Outstretched Arms: Living a Compassionate Life
“My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18
Today we look at the final sign of life in the life of an authentic Christfollower. It is a subject that is tough to wrestle with.
What does it mean to be compassionate?
Who is my neighbor?
What would Jesus do?
Haddon Robinson preached on the Good Samaritan story. In this sermon he answered the lawyer’s question “And who is my neighbor?” “Your neighbor is anyone who has a need, whose need you are able to meet.”
Quaker leader William Penn said, “Though our Savior’s Passion is over, His compassion is not.”
Invariably there are stories that make the news everyday if you dig deep enough through all the bad stuff of people demonstrating genuine compassion for others.
Who can forget the image from September 11, 2001 of four fireman and a policeman carrying the body of Father Mycal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first recorded victim of the terrorist attack on that day. The picture is called American Pieta because of the way Father Judge’s lifeless body is draped over the chair his rescuers used to transport him out of the rubble. It is a reminder of Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
In Michelangelo’s sculpture, Mary the mother of Jesus, sits cradling the lifeless body of her Son, who lies draped across her lap. This word pieta is the Italian word for compassion and can also be translated mercy, pity and piety. We express pieta to another person when we say, “I care.”
We can often talk about compassion but when it comes down to it compassion and having outstretched arms always costs us something.
I remember hearing Tony Campolo, several years ago tell the story of being asked to speak at a large gathering of women. They wanted to hear him speak about social justice and be challenged about missions. Just before he spoke the leader announced that one of the churches missionaries was facing an urgent financial need. She asked if the Campolo would lead the group in prayer and ask God to supply the need. He walked to the podium and shocked the group when he said he would not lead them in prayer but he would do something else. He would contribute all the money he had in his pockets to meet the need if all the rest of the women in the group would do the same. If when that money was counted, funds were still lacking, he would be happy to lead in prayer for God to supply the remainder. He then went down front and stood with a basket waiting for the ladies to file by. One by one, some of them very reluctantly, they filed by the guest speaker. Of course when they counted the money, there was more than enough.
Compassion is about the moment. It is about using what I have at hand. It may be money, talents, encouragement, or a listening ear – to meet another person’s need. According to David Jeremiah in his book, Signs of Life, Christians aren’t known to the world because we all dress the same, comb our hair alike, or vote identically. We are known by our love. That’s our basic identity.
Following Christ’s example:
Let’s commit to love purposefully
Loving on purpose is not always as easy as it sounds. I don’t think it was easy for Christ when He came to this earth with one purpose in mind. He came to die for your sins and mine. He came to give eternal life to those that will turn their lives over to Him. He did it on purpose.
We are to follow our Lord’s example in loving others. That means we notice, discover and meet people’s needs. When we love God purposefully, which is where we must start, it means obedience. It means if there is something in our life, some habit, some addiction, some hidden sin that is controlling us we fall on the mercy and strength of God to deliver us from it.
“If you love Me, keep My commandments . . .If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. . .He who does not love Me does not keep My word.” John 14:15,23,24
When we are walking in obedience to God and loving Him with all our mind, soul and strength we will naturally love our neighbors as ourselves.
Just this week someone from this church told me about someone showing up at their door and spending the afternoon just being a friend. That is the way Christians should live. Caring for one another. Living with sensitivity to others needs. I still marvel at the retired guy in my Dad’s neighborhood that fixes food for himself but always fixes enough to take whatever he fixes and hang it in a bag on a nail outside my dad’s garage. He has done this ever since my Mother went to the nursing home and then passed away about a year ago. He loves on purpose. I don’t even know if he is a Christian.
Let’s commit to love unselfishly
Christ’s love was unselfish. That is a far cry different from human love. We live in a society that has done a good job convincing us that we really are number one. We really do deserve everything we have and for that matter we deserve to have everything we don’t have and will do whatever it takes to get it.
When Christ inhabits our lives things begin to change. Where before we focused primarily on our wants and needs we find that with Christ we have a capacity to care about the needs of others. With Christ we find an ability to love those that despitefully use us. With Christ we find the strength to love those closes to us instead of treating them with contempt and unkindness.
Let’s commit to love unconditionally
This is probably the hardest way to love. It is incredibly easy to love people who love us. It is much harder to love when someone is being hateful toward us.
I think parents probably need to learn to love this way. There is nothing more disappointing than children who push the boundaries and ignore what you taught them was right to do their own thing. Sometimes it may be things that are not life or death issues but there are children who are seemingly bent on destruction and somehow even though their life choices are heartbreaking we have to love them anyway.
In the story of the prodigal son, the father who represents God, lets His son go to a far off country and spend his inheritance on wasteful living. He allows him to make devastating choices that threaten his very life. What fascinates me about his story among other things is the fact that the father never goes in search of him. He certain had the money to make the trip but he let him alone with his choices. It was only when the son started home that the father saw him coming down the road at a great distance, (this suggests to me that the dad never quit watching for him) that he left the porch and ran toward his son to love him. Reminds me of the verse of scripture that says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Loving unconditionally will take the love of God in your heart. We can only love this way when we are immersed in God’s love on a daily basis.
Let’s commit to love sacrificially
Jesus Christ gave up His royalty in heaven to come down to this earth and live with all the restrictions of being a human being. He took on the form of a man. He was God in the flesh. He did this for thirty three years. He felt pain. He got sick. He experienced sorrow and grief.
He sacrificed Himself for our behalf. This is our example that we are to live by and embrace.
“Be of one mind, having compassion for one another.” 1 Peter 3:8
I have lived in Newark now for nearly eight years. In that time I have heard a name surface more than once. It’s the name of a man that lived on 21rst Street until he died a few months ago. He lived in a modest house with giant lion statues out front. Rev. Knox was the pastor for people who didn’t have a pastor. He married and buried those who didn’t have connections. He loved those who didn’t have money. He cared for people that nobody else cared for. From what I can see he lived the life of the Good Samaritan. He didn’t pass by on the other side of the road from anyone stuck in the ditch. He loved sacrificially. Somewhere in heaven there is an account book and our love is measured and kept track of. Our deposits and withdrawals are being written down so that one day our statement will be read. There will be an accounting of how we lived our lives, spent our money, and frankly loved those around us.
This week another person that attends this church told me another story. 12 years ago or so a young couple broke down in the city of Newark Ohio with a blown motor. They had no money and no place to go but someone gave them the name of Rev. Knox and out of his own account he paid for and had a motor put in the car. Today that couple lives in this city and attends this church. One man gave sacrificially and it allowed someone to get a start on life that has led them to be productive and caring people.
When is the last time you did something that costs you more than you could really afford but you did it because you are a follower of Jesus Christ?
I want to outline three action steps for us to take away today:
1. Imitate Christ
This is the secret of living the Christian life.
We read the Bible on a daily basis because from this we draw strength and learn how to live and love like Christ.
We become a part of a church body because we are taught in the bible that this is how we learn to practice love. We function as a body for protection, support, coordination, unity or purpose, and being Christ’s hands and feet to the world around us.
The book of First Peter is filled with the teaching that we are to be like Christ. No where is that more clearly taught then in 1 Peter 2:21-25 NLT:
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.
It is some of the best poetry of the Bible but it is more than a poem it is a call to live and love like Jesus.
Try out these words from 1 Peter 3:8-12 NLT:
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sister. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 9 Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. 10 For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”
2. Intentionally practice forgiveness
You and I will never be able to live with outstretched arms of love unless we learn to forgive. You may be tempted to think that not forgiving someone is only about that person. The truth is that not forgiving one person will affect every other relationship you have including your relationship with God.
After telling a story about an unforgiving man in the New Testament Jesus concludes by saying the man was turned over to the torturers. He finishes His teaching with these words, “So my Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother is trespass.”
Unforgiveness is about the ugliest sin that can rear its head in a church body.
Forgiveness is not an elective in the curriculum of servanthood. It is a required course and the exams are always tough to pass.
3. Increase empathy in your life
One man put it this way: "I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love someone from another race or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please."
Do you know anyone like that? Someone who doesn't want to dump God entirely, just keep Him at a comfortable distance. Wants just enough religion to keep the guilt level below the threshold of pain, just enough to guarantee escape from eternal flames...but not enough to make him nervous, to nit-pick his lifestyle, not enough to make him serve someone else, just enough to get his reward. He has let what should have been his reward become his goal.
The Greeks said, "Be wise, know yourself."
Rome said, "Be strong, discipline yourself."
Religion says, "Be good, conform yourself."
Psychologists say, "Be confident, assert yourself."
Materialism says, "Be satisfied, please yourself.
Pride says, "Be superior, promote yourself."
JESUS SAYS, "BE SERVING, GIVE YOURSELF."
"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4.
Empathy comes to us when we stop and take the time to look at others through the lens of their experiences. What made them the way they are and what makes them do what they do?
As a church we have embraced the notion of outstretched arms as a vital part of who we are. Lately we have shown you pictures and video of some of our summer outreaches. You need to know that we are not doing that because we think we have arrived at some pinnacle of compassionate ministry and we are applauded our efforts. On the contrary, the idea is that we have basically done some things that are preparing us for the future. We have done mostly arms length outreaches to establish ourselves as a community of caring Christfollowers. We may or may not know the names of those we are doing things for. We may or may not engage them in conversation. We may or may not recognize them the next time we see them on the street or at the store. I believe that God is calling us as a church to something more intimate and life changing. We will still do the “big” things because it does make a difference but we now need to add in the personal touch of stretching out our arms. This is beyond open hands. You have demonstrated that you have open hands by giving your time and talent at Mega Sports and Creative Arts camp, or pencils, paper and haircuts at Operation Gear Up, or even gifts at Christmas that range from bicycles and iPods to much needed clothing.
Now let us move toward becoming like Christ in that we follow His example of incarnation. He became flesh and lived or dwelt among us. When you live with someone you enter into a relationship with them.
I have been trying to think about where my personal commitment to compassion came from. I have thought of things I saw modeled when I was growing up by my family and the church I grew up in. I remembered this week a little boy that lived down the street from us in Waverly Ohio. He lived in a house with drunkenness, violence and abuse. He had red hair and freckles and his name was Scotty. To this day he haunts our family in some way. For the years he lived down the street and before we moved out of state he found love in our home and in the church body. Here is a picture that I want you to see as I conclude my sermon today.
This picture was taken in the mid 70’s, and he was eating a piece of made from scratch chocolate cake with some of the best icing you could ever imagine. More than once he ate at our table and we knew it was more food then he was used to seeing or having. I remember him standing at the microphone in front of the whole church and collapsing into a fit of nervous giggling that seemed last for a couple of minutes until the whole packed church was laughing with him.
I remember the day my dad asked him if he would like to come and live with us shortly before we moved and he said that he would love to. I remember that after a few moments he responded that he didn’t believe that he would be able to move in with us. When pressed for a reason, he simply responded, “If I move out my mom and sister won’t have anybody to ‘whoop.’”
I guess Scotty represents a lot of things for me. He represents a moment in time and in the season of my life when I saw my family reach out to some one that Jesus loved. There were some good moments I am sure but he also represents the fact that we never made a deep enough connection to know where he is today. We have no idea what his last name is and have tried unsuccessfully to find him on more than one occasion.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[g] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ 45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
Prayer: Benediction: Now may the God of love give you all dusty shoes, worn out knees, rolled up sleeves, open hands and outstretched arms. May you love and live like Jesus our great example.