The Compassionate Shepherd

July 18, 2021

Series: July 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Speaker: Brook Scott

Today's Scripture: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Today's Sermon


"The Compassionate Shepherd"


Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.  The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

When my mother was 70 years old, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her oncologist shared the shocking news that she had less than a year to live. Given her short time left, my sister and I decided to take my mother on a final-very-special kind-of-trip to Italy. We visited Naples where we headed out on foot on the narrow streets together in formation: my sister leading the way, followed by my mom, and then me in the back.

As we were walking, my mom became fearful that we would get separated from my sister ahead. So, she started to walk very quickly. We passed a young woman who sat cross-legged on the sidewalk with a cardboard box in front of her. The box had a few coins in it that people had dropped in there. Well, my mother accidentally kicked the woman’s cardboard box over as she ran by. Coins spilled everywhere. Yet, my mom was completely oblivious and kept scurrying ahead. I was mortified that my mother knocked the box over and then just kept going! I immediately stopped and gathered the coins up as quickly as possible. I hurriedly dropped them back in the box and continued on to catch up with my mom.

I remember feeling that I had shown compassion, because I had stopped to help the woman. But, did I really show compassion? I really hadn’t done much more than just pick up some coins that already belonged to her. Jesus, on the other hand, in this passage we just heard, shows us a spirit of compassion that gives hope and healing to all people.

Let us take a closer look at the passage that we just heard from the Book of Mark. In the scene, Jesus and the disciples traveled by boat on the Sea of Galilee to a deserted place. The deserted place is another was of describing a “wilderness.” Wilderness has great significance in the Bible. It is a place where people often encounter God and receive God’s promise of nourishment, and renewal. So, the wilderness setting harkens back to the wilderness story in the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible, where the people of Israel encountered God during their 40-year exodus from captivity in Egypt.

And so, Jesus immediately put aside his plans to allow the disciples to rest here in the wilderness, for the needs of the people were too great. You see, the people were impoverished. They were day laborers and didn’t have food to feed themselves. They would, perhaps, be like illegal immigrants today who work the fields, who are desperate for work to just to feed themselves and their families. So, Jesus was moved with compassion to help the people, for they had no one to take care of them.

But, this was not just ordinary compassion or sympathy that we might think of. No, Jesus had a visceral reaction to the people who ran ahead to hear him speak. The word used in Greek to describe Jesus’ compassion is not easily translated to our English usage. But it connotes guts, bowels and vital organs, believed to be the seat of affections such as love and pity. It describes a profoundly intense emotional response that viscerally propels the person feeling the compassion into action on behalf of others. Remember that compassion means “to suffer with”. So, Jesus felt the suffering of others and could not ignore it. It was a visceral reaction. Then he taught them the Word of God.

Today’s passage ends in Gennesaret, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, where crowds of people gathered to receive Jesus’ healing presence. It shows the widening response to Jesus’ message. For you see, Jesus’ spirit of compassion gave hope and healing to all people, Jews and Gentiles. And Jesus saw no boundaries - he cared for everyone, including those on the outskirts of society.

Author and Episcopalian priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, describes how Jesus’ spirit of compassion gave hope and healing to all people in her book of Sermons, The Seeds of Heaven. She describes the scene this way: “they were sick, they were sad, they were hungry, and while anyone but the Son of God might have ordered them to get lost, Jesus had compassion on them. His heart went out to them and he spent the afternoon walking among them, laying his hands on them and saying the things they needed to hear.”

The author, Glennon Doyle, in her recent podcast “We Can Do Hard Things” shows how Jesus’ spirit of compassion gave hope and healing to all people. She puts it this way: “The Jesus I fell in love with was this man…who walked around his life, his community, his world asking two questions, which were “Who is religion forgetting?” And “Who is power oppressing?” It was just these two questions over and over again, and what he did was ask those questions and gather up those people around him. And back then it would have been the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. And so, he just gathered them up and he just ate with them and he spoke out for them and he stood between them and those 9throwing stones at them, over and over and over again. And while he did that, while he gathered up those people, those marginalized, hurt-to-the-edges people, he just walked with them. This is the part I loved (she said). He just gathered them up, ate with them, shep-herded them, took care of them and then just walked toward the empire.” (she said).

So, Jesus’ message of compassion and healing for all people is about radical inclusion. It is about paying attention to those on the outskirts of society AND about creating the kingdom of God here on earth.

Let us look at the theme of compassionate care for others that brings hope and healing for all people among the early Protestant Reformers. John Calvin took a stand in defense of those unjustly oppressed, without knowing that it would cost him his job and land him in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the late Princeton theologian Richard Shaull. Shall states that even the early Puritans in this country believed in “a radical critique of and break with a social and political order (which was) seen as contrary to God’s will.”

Along those same lines, the late William Sloane Coffin, former chaplain at Yale University, Presbyterian minister at the Riverside Church in New York City and social activist, wrote this in a sermon about suffering: “I can only resolve it by sharing it - by holding hands with the dying, by protesting in the name of the crucified Lord against war, hunger, oppression, torture, (and) against suffering inflicted by our own human injustice.” In fact, the quote in your bulletin today was written by Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus at University of Chicago and religious scholar, in the introduction to a book of sermons of William Sloan Coffin. Martin was commenting on William Sloane Coffin’s belief in compassion care for others that can lead to change. He reminds us that: “For deeper than thinking, deeper than feeling, is caring.”

The closest application of Jesus’ message of compassionate action contemporary life, for me, is the visceral response to the videotaped murder of George Floyd. One could not watch the video of Derek Chau-vin with a knee on the neck of George Floyd without having a visceral response. People knew that what was happening right before their eyes was wrong. It moved them to a sense of outrage and a sense of compassion that stirred people to action. They protested and took to the streets to say “no”! No, this is not right.”

The same spirit of compassion was reflected in the individual action of 17-year old Darnella Frazier who videotaped the scene of George Floyd’s murder. She described in her testimony that what she saw was "a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.” You may have heard that she recently won a Pulitzer “Special Citation” for her video. But she wasn’t thinking of awards when she filmed the now-historic 9 minutes and 29 seconds. She was moved with compassion and outrage. 13You just never know when your actions will make a difference in the world.

Sometimes, compassion looks like the work of a faith community like Westminster Presbyterian Church. This church went from compassion to action when housing homeless men in Findlay Hall under the REST program. And it acted with compassion at start of the pandemic when it created a drive to collect packages of diapers to help young families in the Canal district and to make bag lunches for kids in Marin City.

And now, about my mom: What we didn’t know at the time of our trip to the Naples was that the oncologist was wrong about her diagnosis and she beat her cancer! She lived another 16 years cancer-free after our trip. But what we also didn’t know was that my mother would later be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And the early signs of Alzheimer’s were already on display in my mother’s fear and confusion during our trip. But, we cared for her compassionately and were able to keep my mom in her home with care until she died. And when she died, I had a dark night of the soul. But through that wilderness place, I learned that God’s love is eternal. And I learned to have compassion for those with dementia and with Alzheimer’s.

As I think back now on the woman who was asking for change on the sidewalk in Naples, I wonder if I ever really felt her pain. Why was she on the street in the first place? Had she come upon a stretch of economic hardship? What else could be done to change the lives of women like her? The good news is that we can always turn back toward God and remember how Jesus Christ showed us how to deeply care for others with compassion. And we can act to make change happen.

I will leave you with this experience that my husband shared with me a few years ago. He was walking back from a baseball game with some friends. There were swarms of people making their way to their cars after the game. And as he walked over the overpass, cars whizzed by on the 4-lane highway below. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw a young transgender person, (who I will refer to as “they”). They had climbed over the railing of the overpass. They were on the phone, crying. My husband heard them talking loudly in distress to someone, saying things that made it clear that they were going to jump. Other people were swarming past & nobody else seemed to notice the person, or maybe nobody else cared.

He told me that he felt a visceral reaction in his body and he knew instantly that he had to do something. So, he quickly went to the railing and was ready to grab them if they started to move. He began to talk with them and to remind them that everything was going to be okay. Eventually, he asked them gently if he could help them back over the railing, and they said…“yes.” As sirens were heard in the background, my husband and his friends walked with the distressed person across the overpass. And when they were safely in the hands of first responders, they said goodbye and kept walking. Amen.