Summary: Compassion is a core value in our church - why?
Luke 10:25 - 37 The Good Samaritan
Isaiah 58: 6-12
Strategic development plans and the Church of England are not words that naturally go together in our minds. But, as most of you will know, within this benefice we are prepared to be a little bit unorthodox! We have, among other things, a benefice planning group, and over last year or so, they have been working on a development plan. It is plan for the future, a plan for growth and a plan with clear objectives to ensure that our churches do not quietly fade away and die but become vibrant places of worship at the centre of their communities.
As part of this, the planning group have given thought to some key values which should be at the core of everything we do as Christians together in this place. Values such as inclusiveness, relevance, excellence, prayerful, outward looking. And over the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at some of these values.
The core value of compassion
My task today is to examine the core value of compassion. The development plan says that ‘we want our churches to the places where the lonely find friendship, the unloved to find acceptance, the bereaved find comfort and the distressed find support’
That sounds all very nice, but why should we do this? What is the basis for this being part of what the Church should be doing? Why should compassion be a core value?
The reading from Luke’s gospel is quite a helpful starting point. When the Samaritan saw the injured man he had compassion (RSV) or pity on him. But the parable was the response to a question. And the question was ‘Who is my neighbour?’
‘Who is my neighbour?
Well, the Old Testament background is very clear. A month or so ago we were thinking about the story of Ruth. And you will remember how as widows and poor people, Ruth and Naomi had the rights to glean in the fields. The Old Testament law makes it clear that the people of God are to care for the poor, the needy, the stranger, the outcast, and the leper. The reading from Isaiah emphasises the point. So we are to love those who are not particularly lovely. It is quite easy to care for and love your neighbour when they are nice, when they are respectable, and when they need nothing from you. But it is quite different to love and care for those with mental health problems, for example, or those who are making a complete hash of their lives, those who are chronic alcoholics, and who have a smell that goes with it.
So when Jesus told the lawyer that he should love his neighbour as himself, he was making it clear that the definition of a neighbour was very wide. So, just as much as we love our nice neighbours, we are also expected to love those who are much less lovable. I don’t know about you, but I find that difficult. And if you’re anything like me, you are going to need some very serious justification for obeying the commandment to love my neighbour. We need to examine more fully the reasons why we should love our neighbour.
Why should I love my neighbour?
The first reason we should love our neighbour is that it is the law - it is a command that God has given. In Deuteronomy 15 we read of God’s instructions for our attitudes to poor people. God says that his people should give generously to the poor, and do so without a grudging heart. In v11 we read, ‘there will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open hand with all your brothers and towards the poor people and needy.’
It was also a command of Jesus. Let’s have a look at what Jesus said. In Matthew 22v 37ff, he said ’you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
And this is just what he said to the lawyer that we read about in the parable of the Good Samaritan earlier. It is a fundamental requirement of Christian faith and living that our loving of God should go hand in hand with our loving of our neighbours.
The second reason we should love our neighbours is that we have the example of Jesus to follow. There are numerous examples of Jesus reaching out in love to all sorts and conditions of people. In Matthew 8 we read about Jesus reaching out to a leper. Lepers were outcast of society, untouchable and unwanted. It is difficult to think of a modern example, but I guess you might think of a rough sleeping illegal immigrant with HIV/AIDs. Jesus was willing to reach out in love and compassion to such people, and change their lives. And that’s just one example. There are many others.