Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The cost of compassion. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 3, Proper 5C, preached on Sunday, June 5, 2016.

    Our hearts are daily touched by the tragedies that make up the news.  Storms, floods, earthquakes, school violence, child abuse, death, and destruction fill us with grief and sympathy – at least until the next story hits the news and then yesterdays sorrows must give way to today’s tragedies.  Our sympathy is easily overwhelmed.  While a nation was preoccupied with a zoo putting down a gorilla who threatened a child, 69 people were murdered in Chicago.  Our hearts are not big enough to carry the wounds of everyone.  The cost of compassion is too great for us.  But not too great for Jesus.
    The Lord had compassion upon the widow who followed the train of mourners carrying her only son to the grave.  There were many who wailed in grief but only the Lord's heart was big enough to carry all her sorrows.  This He does for us, too.  His is the only strength strong enough to bear the full weight of all our pain.   His is the only grace that can love us while we are stained by sin and wickedness and cover our evil with His righteousness and forgive us all our sins.
    The cost of compassion is great.  No pastor can carry the full weight of all the sorrows and struggles of his people; I cannot bear all your wounds.  Neither can your husband or wife or parents or children carry the burden of all your disappointment either.  No one can except Jesus.  That is the Gospel.  Christ’s compassion for us is not mere sympathy but the strength to carry what overwhelms us individually and as a world.  What we cannot do for ourselves or for others, He has done.
    That is the Gospel.  God took on flesh and blood and was born in our place under the burden of the Law, to live within the  constraints of this sinful world.  He was born to take our place under that Law and to carry the full weight of your sins and mine and even the sins of the whole world.  His compassion is not well place words but shoulders sturdy enough to carry our sin and a death strong enough to answer the power of the grave.  This is His compassion for us.
    He died not to give us comfort in death but to swallow up death for us.  The power of the devil has always been our fear of death.  Guilt can be overcome and we can silence our conscience with a lifetime of lies but death cannot be easily ignored.  As long as we stood alone before the towering enemies of sin and its death, we were lost.  But Christ has come to shut up the devil's accusations and to destroy the death his enticement first brought upon Adam and Eve and still brings upon us.
    Easter is not simply about the vindication of Jesus or His Words;  He rises for you and me.  He lives never to die again so that He might rescue the sinner with forgiveness and reach into the shadows of death with the light of life.  This woman long ago found that Jesus’ compassion was not mere comfort but life wrested from the grip of death and the victory of the grave stolen so that the dead might live and live eternally.
    This poor widow tried to console herself as we do.  Why me, Lord?  What did I do to deserve such sorrow?  Or, as every pastor has heard from the mouth of parent or grandparent burying a child:  If only I had died in their place. . . But that is the point.  What we cannot do, Jesus did.  He took the place of this widow’s son in death.  He takes your place and mine.  The compassion of the Lord is not a feeling we get when life has trodden all over us and left us wounded and dying by the side of the road.  No, the compassion of Christ is found in His wounds for the wounded, His innocent shoulders carrying our guilt and sin, and His grave to empty the graves of all who die in the Lord.  His resurrection will raise up you and me and all the dead to be with Him in glory and like Him in glory – where weakness, affliction, sorrow, pain, sin, and death are no more.
    Look around you.  The pews are filled with hurting people.  We are surrounded by sorrows that beg us for sympathy, for compassion, that we might make some small difference in the face of so much suffering.  It is overwhelming.  We wonder what we can do?  It might seem we can do little.  We cannot even guarantee that we will remember the sorrows of this moment when the next big tragedy occupies our attention.  But Jesus can.  We bring Jesus to those within the household of faith whose faith is tested by trials and troubles and we bring Jesus to those who do not know what He has done for us in love, to rescue us, and to deliver us from sin and death.
    None of our words may make much of a difference but the Word of Christ can and does make all the difference.  All our sympathy and compassion cannot undo the sorrows of the day but Jesus can answer sin, death, despair, and hurt with grace and mercy to forgive the guilty, to restore the fallen, to raise up the dead, and to impart eternal life.  The compassion of Jesus is what we bring to the great sorrows of the day.  The Gospel of Christ crucified is what we speak to the broken hearts and lives we meet.
    Isaiah got it.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried all our sorrows.  He has done more than stand with us.  He has stood in our place.  His arms outstretched in suffering carry the weight of all our suffering.  His compassionate love lives and dies and rises again to answer the longing of our hearts and the lament of a people surrounded by tragedy.  We as Christians stand with Christ and in Christ and through us the Word of Life extends His saving grace and His powerful compassion to a wounded world in need.
    Do NOT fear that there is nothing you can do.  For you know Jesus and you know what He has already done to reach into the darkest moments with light, to rescue the worst sinner with forgiveness, to raise up the already dead to eternal life. . . This is the Gospel that compels us to be here on Sunday morning and this is the Gospel we bring to a broken world as we walk out those doors.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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