Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
The key word for our message this morning is compassion. I found a dictionary definition that offers a useful guideline. Compassion means sympathetic awareness of the distress of other people along with a desire to relieve the distress. In other words – seeing our neighbors problems and taking steps to help them. This is Jesus’ frame of mind.
The apostles have just returned from their first independent missionary journey. They have a lot to talk over with the Lord, but so many people are coming and going that they can’t have a really fruitful conversation. Besides, they’re tired and need something to eat. Jesus understands their situation; he knows they need rest and privacy. He take steps to provide for them.
Jesus knows everything and his knowledge never fails. He knows all there is to know about you and me. You may recall these verses from Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up, you discern my thoughts from afar. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. If I ascend to heaven, you are there! I praise you,..wonderful are your works. Search me, O God, and know my heart....lead me in the way everlasting!”
Our Lord’s knowledge is filled with compassion. He knows out situations – our worries and fears as well as what brings us joy. He takes steps to relieve our woes.
Anyhow, Jesus and the apostles found the quiet place they wanted, but they didn’t get to enjoy it very long after a crowd descended on them. A wise person once said to me that there are always interruptions, and they can come as great tests, especially if they call out to us when we’re trying to concentrate on something. Jesus dealt with the interruption of the crowd in a way that only God could manage. He didn’t go into hiding, nor did he call for security guards to chase the people away. He understood their distress: they had spiritually and hadn’t found anyone to bring their troubles to. It was at this time, by the way, that Herod had John the Baptist killed and the murder of a great leader may have been on their minds as well. As it was, Jesus understood that the people were like sheep without a shepherd or a ship without a rudder. He wanted to help them.
He isn’t like a highly placed politician or celebrity whom you and I would never dream of approaching, because they build protective walls around themselves, and often with good reason. Jesus is available to us and to everyone at all times. “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Now, we shouldn’t expect our earthly leaders to be different from the way they are. They are not God. They are limited like ourselves. If we want someone to talk to at any hour of the day, we may talk to our Lord and Savior, who knows us and will hear us and who won’t disappoint us. His compassion will never falter.
Now, Mark tells us how the Savior expressed his compassion. He taught the crowd. We make a connection between teaching and understanding and compassion. We often associate teaching with school, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though it may not look like it at the time, the things we learn in school benefit us for the rest of our lives. Even reluctant students like myself most of the time come to see later in life that the learning we receive in school is an act of compassion from God and our society to us. Anyhow, Mark tells us that Jesus expressed his compassion by teaching. We don’t know what he said to them, but we do know the sorts of teaching he offered at other times – about righteousness and sticking with God, about hope and love and endurance, and the difference between the kingdom of the world, which is ruled by Satan, and the imperishable kingdom of heaven, which is full of love and mercy, governed by God, that Jesus brought with him when he was born with our flesh.
While I was putting this message together, I thought about how wonderful it would be to have Jesus as our teacher. Then I realize that he is our teacher, especially when we choose to pay attention. He knows about the stresses and strains of daily life, the temptations we pass through, the sins that need to be washed away, and our questions about death. “God sent the Son into the world,” he said to Nicodemus, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” And later, he said to the disciples as he was on the way to Calvary, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms...I go to prepare a place for you...I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus’ compassion for us means that he wants us to have everything that he has – friendship with the Father, faith and wisdom in our hearts, peace and rest, and the hope of joy in eternity. He carried out his plan to relieve our distress and the distress of the whole world, not only with a generous nature and loving words, but also with action. He knew that sinfulness stands between us and God, so he took all the world’s sins upon himself and died to pay the penalty we can’t pay. He took away our condemnation; the Heavenly Father seeks peace with the world, not war; the gates of heaven are open wide to every believer.
We live in the world; it knocks us around. We may ask how we can be sure that we’ll stay in touch with God’s compassion. Partly by remembering that faith is God’s doing, not ours. We don’t come to faith on our own but by the actions of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of him, including you and me. His Spirit will keep us in faith and open our minds and hearts to listen to him.
We do one or two things to help ourselves. We cast our cares and our worries and our sinfulness onto Jesus. We don’t let the troubles or the delights of the world take us over. Nor does the flutter of the world get the best of us. The Lord has his reasons for keeping the church and his people on a humble path. If we experience hardship and adversity, we know that we are blessed in the eyes of God.
Another thing we do with God’s help is to focus our wills on our Savior. Someone said centuries ago that distraction is the greatest problem anyone faces. There must be fifty times more distractions in the world today than in the 18th century. God’s Spirit brings us to worship and guides us in reading the Bible. In addition, he blesses us with quietness of heart, persistence, and day by day faith in God. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” one of the Psalmists wrote. “Your testimonies are my heritage forever....the joy of my heart. I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.” Our compassionate Lord makes a steady walk with him possible for us. He guides us safely through the vanities and distractions of the world around us. He brings us rest and peace even though the devil tries to vex us and interrupt us and tear away at our centers of repose. We are calm in the midst of storms.
The Lord changes our minds and wills to want what he offers and then he softens our hearts to extend to others the compassion he showers on us. Paul wrote that the God of all comfort comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. We show compassion to our neighbors in material ways as we are able. We pray for our neighbors. We help them carry their burdens. Companionship often does a lot. Here’s a story to illustrate. A farmer was once plowing his field in the spring thaw. After he chugged into one of many muddy places, his tractor stuck. The harder he tried to get himself out, the deeper he got stuck. He finally walked over to his neighbor’s place to ask for help. The neighbor came by, he looked the situation over, shook his head, and said, “It doesn’t look good, but I tell you what. I’ll try to pull you out. If we can’t move the tractor away, I’ll come and sit in the mud with you.” We can define Christian compassion, then, as sitting in the mud with a friend – having his pain in your heart.
So, to sum up we say that compassion includes fellow-feeling for others in their suffering along with a desire to relieve distress and eagerness to spread the word of God.
Jesus looked about him and saw thousands of lost sheep who needed spiritual leadership. He carried their pain in his heart. He brought healing by the word of God. Every problem has a spiritual root, which the Bible addresses with the truth about human nature, about God and the work of his Son. There are plenty of lost sheep in the world today and we help relieve the distress of some by sharing the hope of the gospel with them. We speak the truth about God’s love to folks who are spiritually injured, to the troubled, to wanderers in search of a compassionate guide. Our Heavenly Father assures us that his word never returns to him empty, so he invites his to bring his comfort to the folks around us. What a joy to teach the love of Christ. If we want to show our compassion and our love for others, we do what our Lord did: we make ourselves available to listen, to help, to encourage, and to share God’s Word, as we’ve all been doing, I suspect. The point is to keep on going, trusting that the Lord will sustain us. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.