and daily are being transformed, so even as we have arrived, we are not there yet.
So there will be times when we are naturally clothed “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12), times when it just comes from our gut to offer mercy to someone who is suffering or in pain. And there will be other times when we need to purposefully and intentionally put on our compassion. Times when we do not feel like it, and yet, we still choose to bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Compassion is not easy. Walking the way of Jesus Christ is not easy. It is a choice we make daily. To love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbor as ourselves, showing mercy and compassion to all.
It is a choice we make to walk with others through their suffering, hardship and pain, and we do it, not because we know their stories, not because we are moved by their plight, but because Jesus walks with us and because this person, too, is a child of God, and deserves kindness, mercy, and compassion.
That bears repeating. As Christians, we show mercy and compassion to all, not necessarily because we feel moved by pity, but because Jesus walk with us, because Jesus calls us, because this person, too, is a child of God, and deserves kindness, mercy, and compassion.
This week, we are hosting families, who through no fault of their own or who through poor choices they have made, have ended up homeless, with no family, no friends, able to take them, in their time of greatest need.
This week, we are going to be called to put into action Christ’s words to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This week, we will need to have an immense level of compassion, flexibility, and care – with our guests, with each other, and perhaps most of all, with ourselves. Because things will not always go according to plan; people will disagree about best solutions; we are human, and in our desire to do good, in our nervousness, and even in our fear, we will offend and annoy.
This week, we will need to have an immense level of compassion, flexibility, and care – whether we are volunteering with Family Promise or not, and so in those moments, when you most need to be compassionate, in those moments when you are feeling the least compassionate, I pray you will recite the words of our unison prayer this morning.
And I pray that the Holy Spirit might renovate, might renew, might bless your heart or spleen or gut or whatever, and you might be clothed in compassion and kindness, clothed in love, so that whatever you do, in word or deed, will always be done in Christ’s love.