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Jun 28, 2020

Compassion Camp

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Series: June 2020

Keywords: love, compassion

"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." ~ Dalai Lama

Today's Scripture:  Ruth 1:1-18

Ruth 1:1-18
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both sons also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband. Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had had consideration for his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Compassion Camp

I was at a board meeting of the Marin Interfaith Council about a week and a half ago, and we began as we always do – with some brief check ins. It’s a time to share how we have been or what has been on our minds. One of our board members, Annie, paused a moment before she spoke, deep in thought. Then, the first thing out of her mouth was, “I have been noticing that people need a lot of love right now.”

I thought about that statement a lot as we moved through our Vacation Bible School last week. Our theme was “Compassion Camp,” and we talked each day about how we might show compassion, because “People need a lot of love right now.” Each day, we heard a bible story – like the one from the book of Ruth that Nicholas told today – that exemplified compassion, and we had lots of at home activities that helped us explore compassion. Many times throughout the week, I found myself wishing that we had invited the entire congregation to participate in our Vacation Bible School – not just our children. We all need some Compassion Camp. Since you were not able to participate with us last week, this morning I want to give you just a hint of some of the themes and ideas we investigated, so that we all might consider the role of compassion in our lives and in our world.

We gathered on Monday trying to understand what compassion really is. The word means to “feel with” someone. We see a person’s pain or hurt or grief or anger, and we feel that with them. But in order to feel with someone, we need to know them. So our specific theme for Monday’s Vacation Bible School session was “At the Table.” We need to sit down at the table together and hear each other’s stories and learn about each other’s lives. And the wider the welcome to our table – the more people we include around our table – the more compassionate we are able to be. Jesus gave us a wonderful example of welcoming all to the table. He ate with the hated tax collectors. He ate with sinners and outcasts. He had his very last meal with the man he knew was going to betray him. Sitting down with and getting to know all of these different types of people enabled Jesus to be the wonderful model of compassion that he was.

Of course, right now, we aren’t physically sitting at tables with people outside our household, so we have to get even more creative about how we reach out and gather in and listen to and learn from one another.
During Compassion Camp, our campers made some beautiful table centerpieces as a reminder to do just that. They are a symbol of how God draws everyone together at the table.
On Tuesday, our theme was compassion “To The Neighbor.” We focused specifically on how difficult it can be to show compassion. Sometimes we have to take a risk. Sometimes we need to be brave and have courage. Feeling with someone’s pain means that we open ourselves to feeling our own pain. Feeling with someone as they move through a difficult time in their lives means that we may have to enter into some of that difficult time with them. We should never do anything that makes us feel unsafe, but often compassion does mean leaving our comfort zones for a while. Jesus often found that the act of showing compassion for someone put him at odds with the authorities. His radical compassion was a challenge to the status quo and to the religious and political leaders of the time.

Before I completely talk you out of ever showing compassion, it can also be easy. It can be as easy as giving someone a hug or offering a listening ear. We can’t offer hugs to those outside our household right now, but some of our campers last week made virtual hugs. This camper sent his hug to a friend whose grandmother recently died.

On Wednesday, we explored compassion “For Myself.” We can best love another when we are filled up with love for ourselves. This is not to say we become boastful or prideful about how we are so awesome and better than everyone else. Instead, we say that we are so awesome and so is everyone else. We are each beloved children of God and God made each one of us to be amazing and unique individuals. When we love and care for ourselves, that helps us to better love and care for others. It’s similar to being on an airplane and putting our oxygen mask on before helping someone else.

Our coloring page for Wednesday encouraged us to remind ourselves about all the wonderful qualities we possess. I am gentle, loving, important, good, unique, enough, kind … When was the last time you reminded yourself of that? You are important. You are good. You are enough. Our campers were also encouraged to make paper chains and write a word of affirmation on each link. In the coming week, they will read one link each day as a reminder of how wonderful and beloved they are. Some of the words this camper chose to include are love, laughs, and hugs.

Thursday’s theme was compassion “Along the Way.” People come in and out of our lives all the time. How are we present with those we encounter along the way? I have taken special notice of grocery store clerks during this shelter in place time. How grateful I am that they are still working! Rather than simply focusing on finding my credit card and paying the bill, which is what I usually do, I have begun to greet them warmly and to thank them for their hard work during these difficult times. Just a small action, but hopefully one that makes a positive difference in the moment.

I can think of so many times in the scriptures when people stopped Jesus as he was on the way to somewhere else. They wanted to speak to him, to receive healing from him, or simply to be in his presence for a little while. And so often, he would stop, he would interact with them, he would offer them compassion – even if he had some place else to be.

We had a special prayer every day, and our prayer for this day included a line asking God to “make us that we might be flexible and present in each moment that we might embrace compassion by letting go of what we expected.”
Finally, on Friday, we explored compassion “With the World.” We talked about the biblical idea of “jubilee” and what a gift it is to receive a fresh start every now and then. It can be such a gift to be able to try again when something doesn’t go right, or to simply rest and reset when we are at our breaking point. We can show compassion both to ourselves and to others by offering this fresh start … by providing times of jubilee.

One side effect of this shelter in place time has been a bit of a fresh start for our planet. Compassion not only includes caring for others, but also caring for the natural world. On Friday, each of our campers was encouraged to think of one thing they might do to show compassion to our earth.Throughout the entire week, we continued to return to the amazing abundance of God’s love for us. When we let God’s love into our lives, allowing ourselves to be surprised and awed and changed by God’s love for us, we can’t help but be moved to share that love with those around us.

With that in mind, I want to close by sharing a song with you called, “Let Love.” A huge thank you to Barbara, Ben, and Wyatt for doing some virtual experimentation with me to record this song. The lyrics of the chorus state, “I will let love find me. I will let love surprise me. I will let love redesign me.” That certainly happened for me this week as I got to spend time each morning with some of the wonderful young people of Westminster. God’s love and compassion is certainly made known in each one of them. May each one of us always be found by God’s love.