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A Circle of Words -- Compassion

Sermon - 8/31/08
Eliza Drummond

First Christian Church, Eugene

 

Mat 7:1
"Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

Mat 7:2
"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

Mat 7:3
"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Mat 7:4
"Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?

Mat 7:5
"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Mat 7:6
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Mat 7:7
"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Mat 7:8
"For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Mat 7:9
"Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?

Mat 7:10
"Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?

Mat 7:11
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

Mat 7:12
"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

What is compassion: According to Dictionary.com, compassion is:
a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Buddhists define compassion as a quivering of the heart. Last night we learned that Compassion in Arabic is Rachman, the softening of the heart. And that the root of the word in both Jewish and Arabic flows from the word that mean a motherís womb.

I think it is hard to talk about compassion. Maybe that is why it took me until about midnight last night to finish this writing. It is one of those rubber hits the road concepts: where you have to live it to understand it, and be able to talk about it. That when you bring it up, it makes you examine your life in an instant to determine whether you are always compassionate, in every situation. To make a self-examination that instead of being compassionate, our actions arenít driven by a desire to just be right.

Because if we arenít doing compassion, when we speak about being compassionate, we are speaking empty words. Like our scripture says: You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Compassion comes from that non-judgmental place, where as the definition says, our desire to alleviate suffering overcomes any fear or judgment we have over another person. We are, in an instant, putting ourselves in the other personís shoes.

Have you ever noticed that people who often have the least to share are the most generous? They know what it is like to have little, and they go to great lengths to make sure those around them are taken care of. My husband notices that in the soup kitchen where he works. That the people who eat there will check to make sure that all their friends made it that night, because they know what it is like to miss a meal. To go all night with an empty stomach. Itís looking out for your neighbor. Itís compassion.

But sometimes we get stuck in a place of fear and judgment that causes us to forget our connection to each other, and that is where I want to dwell for a moment.

I want you to try a little exercise. It is meant to make you think, and to perhaps cause a little discomfort. As I read the following words, see how they make your body feel, and acknowledge to yourself if you have been called one of these words, or have called someone else one of these words, even under your breath, alone, in the car:

crazy woman driver, Nigger, idiot, fatso, wimp, fag, redneck, kike, slut, diaperhead, snob, retard, pig, nerd, bean eater, lazy, stupid, spic.

Words. Words of judgment. That instantly create a circle of perceived protection around the speaker, because he or she no longer has to put themselves in the other personís shoes. Words that deny another compassion. Words that divide and separate.

The youth have been talking this weekend about compassion. Both nights before they started their speaker time, the following scripture was read:

2CR 1:3
All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source[fn2] of every mercy and the God who comforts us.

2Cr 1:4
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

2Cr 1:5
You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.

2Cr 1:6
So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.

2Cr 1:7
We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God's comfort.

They high school students had the opportunity to hear four speakers from other faith traditions. Who shared what it was like to be the ďotherĒ because of perceived differences. Because words had been directed at them which made them feel other. And they talked about ways that they were still compassionate, even in the face of judgment. About how their faith gave them strength to face judgment and still put themselves in the other personís shoes. Anwar talked of the Muslim teaching that compels the faithful to be kind to someone even when that person has been mean. And it reminded me of Jesus' teaching to turn the other cheek. Alice, a holocaust survivor, told the youth that she still did mitzvoth, acts of compassion, because without these acts, she could not live from her core of love, her sacred place. Who talked about how the word mitleid, the German word for compassion, was struck from the dictionary when Hitler came into power. And there was Arun, a Hindi, who spoke of Amma, his teacher, who says that without love towards one another we are nothing. Ek Ongkar Kaur, a Sikh, shared that even though someone may do something she doesnít like, or speaks funny, she reminds herself that they are a child of God and who is she to judge.

These men and women all spoke words. Words of acceptance. As they spoke, I was reminded of the last words of the scripture above: We can judge or we can do as the words of Matthew say: treat people as we want to be treated. It is the Golden Rule, found in every faith tradition. In fact during my last visit to New York, we went to the UN. The UN has received many gifts of artwork. But the one depicted here is my favorite. On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations in 1985, this mosaic was presented to the United Nations by Mrs. Nancy Reagan, the then First Lady, on behalf of the United States.

It is based on a painting by the American artist Norman Rockwell called the Golden Rule. Rockwell wanted to illustrate how the Golden Rule was a common theme of all the major religions of the world, and depicted people of every race, creed and color with dignity and respect. The mosaic contains the inscription "Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You". It was executed by Venetian artists specializing in mosaic works and it is stunning because it takes up the whole wall. I had seen the poster before, but never realized that the original is so BIG!

Look up Golden Rule on the internet, or ďGoogle itĒ as Alice would say. There in Wikipedia you will find a section on the ďEthics of ReciprocityĒ with the Golden Rule in every faith tradition.

"And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself." -- Bahai

"None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself" -- Islam

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." -- The Dalai Lama

And finally, Hillel, of the Jewish tradition said: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

So now, I would like to try another exercise like before. But, as you hear these words, see how they speak to you. Can you hear yourself in these words, or do you think they donít apply? poor in spirit, those who mourn, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Can anyone remember where these words come from?

Mat 5:1
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
Mat 5:2
He opened His mouth and {began} to teach them, saying,
Mat 5:3
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Mat 5:4
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Mat 5:5
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."
Mat 5:6
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
Mat 5:7
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."
Mat 5:8
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Mat 5:9
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
Mat 5:10
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Mat 5:11
"Blessed are you when {people} insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me."

That is us. That is you and me. But it is hard for us to believe that these gentle words are directed at us. These are words of Christís compassion for us, but we donít think that they apply. Because we forget who is the person to whom we need to be the most compassionate: ourselves. To accept the compassion of someone else is to realize that they are trying to see your point of view, to put themselves in your shoes. To accept someone elseís compassionate act is to acknowledge that even though they may be different from you, they see the divine spark of themselves reflected in you. To be a receiver of compassion is to be leveled by grace, the grace of Christ, flowing through the hands of a human being.

And finally, when all else seems to pale, there is humor. There was Arunís infectious spirit as he spoke of his love for Amma, there was Anwarís self-deprecating humor as he shared with humility what he didnít think he knew, but he knew very much. There was Alice, whose anger at what happened to her people has been replaced with warmth and can still laugh at the preposterousness of it all, and there was Ek Ongkarís beautiful smile as she spoke words of wisdom beyond her years.

We can create a circle of words that exclude or include, that separate, or repairÖitís our choice.

Through Christ as guide and our living example, we can make a circle that includes us all.

 

 


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